2013 / 2月
後來有位加拿大籍的機長鼓勵她：「既然這麼有興趣，何不自己去學開飛機？」「我原本覺得自己的年紀太大（當時近40歲），但機長卻告訴我：『It is never too late to get started！』」她回憶說。
Lin Hsin-ching /photos courtesy of courtesy of TransAsia Airways /tr. by Jonathan Barnard
In Taiwan TransAsia Airways is leading the way in employing women as pilots. Currently, seven of its pilots—or about 5% of its total of 135—are women.
Kris Zhan, 45, is the most celebrated of them. She previously worked as a bookkeeper, a stewardess, and an in-flight services manager at the airline, and it wasn’t until age 40 that she decided to change career tracks and work toward becoming a pilot.
At 4 p.m., in TransAsia’s VIP lounge in Songshan International Airport, there appears a woman with a slender and graceful silhouette.
Wearing a crisp navy-blue uniform, with not a hair out of place, she offers a friendly smile. She’s wearing a smart pantsuit, with three shiny gold stripes on the cuff of the jacket. These silently announce her status as an airline copilot. She is Kris Zhan, known as TransAsia’s most beautiful pilot.
Zhan’s graceful bearing comes in part from her 14 years as a stewardess.
In 1992, upon graduating from National Taichung Junior College of Commerce (now National Taichung University of Science and Technology), she tested into a position as a bookkeeper at TransAsia. One day, in a hallway at the company offices, she happened to pass the company’s director of personnel, who saw how pretty she was and asked: “Would you be interested in switching jobs to work as a stewardess?”
“I hadn’t previously thought about flying,” Zhan says, explaining that she was nearsighted (before laser surgery) and didn’t feel she was particularly attractive. But the personnel director’s questions prompted her to reconsider. “Maybe I should give it a try,” she thought. When the company launched a recruitment drive for flight attendants, she signed up.
In 1993 Zhan formally became a stewardess for the airline. Back then, the company was focused on domestic flights. Although many think that domestic routes are easier, she points out that in Taiwan these flights used to offer hot meals, so making all the required safety announcements and serving the meals in the little time available proved quite a challenge. Poor weather or turbulence would only raise the level of difficulty.
“It was like being buffeted by one big wave after another,” Zhan recalls. “We had to keep our own balance and maintain a steady pace with routine cabin services, while also trying constantly to comfort distressed passengers.”
A “natural” as flight attendant, Kris Zhan, due to her outstanding performance, was promoted from flight attendant to in-flight services manager. Because of her excellent performance, she was repeatedly assigned to high-profile flights, such as working the first cross-strait charter flight on Chinese New Year’s in 2005.
As in-flight services manager, she had more opportunities to interact with the pilot and copilot at the front of the plane. She developed an interest in the plane’s instrument panels and would often ask the aircrew about how the plane was operated.
Eventually, a Canadian pilot encouraged her to consider a career change: “If you are so interested, why don’t you learn how to fly yourself?” Zhan recalls him asking. “I had thought I was too old [she was nearing 40], but he said, ‘It’s never too late to get started!’”
On her 40th birthday, she made a wish to become a pilot. After obtaining the understanding of her husband and family, she temporarily gave up a paycheck and in June of 2007 forked over NT$2 million of her own money to enroll at Hillsboro Aviation’s flight school in Oregon.
Although she was older than most of her fellow students, her many years of experience as a flight attendant allowed her to grasp more quickly the nuances of communicating with the tower and the complexities of cabin operations. After two years, Zhan obtained her pilot’s license. When her husband came to the US to visit her, she personally flew him to get a steak at a restaurant attached to another airport. It surprised and delighted her husband, who could hardly believe that his fine-featured better half could pull off such a feat!
Upon returning to Taiwan, Zhan passed related training courses and licensing exams and formally became a member of TransAsia’s pilot corps at the end of 2009.
Yet gender stereotypes have persisted, and many still feel that the skills and reactions of female pilots are inferior to those of men. Zhan points out that jets these days are mostly on autopilot, flying a set route at a set speed, so there should be very little difference between male and female performance.
“On the other hand, women are more attentive to detail than men,” she argues.
When comparing her various experiences in the workplace, Zhan says that her work as a pilot has naturally given her the greatest sense of accomplishment. She recalls once flying a plane whose passengers included a group of military officers from Latin America who were going to Hualien as tourists.
“The Hualien Airport is squeezed between the mountains and the sea, making take-off and landing very difficult. But that landing was very smooth,” she recalls with a smile. “After deplaning, those officers stood on the tarmac within eyeshot of the cockpit and gave me the thumbs-up! It really made me feel good!”
The next time you have a chance to take a TransAsia flight, check to see if your pilot is Kris Zhan or another woman. Their skills are solid, and their performance well deserving of kudos.