"We were able to create a new chapter in the Indian aviation history."

By Cailey Rizzo
January 13, 2021
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Credit: Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images

An all-female pilot team with Air India made history this week when they completed the longest nonstop commercial flight ever operated by an Indian national airline.

"We are India's daughters who were given the opportunity to make this historic flight," Capt. Agarwal, who led the crew, told CNN on Monday. "We were able to create a new chapter in the Indian aviation history. I'm extremely proud to be a part of this and I have been personally preparing for more than a year for this flight." 

Air India Flight 176 aboard a Boeing 777 departed San Francisco at 8:30 p.m. local time Saturday evening. About 17 hours later, it landed in Bengaluru on Monday at 3:07 a.m. local time. The flight covered more than 8,600 miles and is the first to directly connect the U.S. to Southern India. 

The flight route required much preparation, particularly for the leg of the journey which carried the plane over the North Pole. The pilots were required to plan for the harsh weather, solar radiation levels and availability of airports, in case of the need for an emergency diversion. 

Agarwal was joined by her co-pilot Capt. Thanmei Papagari, who flew the second half of the flight, and two first officers, Capt. Akansha Sonaware and Capt. Shivani Manhas.

"[This flight] will create more opportunities for women," said Capt. Papagari told CNN. "The idea of seeing aviation as a male-dominated field is reducing. We are being seen as pilots, there is no differentiation."

India has the highest percentage of female pilots of any country in the world, with women making up 12.4 percent of the pilot workforce — nearly three times larger than in the U.S., where only four percent of pilots are female. 

Cailey Rizzo is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure, currently based in Brooklyn. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, or at caileyrizzo.com.