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33 years after making history, American Airlines' first female captain honored for pioneering role

Pioneering female airline captain honored
Pioneering female airline captain honored 01:46

More than 33 years ago, Beverley Bass soared into history as the first woman captain of a commercial plane for American Airlines, which was the biggest airline in the world. But when she took off from New York's LaGuardia Airport that day in 1986, she didn't know she would become international news. 

"I had no idea, but it made headlines around the world," Bass told CBS News at The Points Guy Awards on Monday night. "I just thought I was going to be like every captain, just flying the airplane."

That high-profile flight was followed by countless others. Bass' career as a pilot spanned four decades, and her success in aviation inspired others in the field, as well as women in other industries.

Her life and leadership have even figured into a Broadway musical. The show "Come from Away" focuses on what Bass did as a pilot on 9/11, when she had to divert her flight to the tiny town of Gander, Newfoundland, and local residents pitched in to take care of the stranded passengers. The show debuted in 2013, and in 2017 it made its way to Broadway, earning a Tony nomination for Best Musical.

The 2019 TPG Awards
Becky Gulsvig, who plays Beverely Bass in Broadway's "Come from Away"; "The Points Guy" Brian Kelly; and Bass attend the 2019 TPG Awards at The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York. Mike Pont/Getty

Now, decades after she first took to the skies, Bass was honored by travel guru Brian Kelly — aka "The Points Guy" — at his annual awards ceremony. Choosing Bass as this year's TPG Awards honoree was a given, Kelly told CBS News. He and his team had seen "Come from Away" and knew the real-life protagonist was someone special.

At the TPG Awards, it was also announced Kelly's company donated $50,000 to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots in Bass' honor.

International Society of Women Airline Pilots was created by Bass and fellow pilot Stephanie Wallach, whom she met while working in the 1970s. What started as a small society of female aviators has transformed into a program that provides mentorship and career support to aspiring pilots.

"Coming up through 40-some-odd years of flying, I never thought of myself as a pioneer, but now that I'm so much older — and, by the way I'm still flying jets — I'm now finally beginning to realize that those of us who started in the 70s, we are the pioneers. But I never thought of it like that all those years," Bass told CBS News at the TPG Awards.

The 2019 TPG Awards
Beverley Bass at the 2019 TPG Awards. The Points Guy announced he would donate $50,000 to Bass' organization, the International Society of Women Airline Pilots, in her honor. Mike Pont/Getty

Bass, now in her 60s, is able to reflect on just how pivotal she was in paving the way for other women, and she has advice for those working in male-dominated industries.

"What I always say to them, especially those who are going to be working in a man's world, is you have to be very good at your job, you have to maintain respect, and you have to be true to yourself," Bass said. "I never tried to be one of the guys. I always said, 'I'm a girl first, i just happen to be a girl pilot.'"

Bass is still inspiring and making an impact — but one of her proudest influences is on her daughter, who is now a pilot too, she said.

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