Alison Porte: Senior First Officer

What was it that initially triggered your interest in flying and aviation?  ​
I grew up around aircraft. My first few years were spent at RAF Scampton where my father was stationed and it didn’t help that my grandfather had also been in the RAF as a Lancaster pilot so I guess I never stood a chance!

How did you decide that you wanted to become a pilot?
Well that’s a tough one. I don’t actually ever remember deciding, it was always something I was going to do sooner or later. I did have people telling me that I wouldn’t do it, that I couldn’t do it! So I went ‘right I’ll show you’, and here I am.

Once you decided you wanted to follow a career in aviation, what were your initial steps to turn this ambition into reality? How would you advise somebody who aspires to do the same?
Well I kind of came at it from a strange angle… I went to Antarctica. I wanted to have the funds saved up to pay for my training without having huge debt hanging over me, so I lived on a research base for three years, working for British Antarctic Survey.

What general advice would you give to aspiring pilots?
No matter what your background, who you identify as or how you got here, you have as much right to be here doing this job as anyone else. So be stubborn and don’t let anyone put you off. Be focused but allow yourself time off to decompress as it’s a long tough time while you’re training. But most of all don’t give up! Oh and have fun!

How long has it taken you to get to where you are now?
All my life I guess. I know that’s going to sound cheesy but it’s true. I am now truly happy and in a great place and looking forward to what’s to come. I’ve been at Virgin Atlantic for eight years now, with eight at what became Thomas Cook before that.

Which aspect of your journey into aviation did you find most enjoyable?
Oh easy, my first solo flight. I was so buzzing after that I nearly crashed my car driving home.

Which aspect of your journey did you find most challenging?
I don’t know really, maybe getting that first Instrument rating; that was tough. But without a doubt the toughest thing I have done in this job is sending the email to my manager explaining that I was trans and that I would be returning to work as the real me. I sat there for three days thinking I had just committed professional suicide. Turned out I hadn’t and she was off for a few days and hadn’t seen my email. She has been so supportive I don’t know how to thank her enough.

If you had your time again, would there be anything you’d have done differently? If so, why?
Nothing, because I am really happy with where I am and wouldn’t want anything to change at all.

Which aspect of your future role and career are you most excited about?  ​
I’m at that time where the possibility of a command is coming up. So that got me really hitting the books to make sure I’m as ready as I can be.

What women have inspired you?  ​
Two stand out for me: Sally Ride; the first American woman to go to space when she launched on Challenger in 1983. I remember watching on TV! And my gran, who told me I could do anything I wanted if I just put my mind to it – she was so right!

How do you think women’s equality has evolved and what needs to happen next? It’s getting better but still lots of room for improvement. We need more women in roles like mine, in engineering, in science. Girls need to be encouraged to consider it while at school, they need to see that they can do it, they can do as good and better than the boys, that they can be the next Sally Ride or Rosalind Franklin.

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