A British Airways flight attendant has told how the experience of making his first flight after winning an international writing competition at college inspired his dream career.

Richard Coelho-McErlean, 24, studied a Travel and Tourism diploma at the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London (CONEL) in 2014-16 before landing a job with the country’s flagship airline.

While at college he flew to France after winning a competition run by Global Travel and Tourism Partnership (GTTP), a charity which helps young people get skills and experience to work in the sector.

Richard, who lives in Enfield, said: “I’d always felt I wanted to work for an airline cabin crew from the moment I left school, even though I had never flown in my life at that point.

“I won a creative writing competition with another student at college about sustainable adventure tourism and they flew us to Nice. That flight really sealed the deal for me. I thought this is what I want to do and I’m not going to let anything stand in my way.”

Richard works for BA CityFlyer, a subsidiary of British Airways operating domestic and European flights from London City Airport, although he sometimes flies from other airports.

He said: “I applied on a whim thinking I probably wasn’t going to get it, but three months later I was employed. Most of the time I will do day trips, out in the morning and coming back in the evening, but I do get a few stay overs in some countries.”

Richard, who is originally from Glasgow, moved to Enfield when he was seven. After leaving school he studied an air cabin crew course at another college before completing his diploma at CONEL.

Richard started at British Airways in March 2020 but was placed on furlough a week into his training because of COVID and did not fly with the airline until June this year. The training consisted of a six-week intensive course with exams followed by five familiarisation flights shadowing cabin crew.

“During training you get taught about the worst possible things that could happen, you get trained to help a person having a cardiac arrest or how to manage a fire or decompression in the cabin. I’d worked in customer service roles and dealt with stressful situations, so it came quite naturally to me,” said Richard.

Richard will usually make up to four short domestic flights a day but has had the opportunity to stop over on longer journeys to destinations across Europe.

He said: “It doesn’t feel like a job, it feels like a lifestyle. You’ve got the perks of travelling to places for free and meeting new people every day. Every flight I’ve had so far has had different crew members, which has given me new perspectives on how they work, so every day I’m perfecting myself and learning new things.”

Richard hopes to eventually become an onboard Customer Service Manager, but for the time-being he is happy in his current role.

He said: “I don’t want to be promoted too quickly because I want to enjoy it. I feel I’m in a good place. I’m in a job I love and want to take my time with it. Who knows what may happen in the future? I’m a ‘go with the flow’ type of person.”

Richard has fond memories of his time at CONEL and recently returned to the college to share his experiences of working in the industry with the college’s current Travel and Tourism students.

He said: “Compared to school and the previous college I went to, I never received so much support. I remember thinking these people really care about my education and want to see me thrive, which is why I wanted to come back to CONEL. I felt it was only right that I give back what they gave to me, and hopefully inspire some of the students.”

While at CONEL, Richard took part in the Career Ready programme that helps prepare young people for their future careers, which included an internship at a Marriott hotel.

He said: “I was given a lot of opportunity at CONEL to develop myself. I was quite quiet and introverted at the start, but my teachers kept on encouraging me because they could see I had potential. They gave me the confidence to believe in myself and gave me the push that I needed.”

CONEL runs Travel and Tourism courses at Level 2 and Level 3 covering topics including UK and global tourist destinations, visitor attractions, cruises, air travel and customer experience.

Sandra Mirkovic, Lecturer in Travel and Tourism, said: “Richard was a real pleasure to teach. I am delighted he has found a great career in the travel industry with British Airways and I am sure he will go far. His visit really inspired our students and showed what they can go on to achieve after they’ve completed their qualifications.”

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