COCKPIT CONFIDENTIAL • February 2023
What sparks a life-long love affair with aviation? Our pilots share their stories of how they became smitten with soaring through the sky, from visiting the cockpit as a child to unmatched views and that feeling of just knowing, this is it…
“We’re entrusted to be in control of an extraordinary piece of technology that has made the world a smaller place”
Ilkka Tahvanainen, Senior First Officer
When I was three, I remember being wowed by the stark contrast between the deep blue sky and the brilliant white clouds as our plane punched through the grey overcast cloud layer after take-off. I visited the cockpit on many subsequent occasions (you could in those days), and I was mesmerised by the jungle of switches and controls but, above all else, by the stunning views.
Those early experiences drove me to immerse myself in all sorts of books about planes and learn everything I could about flying, which ultimately helped me later when I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to join the British Airways cadet pilot scheme. All jobs have their pluses and minuses, but flying still keeps that inner child in me gripped because of the views, the places we visit and the thought that we’re ultimately entrusted to be in control of an extraordinary piece of technology that has made the world a smaller place.
Favourite aircraft: the A350 and A380. Both are brilliant to fly and travel on. The A380 perhaps has a slight edge, simply because it’s an iconic plane.
“The flight decks are full of lights and buttons, and the acceleration during take-off and arriving somewhere new is truly magical”
Rob Johnson, Training Captain
It’s hard to say when I actually fell in love with flying, as I can’t recall ever not being in love with flying. I grew up knowing that I wanted to work with aircraft and in 1990 launched my career with British Airways as an Engineering Apprentice. I trained as a pilot in 1997 and now fly as a Training Captain on the B777. The first aircraft I worked on as an Engineering Apprentice was Concorde, so that has a special place in my heart, as does the B737, which was the first commercial aircraft I flew as a First Officer, as well as where I got my command and started as a Training Captain.
Flying and travel are exciting, especially for children. The flight decks are full of lights and buttons, and the acceleration during take-off and arriving somewhere new is truly magical. I now share this magic with children around the world with my entertaining, educational and inspirational series of animations, books and apps called Let’s Go See. Not every child can travel the world. Let’s Go See brings the world to every child.
Favourite aircraft: Concorde and the B737.
“An elemental, almost childlike fascination with flight is something I’ve tried to capture and share in my own writing”
Mark Vanhoenacker, Senior First Officer
My love of flying has been such a constant that it’s a challenge to pin down its origins. While neither of my parents were pilots, my love of flight certainly couldn’t have developed without them. My father was enthralled by airplanes – he joyfully took me to air shows and helped me assemble my model 747s, DC-10s and Concordes. One year, for a school science fair, he helped me sculpt a wing from balsa wood that smoothly lifted when we pointed a hairdryer at it. Then, when I was 16, he encouraged me to use the savings from my newspaper round for my first flying lesson.
Not long after that first lesson, my mother introduced me to the works of the Danish writer Karen Blixen, who, in the early decades of the 20th century, when flying was new to nearly everyone, described every take-off as a “great new discovery”. An elemental, almost childlike fascination with flight is something I’ve tried to capture and share in my own writing. And whenever I walk down the aisle of the 787 Dreamliner I fly now and I see a young person gazing out the window, I’m reminded of my own first journeys, and my sense of wonder is renewed.
Favourite aircraft: the Boeing 747 – the plane that changed the world, and crisscrossed the dreams of my childhood – and the 787, which connects people more efficiently and comfortably than ever before while offering spectacular views through some of the largest windows in the sky.
While our pilots have been penning their love letters to the life-changing lure of the skies, British Airways has been busy winning your hearts in the form of some extra-special Valentine’s Day surprises.
Those of you travelling in First this Valentine’s Day might have enjoyed the Cupid-approved afternoon tea, bespoke to the cabin, with its lacquered love heart cookie, raspberry tart and chocolate orange Battenberg. Those flying in Club World and Club Europe might have noticed the traditional desserts swapped out for a delectable chocolate mousse topped with a raspberry heart, or the rosewater macaroon that made an appearance on Club World’s Afternoon Tea.
High Life Shop got swept away, too, with a satisfaction-guaranteed Valentine’s Day edit full of Avios-earning gifts (it’s never too late to spoil someone: take a look at what’s on offer here). On board, a dedicated ‘Love is in the air’ in-flight entertainment channel packaged up the very best romantic flicks, while the Galleries and First lounges at Heathrow Terminal 5 gave away Valentine’s Day-themed tipples and luxury chocolates.
Missed out this time? Keep a look out for more lounge and in-flight action around Easter (9 March) and Charles III’s Coronation (6 May).