Cockpit Chronicles: It’s official. I’m moving to Germany

Apparently I’ve run out of things to complain about, aside from the occasional gripe about the glossiness of the paint on the office walls which was supposed to be flat. There is little in my life that I can truly complain about, especially in light of the current events unfolding after the earthquake in Japan this week.

Let’s live a little, shall we?

Both my wife and I have discussed changing things up a bit lately-doing something more radical than switching to LED light bulbs in the living room, for example.

I even agonized publicly about a few new flying options on my personal blog last month.

Fortunately for airline pilots, there’s an easy way to thoroughly turn your life upside down-at my company, all it takes is a simple keystroke on the computer: 3P/LGA/767/FO/I.

For those of you who aren’t fluent in SABRE codes, that means that I have officially transferred to NY. I’ll be flying the same airplane, thus saving myself six weeks of simulator and ground school training. Nevertheless, it’ll add some commuting time to my day.

I’ve been fortunate in my career to fly from an airport in Boston that’s just an easy hour drive from my home in New Hampshire. I heeded the advice of my brother, a former commuter from Seattle to Chicago.

“Commuting turns a good deal into an or-deal.” He’d say.

But my wife and I aren’t stopping there. Since New York is rather nearby to our home in New England, we decided to do something really extreme (for our family at least), and move to Germany.

For a year.
Paying back a debt

When I asked Linda to marry me, she was more than half way through a degree at Swansea University in Wales. She gave up her degree aspiration temporarily to join me in Alaska. And then Queens. Then Long Island. Followed by three places in Dallas. And on to Denver, then New Jersey before finally landing in New Hampshire which we’ve enjoyed for the past twelve years.

But now it’s payback time. Linda has been attending a nearby university part time, but she wants to study full-time to get her German and English teaching degree sooner.

Studying in Germany, where her mom could watch the kids while I was away at work and she was attending classes, seemed like a surprisingly logical idea when she mentioned it. Not only that, the kids, ages 9 and 5, could really hone their German language skills (i.e. be able to say more than “guten tag.”)

As a pilot, it’s possible to live pretty much anywhere in the world. We have crew members based in New York who live in Anchorage, and a few who live in Europe and fly out of the northeastern United States.

“I can do anything for a year.” I told Linda. And deep down, I know I owe her. She never complained about our moves while I was chasing flying jobs for cargo and passenger operators around the country.

How about the rest of the family?

The kids are surprisingly excited about the temporary relocation. Every night at dinner we’ve been practicing our German vocabulary and they’re able to retain what they’ve learned far better than I can.

To be honest, my German language skills are limited to about ten words. But this experience can only help me get serious about learning more, I’m sure.

So the plan is to rent our furnished house for a year, pack up the pets and just a few ‘comfort’ items and move to the village where Linda herself grew up, near Cologne.

The 3,700 mile commute

My plan is to back up my trips, so that I’ll fly two, three or four three-day Europe flights in a row, with 26-hour breaks after each Atlantic crossing. Instead of a crashpad or hotel near the airport, I’ll be staying with a friend in Manhattan, where I can keep some clothes and do laundry.

If I align my schedule right, I may be able to fly nine or twelve days in a row, followed by nine or twelve days off. This will limit the time spent in the back of an airplane and train riding to and from Brussels or Frankfurt and New York.

It sounds tiring, but commuting responsibly, with 26 hours off before starting my trips should make it easier.

The logistics

Of course there are so many questions about being an ‘expatriate.’ Do I have to pay taxes in the U.S. and Germany? Will my health insurance cover the family overseas? Will the pets have to be quarantined? How do we even transport two cats to Europe? What kind of car should we buy? (Linda has vetoed my choice of a used Alfa Romeo, unfortunately).

As I searched online, one website, How To Germany continued to pop up that answered almost all of my questions.

We’re still looking into those questions, and Linda is currently in Germany signing up the kids for school. I still expect someone to throw a wrench into the whole process at any point.

“You can’t do that. It is verboten!” I imagine someone saying as we apply for a residency permit. But so far, we haven’t run into any roadblocks.

Alas, the perfect writing cubicle

So you should see more posts now that I’ll be spending more time in the back of an airplane, a place where I’m the most productive when writing, since there’s no internet available and few distractions.

And I suspect I’ll have some things to talk about, especially since the two European destinations I’ve been flying to from Boston, London and Paris, will expand to so many more out of New York such as Rome, Barcelona, Budapest, Milan, Madrid, Manchester, Brussels, Zurich and even Rio.

Since today’s Gadling theme is focused around Europe, I’m looking forward to reading about the other parts of the continent I’ll need to visit according to the rest of the Gadling team. In exchange, I’ll be sure to let them know where they can score some LED light bulbs.

All photos by the author.

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as an international co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 based in Boston. Have any questions for Kent? Check out the Cockpit Chronicles Facebook page or follow Kent on Twitter @veryjr.

Competitours gets off the ground!

As part of our Gadling on the Road series, Kent Wien and his wife Linda are participating as Team Gadling in the first run of Competitours, an Amazing Race like competition taking place in three different countries in Europe. Follow along each day this week as Kent documents their progress.

Without much fanfare – well, without any fans and a modicum of fare paid – the 11 teams participating in the inaugural Competitours event have finally met in person at the Newark airport before getting on a Continental 767-200 for the flight to Frankfurt on Sunday night.

Early that morning the challenges and the cities were finally revealed for the competition that starts on Monday, with a rather significant surprise for my wife Linda. We would be traveling to Cologne, with tasks to be completed in Dusseldorf, Bonn, Duisburg and Koblenz.

Of all the places we could have flown to in Europe for this challenge, we ended up in the area where Linda grew up! In fact, she lived just an hour away from Cologne.

Now, you might think this would give us an advantage, but after reading the challenges Steve Belkin, the creator of Competitours and his staff have put together, we’re not so sure.

While we could have poured over the details and researched the challenges all day Sunday we decided instead to meet up with fellow Gadling bloggers Grant Martin, Tom Johansmeyer, Annie Scott and Jeremy Kressmann for brunch at the Manhattan restaurant called Public.

It took an hour to get a seat, but the conversation made up for the delay, even though we were missing out on some valuable Competitours preparation time. Fortunately, this didn’t keep us from enjoying the Sunday brunch.

We’re officially known as “Team Gadling” although we joke with each other that we’ve actually become “Team Crews Control” since we’re both airline crew members (in Linda’s case, a former flight attendant) and we’ve taken a somewhat relaxed attitude about the Competitours journey.

I’ll introduce you to the other teams as we get to know them this week. These frequent flyers come from all over the country, and even Canada to participate in a game that, so far, seems to be very well organized and designed.

After parting with half the Gadling staff at brunch, Linda and I stopped into Paragon Sports to pick up an Arc’Teryx sweater for her before making our way to the airport about 3 hours before our departure time. We used this time to pour over the details and research some of the clues in advance before we met the other teams.

Monday’s tasks will include a scavenger hunt in Cologne worth 10 points, a visit to a church in Dusseldorf where we’re required to video our comments on its most prominent architectural defect and come up with an alternate, and hopefully humorous, explanation.

Other cities such as Koblenz offer challenges such as a go-kart race, with the top 50% of the finishers receiving 15 points and the other participants earning 5 points and a walking tour of the city worth 10 points.

Many of the challenges have two point values like the go-kart challenge above. Judges will award the top 50% of those participating in the challenge the maximum points. Other challenges score a fixed amount of points if they’re accomplished correctly. In all, there are 14 challenges worth a total of 175 points on Monday alone.

Since this is a trial run of the game, changes are to be expected in it’s design. Sure enough, a few days ago we were informed that instead of having a limit of 5 challenges to choose among a list of 9 to 12, we would be allowed to accomplish as many events as possible, at least in the shortened first day.

That’s changed the game considerably, and for the better, I think, emulating the harried pace of the Amazing Race to some extent.

So from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday we will be working our way from task to task, filming the results to be uploaded to the web for judging each night before midnight. We’re required to time stamp our progress with a picture sent via cell phone either by text message or e-mail to the judges. We’re not allowed to post the video from the competition online, but we’ll do our best to film some of the places and challenges we come across.

I’m currently on the flight to Frankfurt as I write this. Everyone else is trying their best to get some sleep, since we’ll be afforded only an hour or two to rest in Cologne before getting started – time which will likely be put to research rather than sleep.

Since it’s nearly impossible for me to sleep on airplanes, I’ll be running around in a mental fog when we get there, I’m sure.

Rumors are spreading through the airplane that one of the team members left a bag in the President’s Lounge. Keep in mind, lounge access was easily obtained for many of these teams which are made up of some very seasoned frequent flyers courtesy of

Linda and I considered working our way over to the Newark pilot operations of my airline, but the thought of sitting around listening to dot matrix printers spit out flight plans while crews came and went didn’t really compare well to the idea of access to a private airline lounge.

Two teams are made up of travelers who only met each other today. We struck up a conversation with Kevin who is on one of those teams and discovered that not only did he retire very early from his job to travel the world for the past 4 years, he has lived in Germany and France for some time, and is fluent in those languages. So we felt our local advantage slipping away rather quickly.

I’m not sure how successful we’ll be, considering that, in addition to uploading photos and video for the day’s challenges each evening and reviewing and researching the revealed challenges for the next day, I’ll be hacking away on my mac, trying to report daily on the week long competition.

Follow along on my twitter account while I solicit your help with some of the clues to the challenges, if you happen to be a twitter user at

We could use all the help we can get!

Read about the rest of the week: Pre-departure, departure, day 1, day 2, day 3, day 4 and day 5.