Recently I helped to celebrate Tom Stuker flying over 10million miles on United Airlines. That is quite a feat and is no way to be trivialized, but it turns out he is not officially the most traveled man in the world. That title, according to Guinness Book of World Records, is Fred Finn.
Over the years there have been quite a few interviews with Mr. Finn about his travels, but I wanted to ask some unique ones. He was willing to talk to me via email and here was our discussion:
AirlineReporter.com (AR): What is your official number of miles flown now?
Fred Finn (FF): I am approaching 15,050,000 miles (24 million kilometres), it maybe a few thousands more or less as airline flight paths vary on routes but this total is as accurate as can be. In fact Richard Branson has invited me to fly with Virgin Galactic to collect a few more miles on my collection. I had wanted to fly with the PanAm space project but unfortunately PanAm became a victim of the changing world of flying which has seen the demise of so many household names.
AR: What is your favorite aircraft to fly on?
FF: Well, firstly Concorde as it was a terrific experience to travel faster than a rifle bullet and drink Dom Perignon at the same time. You were able to ride on the very edge of space where you could see the earth circle, and arriving before you took off if flying west, all above any turbulence and with friendly crews and I spent a lot of time actually flying in the cockpit because that way they could let another passenger use my seat. Of course it was a beautiful aeroplane to see flying.
My other favourite aircraft would have to be Boeing. Most of my flights since 1958 have been with Boeing. I would estimate that apart from the 3 million miles on Concorde and maybe another million miles or so on Airbus and VC-10s the rest of my mileage (11 million and counting) has been with Boeing. I have to say that I always feel comfortable flying in Boeing products from the Boeing 707-120 (the fore runner of the Boeing 707-320 with much longer range), the Boeing 727 (one of the most successful airliner), the long range and comfortable 767, the baby Boeing 707 called the 737 200, 300, up to and including the 737 800 series, then the beautiful and most comfortable 747. The 747SP the long range aircraft which I flew many times between New York’s JFK and Tokyo.
I flew the second flight of the 707 from Paris Only to New York with PanAm in October 1958, and also on their 747 from London Heathrow to JFK on the third or fourth flight in January 1970.
The 787 Dreamliner I will probably like as well, following its almost painful birth. It is an aircraft that looks so good and green. I think I have flown on most other types of aircraft but I am a Boeing fan.
AR: What is your most memorable experience flying?
FF: Well I have been with a suspected bomb on board and suspected high jackings. I was going to meet my wife for dinner and I didn’t show up until 2am and when I told her she said that was the best excuse she had ever heard until she saw it in the newspapers in the morning, perhaps that’s why she is my ex wife.
I have to rate my first flight on Concorde as memorable as one didn’t know what to really expect when going through the sound barrier.
I have also flown with the Royal Air Force Red Arrows Acrobatic Team in UK. I took on a later occasion with Richard Branson to also fly with the Red Arrows, and flew the last flight of the F4 Phantom. We also took along Ron Dennis who owns the McLaren Formula 1 racing team to experience real performance , he couldn’t believe that something with this performance could be out of date. David Gower, the former captain of the England Cricket team, was also with us.
AR: What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen/experienced in flight?
FF: On one flight from Dallas to Chicago on Braniff, which is noted for the best breakfast in the air, we had a guy who said he owned the airline and was going to instruct the pilot to Havana. He kept insisting and in the end he was subdues by the crew and met by two big guys with guns at O’Hare.
I went through the surge on Concorde, where there is an enormous bang because although Concorde flies at twice the speed of sound the air has to enter the engine at the around 550mph, in order to do this the intake has baffles that slow the air from supersonic to regular speeds in 11ft. If one of the baffles fails, the air intake was too quick, resulting in a big bang. It was quite frightening and the engine had to be shut down, even though there was no danger to anyone.
On another occasion I was going to take Concorde to Singapore via Bahrain, when at the last minute I had to wait a day. I phoned the captain whom I was going to stay with in Singapore with and explained that I would join him the next day in Bahrain.
A wheelchair passenger was wheeled in and sat in 10a behind 9a which is the seat I always sat in, if not in cockpit. In those days wheelchair passengers were not subjected to security searches as they are today. About half way through the flight she took out a knife and stabbed the guy who was sitting in my seat in the head, missing his brain by only 2mm. There for the grace of God I was not in that seat.
AR: What airline have you enjoyed flying the most?
FF: In its heyday I thought that PanAm was as good as it gets especially their dining room in the sky where there were four tables for two and four people and you reserved just like in a restaurant.
I have flown many miles with British Airways because of Concorde and the fact that the fly to most places from UK where I had lived. I also have to mention Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic which I helped to build at the invite from Richard Branson himself. At the time of launch for their upper class, it was the equivalent of most other carriers first class so it appealed to the bean counters who were paying business class fares and to the passengers who got first class service with limousine door to door and masseuse on board as well.
But my most pleasant experience of all has been with Ukraine International Airlines. Smart Boeing aircraft, well serviced by their own maintenance section approved by Boeing and of course Ukrainian women are noted for their absolute beauty and fashionable uniforms. They have a genuine smile that they radiate. I have agreed to become a goodwill ambassador for the airline, they are the national carrier for the Euro2012 football where the final will be played in Kiev next year. So many people will have the chance to sample this friendly airline where friendship and the readiness to please starts at the top.
AR: Did you ever think you would fly over 15mil miles in your life?
FF: No, I didn’t even think about is as a goal. I don’t think about what the eventual mileage maybe as I am still flying around and enjoying every minute of it. Just the other day I caught a flight at 6:55am to Moscow for the day and came back in the evening at 10:35pm. It was a very long day but made pleasant by the wonderful ladies on Ukraine International Airlines
I have always enjoyed anything to do with aviation since my grandmother had me lifted in to a Mosquito fighter bomber just after WW2 and I guess the smell of the inside of this plane remained with me. I used to go on my bike to a former WW2 airfield in KENT UK where the battle of Britain was fought.
I eventually went to live in USA and am proud to be a citizen of the US. I worked for a company involving new patents and innovations which I had to license around the world. In 1974 I was invited by the chairman of Hasbro, Harold Hassenfeld, to come and work for them to licence the manufacturing of their new products around the world. At the time Harlond said if you think you have traveled up until now you ain’t seen nothing yet. I became a bit like a satellite circling the earth. My boss said he couldn’t understand my English, so he sent me back to UK to start this programme where I could be understood. From there over 500 trips to Nairobi, many trips to far east. While in Iran, I was held during the revolution for several days but eventually got out on the last flight which cause big cheers when we passed over Turkish border.
I eventually fulfilled my role and became involved within Richard Branson, Ethiopian airlines, and Kenya Airlines who all wanted to know what I would like to see on their flights (bigger pillows, in-flight amenity kits etc). All the airlines that I have been involved with is either 4 or 3 stat rated airline so I hope that my input has been useful.
Today, I spend a great deal of my time commuting to Komsomolsk Ukraine, a beautiful small town 4 hours south of Kiev. It is on the banks of the river Dnieper, one of the largest in Europe, with white sandy beaches, many islands to visit, fantastic locally grown produce, and wow what stunning ladies where I am lucky enough to have found a beautiful Ukrainian lady for my wife. I guess I grew up in the garden of England and now live in the Garden of Europe.
AR: How does flying now compared to previous years?
FF: It has to be said that flying today has become mass transit. With more and more people able to fly and aircraft able to accommodate more and more people, like the Airbus A380 which can carry up to 800 people, personally it has become less glamorous. I don’t think that I would want to be landing in rush hour at any airport with busy customs and immigration and possibly be behind four of these mammoth planes. Airports are hard pressed to manage the load they have already, let alone a potential 3200 people at one time or maybe more.
In the days of the Boeing Stratocruiser, which I call the 747 of the propeller world, you could go downstairs and a bunk bed was pulled down, where you were tucked up for the flight across the pond. I believe that airlines on long haul flights in the last few years have begun to realize the need to sleep well with the introduction of sleeper seats in separate compartments and the privilege to eat in business and first when you are ready. In some cases you are able to eat before boarding and the go straight to bed with your airline supplied pajamas and slippers. Service in the premium classes has become about listening to what the consumer wants. This has become more widely popular since the advent of airline of the year awards and airline food that competes for premium passengers.
AR: Do you think an aircraft, like the Concorde, will return to the skies?
FF: I had a love affair with the Concorde from 25th May 1976 on the first eastbound crossing from Washington to London until October 2003 when I appeared on Skye news commentating on the last four flights that day. Yes, it was a sad day for an aircraft that was probably taken out of the sky years before its time. I would love there to be another supersonic or hypersonic aircraft. I think the cost of building such a plane would be massive and what airlines could afford. Today big is beautiful and airlines want backsides in seats and want to find ways to fly the masses greener. I don’t feel in my life time it will be happening. My record of 718 flights on a supersonic airliner will stand for a few years to come.