Meet a pilot defying boundaries: From combat flights in Afghanistan to missions in Antarctica, now leading a team at Alaska 

Video by Ingrid Barrentine | Photos by Ingrid Barrentine and Joe Nicholson

Jennifer Kelsey’s love for air shows started when she was a teenager. Every summer, she would visit her family in Oshkosh, Wisconsin and marvel at the planes soaring in the sky. She was determined to fly one herself, so she worked hard to save money for lessons and soloed in a Cessna 150 at 16.  

Kelsey attended Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and then joined the Air National Guard, flying the C-130 Hercules in missions from Afghanistan and Antarctica. She joined Alaska in 2005, where she’s had a storied career, moving from captain to flight operations duty officer to check pilot. This year, she became fleet captain, a role that combines her love of flying with leading a team.  

Kelsey admits that being a female pilot in a predominantly male profession has its challenges, but she is grateful for the pioneering women who cleared the runway for her, both in the military and in her civilian career. She is eager to inspire more women to pursue careers as pilots at Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air. 

“I Am …” at Alaska Airlines

Our “I Am…” Campaign kicked off in January to celebrate Heritage Months and the diversity of our employees. Keep an eye out for the “I Am…” logo throughout the year to read their inspiring stories.

We’re sharing Jennifer’s story in honor of Women’s History Month. Alaska Airlines hopes more young women will seek out exciting careers as pilots and more. Annual events like Aviation Day offer hands-on learning experiences from industry professionals to better understand the complexity of the jobs and inspire career paths. 

In 2022, Alaska and Horizon teamed up with Hillsboro Aero Academy, a premier flight school in the Pacific Northwest, to launch the Ascend Pilot Academy (APA). This new development program, designed for aspiring pilots, provides a simpler, more financially accessible path to becoming a commercial pilot at Horizon and, eventually, Alaska. The program is part of a larger effort to address a growing pilot shortage and increased travel demand.