MANILA, Philippines - It's rare to see a woman emerge in a captain's uniform but there she was, standing tall amid the crowd of people at the airport.
At 5'7" and blessed with Filipina good looks, she could be a contestant for a beauty pageant.
But Capt. Brooke Castillo is in command, and today she has two flights, taking about 200 passengers via Cebu Pacific's Airbus to two destinations, Cagayan De Oro and Hong Kong.
"It's just a regular thing that I do every day," she said when asked how it feels to have all these people's lives in her hands.
But "regular" is the last word to describe her.
"Providential" was how she put it when she accompanied a friend to take the entrance exams at Philippine Airlines.
"Maybe it's my destiny. I'm here for a reason," said Castillo who finished Business Administration at the University of the Philippines, Diliman.
She wasn't planning to enter aviation school but since she was already there, she took the exam anyway.
Her friend failed the height requirement but Castillo went on to become the first Filipina to captain a commercial jet in 1996. Since then, she has been flying planes for the last 20 years.
She is also one of two pilots sent to France in 2007 by Cebu Pacific for training to be an Airbus type-rating instructor, certified by Airbus. The other pilot is Capt. Manny Osias who was awarded the 2011 Airline Pilot of the Year by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Philippines (AOPAP).
The most challenging thing about being a pilot is making the right decisions all the time. "The hardest part is deciding every time when to take off, when to touch down. There's no room for wrong decisions," said Castillo.
Having grown up with three brothers made her so used to being around boys, she said. It also helped that she is a "low maintenance" kind of girl.
She loved sports. In high school, she was a member of the Basketball Youth National Team. She was also a member of the Philippine Junior Bowlers in college. After college, she became a member of the Taekwondo Philippine National Team.
When she was training to be a pilot, she was never intimidated with the men around her.
"I worked my way through this. I was never like, 'Tulungan mo ako kasi 'di ko kaya.' From the start, I respect the men and they respect you. Respeto lang. You don't have to prove anything. Kung ano man ang kaya nila, kaya ko rin. No big deal," said Castillo.
Cebu Pacific now has 14 female pilots, and four of them are captains like Castillo.
At 41, Castillo is still single and admitted her job is her priority. "Ang hirap kasi to give up work lalo ngayon."
Castillo is also an instructor to Cebu Pacific's pilots-in-training.
"I also find a lot of fulfillment in teaching," she said.
On her days off, she is busy organizing her alma mater St. Scholastica's big homecoming scheduled for February next year. She chairs the organizing committee.
But despite her busy life on air and on the ground, she said she also dreams of having a family someday.
If you ask her what her ideal man is, Castillo has a ready answer: "Confident pero hindi mayabang."