Maria Pettersson has become one of the most recognizable pilots in the world thanks to her hard work, dedication, and insanely popular Instagram account @pilotmaria, where she documents all of her experiences and shares her life with her 500K+ followers. She was born in Gothenburg, Sweden and grew up with aspirations of becoming an actress, pop star, among other career choices, but those career paths did not work out. However, she remembered some experiences that she had as a youngster flying with her dad. At the time, she did not recognize the fire for flying that would begin forming inside her when she became older. Soon that fire turned into an absolute flame and Maria overcame adversity and obstacles to become one of the most recognizable and accomplished pilots today. We sat down with the flying dynamo to see what motivates and inspires her to be successful in a tough and competitive male dominated industry.
What are some of the reasons that made you decide to become a pilot?
I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I was a traveller moving from one place to another exploring this beautiful world. I wanted to do something and keep exploring. I never thought becoming a pilot was an option for me. Being a female in a male dominated environment and high costs kept it difficult. My dad used to fly small single engine aircrafts when he was younger and he inspired me. I remember one time particularly, we were in Greece watching as the aircrafts approaching to land. He told me why they flew with the nose slightly up, about flaps, landing, etc. Back then, I didn’t think much of it but thinking back all these moments inspired me on what to do in life. My first ever commercial flight was a twenty minute flight around Gothenburg in Sweden where I grew up and the captain of that flight was female. I didn’t think much of it at the time. But thinking back, being a female captain for a commercial airliner twenty years ago was a pretty big deal. I wish I knew her name so I could thank her.
AM: Why did you choose becoming a veterinarian or pop star before becoming a pilot?
MP: Yes, first I wanted to be a pop star or an actor, but lacking talent in both I kind of had to put that aside. I still sing but preferably when no one else can hear.
AM: Do you have anyone who influenced your decision to become a pilot?
MP: That would most likely be my dad and that female captain twenty years ago. I don’t think my dad on purpose tried to force me into piloting. It´s just something he is really interested in and he liked talking about it. At the time, he probably thought I wasn’t even listening, but I guess during the early years, you learn more than you are aware of. Today I’m proud when I am the one teaching him about flying and not vice versa.
AM: What do you enjoy most and least about being a pilot?
MP: What I enjoy most is the view! I get to have my coffee every morning from 38,000 feet looking at our beautiful planet from above as the sun rises in the east and they are still sleeping in the west. Every day I see something new like a new destination, unique sunrise, and beautiful full moon. What I enjoy the least, that´s a difficult one. I want to say the early morning but honestly, I don’t really mind them as I like to get up before everyone else. I don’t like sitting down all day, I do stretching every morning so I won’t get body aches at work.
AM: What are your favorite places to visit in the world?
MP: On my bucket list, I have Madagascar as I´ve always wanted to go there. From the places I have been, some of my favorites are Colombia for the beautiful nature and friendly people. I really enjoyed Los Angeles and New York. They are two cities in the same country but still so different. I love that Los Angeles has everything like beautiful beaches as well as a nice city life and good weather. I am the happiest where the sun is. I’ll definitely go back there one day.
AM: What are the specific challenges of being a female pilot in a male dominated industry?
MP: This is a tricky one. I try not to see challenges as a negative thing as I see it as chances to grow. In the beginning, I guess some people had problems taking me seriously when I said I wanted to be a pilot. I even heard people saying that I got the job just because I was a woman and that upsets me. I´ve studied just as hard as all the guys and put all that effort in.
AM: What do you enjoy most about living in Sicily, Italy?
MP: What I enjoy most about living in Sicily is that it is such a beautiful island, it´s impossible to pick. The lovely Mediterranean weather, friendly people, amazing food, and the flying are top notch! I love flying in Italy. This will be my first whole summer in Sicily and I am very much looking forward to exploring the island and the islands surrounding it.
AM: What advice would you give people who are interested in becoming a pilot?
MP: If you want to become a pilot, first make sure that it’s something you want to do one hundred percent. It’s a tough and expensive education. One advice I always give to those that ask me is to find a local flying club in the area where you live and talk to them to see if someone can take you flying for 30 minutes or so. If you, from that day, always walk with your head turned towards the sky, you know it´s something you can do for the rest of your life.
AM: What do you credit the success of your palm pilotmaria blog to, and what is your favorite part about documenting your experiences on your blog?
MP: I never intended to grow “pilotmaria” to an internationally recognized blog and Instagram account. My goal was 3,000 followers, then 10,000 which I never thought I would reach. Today, I’m aiming for 100,000 and as I am writing this, I kind of have to pinch myself in the arm and tell myself that I am dreaming! Why would I get 100,000 followers? But it´s my next goal and if I reach it, I’ll be over the moon. It´s amazing! I believe my followers recognize my passion for what I am doing and they share the same passion. It´s honest and comes direct from me. That’s the amazing thing with social media because you get to know someone without ever meeting the person. I met my best friends Maria @mariathepilot and Malin @flymeyoga through Instagram, and today I couldn’t imagine a life without them because they are like my sisters. Social Media connects people the way pen pals used to do and now you can reach out to thousands of people.
AM: What are your goals for the next five years?
MP: In the next five years I´ll definitely still fly commercially. I am very happy where I am today and with the company I am working for. I should have completed my command upgrade and earned my fourth stripe. I also hope to be able to travel more in my spare time and see more of the world. I hope I can write about my travels on https://pilotmaria.com and share my experiences with my followers on Instagram.
AM: Thank you so much for your wonderfully candid answers. We wish you the best in your career and life!
MP: It was a pleasure. Thank you!