Friday 30 September 2016

Bernice Moran on being a pilot and a mum - 'The nanny walks out the door and I come in, exhausted on landing day'

Bernice Moran (39), is a senior first officer with Virgin Atlantic and the founder of The Be Sweet Company. From Artane, she lives in Howth with her husband, Rick, who is also a pilot, and their children, Elizabeth (6), Zara (3) and baby Alexander (11 months)

Ciara Dwyer

Published 08/02/2016 | 02:30

Bernice Moran is a senior first officer with Virgin Atlantic and the founder of The Be Sweet Company. Photo: Tony Gavin.
Bernice Moran is a senior first officer with Virgin Atlantic and the founder of The Be Sweet Company. Photo: Tony Gavin.

I hear a squawk coming from a cot at 6am. That's the baby, Alexander. I shove the dodie in and out, and then the bottle; anything that gives me another hour in bed. From six until seven, I'm either playing with the baby or back in bed, kicking my husband, Rick, saying, 'You get him', and he says, 'No, you get him'. We've got two other kids - Elizabeth and Zara. When we go into their room, they break into a fight. Then the tantrums begin with the three-year-old, because if it's not a pink sparkly dress, she'll go ballistic. Then there will be another fight, because one of them is wearing a bow the other one wants.

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Then it's feeding time at the zoo. I'm still in my pyjamas, looking like something you dragged out of a bush. While they are having breakfast, I'm making the lunches. The poor baby is thrown a few Cheerios. He kind of has to feed himself until we get around to him. When I see that there is a bit of silence, I run into the shower, and then I throw on my clothes.

I load the three of them into the car to go to school, and then, when I come home, the minder comes to mind the baby. Then I skip out the door to work. My husband is not home a lot, because he's a long-haul pilot for Cathay Pacific; Hong Kong is his base. I'm also a pilot. I'm a senior first officer in Virgin Atlantic, and the routings include some Caribbean countries, LA, San Francisco and the east coast of the US.

I've been flying the Boeing 747-400 for nearly nine years. I like to do the school run before flying. It's kind of closure for my kids. I tell them that I'm going on my little aeroplane, and that I'll be back in a few days. They don't mind that.

I put on my uniform, pick up my case and head to Dublin Airport. I go to London as a passenger on Aer Lingus, because my base is there. It's lovely being a passenger because I have a coffee, read the newspaper, do my make-up properly and I brush up for my flight ahead. I'm not in 'mammy mode' anymore. I'm in aeroplane mode. I switch straight away.

In Heathrow, when I walk into the Virgin office, I get butterflies in my stomach; pure excitement. There are big red chairs, and everyone looks very glamorous. We're in gorgeous uniforms designed by Vivienne Westwood. I meet the crew and the other pilots, and we start doing our paperwork together. You go through your routing and the flight plan and any critical factors during the flight. Then we get on the plane together and get everything prepared. The crew come in with all our food, and this is before we've even pushed back.

Before take-off, I'm so grateful that I'm sitting on the runway with an aircraft that is a few hundred tons. There are four engines on a jumbo. When the thrust levers, which control the engines, stand up, you hear the engines roaring. That's when I realise that I'm very lucky, but at the same time you're being sharp in case anything goes wrong - take-off and landing are critical.

In the cockpit, you get into very personal conversations, because you're spending 18-hour days with these people. You may not have met them before, but we're all kind of like-minded because we're doing the same job. I think a certain type of person becomes a pilot. You have to be very driven, focussed and determined, because otherwise you wouldn't succeed.

Flying was always the number one for me. My father worked in Aer Lingus. Even though he wasn't a pilot, he instilled in me his love of planes and, thanks to his work concessions, we always used to travel.

I never had any interest in dolls. It was always planes. Cycling home from school, I don't know how many times I ran into the back of cars because I was busy looking up at the sky. When I became fully qualified, I went straight into Ryanair. I was a co-pilot for three years, and then I became a captain. It's thanks to those years that I now fly the 747 for Virgin.

On one of my trips, in LA, I saw a magnificent candy display for a wedding. I'd never seen anything like it in my life. I've always loved sweets and chocolates, and I was so inspired by that display that I decided to create one for my own wedding. After that, people asked me to do the same for their events.

One day I was departing out of Havana, and I was looking at the whole Virgin brand, and I thought, 'Why can't I do something unique and sexy and quirky with confectionery?' The idea was born, and I started The Be Sweet Company.

Not long afterwards, my sister Linda, who has a business background, came on board. She looks after the business side, and during my downtime, when I'm away, I work on the creative stuff. It's a luxury brand, but affordable.

I wrote to Richard Branson - I'd never met him before - and he set up a meeting with three directors. They launched us on a global scale, and it has taken off. Eventually we tried Ireland too, and now we're in Dunnes, Avoca, Meadows and Byrne and SuperValu. At the moment, I work part-time as a pilot, because under UK law, if you have a child under six, you are entitled to part-time. The other half of my time, I work on The Be Sweet Company.

When I come home, having been away for a few days, I struggle in with my suitcase. The kids are very excited to see me, but they are so used to it. The nanny walks out the door - if Rick isn't there - and I come in, exhausted. The landing day is a killer, but I have the kids so independent - you put all the snacks on the lower level, and they even know how to work Netflix if they want to put on a movie.

I play with the kids, and they are the main priority, but then I might put them to bed at 6pm instead of 8pm. Once it's dark, they don't know the difference. Then I go straight to bed too.

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