BALPA is the professional association and registered trade union established to represent the interests of all UK pilots
Emma Chisholm
Such is the nature of this career, it’s not only pilots themselves who are affected by the long hours, early starts and days away from home, these are felt by the rest of the family, too. Former BALPA employee and daughter of a pilot, Emma Chisholm, gives her account of growing up with Captain Dad. 

One of my earliest memories as a child is hearing my father get up early and me rushing downstairs to cling to his leg so he couldn’t leave us for another week. After some effort on my dad’s part to prise me off, I watched sobbing as his car disappeared down the road. A week later he would return and I would ignore him for at least three days as an infantile means of punishment for leaving me.

As a parent now, I can imagine this must have been tough on my dad. But also as an adult I can reflect on just how much he meant to me (and still does) and how his role as a pilot elevated him to hero status in my eyes.

I was lucky enough to go on many trips with him and even luckier that I could sit behind him on the flightdeck. I loved to watch him prepare the aircraft for take-off and listen in on the super-serious communications with air traffic control. As we rumbled down the runway it was my dad’s hand on the throttle, he was making this machine fly! 

The upside to being the child of a pilot is, of course, staff travel. I was lucky enough to travel the world throughout my childhood years and, as he became more senior, in rather lovely seats. They say youth is wasted on the young, and as the (now grown up) daughter of a pilot I can say that staff travel is wasted on children! As I turn right on every aircraft I board with my three tired/hungry/emotional children in tow I look longingly at the ‘comfy’ seats before the dividing curtain is whisked shut to spare the premium passengers the sight of my unruly brood.

Of course, there were downsides. Fatigue was a problem then, as it is today, and I remember dad was often tired or sleeping at odd times of the day. When dad had returned from a night flight (and I had passed my ‘ignoring for three days’ phase), I would wake him up by peeling open his eyelids “Daddy, wake up!” which was met with much grunting and grumbling. Incidentally, my father recently performed the ‘eyelid opening’ on me when I was having a sleep as revenge. 

Then of course there were the missed birthdays and Christmases or the many childhood events where dad couldn’t come because he was either sleeping before a flight, away on a trip or sleeping after a flight. I find it hard enough when my husband is away for work for a couple of days, so I can imagine the repeated absences and ongoing tiredness/sleeping must have been hard on my mum.

But despite all of this, I grew up wanting to be a pilot, like my dad. I joined the air cadets and applied for the British Airways cadet scheme. Fortunately, for the safety of the travelling public, but less fortunately for me, I didn’t succeed and moved rather tangentially into a career in communications. But my love of aviation, from the love of my father, soon drew me back towards the airport and I have since been working in aviation communications.

I love airports, I love the smell of aviation fuel, I love the sound of jet engines and the sight of a 747 on final approach over our local park has me staring skywards until it’s out of sight. I am sure a psychoanalyst would have a field day with me!

My father finished his career with four years at the cargo operator GSS, an airline which sadly no longer exists. He loved these last years, the trips were interesting, the cargo was interesting (anything from formula one cars to rhinos!) and there were no passengers or crew to deal with. I, however, was dreading his retirement. I worried about how my relationship with my father would change when he was no longer the ‘man who could make planes take off’.

I wanted to be there to see dad’s last landing and thankfully GSS were kind enough to arrange for that to happen. He had no clue we were there and once he realised it was us standing on the tarmac by the marshaller he was so overcome with emotion that his legs went to jelly and he had to ask his co-pilot to apply the brakes. And then it happened… my dad descended the aircraft steps, gave the nose wheel a kiss and his career as a pilot was over. No party, no gifts just the crew bus to the carpark and a long drive home to Sussex. 

Five years on and I am pleased to report my father is very happy to have traded the 18 wheels of his 747 for the four wheels of his beloved car. He has far more energy, far fewer illnesses and is delighting in spending quality time with his grandchildren. My fears about our relationship have proved unfounded as the passion he had for flying he has completely redirected into being an incredible grandfather. There is nothing he wouldn’t do for me and my family. My father may no longer a pilot, but he is still my hero. Except when he peels open my eyelids.

Posted on 19 May 2017

Comments 30
Capt KS Gill
Your article is very thoughtful. I am still in active service in an airline and have 11 years to retirement. My kids still growing up , made them read your article and totally agree with your thoughts. My regards to Sir
26/05/2017 04:03:30

Yes, cryworthy. Thank you.
25/05/2017 17:07:21

great article!!
25/05/2017 09:09:34

Michael Peterson
I am a single father to a 13 year old daughter and have been a commercial airline pilot since before she was born. I have struggled greatly over the years trying to decide if I am doing the right thing or the wrong thing by her in living the life that your father once lived. I identify with everything you mention in your story, from the way you would cry when he left and be upset at him for leaving to his fatigue and the many missed holidays and special events, We fly because it is our passion but rest assured, our daughters will always be our true loves. Thank you for sharing this very personal and moving story. Warm Regards to you and your family. M. Peterson
24/05/2017 19:09:28

I love your story, THANKS for sharing, i almost cry at the end of the story.
24/05/2017 06:58:57

Thanks for sharing, Emma!
24/05/2017 04:51:32

Michael Wraight
I spent 6 1/2 years as an airline pilot. Then my wife found out she was pregnant with twins. I left the industry and became the stay at home parent until they are school aged. I don't see myself going back. Don't get me wrong, I love airplanes and travel and the people I worked with - I just don't want to be that far away from my children. Time is something I will never get back. No airplane is worth that to me. Your story is touching. Thank you for sharing!
24/05/2017 00:08:57

Vinay Pradhan
Very nice writeup .... nice view from family's point of view!
23/05/2017 15:39:13

Reading this back back all the feelings of being a pilot' daughter in the 80s. Best times - and I'm sorry for the children of today's pilots who aren't allowed into the cockpits anymore.
Lovely recount of happy times, and I'm glad to know that your father is enjoying his retirement.
22/05/2017 16:51:08

Harald Olsen
Thanks for shearing, lovely prose over a great time in a great business and very much like my own story! :-)
22/05/2017 15:46:54

I retired a year ago after 40 years in various cockpits, rotary wing at the beginning and the last 20+ years fixed wing. I was a blue collar pilot for a lot of my time......forest fire suppression was really rewarding for quite a few years, learning the CL215 humbling. Lots of time in the Canadian arctic in all seasons flying freight, medivacs etc. The last chunk of years was as an aviation safety inspector who fortunately still got to fly a king air when I could get out of the office.

Retirement has been wonderful. I'm very content. Once in awhile I miss the flying but less often than I thought I would. I miss what I was privileged to see out the front window.....

It's nice to be home now. Life is good.
22/05/2017 04:38:16

Pastor G Neri Jr
Point Of Origin To Final Destination Completed
22/05/2017 03:53:00

Alice ryan
A lovely true story. I shall endeavour to send to our daughter who had a similar life as her father was an international flight attendant for almost 30years.
21/05/2017 22:48:36

Steven Rainbow
This is inspiring and enlightening. I am a present generation pilot pioneering present day FTL's and their unknown long-term impact. I have a young daughter that I love more than anything and I feel everything you wrote. Thank you for sharing your story. I will certainly share it with my wife (and daughter, when she's old enough).
21/05/2017 21:49:42

Margie Winter
My girls are daughters of a (retired) pilot and would agree with every word!!
21/05/2017 17:25:54

Charlie Harlow
I know exactly how you feel!

Thank you for this.

My father David Harlow sends his best regards...
21/05/2017 16:00:58

Very nicely written!!!
21/05/2017 12:05:37

Jono Kimber
Nicely written. A nice touch to be there for his last landing.
21/05/2017 11:52:06

Dinyar Mulla-Feroze
As I am a retired Airline Pilot having flown 40 years, I was really touched reading the Ode to your father. It was accurate, honest and emotional.
All I have to say is Lucky Dad and Beautiful daughter.
21/05/2017 07:36:57

I am a pilot with young children and I find it very heartwarming that you feel this way about your Dad!
21/05/2017 07:28:52

Pedro Kern
I read this article full off years in my eyes as I was a Captain for more than 35 years and am still in the aviation environment. Worked 36 years at VARIG, also long gone, and 5 more in Hong Kong.
I will pass this article to my wife and three (grownup) daughters.
Every word, every sentiment, every feeling was exactly experienced by everyone of us.
My sincere congratulations for your kind article.
Woke up fond memories and keeps up my pride of what I did.
21/05/2017 04:55:22

Karen Loong Thomas
Your post touched my heart. My husband is a pilot and also the child of a pilot. He experienced all you mentioned , as my daughter is experiencing now too, and me as a wife. My husband has about 12-15 years more to go till retirement and I cried reading about your dads' final day.
21/05/2017 04:24:50

Nice memories; thanks for sharing wth this airline pilot. I hope my girls have some of your good memories and not too many of your bad ones!
21/05/2017 01:52:09

Peter .H. Pigott
Just a wonderful story from a fabulous daughter. As a private pilot for the past 57
years and a father of two daughters grand daughters and one great grand daughter who loves flying with me I relate to this story.i will be giving up flying this year{I am eighty) after 6000 hours in the air. Thank you for that heart moving story. I wish your Dad a happy and healthy retirement.
21/05/2017 01:15:40

This just brought tears to my eyes as I read it to my 15 year old daughter. We've known no other life than a pilot's wife and child. We are blessed.
20/05/2017 21:22:09

Chandani Mendis .
Very lovely reading . I remember my dad who is in his eighties . All of them sacrifice their lives to us. May god bless them abundantly . Love !
20/05/2017 17:04:29

Great article. Beautifully written
20/05/2017 14:55:11

Chris Smith
20/05/2017 14:17:49

Bonnie Barton
Emma, your blog article , Captain Dad, was so well written. All the pride, the struggles, the resentment , the joy you write about, are all part of the tangle of being a flying family. To all the families who read this article I would say, "take heart" , you can have a life together of rich experiences... and a fair bit of alone time. Thank you Emma for capturing the essence of the family of a pilot!
20/05/2017 13:59:54

Adrian Gamboa
I would love to be a pilot as well, lots to consider. Beautiful history
20/05/2017 13:11:48


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