Baltic Outlook introduces you to some of the most important people at airBaltic – its flight crew members, who have some of the most interesting hobbies.
Ketrīna learned to skate at a young age. Every winter, an ice skating rink was set up by the house where she grew up, and anyone could skate there. She always had skates, too, having inherited them from a cousin. ‘I used to skate there with my friends after school, and sometimes a wooden stick and pucks would appear as well. But for a very long time I didn’t know that girls also played hockey and that there were women’s teams in Latvia,’ she says. ‘I was 14 when my classmate mentioned that she played ice hockey, and, because I was interested, I joined the women’s ice hockey team Laima.’
Ketrīna started as a forward but really wanted to be a goalkeeper. So, one summer she saved up some money, her parents chipped in a little as well, and she went to her first hockey practice in a goalkeeper uniform. From that time onward, she has trained to stand in the goal crease. She has participated with her team in both national and international tournaments and camps. She has also trained with the Latvian national women’s ice hockey team.
Ketrīna says it’s not easy to articulate exactly what excites her about the sport. But first of all, ice hockey is the most popular sport in Latvia. Also, Ketrīna always paid attention to the goalkeeper when watching games on television. ‘It was like, wow, there’s someone standing there in full gear, looking so powerful and serious,’ she says with a laugh, ‘and I felt I wanted to do that, too.’
Having trained in ice hockey since she was 14 years old, Ketrīna was 19 when she enrolled in the airBaltic Pilot Academy, which meant less and less time for training and games: ‘It was hard to combine the two, because the pilot training was very intense. Now, I’d really like to play more hockey again, but being a pilot is not a regular job – sometimes you have to work nights or weekends, and we’re often abroad. I look forward to my days off, when I’m in Riga and can go to hockey practice, because it feels really good to get out on the ice.
How it all began
Ketrīna’s dream of flying started at an early age – she loved being in airports, among the buzz and the constant movement. She knew she definitely didn’t want to work in an office and hoped to some day be part of the aviation industry. ‘I didn’t know back then that I was going to be a pilot,’ she says, ‘but when I was 16, my family and I were flying from Milan to Riga and the flight was delayed by two hours because there was no one to load all the bags. So then the two pilots came out of the cockpit, got off the plane, and began loading the bags themselves. I don’t know how, but at that moment I realised I wanted to be a pilot! Maybe because I saw the people who were going to take me home.’
When Ketrīna told her parents she was going to be a pilot, they didn’t take her seriously at first. But she began looking in earnest for information about piloting and training to become a pilot: ‘It ticked all the boxes for what I was looking for.’
She was lucky with the timing. The airBaltic Pilot Academy opened while Ketrīna was still in high school, and she was able to study in Latvia and work for the Latvian national airline. She attended all the open days, applied to the academy straight after high school, and was accepted.
Ketrīna has been flying for a year and a half now. But after graduating from the Pilot Academy, she first spent six months working in the Operations Control Centre (OCC) as a flight operations coordinator. This coincided with the time right after the pandemic when airBaltic had resumed flying but had not yet begun hiring new pilots, so she applied for a job in the OCC. ‘It gave me very good experience about how the whole airline works,’ she says. ‘When they started rehiring pilots who had been laid off at the start of the pandemic as well as recruiting new Pilot Academy graduates, I got a call and was able to apply for a vacancy.’
Ketrīna’s favourite moment is takeoff, when the aircraft climbs through the clouds and you can finally see the sun. ‘Every time, it feels just like the first time I saw it.’
Words by Ilze Pole
Photo by Gatis Rozenfelds (Picture Agency)