Editor’s Note: This story is part of a weeklong collection of stories featuring women in aviation. These stories are in recognition of Girls in Aviation Day on September 26 sponsored by Women in Aviation International. Through these stories, learn about their early motivation and continued passion for TSA’s mission.
“I have always had a passion for flying, airplanes and the wonderment of how it all works,” said TSA Social Media Manager Janis Burl. “As a kid, I would spend hours lying in the grass and watching the planes in the sky, wondering where they were going or coming from.”
Burl’s dream was to become an Air Traffic Controller. “How cool it would be to guide planes through the air and be their eyes and ears in time of a crisis,” said Burl. Unfortunately, due to a birth defect, she was unable to pass the flight physical. "I have scoliosis and cannot sit for long periods of time. The flight surgeon said that it would get worse over time, and sadly he has been correct."
She didn’t let that stop her from pursuing a career in aviation, and went on to serve 15 years in the Air Force. Now, Burl acts as the eyes and ears of TSA, running the AskTSA team and managing the social media accounts, which have been instrumental in helping the agency communicate with the public during the current COVID-19 crisis.
Did you encounter career road blocks or challenges because of your gender? If so, what were they and how did you overcome them?
Females in the military were more common when I joined. But there were still issues with my race, depending on where I was stationed. I remember being stationed in the deep south and trying to purchase a pair of socks from a department store. Standing at the counter, money in hand, I could not get anyone to check me out. But others who were not persons of color seemed to not have a problem.
Opposite of that, I was the only female on the entire plane going to Turkey. Talk about feeling a little out of place…but I never had to carry my own duffel bag or luggage on that trip. It has also been interesting when some think you are there to take notes, or get coffee. Thanks to my father and his guidance for me to stand on my own two feet, I only have to deal with that one time from anyone who approaches me in that way. Following my father’s guidance, I quickly, but as nicely as I can, clean up any misunderstanding.
How has TSA helped support your love of aviation?
My life at TSA has continued to allow me to serve my country. I have been at TSA since 2006 and I have seen many positive changes within the agency. There are more females at the Senior Executive Service level, and more openness to diversity now than there was when I arrived at TSA Headquarters in 2008. The Women Executives at TSA group has worked hard to make all feel comfortable at the table and to help women understand that they too can make a difference. The time that I spent traveling and supporting the Why Not You? Panel discussions helped me to see that we all really are the same, but are charged with doing different jobs. No matter who you are or how you look, with hard work and dedication to your craft, you can have a seat at the table where decisions are made.