Meet the ultimate flying Finnair family
For the Kaipainen family, flying and Finnair are a true family affair. Markku Kaipainen has been a Finnair pilot since 1989. His wife Maria Kaipainen was a Finnair cabin crew member when they met over 17 years ago. His daughter and Maria’s stepdaughter, Maiju Kaipainen, works as a Finnair gate agent.
Whenever Markku Kaipainen and his brother Asko would hear an airplane fly over their family farm, they would stop whatever they were doing and run outside to try to figure out where it might be going. Sulkava is a small, sleepy town in south-eastern Finland, off the shores of Lake Saimaa. And it’s where Markku’s dream of piloting planes first took flight.
“I’m not even sure why, but from the time I was a very young boy, I always dreamed of becoming a pilot,” Markku says.
When he told his mother what he wanted to do when he grew up, she told him that if he studied and worked hard enough at school, maybe his dream could come true. He listened, and in 1989 he began his career flying Saab 340 propeller aircraft for Finnaviation, a small airline that would later become part of Finnair.
Today, Markku pilots Finnair’s wide-body Airbus A330 and A350 flights to destinations like Doha, Singapore, New York and everywhere in between.
And since we’re on the topic of flights to New York, this is the perfect time to introduce Maiju Kaipainen, Markku’s daughter and a Finnair gate agent. Maiju has lots of memories of visiting her dad at work as a child, but the first time she actually flew with him in the cockpit was on a flight from Helsinki to New York around eight years ago. “It definitely hit different knowing my dad was flying the plane”, Maiju says.
From a childhood game to a career at the airport
Just like Markku, Maiju already knew in elementary school what she wanted to do when she grew up. “My best friend and I used to play ‘airport’ at the local stables. Her mother was a gate agent at the Savonlinna Airport and she taught us how to check the kids’ tickets, board them and make the gate announcements,” Maiju says.
Between gate agent games and growing up hearing stories about all the places her dad would fly to for work, it was a given that Maiju would follow him into the aviation industry. Did she ever consider any other positions? “There was a time that I thought about becoming a flight attendant, but back then I was too young and too short,” she says. Plus, Maija says she likes working in the background, keeping her feet on the ground for work and flying mostly for fun. This is something she and dad Markku don’t agree on.
“I don’t like flying as a passenger, mostly because it’s boring,” Markku says. “It’s much more interesting to plan the route, study the weather forecasts and actually fly the plane – especially the takeoffs and landings,” Markku says.
A new generation of the flying family members?
Markku and Maiju occasionally run into each other at Helsinki Airport. And there’s another member of the Kaipainen family you might find there, too. Markku’s wife and Maiju’s stepmother Maria Kaipainen also works in the “family business” as a people experience manager at Finnair’s Inflight Experience Unit. Like Markku and Maiju, Maria also always knew she wanted to work in an international environment surrounded by people. But aviation wasn’t a childhood calling. “It was more like a sign,” she says.
“Someone suggested I would make a great flight attendant and the next time I opened the newspaper there was an ad saying that Finnair was looking for cabin crew.” After training and a few years spent working in ticket sales, Maria took to the skies as a cabin crew member. It wasn’t long before she started running into the same pilot. “It was like, ‘Oh, hello again!’,” Maria laughs.
Seventeen years and two kids later, there just may be a new generation of flying Kaipainens on the horizon. Their 13-year-old son Markus is already showing an interest in possibly becoming a pilot. And 14-year-old Kiira and dad Markku spend hours on the iPad studying his flight paths and weather forecasts.
Echoing the words of his mother back on the family farm in Sulkava, Markku says, “If they study hard enough and do well in school, they can do anything they want.” Not even the sky is the limit.
Photo: Satu Kemppainen