Photo Credit: Anya Kearns
How Anya Kearns, The Youngest Black Female Legacy Pilot, Is Giving Back
Anya Kearns is a pilot for Delta Air Lines, and is the youngest Black female pilot on the team. In many ways, she is just like you and I. She has a family life, works hard, loves travel, and gives back to her community. So, it’s no wonder her week was in full effect when I called. It was Friday and Anya had friends in town, family traveling abroad, a test to take, and had still found the time to chat with me.
TN: What were your travel dreams as a kid?
Anya: When I was really young, my mom used to take me to Philadelphia. When I say take me, I mean she sent me to Philadelphia by myself. I was on my own and the flight attendants were the ones taking care of me during the flight. I always had a window seat. The flight attendants were always so nice and took care of me so well. I always flew Delta, too, so I think that’s how I wanted to fly with them when I grew up.
I went with my Mom to Jamaica a lot and the Bahamas, too. I loved seeing all of the different cultures. I told her as a kid, like really young, about seven, that I wanted to be a flight attendant. She took me to other destinations…Orlando, etc. I didn’t even think about who was flying the plane, or that it could be me.
TN: You flew a plane for the first time at the age of 14?! Wow! What was the most memorable part of that experience?
Anya: I mainly remember my instructor. His name was Mauritius Bell , lol. I just liked his name. I’d never flown in a small plane before. We landed at an airport with my mom’s boyfriend, who was a pilot. The small county airport had a non-profit organization, ACE, geared toward minority pilots, hosting an open house that day.
My mom was open and wanted to talk to everyone. So I remember her walking up and asking, “What is this?” And me, I didn’t notice that it was a whole bunch of Black people at the airport. I was raised in Marietta, where there was a lot of diversity. My mom noticed the diversity. She asked, “What are you guys doing today?” It turns out they were doing intro flights.
We go up in the airplane and the pilot said, “Okay, you’re in control.”
I was like, “I don’t know what that means.” He takes his hands completely off the yoke, and immediately, I went and grabbed it and he said, “Okay, now you’re flying.”
He tells me to pull back and push down. I am moving this piece of machine in the sky. As much as this is something I’d never done before, it doesn’t hit me until I’m in the car heading home. I was like, oh my gosh, I was just in the sky. How was this possible?
My mom knew how excited I was on the way home, even though I tried to pull it off. You know how teenagers are. My mom was like, I’m going to put you in this program. At first, I didn’t like it because it was really technical. It wasn’t until I got into the plane that I was like, oh okay, this is really cool. But I didn’t like all of the studying. I wasn’t really into learning about gyros and instrument panels and stuff. I am thankful I stayed persistent. Even if I didn’t learn anything technical, I just showed up, for six months.
TN: How many other Black women were in the flight programs you were in? How did it feel to be one of the only Black women?
Anya: In my classes, I maybe had two or three over the course of four or five years at ACE. I never really noticed or paid attention. I was more here for a goal. People had to make me realize that I was the only Black person or Black female. I didn’t notice until someone made me mindful of it in college. We were all people of color in the ACE program.
TN: How many other First Officers are there that are 30 and under, Black, AND female?
Anya: On the legacy carriers (Delta, United, and American), I believe I am the youngest one. The only one 30 and under.
Honestly, I think of it too, because I used to think, wow, I’m way behind them. There were people who became part of the legacy carriers before me. But, at the end of the day, the way I was “behind them” when I was hired, I wasn’t really behind them.
My race is my race, it isn’t anybody else’s. When I look back at it, I’m like that is really, really cool. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t given to me. There were probably 100 times I wanted to give up, but I didn’t.
TN: What is your most favorite place/time of day to fly?
Anya: My favorite time of day is early in the morning. I like to be out early and done early. I don’t have to be affected by other flights prior to that. It’s super quiet. I see beautiful sunrises. It’s nice and cool outside. You’re done by like 10 or 11 in the morning and you get to explore the city you’re in after dropping them off.
Don’t get it wrong, I don’t like getting up early in the morning. But it’s worth it when I’m finished.
TN: What do you love to do outside of flying?
Anya: I volunteer a lot. A lot of my favorite pictures are of volunteering and teaching other kids how to achieve their dreams. I am officially the program director of the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, and I oversee 11 of the programs the organization has. I am on the board of directors at ACE. I’m an Endeavor Air first officer. I had a conversation about this with someone not too long ago and it went on for hours. But, I love to work with the kids the most. I love to show them whatever they dream is possible.
TN: Tell us about your scariest or funniest flight.
Anya: My funniest, I probably shouldn’t talk about, lol. But my scariest flights? My nerves are on edge anytime I am operating around thunderstorms. Our day changes the most rapidly and the most often then. Thunderstorms have a lot of weather around them. You may be worried about microbursts. You have to take into account all of this. We get above the clouds. It’s sunny and clear at 30,000 feet. Land and it’s not a big deal. But you may have 30 days of bad weather in a year.
TN: What are your top three travel destinations?
TN: What are your bucket list destinations for 2022?
Anya: How’d you know I made a list? Lol. Iceland, Turkey, and Brazil for sure. Croatia for my birthday in June. I don’t know if it’s going to happen in 2022, but I want to skydive in Dubai.
TN: It all started with your mom finding that flight program. What are her thoughts on how far you’ve come today?
Anya: I don’t even know how to describe it. In a sense, she is overwhelmed and overjoyed about how far I’ve come. She’s always had faith that I am going to get here.
I remember getting an email about my interview with Delta Airlines. I saw the email as I was driving to meet my mom for Christmas Eve dinner. My whole world stopped. My whole world was like, WHAT?! I called my mom and I told her the news. I mean, anybody who saw us thought we were probably about to die.
It was the only place I wanted to work. It was the only place I applied. We were about to see each other. I was over the moon. Over the phone, we were screaming. We were crying. We weren’t far from the dinner and met super excited. That’s what I mean about overwhelmed and overjoyed.
The night I found out about my captain’s award, I was also going to meet my mom. I called her on my way to meet her to tell her I had some news. She said, “Don’t tell me until you get here!”
Anya Kearns recently found out she has been accepted as a captain on the 737 at Delta Airlines! Keep up with her amazing journey on Instagram. Or, make your next reservation through Delta and cross your fingers that she’s your pilot!