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CAP­TAIN LUCY TARDREW HAS BEEN

FLY­ING with Vir­gin for 23 years, yet some pas­sen­gers still do a dou­ble-take as she makes her way to the cock­pit. Es­pe­cially if she’s ac­com­pa­nied by a fe­male first of­fi­cer.

“That cre­ates a bit more of a stir, and we might get stopped be­cause peo­ple want self­ies,” she says. “But if I’m with a male first of­fi­cer, I think they as­sume: ‘Oh, that’s al­right. There’s a guy up there too.’”

Be­fore join­ing Vir­gin in 1995, Tardrew flew smaller air­craft loaded with cargo, night mail, mo­tor parts for pri­vate clients or RAF ord­nance. She now takes the helm on Boe­ing 747-400s, fly­ing the Caribbean and US routes from Gatwick and Manch­ester.

In charge of up to 450 pas­sen­gers on each flight, Tardrew has faced her fair share of chal­lenges dur­ing her ca­reer – from bliz­zards and ice to dis­rup­tive pas­sen­gers and med­i­cal emer­gen­cies. Last year a pas­sen­ger suf­fered a heart at­tack on ar­rival at Gatwick Air­port. “One of my cabin crew saved his life right there on the jet bridge,” she re­mem­bers.

The big­gest chal­lenge of all, though, is the final few min­utes be­fore take-off when the slight­est interference can be a ver­i­ta­ble span­ner in the works.

Nev­er­the­less, Tardrew still loves her job af­ter all these years. “It’s a very peo­ple-ori­en­tated job, and very so­cia­ble. You have your col­leagues on the flight deck and up to 15 cabin crew, plus all the pas­sen­gers. You have up to four nights away some­where. Plus there’s com­plete pay equal­ity be­tween male and fe­male pi­lots. It’s an amaz­ing ca­reer.”

Lucy Tardrew, pi­lot

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