Pack Like a Pro: What a British Airways Pilot Never Leaves Behind

In this series, we interview figures in business, entertainment, and fashion about their travel essentials.

Pack Like a Pro: What a British Airways Pilot Never Leaves Behind

Illustration by Emily Blevins

These are the products Kat Woodruffe, a British Airways 777 pilot, can’t live without.

Kat Woodruffe is a senior first officer for British Airways, flying the ginormous Boeing 777 around the world. Woodruffe has a strong “Speedbird” pedigree—her father was a British Airways captain. The father-daughter crew flew together from time to time, including for his retirement flight from Heathrow to New York. Her dream is to captain the 787, and she’s well on her way. I caught up with Woodruffe across time zones in between her flying duties, where she has amassed 12,000 hours of total time.

Frequent flyer. “I fly about 400,000 miles per year, which is about 16 times around the world. I grew up on British Airways airplanes, going away with Dad on some of my favorite trips. Some highlights were Lusaka (Victoria Falls), Grand Cayman (I learnt to scuba dive), and Vancouver (we saw bears). We had Christmas in Houston one year and as silly as it sounds, I still remember it because there was an ice rink in the hotel. This was the most amazing thing ever. Because we never had ‘normal’ holidays, I have a few glaring holes in my passport. I don’t tell many people this, but I’ve never been to Italy.”

Practical traveler and world shopper. “My standard crew bag is a very smart black Samsonite—which is pretty predictable. It does have the odd sticker on it—an I Heart Boston comes to mind—to add a little bit of personality. I tend to have a suitcase of clothes so I’m not constantly unpacking and packing. As much as I’d like to say my handbag is Burberry, well, it’s from H&M. This poor bag has to survive sand in St. Lucia, ice skating in Manhattan, the monsoon in New Delhi, and trekking in Hong Kong. For me, there’s no point having a designer handbag.”

Emotional baggage. “My favorite bag is a black Reebok wheelie with fetching lime green piping. I took my mum to Montreal (where she is from), and we went shopping. Big time. I had to buy an emergency, cheap, anything-will-do suitcase to get us home. A decade later, she’s still going strong and is my old faithful travel buddy. Who knew you could get emotionally attached to luggage?”

Always time for tea. “I always take a kettle with me, a fancy travel one that you can change the voltage on. When I’m away, I just like having a proper cup of tea. I take Clipper tea and a dedicated travel mug around the world.”

Kat’s in-flight reads (when she’s not reading checklists): “I always take a book to read down route but on the flight we are busy working and doing checklists and not settling down to read Shantaram from cover or cover. I’m a big fan of The Spectator, which is an irreverent political magazine, and if there’s a Vanity Fair onboard I will try and borrow one of those.”

Toiletry must-haves. “I always have eye drops and O’Keeffe’s Working Hands hand cream. I know that flying planes is hardly manual labor but on long flights my hands (and eyes!) get very dry.”

Fave souvenir. “I bought a metal Chinese dragon ornament in Singapore in Chinatown years and years ago. It’s probably my favorite because I haggled for absolutely ages—including doing the ‘walk away’ tactic. I feel like I got a good deal but equally maybe the vendor is still telling his family over dinner the story of when he massively overcharged me and convinced me I was getting a bargain.”

A frequent flyer’s uniform. “When deadheading we are required to look smart so I have my ‘staff travel clothes.’ A blazer makes everything look smart. My favorite American brand is Hollister—although I debate if I’m actually too old and not trendy enough to be wearing their stuff. My most recent purchase was a really soft ‘vegan leather jacket,’ which is an amazingly cool Californian concept! I will wear that on my next flight to Jersey and embarrass my kids.”

San Francisco secret. “When we fly to San Francisco, we stay in Oakland. On my last trip, my hotel room looked out onto San Francisco and it was the most breathtaking view. Oakland’s airport is the London Gatwick of California, if you will. It’s a lovely, small, uncrowded airport with great links to San Francisco. It takes about 30 minutes in a cab or the BART. As special as it is to stay in San Francisco, it’s sometimes more lovely to look out onto it.”

Mike Arnot is the founder of New York travel brand Boarding Pass NYC.

AFAR participates in affiliate marketing programs, which means we may earn a commission if you purchase an item featured in this story. All products and services listed here are independently selected.

Next: What the Founder of Brooklyn Brewery Never Leaves Behind

Mike Arnot is a writer and the founder of Juliett Alpha, a New York–based communications firm for airlines and aviation companies.
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