Chain reaction: BA pilots James and Tom put their best pedal forward to raise over £5,000 for Flying Start. Photo: Stuart Bailey

BA PEOPLE • November 2018

Pilot talk: The record breakers

Flying Start


British Airways is celebrating having raised £20m for Comic Relief through its Flying Start partnership. Fundraising pilots James van der Hoorn and Tom Reynolds, who recently completed an endurance-based charity cycle, step out of the flight deck to tell us how their flight training helped them break a world record

Our job isn’t limited to flying
As well as being pilots, we both represent British Airways as Pilot Ambassadors, which gives us an exciting opportunity to represent the company in corporate events around the world. This extends to operating the mobile flight simulator as it travels around the UK, during which time we get to teach members of the public how to land a jet airliner. It’s great fun being able to show those on the other side of the cockpit door what we do.

We love pushing outside our comfort zones
Tom has cycled the length of South America, and I’ve completed several ultra-marathons, but neither of us had attempted an endurance-based cycling challenge. Our world record attempt began when we found a record for the most countries visited in a day by bicycle, and after a quick brainstorm realised it was very breakable – even by us!

Thankfully nothing went too wrong
We had no punctures or mechanical issues, took very few wrong turns and had only one small incident where James fell off his bike after clipping my back tyre, but no injuries. James still claims the crash was my doing, but I say the jury is out. We’re now both proud record holders, and that’s the main thing.

Being pilots helped us break the world record 
At work we have to discuss emergencies and ‘what if?’ scenarios every day, which is exactly the same with our adventures. Despite the daredevils in us, we’re both very safety conscious, so whether we’re climbing a mountain with ice axes or cycling at 3am on a main road, we’re constantly discussing potential difficulties.


Break your challenges into smaller blocks
It immediately changes your psychological perception and can turn a seemingly impossible task into a very achievable mission. Before the world record attempt, neither of us had cycled more than 150 miles in a day, so when we got up at 7am to cycle more than 300 miles, we were both nervous. However, being fiercely competitive friends, neither of us tried to show this too much to the other!

We saw first-hand how the money we raised is being spent
Some of the people at BA who have raised a significant amount for Flying Start (the airline’s charity partnership with Comic Relief) are given the opportunity to see where the money goes. I have been to Johannesburg and Tom went to Cape Town, visiting hospitals, HIV clinics and two projects helping child abuse victims, supported by Flying Start. With total conviction we can say that the money customers donate goes to some truly amazing causes, which create lasting change for children all over the world.

We’ve just had one of the busiest periods in BA’s history
The demands on our time have been very tight. As pilots, our rosters, destinations and days off are ever-changing, which makes expedition training tough. It helps, however, that we both have a competitive streak, so when one of us finds time to train, it motivates the other to try to keep up.  

Inspired to be a pilot? Find out more about a career in the flight deck here

This article has been tagged Adventure, BA