After Staying Home to Raise Kids, Texas Grandmother Pursues Dream as Pilot for Southwest Airlines

As a newly minted first officer, the aviator hopes she's showing her children and granddaughters that it's never too late

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Life may be best viewed from 30,000 feet for Tamaron Nicklas. But for more than two decades, she's left the flying to her husband, Larry, and watched life unfold with her feet planted firmly on the ground.

“I just thought, 'I can't do this anymore. I think I need to be home,'” recalled Nicklas after having four children in six years.

The daughter of an Air Force pilot, Nicklas followed in his footsteps.

“I was in the seventh class of women who graduated from the Air Force Academy once they started accepting women,” she said.

There, she met her husband. And after graduation, Nicklas went to pilot training and learned to fly refuelers while Larry flew fighter jets. Later, both became instructors before it was time to start their family.

“I walked away and thought I was done,” said Nicklas.

Family Photo

Twenty-four years later, with her youngest now out of the house, Nicklas overheard a story about a former classmate that inspired her to think about her next chapter.

“Somebody started talking about a gal in a previous class that had been out of flying for many years, stayed home with her kids, and she had gotten back into flying,” said Nicklas. “I thought, 'Huh. Could I do that?'"

Nicklas and her husband visited a flying club in Colorado, where they lived at the time. She was surprised to be offered a job on the spot as an instructor. It wasn't long before she was hired to teach for the Air Force’s initial flight training program.

"It felt like going home," she said.

When her grandchildren were born in Wylie, she and her husband moved back to North Texas where she took her first commercial job with a regional airline.

“It was all kind of an uphill battle, but it just came down to, how badly do you want it?" said Nicklas.

And after two years of adapting to new technology and flying alongside pilots her children’s age, Nicklas was hired by Dallas-based Southwest Airlines.

When it came time for her inaugural flight, she did it alongside her husband, Capt. Nicklas, who’s flown for the airline for nearly 30 years.

"I was like, ‘Are we going to tell the passengers? Uh, do you think they'll like it?' And he, right away, made the announcement, ‘This is my wife's first flight at Southwest Airlines,'” she said.

“I’m super proud of her. It's hard enough to just do your everyday job as opposed to something you haven't done in 24 years,” Larry told NBC 5.

Now, as a newly minted first officer, Nicklas hopes she's showing her children and granddaughters that it's never too late to follow your dreams.

“Whatever you want to do, just work hard and you're going to do it,” she said.

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