Blazing New (Con)trails: A Day with a Walmart Pilot

By Elizabeth Walker
May 14, 2018
Walmart Aviation Pilot Marjorie smiles from the cockpit

Growing up in northern Costa Rica, Marjorie Blanco and her twin sister would hear the distant hum of an engine and immediately race outside to get a glimpse of an airplane flying over their small town.

These days, Marjorie is the one in the cockpit, flying a Bombardier Learjet 45 XR for Walmart Central America, a market in which women pilots are largely unheard of. We caught up with Marjorie to hear about her average day, in her own words:

3:45 a.m. – Most of the flights our team makes are international, so my day often starts quite early. I do my hair and makeup and put on my Walmart Aviation polo with black trousers. The good thing about a uniform is that I don’t have to decide what to wear. When I flew for a commercial airline, we wore the typical pilot’s uniform (a white button down shirt with epaulets on the shoulders), but Walmart pilots do not wear any insignia to distinguish their ranks.

4:30 a.m. – In Costa Rica, we eat a big breakfast. I like to make plantains, eggs, and a traditional Latin American rice and beans dish called gallopinto. It’s important for me, as a pilot, to eat a nutritious breakfast in order to stay sharp and energized throughout the morning.

5:00 a.m. – With no traffic, it takes me around 20 minutes to drive from my home to the San José airport. I park in the airport employee parking lot and head to the international terminal where I meet my boss, David, and a handler who helps us navigate immigration and security. We take a shuttle that is waiting for us to go to the Aviation International Ramp where the aircraft is parked. It’s quite a process just to get to work!

6:00 a.m. – I arrive at the Walmart plane an hour before take-off. Our mechanic, José, has arrived two hours before in order to get the plane ready. I load my backpack, iPad, and tools onto the plane and then do a thorough walk-around the outside of the plane. This includes checking the wheels, brakes, lights and entire outside of the aircraft. Then we move inside the aircraft and turn on the airplane. We check the avionics, safety features, and oxygen quantities. We listen to the meteorological conditions at the airport, request clearance from the control tower, and upload the route into the flight management system. This is just a portion of the Standard Operating Procedure checklist we run through before each flight.

6:30 a.m. – Before each flight, David and I head to the cabin for a briefing. During the briefing, we review what to expect on this trip, departure procedures, altitudes, directions, and everything related to the safety of the flight. We discuss our normal procedures and what to do if something doesn’t go as planned. Walmart pilots do this for every flight, even if they have been flying for 20 years like David has.

6:45 a.m. – When the passengers arrive, we greet them and help them board. Typically, our passengers are Walmart executives travelling to neighboring countries – Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, and the U.S. Once the passengers are settled, we review safety procedures and get ready to take off.

7:00 – 8:15 a.m. – As the Pilot in Command, David chooses who will fly first. While he flies, I will handle the radio communication. We switch tasks on the return trip so that we both work equally.

9:00 a.m. – After we reach our destination and our passengers depart, the crew often shares a meal together. One of my favorite parts of the job is trying different kinds of food from Central America.

11:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. – If possible, I rest so that I am refreshed and alert for the return trip.

3:30 p.m. – We make our way back through security and immigration and repeat the entire process from this morning – the walk-around, checking the avionics, crew briefing, everything. We take our responsibilities seriously; it’s important not to become complacent about safety.

5:00 – 6:30 p.m. – In the air! Every flight is an adventure. We face challenging weather and runways, and airports surrounded by mountains. We also enjoy amazing views from beautiful landscapes. I can’t imagine ever getting tired of this.

6:15 p.m. – We touch down in San José, and José, our mechanic, meets us to take care of the plane. The passengers take the shuttle to the airport while I stay on the plane to do the debrief. After another walk around, José takes the airplane back to the hangar, and I make my way to my vehicle.

6:45 p.m. – Terrible traffic! My drive to work takes 20 minutes, but my drive home takes more than double that!

7:30 p.m. – I love to stay active, and I often swim to relax, clear my mind, and stay in shape.

8:30 p.m. – I usually keep dinner light with just a piece of grilled tuna and a salad. Then I might look at Instagram for a few minutes. On the weekends I watch Netflix (right now I am loving La Casa de Papel), but I don’t want to get into a stimulating show when I have to be up early the next morning. I have to be strict about bedtime in order to get enough rest.

9:00 p.m. – Lights out! My day is a long one, but it is so worth it to be able to pursue my passion and live my dream each day.