Lola Reid Allin: Fierce, Flying, Female

Last year we dared a visit to France. Our flight home was entrusted to a female pilot, which I did not think that was particularly unusual, but apparently it is. Even now in these supposedly enlightened times under six percent of commercial pilots are female despite the fact that it is now fifty years since the first female pilot flew a commercial aircraft. Everyone knows of the exploits of Amelia Earhart and Amy Johnson and older readers will probably be familiar with the contribution women made to aviation in the WW2, but it appears the bra burning women’s liberation movement still has a lot of old fashioned prejudice to contend with in the world of commercial aviation.

Lola Reid Allin had been on my radar for a while…I had heard much about her, and made my mind up what meeting her would be like well in advance of setting eyes on her in the flesh. My imagination revived a childhood memory, conjuring a fusion of a Katherine Hepburn like figure from The African Queen with the imposing Lady Augusta Bracknell from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. A visit to her Belleville home did not disappoint.

Prior to our meeting I thought some research would be prudent and attended her presentation in The Armchair Traveller series at the Belleville Public Library about her exploits in Australia.

The Armchair Traveller is a lecture series devised by Lola Reid Allin in 2017 in conjunction with the library. Originally its purpose was only to provide a platform to share her adventures and photographs, but now it has expanded to offer opportunities for the works of other photographers as well, with the aim of inspiring people to travel with the hope of broadening minds. The series has attracted the attention of Belleville’s Downtown Docfest and a collaborative event is planned for 4 Feburary 2023 hosted at the John M. Parrott Gallery.


Armchair Traveller Future Talks Schedule
Susan Guy. Canadian Wildlife Adventures. 8 Dec 22. 6.30.
Nicloe Zeberdee Burley. Forgotten Ontario. 4 Feb 23. 6.30. Sponsored by DocFest.
Randy & Janet Googe. Portugal: The Azores, Algarve and more. 27 April 23. 6.30

From the extensive Introduction delivered by acting curator Wendy Rayson-Kerr, I learn “Lola Reid Allin is a commercial pilot, a flight instructor, a scuba dive master, and an adventurer who has explored more than sixty countries in depth. Other accolades include being an award-winning author and photographer whose work has appeared in many notable publications both in print and online, including the National Post, Globe & Mail, and National Geographic. Her personally-narrated presentations include reports from Australia, Baffin Island (Canada), Chile, and England, visits to the Maya, and Mayan archaeological sites in Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala, as well as trips to Morocco, Scotland, and Vietnam.”

Seemingly, her accomplishments are endless, she has backpacked across Baffin Island, trekked the Inca Trail, climbed Kilimanjaro all the way to the summit, earned her dog-mushing certificate in the Yukon, and crossed deserts riding camels. She is also an archaeologist and is deeply involved in an organization called Pathways to Success: Women in Aviation.

Her adventures around the globe are mostly solo trips, though occasionally her husband Jeff is allowed to come along. Lola actually prefers to travel independently as it allows her to more easily integrate into the community she is visiting. Her travels may not be regimented, she eats local foods, avoids obvious tourist destinations, and journeys by bus or train or on foot if need be and stays with locals she meets en route or in modestly priced accommodation. This, she feels is the distinction between a traveller and a tourist. Though fearless, she is not reckless, and is fully aware of the dangers inherent in being a women alone, commenting that, “Most people are not murderers, rapists or robbers,” though on one occasion she was relieved of her wallet.

Lola sums up the value of travel in two quotes, one from Mark Twain and the other from Aldous Huxley:-

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely…Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

“To travel is to discover that everybody is wrong about other countries.”

A flight across Canada in a commercial airliner at a tender age sowed the seeds of the dream to become a pilot, even though this would have been considered an improbable career option for women. She yearned for an exciting life and would not accept the perception that exciting destinies were more exclusive to boys.

“I inserted myself into the stories of aviators and envisioned myself as Amelia Earhart who flew just for the fun of it. Following my first flight as a passenger across Canada at the age of seven, aviation and famous aviators intrigued me. I spent hours daydreaming about my exciting future life as a pilot, even though everyone I knew insisted that flying was an unrealistic ambition, especially for a girl.”

Her fierce independence may be attributable to her childhood: being born to parents who candidly she admits, “probably should not have had children.” However she is quick to clarify she “wasn’t neglected or abused in any way,” but she bonded more with her grandparents when not spending time alone.

Her grandparents cultivated her wanderlust and bolstered her self-confidence, buying her a bike which was blue in colour, as in blue for a boy. “Whirlwind summers of great journeys by planes, trains, and automobiles. I’ve camped on Lake Superior shores guarded by Gitchi Manitou, stroked the soft muzzles of Algonquin Park’s white tailed deer, counted bison on prairie grasslands, and viewed Canada’s Rocky Mountains from glass-domed train coaches. I’ve shivered beside Hawthorne’s foreboding clapboard muse for House of the Seven Gables, sidled between the rock face of Niagara Falls and the thundering cascade, gagged on maritime seawater, and been enchanted by Port aux Basques’ craggy coastline emerging from morning fog.”

Falling in love, lead to marriage, a child and a position in a bank where she climbed the corporate ladder all the way to the lofty heights of the “second rung.” The marriage did not fare well, but in an attempt to shore it up, her husband suggested they take flying lessons together. She had married a man whose father and uncle both had single engine airplanes. Alas the marriage continued its downward trajectory, but Lola’s enduring love of flying was rekindled.


Acting decisively and against parental advice, she exited the marriage and the job, enrolled in flying school, and just over a year later, had her pilot’s licence joining an exclusive club of only two hundred female pilots in Canada. However her success was tempered by her beloved Grandfather’s observation’ “that she would be taking a job from a man.”

Then began the challenge of getting a job, and being an attractive blond posed the predictable hazard of encountering men in positions of power only too willing to propose trading sexual favours for preferment, none of which were accepted. Prejudice against women in positions of responsibility was commonplace in the eighties and one can only imagine the extent of the antipathy towards female pilots when one reads the text inscribed on the napkins pictured here which date from 2014! Lola’s somewhat predictably acerbic response to the prejudice she encountered was and remains to comment, “that the plane does not know if you have a dick or not.”

On one occasion seared into her memory, standing resplendent in her new pilot’s uniform, she was mistakenly identified by a male customer as the air stewardess. Further, he had the gall to accuse her of borrowing the jacket adorned with the three captain’s stripes. Such reactions were unfortunately not as rare as one might wish and triggered Lola’s continuing battles against prejudice in aviation and her continuing enthusiastic support of women in aviation.

Lola Reid Allin Chronology:
1979. First flight, Chatham, ON
1980 – pass CPL Flight test, WWFC
1980 – Instructor Rating, WWFC
1980 – receive Class IV Instructor Rating
1980 – begin commercial pilot career as Flight Instructor,
1981 – receive Class II Instructor status
1981 – pass multi-IFR test on PA-23 Aztec, start right seat PA-31CR
1982 – relocate to Vanderhoof, BC to become CFI/Chief Pilot** 1982 – Northern Ontario – charter/medevacs PA-23, PA-31/350, D18S (floats)
1983 – start flying DHC-6/300, Twin Otter*** (commemorated on Women in Aviation Wall of Fame, Bush Plane Museum, Sault Ste. Marie, Canada)
1985 – relocate to Waterloo to complete degree, started via correspondence 1981
1985 – return to WWFC as Assistant CFI**
1986 – become CFI WWFC** and DFTE
1986 – receive Class I Instructor status
1988 – begin work at DeHavilland/Flight Safety, CFB Downsview as Flight Training/Ground School Supervisor** DHC-6/300
1989 – certified to fly DASH 8/100***
**first female ***first Canadian female to fly DHC-6/300 scheduled service *** first female
2019 – recertified on C152 WWFC
2020 – WWFC Alumni of Honour

It is now forty years since Lola’s first flying lesson and the number of females in significant positions in aviation remains stubbornly low. She observes what with, “human rights legislation and the understanding that biology no longer determines destiny, I felt certain 21st century female pilots would be basking in a milieu of acceptance.” To many the perception of aviation remains that of an old boys’ club. “The ‘Me Too’ movement has encouraged women to reveal damaging personal experiences, even though speaking out remains daunting. Many women hesitate to express personal injustices or sexual harassment perpetrated by colleagues and employers, fearing job loss and social repercussions, in a culture of shaming that often blames the female victim instead of the male perpetrator,” Lola observes.

Another part of the problem is social conditioning where young girls do not routinely think of themselves in such capacities. Clearly education has a continuing role to play in changing attitudes that hold back half the population. Lola is actively engaged in educational outreach programs to encourage girls to consider careers in aviation and especially as pilots. She has been actively engaged with the Ninety-Nines an organization founded in 1931 to promote similar objectives. The first president was Amelia Earhart and Lola participates in the education committee. At the Prince Edward County Flying Club, Picton, Lola is preparing with the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association to host a Girls in Aviation Day on September 16. I think we must all agree Lola Reid Allin is no armchair traveller.

 “Courage is never to let your actions be influenced by your fears.” Arthur Koestler.














Share this article