Paula Brandmeier

My day job is being a pilot with United Airlines. My father was a pilot so for me taking flying lessons was nearly the equivalent of another child taking piano lessons.

I was a computer science major in school and also flying at the same time. My big plan was to be a software engineer by day and a flight instructor on the weekends. But my first year out of college, I visited McGuire Air Force base and met people from an Air Force reserve squadron. I knew nothing about the military and didn’t appreciate that it was very unusual to get to joke around with the colonels! They all seemed to be having a dang lot more fun than I was sitting at my desk, so I went into the military. I spent about eight and half years flying the C-141 all over the world  and it was a great experience.

After that I started with United in 1985 and have been a professional pilot ever since. I’m going to start going to school next month to learn how the fly the Dreamliner 787; I currently captain a Boeing 777.

The biggest changes over the course of my career are related to technology, which is true for so many people of course. We used to carry huge books that we had to update every few weeks; now we have an iPad and it’s all online.

The amount of information we have available to us directly from our iPads—especially weather updates—is a big change, plus the satellite accuracy from using GPS, as opposed to inertial guidance systems.

When I first became a pilot, there were very few females in that role and it’s definitely still a man’s world as far as numbers go. United has the highest percentage of female pilots of any airline at 7%. When I graduated from Air Force pilot training, I was the only female in my class. I’ve had largely positive experiences in my role; my fellow pilots have been great. I will say that passengers don’t tend to think I’m the pilot. I can be standing at the front of the plane, in my full uniform, including my cap, at the end of the flight and people are still looking around me for the pilot.

I’ve found over the course of my career that people can be amazing pilots no matter which path they took to get there: whether they came up through the military or have always been civilians. We all go through the same training and if you’re sitting in the pilot’s seat, you’re ready for the job.

My most memorable caffeine was at Caffè Sant’Eustachio

in Rome. I was on a layover there a couple summers ago and I’d been told they had the best coffee in the entire city. I went around and around trying to find it and I finally did—the search was part of the fun! There was a little countertop and old Italian men. No chairs. You downed your coffee and you left. It was quite good—don’t know if I’d say “the best” but I enjoyed the scavenger hunt aspect of searching for it.

My current caffeine of choice is typically a basic Keurig coffee with a little “bad for you” sweetener milk. If I’m out, I’ll usually opt for an extra hot, flat white, grande size.

My favorite place for caffeine is typically my house. I travel all the time so my favorite cup of coffee is the one I have at home. I set my alarm a half hour early to make and enjoy that coffee. Though I will also say I’m quite a Starbucks regular and have 50+ of Starbucks’ “You are Here” coffee mugs that I’ve collected during my travels. You can’t buy a cup unless you actually visit the place—no cheating! It’s a very dangerous hobby (I have way too many mugs) plus so sad when you break one from a place you won’t get back to any time soon.

The people I’d love to share a cup of caffeine with are Michelle Obama, Judy Garland and Brad Pitt.

What fun it would be to sit down with Michelle and hear all about her story—even little things like the first night in the White House. What was that like? She’s done so much for children, she’s so intelligent, maybe I could get a little bit of whatever she’s got to rub off on me!

I was a kid when Judy Garland died. I was always been a bit fascinated by her, even though the only thing I knew about her then was that she was in the Wizard of Oz. I hate to admit how many recesses my friends and I spent trying to contact Judy through a séance.

I just saw the movieJudy and it brought those memories back. She was such a tragic figure; one of those grand old dames of Broadway, dealing with so much in their personal lives and just getting on stage and making sure the show went on. What would it have taken for someone to intervene and save her?

My last pick, Brad Pitt, is simply because he seems like he’d be a lot of fun to go and have a beer with. I’d love to get all the “inside scoops.”

World problem that could be solved with the right amount of caffeine: How divided our country has become. I wish we could get back to common sense and stop the polarization. I work with people all the time who are polar opposites, but they find common ground and figure out a way to get along. It’s completely possible. Maybe everything that’s going on around us right now during COVID-19 will help us unplug and think.