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However one looks at it, women lawyers are doing well in the airline business. They are general counsel at five out of seven commercial carriers on the Fortune 500 list. Cast a wider net to capture what are generally called the “major” airlines — commercial carriers with over $1 billion in annual revenue — and women occupy six of the nine top legal spots. Look farther afield, and there are more women GCs at national and regional carriers. Kathleen Soled is the general counsel of TWA Airlines LLC, now a subsidiary of American Airlines Inc. Hawaiian Airlines Inc. has Lyn Anzai as its GC. And Carol Skornicka is GC of Midwest Express Airlines Inc., a regional carrier based in Oak Creek, Wis., that caters to business travelers. Even more women general counsel can be found at air freight companies as well as aircraft manufacturers and leasing corporations. No wonder the law council of the primary industry trade group, the Air Transport Association of America Inc., increasingly has more female participants. Roughly half of the legal officers who represent the ATAA’s member companies are now women. “In the service industries, highly skilled, highly talented women have been better able to rise to the top … and the airline industry is very much a service-oriented industry,” explains Joel Henning, senior vice president and general counsel of the legal consulting firm Hildebrandt International Inc. Women don’t just lead many of the airline world’s legal efforts. They also make up a significant portion of airline law departments’ rank and file. Women are in the majority at Continental Airlines Inc.’s legal division, filling 10 of the 17 lawyer slots. Of the dozen lawyers that GC Deborah Ackerman oversees at Southwest Airlines Co. and the 16 working under GC Francesca Maher at UAL Corp. and its subsidiary United Air Lines Inc., half are women. And more than one-third of the 42 lawyers reporting to GC Robert Harkey at Delta Air Lines Inc. are female. The law departments represent a larger trend. Women also hold nonlegal positions in senior management at many carriers, from senior vice president of flight operations at Continental, Deborah McCoy, all the way up to Southwest President Colleen Barrett. A few years ago, Southwest’s Ackerman found herself negotiating a $3 billion order for Boeing 737 jetliners with three other women: a sales director and a contracts officer from The Boeing Co. and Southwest’s then-treasurer (now vice president of finance). “We got a kick out of it,” Ackerman says, still relishing the memory of this accidental all-female team. “We have annual reunions just to remind ourselves of that deal.”

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