In advance of this years International Women's Day, we've been lucky enough to catch up with airline pilot, Maria Pettersson to hear more about her bold journey and her path to flying big, commercial planes whilst juggling life as a busy Mum to Alice.
A Swedish native currently residing in London, Maria is never in the same place for too long. Her job has given her the opportunity to travel the world, all the while flying the flag for female empowerment in the aviation industry. In 2016, she launched her blog, @pilotmaria, to share her adventures with family and friends and now has a passionate and loyal global audience who wants to follow her world of aviation, travel, yoga and motherhood.
Becoming a mum has added a whole new dimension to Maria’s globetrotting adventures. And it wasn’t just the adorable pics of her little bundle of joy, Alice, but her invaluable tips and advice to overcome the challenges posed by motherhood and having a career that caught the attention of viewers, especially young mothers.
Hi Maria, tell us a little bit about yourself and your family.
Hi Angela. I come from a four people and a cat family in Sweden. I have a sister that is three years older than I am, she has three kids. My mum and dad still live together in the same house that I grew up in, in the countryside outside Swedens second biggest city, Gothenburg. My family here in England consists of Alice, Tomas, Pumpkin the cat and myself. Although Tomas and I are co-parenting we still remain friends and I consider him as family.
What inspired you to become an airline pilot?
I have always had a bit of a technical interest and I love to travel. I used to backpack after finishing collage and decided that I wanted to do a job where I could keep travelling. My dad has an aviation interest and had a so called Private Pilot License when he was younger, this was before my sister and I were born and he never flew commercially. But I still think that his interest rubbed off on me.
What do you enjoy most about flying
The view, the view is amazing and I love that I keep learning every day. It can be something about a new destination that were flying to, something technical or something from a deep and meaningful conversation with the Captain I am flying with. We have a lot of time to talk sitting in cruise, monitoring the systems and drink a coffee. When flying with someone I get along with it’s like spending the day with a friend.
What’s the most valuable career advice you’ve received?
To never give up. Cliche but couldn’t be more true. Also to not push what doesn't serve you anymore. But I think that goes for everything in life. In the modern now you have so many possibilities to do things, change career and challenge yourself.
Where is your favourite place to fly to?
Palermo. I used to be based in Palermo for two years and I love that place. The approach is beautiful, yet can be challenging with strong winds. The ground crew are always so happy and sometimes they even bring you a Sicilian cannoli ;)
Have you had to make an emergency landing?
No, knock on wood. The airplanes that we fly are so safe and the company that I fly for have energisers check on them daily. Each evening when we park them after the last flight they will get a so called ‘ramp check’ Airplanes, aviation in generally is so safe. I once had a Medical Diversion. We had a suspected heart attack onboard and didn’t want to take any risks so we diverted and laded as soon as we could. The person was fine when landed and got medical attention upon arrival.
What was it like being pregnant and having a baby in the middle of a pandemic?
It was lonely I am not gonna lie about that. The company that I fly for has restrictions where we don’t fly at all when we are pregnant and since it was in the beginning of the pandemic I was too scared to fly. My family lives in Sweden and I would have loved to go and see them. It was also sad that Alice's father missed out on many scans as no partners were allowed in the beginning.
How do you juggle life as a pilot and being a mum to a toddler?
I always know that my priorities are Alice! As long as she is happy I am happy. But it has proven to be a challenge with family living abroad and both Tomas and I working early or late shifts before nursery is open and after it has closed. My mum has been over here a few times to help and Alice has also stayed in Sweden with them and Portugal with her family on that side.
Has Alice been on a plane yet ?
Yes, many times. Sometimes I wonder if too many times, but she dosent seem to mind. Tomas and I have learned that it helps to keep her awake before the flight so that she can sleep during the flight.
What advice would you have for women who are just starting their career as an airline pilot?
My advice would be to never think that you are less than any one else. There is nothing in flying an airplane that makes it easier because you’re a man and nothing in flying an airplane that makes it more difficult because you’re a women, we are completely equal.
What advice do you have for any Mum balancing a career with a baby?
I know its hard, believe me, many times all I want is to stay home and cuddle with the little princess. But especially co-parenting I can’t be dependent on anyone else working, I must have my own salary and sometimes it can also be an energy booster to go to work, I come home with new energy and patience to play with Alice. And I love work, that helps :)
Thank you so much for having me guest your blog for IWD.
Thank you Maria-you've been amazing.
Little travellers like Alice would love our Bloomsbury Mill nap mat. It's effortlessly light and portable and creates a home from home, familiar and safe place to nap and rest. We've got one winging (no pun intended!) its way to little Alice for her to flight-test for us. keep your eyes peeled for her expert feedback!