London, November 2011
In July 2011 I was asked by Ukraine International Airlines to organise an interview with Fred Finn, the world’s most travelled man, for their in-flight magazine Panorama. Over 52 years of travelling Mr. Finn has flown more than 24 million kilometres, to 139 countries, and took more flights on Concorde than anyone else.
Our interview “Blue Sky Thinking: A Chat with an Aviation Legend” features some exciting locations, famous people, exotic stories and good advice, and can be found in the November 2011 edition of Panorama.
(Please click on the above link to read the interview. A new page will open, on which you can click on another blue “Panorama” link to open it in pdf format.)
– Browse more of my travel writing, articles and short stories on my published writing page.
BLUE SKY THINKING: A CHAT WITH AN AVIATION LEGEND
By Jonathan Campion
Englishman Fred Finn is the world’s most travelled person. In 1983 he was given a place in the Guinness Book of World Records, having flown more miles than any person in history. Mr. Finn took 718 journeys on Concorde – another record – and in 52 years travelling the world he has visited 139 countries. Among a host of other extraordinary achievements, Fred has flown across the Atlantic more than 2,000 times. He now lives in Ukraine, where he is an official friend of UIA. Panorama caught up with him to talk about his fascinating travels, some famous travelling companions, and how he ended up in the “Garden of Europe”.
– Mr. Finn, when did you take your first flight?
– I sat in an aeroplane for the first time when I was 5. It was just after the war, and my grandmother took me to Canterbury to fly in a “Mosquito”. I can still remember the smell of the aeroplane. When I was 13 I flew in a “Tigermoth” at an aerodrome in Devon, and I have been a fan of flying and the history of air travel ever since.
– You have visited almost three quarters of all the world’s nations. What places do you have the fondest memories of?
– My favourite place of all is Kenya. It’s a magnificent country – the best for scenery and food. And game-watching, of course: the Masai Mara and Serengeti are the perfect locations to watch animal migration. Mount Kenya is a very special place too. The most beautiful beaches on earth are in the Seychelles. And there are so many of them that you may be able to find one that can be yours for the day. The Seychelles are also a wonderful place for swimming, dancing and music. Ukraine is another of my favourite countries. It’s a special place – unique and natural. I tell people that I grew up in garden of England and now live in the garden of Europe.
– What are the strangest local dishes you have ever tried?
– There have been a few, but the fruit bat curry that I was given in the Seychelles must be the most unusual! Because of the bats’ diet, their meat has a fruity taste…
– You have met several fascinating and famous people on your travels. Who has been your most memorable flying companion?
– I flew with Johnny Cash, the legendary country singer, many times and we became good friends. I will never forget flying to New York with Dolly Parton. She told jokes for the entire flight, and by the time we landed my ribs were sore from laughing. Everyone knows how beautiful she is, but Dolly is also remarkably intelligent, and was great company. I have flown to and from New York with Sir Paul McCartney many, many times, and it would be a pleasure to fly with him again. I remember that he used to draw happy faces during each flight.
– How about your most memorable airport experience?
– One of my flights in Africa was once cancelled when hundreds of frogs hopped on to the runway during a rain storm. The frogs themselves weren’t the problem – it was chasing away the storks that came to feed on them! Seeing Boryspil airport change has been a very memorable experience. When I was here in 1992 it was very simple, but I have watched it turn into an amazing hub. This winter it was the only airport in Europe that stayed open during heavy snow, which says a lot for how well it is run. The new terminal has been a real success, and it will need to stay on top form next summer when hundreds of thousands of visitors arrive for the European football championships. I am an official friend of Euro 2012, along with Vitali Klitschko and other Ukrainian celebrities.
– What do you usually pack when travelling?
– I always take my phone, with two sim-cards to make sure that I can keep in touch with everyone I need to. I also take my laptop with me, and some medication. But one of the most useful things I carry is a length of string, to fix my briefcase or suitcase if the strap should break while I’m travelling.
– How do you spend your time onboard aircrafts?
– The first thing I always do when I board a plane is call my wife to tell her that everything’s ok. Then I might call the person I’m meeting at the other side, to let them know if the flight is on time or delayed. After that I turn off my phone, and change the time on my watch, so I can start to get used to the time difference as soon as we take off. During the flight I like to squirt water over my eyes a couple of times – we can get very dehydrated on board.
– How has air travel changed since your first flight?
– Air travel used to be akin to ocean liner travel – passengers travelled slowly, leisurely, and there were many stops. The journey from London to New York used to take 18 hours, with stops in Prestwick, Keflavik, Bangor and Maine on the way. Now air travel has become mass travel. The aeroplane that changed it was the Comet, which had jets built into its wings. Being the first to cross the Atlantic non-stop, the Comet revolutionised air travel, flying higher than the previous Lockheed Constellation that carried 47 passengers. The company Boeing used the Comet’s updated design as the model for its 707, but Boeing’s aeroplane was able to accommodate a hundred more passengers.
– A few years ago you settled in the town of Komsomolsk. How are you finding life in Ukraine?
– I came to Ukraine for the first time in 1992, to make a documentary film for the Discovery Channel. I had a wonderful time travelling from Lvov to Kiev, and afterwards we flew on to Crimea, which was brilliant. We filmed the “dachas” of the former presidents and their visitors, and also the famous Massandra vineyard. The owners wanted me to sign their copy of the Guinness Book of Records, as they feature in it too for having the biggest wine library. I began to believe them after they insisted I try most of their wines! I met my wife in 2005, and we got married in Kremenchug. We now live in Komsomolsk, a town surrounded by lakes. Living in Komsomolsk I have fallen in love with Ukraine. My daughter is a dancer and I really appreciate the country’s dancing traditions. I also enjoy its fresh, home-grown food, and the drinking culture: Ukrainians have wonderful toasts to go with fantastic Crimean wine and cognac! Families are very close in Ukraine, which is something I admire. It’s great to see how fathers are so active in raising their kids.
– Have you visited any other parts of Ukraine? Which places would you recommend to visitors who want to explore the country?
– I come to Kiev every couple of weeks, and always have a good time there. I have seen a fair bit of the rest of Ukraine, too. Last summer when my wife and I went to Croatia we drove all the way from Poltava to Dubrovnik. Our journey took us through the Carpathians to Chop on the border with Hungary– the scenery in western Ukraine was the best part of the trip.
– Why have you chosen UIA as your preferred carrier?
– The main reason I fly with UIA is the amazing attitude of everyone I have met that works for them. The cabin crew is genuinely happy to work with and fly for UIA. A few weeks ago I asked one lady on the flight to London why she was smiling so much – she replied that she was just happy doing her job. I also like that UIA serve hot breakfasts and dinners even on short flights, such as on the Kiev-Moscow route. Only the best carriers do this. I would like to congratulate UIA on their 19th anniversary, and wish them many more successful years!
FRED FINN: MINI-PROFILE
• Fred has visited 139 countries over the past 52 years. Kenya, the Seychelles and Ukraine are his favourite destinations.
• In 1983 he became a Guinness World Record holder for “the most miles travelled as a passenger”, after it was confirmed that he had flown more than seven million miles.
• He has travelled the equivalent 31 Moon trips – and wants to go there next!
• Fred made 718 flights on Concorde, always flying in the same seat, and was on board for its very first and very last flights.
• He has flown across the Atlantic more than 2,000 times, and once flew between London and New York three times on the same day.
• He has also made 600 journeys to Africa, where he is involved with a Kenyan charity, the Nanyuki Children’s Home.
• His overall travel bill – much of which has been footed by the companies he worked for – comes to more than $3 million.
• He has travelled with Sir Paul McCartney, Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton.
• Fred came to Ukraine for the first time in 1992, and settled here in 2005. In 2011 he became an official friend of UIA and Euro 2012.