The Gift of Flight is a new series featured in our Art of Flying section, which chronicles the role and significance that aviation plays in the lives of professionals working directly or indirectly in the airline industry. For the inaugural edition, Kambr Media’s MD pens the opportunities that flying has created in his life.
Maybe for some, flying has always been something that’s been present, available and simply a part of life. Especially in the aviation industry, you often hear tales of individuals being “born with wings,” having grown up around an airfield and likely having a close relative pass on experiences and love of all things flying.
My story is a little different. I was a bit of a late bloomer. I didn’t step foot on an aircraft for the first time until I was 17. It was an unexceptional flight from CLT to BUF, after spending the summer with a friend in North Carolina. While my first time wasn’t anything remarkable, it’d be my second itinerary that would change everything. More on that in a minute, but a bit of a backstory first.
Growing up, I never had the privilege of having any elaborate family vacations. Never mind jet setting across the Atlantic or even across the country, I had never even been across the state to New York City until I was college-aged. For my family, it was all about making ends meet and surviving from paycheck to paycheck.
When you’re planning your meals and making sure all your bills fit into your budget, that doesn’t leave much headspace to daydream about getaways, let alone finances to even toy with the idea of getting on an aircraft. When I was without light or taking a cold shower because the gas bill wasn’t paid on time, I wasn’t spending my time thinking about my next destination, I was just trying to get by.
Luckily, my fortunes would change in every sense of the word. Maybe a bit cliché, but I always knew my way out of inner-city Niagara Falls and this way of life was by keeping my head straight, working hard and getting an education. I’ll save you from the mundane details, but eventually, this philosophy paid dividends, as I would earn a partial scholarship and go onto university.
While at college, a unique opportunity arose. Between my junior and senior years, I was going to study abroad for the summer in Perugia, Italy and Oxford, UK. Soon enough, after a quick connecting flight from BUF to PHL, I was setting foot on my first long-haul flight from PHL to FCO.
Now apologies, but here comes another cliché, albeit another fitting one. You know when people say an experience “opened up a whole new world” for them, it’s usually met with a bit of hyperbole? Well, my first experience abroad actually, literally did “open up a whole new world” for me. I really can’t speak enough about how an experience could be more profound, meaningful or impactful on one's life.
Discovering the history and culture of Italy was something really special because of my heritage. I know looking at my pale, ginger complexion, you wouldn’t think that I am predominantly Italian, but I can show you my 23andMe results to prove it ;) Oh, and the food wasn’t bad either :p
After Perugia, I would go on to spend the rest of the summer in Oxford. And this is where I really got a taste of the “fish out of water” feeling that has come to define my life. Imagine this boy with the humble background at his first high-table dinner wearing a suit and tie and trying to figure out what fork to use, while trying to strike common ground with the astute scholars that surround him. Oxford was especially rewarding because a contact made there would lead to my first career job in… BERLIN!
After wrapping up my last year of university and graduating during what wound up being the middle of the economic recession (great timing!), I would eventually get that job offer in Germany. So, I packed a bag and with my new-found sense of living outside my comfort zone, set off to move to a country I had never even set foot in. And wow, was that a journey. Due to a limited amount of funds and getting a flight via someone’s frequent flier miles, I piecemealed quite the itinerary going from BUF-JFK, JFK-LHR, LHR-BRU and BRU-TXL. We’ll save that story for another time.
While I realize not a great analogy when talking about flying, I’ve always tried to live by a quote from one of my favorite author’s Ray Bradbury, “Jump off cliffs and build your wings on the way down.”
Again, fast-forwarding through the details to stick to the heart of the matter, once in Berlin, I created a whole new life for myself. I built a career and the opportunities that come with it, eventually moved to the Netherlands where I met the love of my life and eventual wife, Jolijn, and we recently moved into our newly built home. To say I have an immense amount of gratitude would be an understatement.
And you know what? None of this would’ve been possible had I never embarked on a flight. There is a clear and distinct contrast between life B.F. (Before Flight) and life A.F. (After Flight).
It’s absolutely insane to see how far my life has come! I’m actually finally finishing writing this while on a business-trip flight from AMS to MIA. To steal a phrase from my fellow millennials, what even is my life!?!?
Maybe I don’t geek out the same way my aviation-lifer colleagues do, trying to identify the livery and model of aircraft as they fly overhead or by calling out booking classes, but flying also holds a special place in my heart because of the opportunities it both represents and has created in my life. My whole adult life wouldn’t be what it is today had I not had the opportunity to set foot on an aircraft. Whenever one has an opportunity to embark on a journey, it should be taken.
For many, those opportunities don't exist. While flying is becoming more accessible, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Varying reports claim that only 5 to 10 percent of the world’s population flies a year. Through my work in the aviation industry, I hope to make a difference by helping airlines make better decisions so that ultimately flying can be made more accessible for more people. Everyone deserves to live unconstrained.