The following is a feature article from Envoy Communications Specialist, Katie Hall, who attended the 2023 National Gay Pilots Association (NGPA) Winter Warm Up in Palm Springs, California earlier this month.
A little about me
As the newest member of the Envoy Communications team, and coming in with experience working pretty much anywhere but aviation, I had no clue what to expect when the opportunity arose to attend my first conference. But, as with every project I’ve gotten to take part in here at Envoy, I was eager to jump headfirst into the experience.
Sure, I’ve been to quite a few conferences before, but none of them were anything like the NGPA Winter Warm-Up, celebrating pride and diversity on the flight deck and all across the aviation industry.
Wheels down in PSP
One cool thing I learned when registering for the event is that this annual conference is hosted in Palm Springs, California – a city I hadn’t yet been able to visit before – and as a big fan of Mid-Century Modern architecture and furniture, I was extra excited to take off for the trip.
At the convention center, attendees were greeted with bright, colorful signs, welcoming us to the conference. Since we arrived shortly after the Industry Expo began, we quickly made our way to registration to pick up our badges and check out the expo.
Envoy recently became a top-tier, Titanium Level Sponsor of NGPA, alongside major airlines such as American Airlines. Along with providing scholarships and supporting events such as the Winter Warm Up, it was great to see our logo on the programs handed out to all attendees. Of course I had to snag a picture of the Envoy logo with the Palm Trees in the background!
Checking in and Warming Up
The NGPA Winter Warm Up event is one of the largest recruiting event for pilots across the United States – so it was really interesting to be able to walk around the conference center and see many of the the different companies, schools and people who make up this massive, exciting industry. I met people from some of Envoy’s Cadet partner schools, met several Envoy pilots who received conditional job offers (CJOs) at American Airlines (congrats, Anthony and Matt!), and learned more from Envoy’s Air Operations Recruitment team about all the programs, events and work that goes into supporting an event such as the Warm Up.
Breaking through and breaking out
In addition to the main exposition event, throughout the day on Friday the NGPA hosted breakout sessions that covered a broad range of important topics relevant to so many members of the LGBTQ+ community who work in the aviation industry. Just a few of the sessions I was able to catch included:
- The NGPA Women’s Committee met to examine the challenges faced by female identifying aviators and discussed how we can all work together to create more space for women in the skies.
- The Transgender and Nonbinary Committee talked about the complexity of breaking down the current barriers Trans people face in the airline industry, like insurance coverage for transition care and gendered uniform policies.
There was even a breakout session discussing the importance of being an ally in the industry – something I personally think everyone can benefit from learning more about, no matter what your role at work may be.
A Starlight Reception, with American Airlines
After the daytime events at the convention center wrapped up, we headed outside to the back of the Palm Springs Convention Center to celebrate Winter Warm-Up’s official kickoff party, the Starlight Reception presented by American Airlines.
This was an awesome opportunity to meet even more people from across the industry, in a more laid-back, social atmosphere, complete with a selfie booth, a 15 foot inflatable American Airlines aircraft and a build-your-own macaroni and cheese station. The build-your-own macaroni and cheese station alone is reason enough for me to already have my hotel booked for the 2024 Winter Warm-Up!
Queen of the Fleet
The next day kicked off with the Queen of the Fleet competition, just around the corner from the Palm Springs International Airport (PSP). Here, attendees got to enjoy lunch and take a stroll around the hangar to see all different types of single and multi-engine aircraft. For me, this was a completely new opportunity – getting to be so close to so many different types of planes with scenic mountains in the background was such a unique and memorable experience.
Dressing to the nines
On the last night of the Warm-Up, attendees threw on their best dress and came together at a formal gala to enjoy dinner and a comedy show, while also celebrating the students who received NGPA scholarships, including two of Envoy’s own Cadets.
Before the scholarship winners were introduced, NGPA President, Brian Gambino spoke to the crowd about the incredible accomplishments the organization and its members and supporters have made for LGBTQ+ aviators over the last year. He took the time to explain what it takes to keep the organization running and to keep making those tremendous strides, and soon we saw a fundraising meter pop up on the screen with a number to text to make a quick donation to the NGPA.
The meter was close to empty and the goal they had listed was $65,000, but in no time, donations started pouring in and the meter started rising. Before dinner was even served, we saw the bar hit $10,000. Before long, it was up to $20,000. I thought it was incredible to see a room of so many people reacting selflessly and without hesitation to give back to an organization that opens so many doors for so many under-represented groups. By the next morning, I learned that they received donations totaling over $68,000 at the gala alone.
The “battle for the skies” Drag Brunch
The next and final morning I spent in Palm Springs, I got to attend the NGPA Drag Brunch. In this situation, I was facing two “never” scenarios that made my attendance at this event absolutely necessary – first, I never turn down a breakfast buffet, and second, I had never been to a drag show! This brunch was closer to lunch time, so I threw a salad on my plate next to my waffles and found an open seat at the packed show. In no time, the audience was up jumping, laughing and singing along with the performers singing everything from old classics to Hilary Duff!
Why NGPA and events like these are so important
The overarching takeaway I gathered from this experience is this: there are people everywhere – even more of them than you may think, in places you may not expect – who see and respect the authentic you, who are committed to supporting you, and who will advocate for you and your truth.
Events such as the Warm Up bring together people who understand (because they have been in your shoes too) that happiness, authenticity and success both in your professional and personal life does not have to be a contradiction.
Like Envoy, this was a space where everyone was welcoming, encouraging and supportive of anyone who enters and says to themselves, “I belong here.”
Learn more about the NGPA at ngpa.org.