Longtime Pilot Raegina Steinmetz Shares Her Adventures in Aviation

Above and beyond.

  • Category
    People, Travel
  • Written by
    Sara Debevec
  • Photographed by
    Monica Orozco

Although she never thought she would become a pilot, Raegina Steinmetz evolved into one. Starting with her work as a customer service agent at Port Columbus International Airport in Columbus, Ohio, she thrived on the constant challenges in getting someone from point A to point B.

“They say aviation can get in your blood, and for me this was true—but I craved more,” she says. “And there the evolution began.”

Blinded by traditional gender roles, Raegina pursued a role as a flight attendant at first. But four months after taking her first steps, 9/11 happened. Living through it up close on a maintenance delay at the gate in LaGuardia was beyond surreal. Although devastating, this moment catapulted her into finding her true passion.

Once Raegina made up her mind about becoming a pilot, she never looked back. She chose the Pan Am International Flight Academy in Arizona. “I started with zero hours in my logbook, and I did all my ratings and a jet transition course in a year and three months, which is pretty fast,” she explains. “After completing ratings, you have to build hours before you can go to an airline, so I instructed U.S. and Chinese students in mostly career pilot programs.”

She then joined Mesa Airlines and spent almost nine years as a first officer and then captain on the Canadair Regional Jet.

But there were hurdles along the way. A year and a half into working with Mesa Airlines, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She went through a myriad of emotions.

“I was so determined that it never occurred to me that I would not get back to flying,” she says. “I just had to get through this and do what I had to do. I went into a whole ‘I’ve got to figure this out’ mode.”

She read and researched different doctors, willing to go wherever needed to get the best health care. Nine months later, she beat cancer and enrolled in college to finish her bachelor’s degree—all while flying a full-time schedule.

“If I make a mistake, I feel it will be more amplified because I am a woman. There are not that many of us in the industry, so you have to be on top of your knowledge all the time.”

In 2015 she joined United Airlines as a first officer on the B737, then flying the B777 internationally. She continues to fly with United today and enjoys her time mentoring future United pilots through the United Aviate program. She encourages kids to consider a career as an airline pilot by participating in activities such as United’s Christmas Fantasy Flight to the North Pole, as well as Girls in Aviation Day through Women In Aviation International.

Currently female pilots make up about 7% of all certificated pilots, and Raegina’s goal is to inspire young girls to consider the possibility of flying a plane. Having overcome self-doubt to succeed in a male-dominated industry, she thinks women possess skills that uniquely equip them to become airline pilots.

“If I make a mistake, I feel it will be more amplified because I am a woman,” she says. “There are not that many of us in the industry, so you have to be on top of your knowledge all the time. You can’t be laid-back, because you’ll be perceived as a bad pilot.”

She also tells women who want to go into aviation not to let money stop them if they have a passion. She mentions helpful resources like The Ninety-Nines, International Aviation Womens Association, Women in Aviation International and Female Aviators Sticking Together. “It never occurred to me, even as a young adult, that I could accomplish this big thing—to be an airline pilot at a major airline and to be flying our biggest airplane internationally.”

Despite the current setback that no one could have foreseen or prepared for, Raegina remains positive about the future. “I worked so hard to get to this point, and it’s heart-wrenching to have your dream in jeopardy,” she says. “But this is who I am and what I do. I don’t want to do anything else. It was scary during 9/11, as I knew I was going to lose my job. But then a new opportunity came from it. So I remain optimistic.”