Finding Pilots Like Me

Jessica Ortega climbed the rungs of a long ladder reaching that major airline cockpit. She didn’t forget to throw a line to motivate those women below her on their way up.

Los Angeles, California

My name is Jessica Ortega and I'm an airline pilot. I currently live in Brooklyn, New York and I'm from Fort Lauderdale. 

I grew up as a pilot's daughter, but it never occurred to me as a kid to be a pilot. I was fortunate enough to be able to travel with my dad and my brother to the little corners of the world that I never thought I'd go to. Dad wanted to show me how to travel the hard way. And so we found ourselves in Myanmar and Cambodia, Indonesia, and all over Southeast Asia; places that have become my favorite part of the world. I miss it so much these days. 

I was shopping around for colleges, and I was thinking of what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Then I met one of my dad's friends who looked like me. She was a Latina corporate pilot—and that's when I realized I wanted to be like her; to become a pilot. 
Abingdon Co. Image displaying ©2023 Jessica Ortega contemplates how she can help the next generation
Abingdon Co. Image displaying ©2023 Jessica Ortega contemplates how she can help the next generation
Abingdon Co. Image displaying ©2023 Jessica Ortega contemplates how she can help the next generation
Abingdon Co. Image displaying ©2023 Jessica Ortega contemplates how she can help the next generation

A Modern Pioneer

I'm really lucky to have found my love when I did and I was able to dive into the industry, but it was originally the love of traveling and going around the world, which was the reason why I got into aviation. I still love it. Today, my coolest experience is pushing my comfort zone. 

And so I try my best to go to work with a good head on my shoulders and try to come in with a good attitude, but I'm humbled up very quickly a lot of the time. I’m reminded that I am one of the very few whenever I see a really excited passenger, someone who is excited to see me on the flight deck or even a little shocked. I get all sorts of different reactions, so I make sure just to remind myself of the different pioneers who have paved the path for me and I'm really hoping that I can keep that going. 

Trust Your Path

As a younger pilot, I was really hard on myself as there was a lot of comparison in the industry since everyone's pretty much on the same track and it's all very linear your progression and you know, that can be toxic. Yeah, that toxicity of comparing yourself to others is not worth your time. If I had the chance to talk to that girl I would tell myself just to trust my own journey, Trust the system. Trust my path and know that the career progression is going to happen. Just exactly where I've ended up is exactly where I belong. I’d tell myself to not rush in, just really enjoy life and the learning process. 

Honestly? I don't want to be a rarity anymore. I want to be flying with female pilots all the time but up until that point, I'm very humble just to represent my communities. I’m always looking at how I can be a better ally to my black community or how I can represent those who don't yet have a voice in the flight deck. I’m joining different organizations, such as NGPA, WAI, and OBAP, along with other smaller organizations, like LPAs. It's a whole slew of acronyms but each of those organizations represent a community that isn’t well-represented on the flight deck.  As long as people are walking around being one or two in the class of 60, it’s needed. I want to see more people that look like me do my job.

Importance of Mentors

The Professional Pilots of Tomorrow is an organization that's near and dear to my heart because it helped me find my own journey within aviation. It was my mentors from there who helped me to realize that the airline community was for me. It gave me the freedom that I was looking for and my quality of life. The organization helped me find my home at my regional airline, my main line, and my legacy airline where I just got hired. It helps me navigate the industry efficiently and find my own path. So I'm really lucky to be able to give back to that organization.

Paying it Forward

If I can walk into work feeling confident, including my whole look, then I can be a better pilot and spread joy to all the people that I work with. Now I’m a director of diversity, equity and inclusion at my airline, so I try to be the example of what the industry can be and also give the opportunity to people who are not as fortunate as I was or who need a little bit more help.
What she says about her Abingdon watch

“My favorite thing about the Abingdon Co watches I wear is the community that they represent. It's really important for all of us to stick together. Abingdon Co. fosters a community that's a bunch of badass women who I love to be connected with.” 

“I mean it's pretty cool that we have the ATIS function on the Katherine style. It's like a little secret feature that I always like to point out whenever I'm at work. It's a really good looking watch but I really enjoy the Abingdon Co. community. Yeah I mean when you look at if you feel good and when you feel good you fly better.” 

What she wears:
Katherine Watch
Stopwatch, Military Time, Date Function, 5 Hand