Former flight attendant to become first woman to lead Japan Airlines

Japan Airlines said Wednesday that it will appoint Mitsuko Tottori as its next president, in a move that will make her the first female leader in the carrier’s seven-decade history. She will start in her new role in April.

Her appointment reflects Japan Airlines’ intent to assuage customer concerns about safety, in the wake of the fiery collision between one of its passenger jets and a Japanese coast guard plane at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport on Jan. 2. Five coast guard officials were killed, but all 367 passengers and the dozen crew members aboard the jet escaped. The carrier was praised for its smooth 20-minute evacuation of a plane that was already on fire.

At a news conference announcing her appointment, Tottori praised those crew members. “I think there was a strong sense of mission to ensure that everyone evacuated safely,” she said.

“I feel very proud” of the crew, she added.

Tottori is a former flight attendant who began her career in 1985 four months before the airline’s deadliest disaster, which killed more than 500 people. Only four survived, including two children, The Washington Post reported at the time.

Tottori told reporters this week that the 1985 accident remains “deeply ingrained in my heart.”

“As someone who knew what happened then, I feel extremely responsible for passing on the importance of safety to the next generation,” she said. “I will continue to work with a strong determination for safety, which is the foundation of airlines.”

How 379 people escaped fiery Japan Airlines plane crash

The symbolism of becoming the company’s first female leader was not lost on Tottori, who promised to serve as a role model.

“There are female employees out there who are struggling with their career steps or going through big life events,” she said. “I hope that my appointment as president can encourage them or give them the courage to take the next step.”

The 59-year-old has served in roles that helped shape the company’s safety policies. She was a senior manager of the carrier’s cabin safety department from 2013 to 2015 and was a vice president overseeing the same department from 2019 to 2020, according to Japan Airlines.

The carrier has previously cited Tottori’s “high level of insight and field experience in safe flight operations” as a flight attendant, plus her work with safety and security, as reasons for naming her to senior positions.

“Safety and service are the two pillars of my career,” Tottori told reporters.

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