A Very British Airline: Meet the characters from the BBC2 series

As the ob-doc series peeks behind the scenes of British Airways, RadioTimes.com catches up with some of the real-life characters who staff the UK's national airline


Today more people fly easyJet than British Airways, the UK’s national airline. As part of a new three-part documentary, the BBC is going behind the scenes to spy on the everyday workings of the company – observing the training of new recruits, meeting pilots in the cockpit, and taking in those all-important boardroom decisions about the future of the business…


Ahead of the show, we meet a few of the faces from the series and find out if working for BA is as glamorous as it used to be…

Andrew McLellan

Job title: First officer

Time at BA: 6 months (plus 18 months training)

Why did you choose BA over another airline?

I’ve always wanted to fly, and for a pilot British Airways is the pinnacle, in the UK, of flying. With the Future Pilot programme it’s the only airline that will sponsor you through your full training. The financial aspect is a huge plus as well. Most other airlines expect you to pay for it all yourself.

Why did you want to be a pilot?

I wanted to fly from a young age, I wanted to be in the military but at university my eyesight deteriorated so that wasn’t an option (the military won’t let you wear glasses when you fly). Coming out of university, I became an engineer, I used to do oil and gas pipeline design. I didn’t really enjoy the office job and the nine to five, so the future pilot programme came up and I jumped at the chance to do what I’d always wanted to do. It’s different working hours, working with different people all the time and getting to see some amazing places.

How did your first commercial flight go?

I was hugely nervous, because it’s a massive responsibility, knowing that you’ve got all those people down the back. At the same time, I was really excited, because I had this giant plane, which was mine to have a go with. It’s so exciting flying big jets. You get the rush of power as you take off, being able to see everything. It is a challenge and that’s what I really enjoy.

Are you at all worried about disappearing planes?

We go through nearly two years of training, and it is very intensive, so any situation we will have either trained for it and practiced it in the simulator or we will have the knowledge through the theory we’ve learned to be able to deal with the situation. Normally for us, we try and make flying as relaxed as possible. We have procedures that cover everything, we always think of the unexpected and plan for the worst-case scenario, so that if anything does pop up it’s not a surprise.

What’s the best part of the job?

For me it’s the variety, I operate three different types of the same plane, there are so many different things to consider – if there’s wind, if there’s snow on the runway, issues with customers, baggage, every day is different.

What’s your favorite flying film?

Battle of Britain. Classic.

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Mark Tazzioli

Job title: Chef

Time at BA: 25 years

Is it true that the flavours in plane food are altered because our taste buds change in the air?

It’s true, we’ve done quite a lot of work with it, and we work with a food science company called Leatherhead. On average, most people lose about 30 percent of their ability to taste at altitude. That’s to do with the altered moisture content in the air, the air pressure, the noise when flying. We have to make sure that the food we make is a bit more robust in flavour than it would be if we were making it to be eaten on the ground. We include foods that are quite high in umami, sometimes we put things like anchovies in sauces, olives in sauces, we use a lot of spices to make the food taste a little more robust in the air.

How else does cooking for an airline differ from cooking in a regular restaurant?

We have to make sure that the food fits where it’s going to be loaded on the aircraft, we can’t make things too high. The food is reheated on the aircraft; we need to be thinking about the moisture content of the food and how it’s going to look when it’s reheated and how the crew and customers are going to interact with it. It is quite a complex industry to be in.

How do you test the food before it’s served?

We do lots of taste tests, first when we are developing the food to make sure we’ve got the recipes right, and we also taste every week for quality control, so we produce consistently to the recipes we’ve designed. We have a burger joining first class next week, made with British beef, and we create our own recipe for that. Our burger wouldn’t be the same as another burger you would get anywhere else. The cuts of meat and the proportions have been worked out so the texture is better in the air.

What’s you most popular dish so far?

It depends which route you are talking about; we design our dishes and our menus around the customers who would be on a particular flight. On our trans-Atlantic flights, something like chicken tikka masala always goes down very well. It’s got great flavour, plenty of moisture so it heats up very well and it’s popular with our British customers.

What new additions will we see on BA flights this year and next year?

This year we are doing a lot of technical work on our sauces and base recipes and base methods in the kitchen, to make sure we are getting the best product we possibly can. It’s about getting more flavour in to the food, using all natural produce. We’re also looking for new artisan British products; we try to use British suppliers as much as we can. We’ve recently worked with a couple of nice chocolate producers, one is Highland Chocolates in Scotland, and another is a chocolate producer called Lauden in North England. This year we are also focusing on Japanese cuisine; some of the chefs have gone to Tokyo for a week and worked over there, trying to learn the flavours and the textures and techniques.

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Roz Hanby

Job title: Former BA flight attendant and face of the Fly the Flag advertising campaigns from the mid-Seventies to Eighties.

Time at BA: 10 years

You have been dubbed the ‘world’s most famous air stewardess’, what drew you to the profession in the first place?

At the time it was such a glamorous job. There were hundreds and hundreds of applicants, but it was a bit right time right place, it was just the right job for me. It was extraordinary how it all fitted together. When I went to the interview they said “how many airlines have you applied to?” and I said “I’ve only applied to you”. I got the job and remember flying to Miami after our training and thinking – I’m actually getting paid for this.

Would you have done it for free?

Yes. If it wasn’t for the practicalities of life.

How has the job changed over the years?

Everything’s changed – when I worked for BA, there was no video. The crew was the in-flight entertainment. The captain used to do a route map on a piece of paper that got passed to every passenger, hand to hand. There are so many more people [flying and working in the industry now] it doesn’t feel like it’s as much of a private club. We used to get seven days off in the Seychelles. There was only one flight a week, we would fly in and then get seven days in a hotel. It was extraordinary. Quite often flights weren’t full.

Is flying British Airways a different experience from the budget airlines?

They definitely offer a different feel. It’s a nicer experience.

What’s your best travel advice?

Wear layers, because aeroplanes can be quite cold. Travel with a restful frame of mind, even if you don’t manage to sleep. To avoid jetlag, put your watch onto the time of the destination and then keep to the nighttime of the destination, even if it means you’ll be absolutely shattered before you sleep. Just have a gentle day. Drink lots of water. There’s nothing nicer than a glass of wine on the plane but do one for one [water and alcohol].

What do you never travel without?

A good book and a pair of sunglasses. When you look really awful when you get off an aeroplane and feel tired, sunglasses are quite a good thing to travel with.

What’s your favourite destination? 

New York is completely fantastic, it’s like a wonder of the world. For beauty – Sri Lanka. And I love India, Japan and Fiji. Can I have all of those?

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Joel Garabedian

Job title: First officer

Time at BA: 6 months (plus 18 months training)

Why did you want to be a pilot?

I went for a lesson in my late 20s, and as soon as I left the ground… it was way better than I had ever imagined it would be. I was instantly hooked on flying. I flew recreationally for a few years, quite happy in my previous career as a computer programmer. I was happy doing that and flying at the weekends, but the chance of getting to do it for a living was an enormous draw.

It’s a very tough training course, like anything, you don’t always perform better than you did the previous time, but it’s a constant learning experience.

How will we get an insight into your role on the show?

We’ve done all this training on a basic aircraft, then we come to British Airways to learn how to fly a jet. The show follows us on our training and on our first commercial flight.

How did your first commercial flight go?

It was absolutely incredible, you spent the whole course learning to fly the aeroplane and there’s so much more to the job than just that. That’s why I wanted to work for BA, because it has a heart and a soul and likes its staff to talk to the public and get a bit of their personality across. Getting to fly an aeroplane and getting to talk to the public, and be in that role was incredible.

Are you good in an emergency situation?

The more you learn about modern aeroplanes, the more you realise how incredibly resilient they are. There are so many back-up systems, and back-up systems to the back-up systems. They are an amazing achievement.

What’s the best part of the job?

For me it’s operating the aeroplane, and dealing with the passengers. The travel is an amazing perk of the job; I’ve got to see some places I’d have never seen otherwise, but the actual flying and the customer-facing aspect of it is what really appeals to me.

What’s your favourite flying film?

It’s got to be Airplane, by miles. 

A Very British Airline begins on Monday 2 June at 9pm on BBC1


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