FEEL GOOD | Meet 24-year-old Melissa, SA’s first TikTok verified pilot with 11 million likes on the app

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Melissa, also known as pilot_onthegram, has amassed over 11 million followers on TikTok and became the first local pilot to be verified on the app. Image supplied by pilot_onthegram
Melissa, also known as pilot_onthegram, has amassed over 11 million followers on TikTok and became the first local pilot to be verified on the app. Image supplied by pilot_onthegram
  • Melissa, also known as pilot_onthegram, has amassed over 11 million followers on TikTok and became the first local pilot to be verified on the app.
  • The Joburg-based pilot makes fun and educational videos about her industry to teach others about aviation and encourage those who have aspirations of working in the industry to keep going for their goals.
  • Melissa also helps other young people in pilot training or who have aspirations to come onboard by offering a mentorship program and classes in the field.

You may have encountered her thousands-strong TikTok account, or you might be one of her 75 300 Instagram friends. 

Either way, Melissa, also known as pilot_onthegram, is a name you should know, not only because she’s just become South Africa’s first pilot to become TikTok verified, but because she’s fast become a trusted source of inside information about what life is like in the aviation industry.

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The 24-year-old has worked hard to get over 11,4 million likes on the platform and says she’s not stopping anytime soon, especially because she has the support of her employers and colleagues.

“Being a pilot was always looked at as a dream that many told me I would never be able to accomplish. I wouldn’t settle until that dream became a reality. I am the first pilot in my family. As a kid, whenever I flew, I was intrigued by turbulence,” says.

Melissa tells W24 that she is a commercial pilot with a frozen ATPL, an Aircraft Manager and content creator. 

Her social media popularity is growing fast. In the few days between doing this interview and publishing it, her TikTok account, which she started last year, had grown from 697 400 to 702 000 followers, and her views had shot up from 87 to 11,4 million. On Instagram, some of her reels have reached over a million views. And by the time you read this article, those numbers would have most likely grown even more.

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So, how exactly does she do it?

“I record all my videos using my GoPro that is not touched throughout the flight. Videos are then edited at home and take anywhere between two to four hours,” she says.

“Without a doubt, one of my favourite videos is that of the Air Traffic Control at OR Tambo International Airport recognising me from my social media on frequency and calling me by my social media handle. This is the busiest airport in Africa.”

Melissa believes one of the things that her followers enjoy is seeing the inner workings of the aircraft that she pilots.

“As much as I enjoy creating fun content on the job, I make it a priority to include educational content and allow viewers to see what goes on in the flight deck,” she says, adding that in her videos, she always tries to remain authentic.

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Speaking about how she got verified, she says, “My account started growing at a rapid rate, and views started skyrocketing. Once my account started getting the amount of exposure it did, I was verified in a year. My most viewed video has 33,2 million views. On Instagram, some of my reels have reached over a million views.” 

Melissa is also giving back to other young people as she runs a mentorship program and classes for people interested in aviation and those in training.

“As a young female of colour, I hope to change the dynamic of the aviation industry by making information more readily available to individuals,” she says. “I hope to continue inspiring and encouraging individuals, show them that you really can achieve anything and to remember that God always has a plan for your life. I want people to know that it’s okay to ask questions, it’s okay to be unsure, it’s okay to be overwhelmed, but it’s never okay to give up.”

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If you are interested in aviation or becoming a content producer, here are a few success tips from Melissa:

1 - Always make sure you stay true to yourself. It is important to make videos that represent who you are and never do anything just for views.

2 - Never never let people’s negative opinions get to you. Even though you will get a lot of hate comments, always remember that you put yourself out there to reach that one person who feels inspired by your videos.

3 - Always continue to share what you love on your chosen social media app, irrespective of what anyone has to say. It is your platform, and you need to own it!

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