For Atlanta-based dispatcher Kimberly Bates, life is about having the courage to take the road less traveled, especially when in pursuit of a lifelong dream.
“Since childhood, I wanted to work with airplanes, but for years people told me I couldn’t,” said Kimberly. “I eventually stopped listening to those people.”
The daughter of an Air Force pilot, Kimberly realized her life’s passion when she took her first commercial airline trip at the age of five.
“I was hooked. The flight attendants gave me wings and I vividly remember looking out the window and watching the clouds pass by. I’ve had a wicked case of wanderlust ever since.”
In 1978, during deregulation of the airline industry, Kimberly graduated high school only to find her dream career wasn’t available to most women. At the time, most aviation professionals entered the commercial airline industry through the Air Force, which first opened its doors to female cadets in 1976. Still, Kimberly faced impossible roadblocks.
“I could never meet the height requirements. I was too small to be a military pilot and too small to be a flight attendant.”
With a dream derailed, Kimberly enrolled in college and worked in pharmaceutical sales before returning to school for an MBA. In 1990, she appeared to accomplish her goals when a major airline hired her as an analyst in their passenger sales department.
“I finally worked for an airline, but the job wasn’t with planes. When I expressed interest in moving into operations, I was told, again, it wasn’t the right path for me.”
Kimberly left after two years and bounced from medical sales to telecommunications and project management. When her job was eventually outsourced, she decided to give the airline industry another try.
As fate would have it, while on a flight from New York Kimberly was seated next to a non-reving flight attendant who told her the previous height requirements for flight attendants no longer existed within the industry. Despite the welcome news, she faced another challenge – timing. With two toddlers at home, it wasn’t the right moment to pursue a job involving extensive travel. Instead, Kimberly encouraged her friend to apply and she was hired by Continental Express Airlines.
Three years later, that same friend notified her when ExpressJet opened a station in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., where Kimberly lived at the time. In 2004, a decade after her previous airline experience, Kimberly was hired as a cross-trained agent before transferring to Inflight as a flight attendant.
“I owe an immense debt to the gentleman who hired me at ExpressJet. Despite my background and education, he believed me when I told him, ‘I just want to work with planes.’”
After three years as a flight attendant, Kimberly longed to learn more about operations and decided to earn a dispatcher license. In February 2015, she happily returned to dispatch after a period of working in the Inflight training department.
Kimberly knows her career path is an unusual journey.
“Technically, I’m still in training! Eleven years with ExpressJet and I’m the most junior CRJ dispatcher,” she laughed. “But my exposure and experience in different departments allowed me to do some fabulous things and better understand the operations at ExpressJet from both sides. I wanted to learn as much as I could, and I’m glad I was willing to take a different step and try something new.”
Kimberly’s patience and relentless persistence is a testament to her adventurous spirit. Though her journey to the OCC was years in the making, she recognizes the hurdles women overcame to make their mark in the airline industry.
“When I was younger, women in aviation were a tremendous exception. The doors were not wide open. There was no mentorship or support available. Today, you meet a lot of females in the industry.”
Kimberly is excited to see more women joining the industry, a fact she noticed when she represented ExpressJet during the 26th Annual Women in Aviation Conference in Dallas, Texas. She credits the increase in women aviation professionals to the generational change in attitude towards women in traditionally male-dominated work environments, as well as the changes in the career path to commercial aviation and exposure to new career opportunities.
“It’s amazing how the world’s turned over in the past few decades. People no longer say a woman can’t do a job because of her gender.”
A travel enthusiast, Kimberly is a published travel writer and photographer, and she advocates taking advantage of the privileges of working for an airline.
“Where else can you fly home to see your family for one day or travel to another city for your favorite restaurant?” she said.
Kimberly also serves as a mentor to others and encourages people to open themselves up to new possibilities and be daring with their career choices.
“There’s this idea that once you’re on one path, you have to stay on that path. If you’re willing to step sideways or even backwards, you may find yourself with an opportunity that puts you two steps forward. It took me 25 years to get into this business, and the incredible opportunities I’ve had are the result of not following one path.”