Having clocked hundreds of thousands of miles in the skies, Mark Vanhoenacker is convinced being a pilot is the best job in the world.
“I like the connections airplanes can make. We can go see our landscapes and cultural heritage all across the world. We can hear languages and birds in the environments we evolved in.”
He has flown over deserts, mountains and oceans across the world, but still has that sense of awe when he looks out over the Earth below.
Here, he tells us what makes being a pilot so rewarding and shares his five top aerial views from the cockpit.
“I have never been to Mongolia, but I’ve flown over it a number of times – normally in the last few hours of a flight to Beijing – and it is just amazing. It’s these tawny-rolling hills; there’s often snow in the valleys, even in summer. You barely see a road… you just have this amazing landscape, and every time I fly over it, I think that has to be my next holiday.”
4. The stars
“Looking up, instead of down, you see so many stars. We have this privileged view of the night sky. In the cockpit we keep the lights quite dim because otherwise we can’t see out, and so we have this view outside and it’s one of the best parts of the job.”
3. The clouds
“I guess my third favourite sight is how clouds look over the ocean at night. I’ve spent a lot of time over the North Atlantic, and if there’s a full moon, the light’s bright enough to read a map by. I mean it’s incredibly bright, and the sea is this blue-black plate and above it there are these cumulous clouds, which are just floating along over the middle of the ocean. The moonlight is so bright the clouds will cast a shadow onto the ocean, even at night, and the clouds themselves will be light on one side and dark on the other.”
“They will probably never see land, no one will ever likely see them – except you if you look out of the window. Almost everyone else on the plane is sleeping, and there’s just these clouds floating over the sea and it’s just an incredible sight.”
2. Vancouver, Canada
“Flying into Vancouver you fly over the Rockies, and then the coastal ranges that surround the city. You don’t realise when you are in Vancouver that it’s basically just a village compared to the scale of empty mountains that are towering around it on two or three sides. And of course you’re descending into Vancouver, so you see those mountains maybe more closely that you would, and that’s definitely an experience for passengers to enjoy. It’s a busy approach for us in the cockpit, but if you have a window seat, I can’t recommend it highly enough.”
“You fly over Greenland on flights from London to very warm places like Phoenix or LA. It’s an incredibly cold and mountainous and empty place. And it’s often getting dark there, because in the winter it’s dark in portions of it all the time, and you have this perpetual dusk, and the snow-capped peaks, the ice caps, the sea is off to the side of it – it’s absolutely amazing. So Greenland has to be number one.”
Mark Vanhoenacker is a British Airways pilot and the author of Skyfaring, a new book on a journey with a pilot.