COCKPIT CONFIDENTIAL • December 2022
From Christmas dinner in the cockpit to taking your family with you, British Airways colleagues reveal what it’s really like to work – and fly – on Christmas Day
Ryan Irwin, First Officer on the 787
I’ve got Christmas Day off this year, but I’ve flown on it a few times. I get my schedule a couple of months in advance, which gives me a chance to make alternative plans with family if I’m working on the big day.
In 2019, I flew through the night on Christmas Eve from London to Kuala Lumpur. We arrived late on Christmas Day and all the crew went out together for a lovely dinner. Some even brought family and friends along.
I wear a Santa hat and Christmas jumper instead of my pilot’s uniform. British Airways is good like that and will let you forgo the rules to get into the spirit of things. There’s always a good atmosphere and crew will bring mince pies to the briefing room.
Passengers get into the festive spirit, too. There’s a heightened excitement because it feels novel to fly on Christmas Day, somehow. We serve a Christmas meal on the flight, which is actually very good. I’ll usually get one and send my family a photo of me in the cockpit eating it.
I like to get the crew a lottery ticket each as a present on the day as well. One year, I miscounted and bought an extra ticket, so I kept it for myself – and won a few hundred quid. Luckily, the crew laughed about it.
Christmas dinner of choice at home? A big buffet at my parents’ house with a selection of beef, ham or turkey.
“I wear a Santa hat and Christmas jumper instead of my pilot’s uniform to get into the spirit of things”
Karen Patel, Captain on the 777
I’ve flown on Christmas Day several times to Delhi, Mumbai, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong and other destinations. I’ll be flying this year, too, but luckily my trip lands the morning of the 25th, so I should be back in time to enjoy a Christmas dinner at home. Sometimes my family has moved the celebration to another day because I’m away.
In 2021, I flew from Malé in the Maldives to London on Christmas morning, landing in the evening about 12.5 hours later. It was probably hard for many passengers to go from a warm, beautiful place to a UK winter. New cabin crew were in a good mood, though, because they’d just had a five-day trip in an amazing place.
One of the better things about flying that day is there are less flights, so you’re less likely to hold coming into Heathrow. Working on Christmas can be a good laugh. We tend to dress up and make the day festive. To be honest, I think most crew would prefer not to be working on the 25th, but you do get some people who actually ask to.
Christmas dinner of choice at home? I’m a traditionalist: I like the full roast turkey experience.
“Working on Christmas can be a good laugh. We tend to dress up and make the day festive”
Joffy Hall, Senior First Officer on the 787
I’ve often worked on Christmas Day or been away because of work. In 2021, I flew from London Heathrow to Mexico City and my partner came too (when we work over Christmas, we can choose to take our ‘staff travel nominees’ with us). We live in Edinburgh and arrived at Heathrow on Christmas Eve to be ready for the flight. My partner was well looked after by the crew – he really enjoyed his own Christmas dinner and Champagne.
When we landed, we squeezed in some drinks at the hotel bar with the whole crew, Christmas jumpers and sparkle out in full force. Technically, it was Boxing Day by then. But we took full advantage of the six-hour time zone change to get a few more hours out of Christmas Day. As colleagues, we all come together and celebrate with a sense of family.
Pilots usually find out if they’re working then by early November. If so, I arrange an early Christmas Day with my extended family – any excuse for another festive lunch.
Christmas dinner of choice at home? Beef Wellington with all the trimmings.
“As colleagues, we all come together and celebrate with a sense of family”
Words by Sophy Grimshaw