BALPA is the professional association and registered trade union established to represent the interests of all UK pilots
Nancy Jackson
Media and Communications Officer

It’s the nature of the job that pilots don’t always have the traditional Christmas at home with family and friends. Often, they are travelling and away for the festive season. That can mean spending the day in the air or at a foreign hotel with people you have just met. It can mean the Christmas tree is replaced by a palm tree and the turkey roast swapped for a BBQ. It can mean missing your loved ones… but it can also be an inspirational time. A time to give something back. These pilots tell us about working Christmases they remember…

Barbara’s story: 

Most pilots and crew try to make the most of Christmas away. We like to dress up for Christmas flights and I have seen captains put on a Santa suit and give out Christmas presents to the crew on the ground for Christmas (they can be very good sports indeed).
Being away from family can be difficult but we try to get in the festive sprit. Often the crew will get together for a Christmas party at a hotel. Some people choose to take their families with them on Christmas trips and we usually manage to arrange for Santa to visit any little ones… no matter where in the world we find ourselves. 
And sometimes being away from loved ones can inspire people go a little further to spread some Christmas joy. For me one of the most memorable Christmases I’ve spent was in Lusaka. The company I worked for had allowed me to carry some extra luggage, so I arrived with bags packed with gifts. 
We held a fantastic party for the crew and family on Christmas Eve. Then, the next day, instead of sitting in luxury by the pool, the whole crew plus their children came with me to Kasisi Orphanage to help Santa give out presents there, it was truly wonderful.

It was 40 degrees that day, so pretty hot for poor Santa!

It is hard to beat a traditional Christmas at home with the family. But sometimes having to work can inspire great things and that Christmas was one of the most memorable of my life. 

Mick’s story

Sometimes using a sleigh just isn’t practical. I know because I had the pleasure of flying Santa in a Gazelle helicopter! It was in Northern Ireland in the 1980s and I was taking him to see the children from 655 Squadron AAC. 

Clive’s story 

I’ve spent Christmas at RAF Leuchars, on SAR helicopters. We once had to give assistance to Santa and a number of his helpers. We had a Wessex helicopter rammed with people in red suits ready to be winched down to various schools in the area. Even Father Christmas needs a hand sometimes! 

James’s story

Being away from home, especially at Christmas, can be very lonely and there have been times when all I’ve wanted was to be back with my loved ones. That’s why it is so special and very memorable when someone goes out of their way to make the best of a working Christmas. One year that stands out to me was when the skipper on the flight chartered a helicopter so that Rudolph could have a rest and Santa could arrive in style on the roof of our Sao Paulo hotel with a sack full of presents for the crew. 

For anyone flying Christmas Eve don’t forget that NORAD track Santa on his way around the globe... I know that’s helped me explain why we’ve experienced some turbulence on route in the past! For everyone working this Christmas I hope you have a wonderful trip.

Happy Christmas to all our pilots and their passengers.

Posted on 25 December 2018

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