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At home in the air: the story of the Terttunen family on blue and white wings

In the Terttunen family, almost all family members have found their way to the world of aviation and Finnair – father Ilkka and son Tomi are pilots, while mother Heidi and daughters Inka and Anna are cabin crew. Finnair’s impact can be seen in all aspects of the family’s life, filling their shared years with countless unforgettable memories. In June 2024, their eventful journey culminated in a flight together to Los Angeles.

Photo: Teemu Terttunen

A long-standing passion for the sky

All flying members of the family have ended up at Finnair, inspired by the aviation industry sooner or later. Father Ilkka Terttunen, nowadays a retired MD-11 captain, dreamed of a career in aviation from the age of two, inspired by an airshow in Kaivopuisto, Helsinki. “I was with my dad admiring the Hunter jet fighters in an air show by the Royal Air Force, and at that moment, I knew that's what I wanted to do,” recalls Ilkka. He joined Finnair after completing his air pilot reserve officer course at 19 and did not leave the blue and white wings until his retirement in 2011.

The father of the family, retired Captain Ilkka Terttunen, was a passenger on the shared flight to Los Angeles. 
Photo: Teemu Terttunen 

Heidi Terttunen, the mother of the family, was drawn to aviation by an advertisement for cabin crew training. “One of the requirements was to know either German or French. I made up my mind right away and went to Germany to work as an au pair to learn the language,” says Heidi. She joined Finnair in 1983, right after her studies, and never looked back.

Heidi Terttunen, the mother of the family, has been flying since 1983.

Two of the family’s three flying children knew from a young age that they wanted to follow in their parents' footsteps. Anna applied for cabin crew training abroad right after high school. Initially too young to apply for Finnair, she worked for three other airlines before joining Finland’s flag carrier. Then, there was a long recruitment hiatus which made Anna consider leaving the aviation industry behind. “Eventually, however, I was drawn back to the skies. Starting at Finnair felt like coming back home,” she describes.

Tomi’s dream of becoming a pilot sparked when he got to visit the flight deck with his father. “Travelling with my parents allowed me to observe their work closely, and year by year my dream grew stronger,” Tomi recalls. After graduating as a pilot, like his sister, he worked for several other airlines until his long-time wish came true in spring 2024 – the doors opened for Finnair.

For Inka, unlike her siblings, pursuing a career in aviation was not given. Inspired by languages and cultures, she spent a couple of gap years travelling, went on to study in Sweden, and worked around the world. However, returning to Finland right before cold November, Inka was inspired by a coincidental job opening at Finnair. “I immediately thought, why not? It just felt right – perhaps flying is in our blood,” Inka ponders.

Shared industry, shared experiences

Working for the same company means that both the good and not-so-good aspects of the job have touched everyone from the beginning. When the children of the family were young, the aviation industry shaped the family’s everyday life: due to days off in the middle of the week, the children were somewhat unfamiliar with the concept of weekends.

The parents recall how Anna once ran home from school shouting, “What is a weekend? I want a weekend too!” On the other hand, Finnair allowed Heidi to return to the same job after a five-year childcare leave. “In few workplaces is this possible – and in the meantime, only the coffee pots had changed!” Heidi laughs.

Young Anna on her way to Santa Park in Rovaniemi, Finland.

Besides the challenging schedules, global crises from natural disasters to pandemics affect the whole family equally, both financially and in terms of well-being. Especially during difficult times, it is invaluable for the family to have people around that genuinely understand and support each other fully.

For Ilkka and Heidi, the fact their spouse always understood the challenges of the aviation industry was irreplaceable: working during holidays or fatigue from time zone differences never needed explanation. The flexibility and close cooperation of Finnair employees also continue outside the aircraft – communication and teamwork are deeply ingrained.

Professional pride has been passed  down from parents to children from an early age. Long days in the sky sometimes took their toll, and the  parents remember sometimes being  there at home, but not  fully present.  However, the children remember their parents always coming home from work with smiles on their faces, despite  the challenges. Nowadays, all family members can relate to each other’s thoughts: the circle has closed and the children’s appreciation for their parents and their profession has deepened, as they themselves now relate to aviation’s challenges and joys.

Sisters Anna and Inka often call each other or mom Heidi to catch up after work.

The family’s love for their job is also evident in the fact that work is always talked about, even during free time. All news and experiences are shared, from fun moments to more challenging experiences. Heidi and her daughters often call each other after work – if the line is busy, they immediately know who the other is talking to. Even after all these years, the most exciting topic of the calls remains the same: the release of next month’s work shift lists and upcoming destinations.

Memorable moments in the sky

The flying family has countless memories from their years in aviation, ranging from lighthearted moments to heavier memories. At Heidi and Ilkka’s wedding, a miniature DC-10 aircraft was on their dining table as a decoration. Today, at least ten miniatures of different aircraft models can be found in their home, as well as a real DC-10 captain’s seat as a work chair.

Finnair was also visible at Heidi and Ilkka's wedding.

For the children, their parents’ jobs have provided plenty of unique experiences. Tomi, a big hockey fan got to meet his favorite NHL players through his father’s work, and Anna got her first taste of cabin crew duties when she served coffee on a flight with her mother at the age of six.

Inka was also inspired by her parents’ travel-filled lives from a young age: One time, she hopefully climbed into Heidi’s suitcase when Heidi was leaving for a work trip. Later, the parents have, in turn, had the chance to accompany their daughter leaving for her travels for exchange or backpacking.

Daughter Inka has been fascinated by travel and cultures from a young age.

However, the unpredictable nature of the aviation industry also has its flipside, sometimes bringing unexpected, world-shaking events. A particularly poignant memory is a flight from Bangkok to Finland on New Year’s Eve 2004, right after the devastating tsunami in Southeast Asia. Ilkka was the captain, and the rest of the family were passengers on the evacuation flight, which brought home, among others, Finnish children who had just lost their parents and other family members in the horrific events.

“The flight was sorrowful, but also proof of Finnair’s spirit and the seamless professionalism of the crew, even in difficult and unexpected moments,” the family recalls. The family believes that working at Finnair is not only about a profession, but a way of life based on openness, flexibility, trust, and the belief that anything can be overcome together.

A flight together became a career highlight

All the years of adventures and the memories the family has accumulated came together on their first flight together in June 2024. Approaching the departure gate on the morning of the flight, the atmosphere was almost surreal. “Are we really all going to work together today?” Anna marveled before the flight. “As a big family, we rarely see each other all together – let alone on the same flight!” Inka adds. The sisters once managed to swap flights to work together, but they had never flown with their mother.

The Terttunen family a moment before their first flight together. 
Photo: Teemu Terttunen

For Heidi, the day was also special. Over her 40-year-long career at Finnair, she has experienced all kinds of things, but the journey with her family immediately became a career highlight. “Oh, how fun it was to work with my daughters and see my son in the flight deck! With everyone there, the flight really felt like a family trip, not a work trip,” Heidi describes after the flight.

For the newly joined Finnair employee Tomi, the trip to Los Angeles was a unique opportunity: he got to fly a plane with the same person on board who initially inspired his desire to become a pilot – his own father, Ilkka, who joined the flight as a passenger.

Proud father Ilkka with his pilot son Tomi in the flight deck before the shared flight. 
Photo: Teemu Terttunen.

Ten hours flew by, and even if workdays are enjoyable in general, this day was especially fun. The rest of the crew was happy for the family, and the positive atmosphere extended all the way to the passengers. The family’s other son, who was also on board, found it funny to see family members all around. It is a running joke in the family and among acquaintances that Teemu is the only family member to have dodged the curse of working in the aviation industry. The unique nature of the workday sometimes amused the working family members as well: “Sometimes I had to really concentrate not to say ‘mom’ when I had something to tell Heidi during the flight,” Inka laughs.

Siblings Tomi and Anna on the family’s shared flight. 
Photo: Teemu Terttunen

For a closer look at the Terttunen family's shared flight to Los Angeles, visit our Instagram.

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