Horizon First Officer Kelsey Yoder Learns the Practical Side of Airline Flying

She finds it “10,000 times better than any other job could possibly be.”

Kelsey Yoder
“Flying is everything I dreamed of and more.”Courtesy Kelsey Yoder

The first day at most any new job can be a little stressful. But when you find yourself sitting in the right seat of a 65,000-pound airplane like Bombardier’s Q400 with a training captain in the left seat and a load of real passengers in back, a person’s blood can really start pumping. That was how the first line flight shaped up for Horizon Air First Officer Kelsey Yoder. Just to keep things interesting, “We had an Atlas Airlines 747 captain headed back to Seattle sitting in our jumpseat,” she also remembers.

Yoder thought a bit more about that day in late 2018, the first of her initial operating experience (IOE) on the “Mighty Q,” a trip from Spokane to Seattle. It all came together in the middle of the busy Thanksgiving holidays too. Did I mention her mom was sitting back in the cabin so she’d be on hand to congratulate her daughter on her first flight as an airline pilot? No pressure—none at all. Yoder remembers “being a little nervous because it was my first flight.” Even though she was the pilot monitoring on this first leg, “I was just so excited during the first takeoff. It reminded me of why I first learned to fly.”

That first trip had its challenges, like low-IFR weather in Seattle. Outside SEA/TAC, "ATC put us in a holding pattern, and we had to quickly calculate how much fuel and time we'd have before we'd need to divert." Despite the Q400's ability to fly a Category III approach down to nearly zero-zero conditions, Yoder's first leg as an airline pilot ended where it began, back in Spokane after the aircraft diverted. She told Flying that on her return to Spokane, she realized the entire leg had worked out just the way she'd been trained. She excitedly mentioned one regret that day, despite not landing at SEA/TAC: "That I didn't start my airline career sooner." In an earlier interview, Yoder told Flying that in 2011 she decided flying airplanes would have to remain a dream, and she entered a pre-law program.

The past few years have been busy for this Moses Lake, Washington, lady who recently completed Horizon Airline’s training program after attending and instructing at ATP Flight School. She interviewed with Horizon in 2016 just after she began her initial flight training and quickly became part of Horizon’s Tuition Reimbursement Program, offered exclusively through ATP, that would pay academic dividends over the next few years. Horizon guaranteed her a job, provided she earned the necessary ratings, which she did. Yoder began instructing at ATP’s Everett, Washington, location where she initially earned her ratings. Her future airline home offered some financial support too. “Horizon added $5 for every hour I flew between 500 and 1,500 hours,” she explains. Yoder was eventually promoted to the role of an ATP standardization pilot in early 2018. The only catch was the job was in Jacksonville, Florida.

Kelsey Yoder
Horizon First Officer Kelsey Yoder Learns the Practical Side of Airline Flying.Courtesy Kelsey Yoder

Yoder and her husband, Daniel, decided the opportunity for advancement was too good to pass up. “He’s been extremely supportive of my flying career,” she says. She made the move to Florida, where she oversaw incoming flight instructors for ATP until August 2018, when she was called up to Horizon. Yoder says she had been monitoring her logged hours closely and was ready for that first classroom day at Horizon on August 20, 2018. As part of Horizon’s continuing Tuition Reimbursement Program through ATP, the airline has been adding another $500 each month during her first year of line flying to help offset her school loans.

Before she knew it, her class of eight new pilots had completed their training at Horizon, including IOE. Yoder remembers those first days on the line were very similar to the airline’s training, with emphasis on checklists and standard procedures. She remembers learning those routines from day one at ATP, and she learned an important lesson during IOE: Even full-motion simulators don’t replicate the real feel and picture out the window of a Q400 during landing. “You can’t just pull the throttle back to flight idle in the flare, or pitch the nose very high,” she says. “My IOE captain demonstrated a few landings before I tried one. At first, it looked like we were going to shove the nose into the ground. But once I tried a few, I began to get the hang of it. Now I feel like I can really fly the big, complex Q much better. I’m staying ahead of the airplane, and I’m much better at real multitasking.”

Being the youngest in her class meant Yoder drew the lowest pilot seniority number, which governs everything from the aircraft pilots fly to their base station to their number of vacation days. “Horizon has about 850 pilots,” Yoder says. “My seniority number now is in the low 700s,” a fact that’s already affecting her work schedule. After spending just a few months on reserve at Horizon’s most junior Medford, Oregon, base, her seniority allowed her to move back to Seattle, where she now lives with her husband. She often sits in airport reserve, which runs from 5 a.m. until 1 p.m. And for Yoder, reserve keeps her busy. “In the last four days of reserve, I’ve already flown three,” she says. She hopes to be able to hold a regular line of flying by the end of 2019.

I asked if she ever thinks about law school. It took her about half a second to answer. “Never. My office view is much better than theirs will ever be. Flying is everything I dreamed of and more. I get to fly into LAX, one of the busiest airports in the country. I get to meet a lot of really cool people too.”

Alaska Airlines held an aviation day not long ago in Seattle, and Yoder was on hand in uniform to give cockpit tours of the Mighty Q. “I remember talking to this 13-year-old girl about how cool it was to be an airline pilot,” she told Flying. “She thanked me with a big hug. It was really rewarding to think I might be inspiring a future pilot. Being involved in aviation is 10,000 times better than any other job could possibly be.”