Cockpit Chronicles: Getting More Out Of Layovers

For some, life couldn’t be any more perfect than if they were paid to travel. I’ve run across three airline crew members who have discovered ways to keep their jobs fresh and exciting by embracing what is for them the biggest benefit that comes with working for an airline: travel.

You hear about the turbulence in the airline industry nearly every week – layoffs, pay cuts, pensions lost and airlines shutting down. The echo chamber at work is enough to drive an airline employee crazy after hearing how these events are affecting everyone. But a few pilots and flight attendants I’ve worked with have come to the conclusion that they’re unable to change the situation materially, and so they may as well find a way to enjoy the job.


I like to think I’m an adventurous traveler, although my definition of adventurous is to try to avoid eating at the same place in a given city more than once. I rarely succeed, but it’s a goal at least.

Years ago, a flight attendant asked me for advice about purchasing a digital SLR camera. She started a blog called 2 Stews that revolved around eating and writing about various restaurants in Europe and recreating some of the amazing dishes. I was surprised when she heeded my advice not to skimp on the camera and began to take some eye-popping pictures of the food and sights she came across.Today, she looks forward to trips, planning them well in advance to secure reservations for herself and some of her fellow crew members. For her, the job no longer revolves around the work she does going back and forth across the Atlantic, it’s more about the next topic or theme she plans for her blog. I’m similarly motivated when I come across a subject I want to talk about in “Cockpit Chronicles,” which lately hasn’t been often enough.

Here, Diane catches us up on her schedule, which ends in Rome, so naturally she shares the recipe for a dish she had previously there that had an unusual mix of ingredients:

Lately I feel like the Johnny Cash song, I’ve Been Everywhere. In the past few weeks I’ve been to Dallas, Rome, Budapest, Boston, New York, Minneapolis, Boise, Idaho and back again. I’m off to Rome today. I’m not complaining, mind you, but my affairs aren’t in order. The weeds are growing, the dust is collecting and my computer time has been zero. If only I had an iPad for my journeys….plus a few days off! Oh yeah, don’t forget a house cleaner on that list of wants.

I settled yesterday for an easy and tasty pasta dish to keep me going. I have been wanting to make the Pater Nostri pasta I bought in Rome using a recipe that was inspired by a dish I had at Trattoria Moderne last month. It had Italian sausage, pear and radicchio. The flavors rounded out each other with a little sweet from the pear, some savory sausage, salty cheese and a slightly bitter taste from the radicchio. The essences of life.

Diane has collected so much about Paris that she’s started a blog featuring that work called Merci Paris.


Aspiring to learn everything there was to know about his favorite city, Rudy has ventured nearly everywhere in Rio de Janeiro and logged enough helpful tips that he’s become the go-to guy for other pilots and flight attendants interested in Rio. He put together a guide that he shares in paper form with crew members, which caused me to try things I never would have otherwise – such as a frango from a farmers market, for example.
I committed the Portuguese word for chicken to my short-term memory and marched down to the weekly market near our hotel and ordered a frango with some sort of sugar cane drink.

I’m convinced that Rudy may know more about the city than some of the locals. I thought I knew Paris well, but I couldn’t write anything for the City of Light that would approach what he’s done for Rio. In order to get around a little easier, Rudy has a bike in Rio and is planning on picking up another one so he can bring someone else from the crew along with him on his adventures.

On the day he leaves Rio, Rudy will routinely carve up some fruit purchased at a farmers market, some of which isn’t available in the states, and put it on a plate before delivering it to the rooms of the two other pilots he’s flying with hours before meeting for pickup.

Above and beyond, I’d say!

Rudy’s delicious fruit from the market in Rio prepared and delivered to our rooms!


I‘ve flown with Catherine Caldwell for years, but I never realized what a true expert she was on getting the most out of her trips until reading her recently published book, “Jet Vignettes.” (Available on Amazon, the Kindle and as an iBook from iTunes.)

Catherine’s advice for dining in Paris resonated with me:

When I first started flying to Paris, I knew nothing of where to eat in the city. My crew members and I would walk to the Latin Quarter because initially no matter who we asked – friends, passengers, other flight attendants – all said the Latin Quarter. All said this area hits the quota mark for the highest concentration of “cute” Parisian restaurants. Each layover we went to the Latin Quarter, layover after layover, in search of the holy grail of true Parisian cuisine, the kind we heard and read about, the dinner that was the true pinnacle of dining in Paris. Each time, we passed the restaurants with flower boxes, checked curtains, old architecture, and beckoning waitstaff holding enticing menus. After five subpar meals of so-so food, expensive bills, sitting next to table after table of American tourists, it dawned on me, this was not the place to eat at all in Paris. That was 1996, and I have eaten in the Latin Quarter only once since, at a Greek restaurant that was actually pretty good (I picked up a card).

She then went on to talk about a few of her favorites in Paris as well as other places in Europe, and includes a section on pastis in Paris and shopping in local grocery stores while abroad. She includes a few telling anecdotes about her job, such as the requisite chapter on the Mile High Club and 9/11 as well as helpful chapters such as “Big Cities on a Flight Attendant Budget” and how to look like a local in various countries. Like Diane, Catherine regularly updates her blog after nearly every trip, it seems.

I wholeheartedly recommend “Jet Vignettes.” I even learned a few things about her job, and picked up some tips that I’ll put to use on international layovers.

In fact, all three of these extraordinary people have inspired me to get out and explore more while traveling, and subsequently to enjoy my job more. And that’s something every airline employee could use right now.

Cockpit Chronicles” takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as a pilot based in New York. Have any questions for Kent? Check out the “Cockpit Chronicles” Facebook page or follow Kent on Twitter @veryjr.

Band on the Run: Trippin’ in O’Hare Airport

Ember Swift, Canadian musician and touring performer, will be keeping us up-to-date on what it’s like to tour a band throughout North America. Having just arrived back from Beijing where she spent three months (check out her “Canadian in Beijing” series), she offers a musician’s perspective on road life. Enjoy!

One of the big things that travellers often worry about is how to stay in shape while going from plane to highway back to airport to waiting room to plane to highway, etc. There’s a lot of sitting involved in travelling, especially when you’re going long distances, and sometimes it feels to me (someone who likes to run as my choice of exercise) that I am completely sedentary and blob-like for far too long.

Unless, of course, I am routed through O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, IL.

I’ve heard that this is the largest airport in North America in terms of square footage, but I’m having trouble supporting that with any source. Has anyone else ever heard that? I did learn that it is the second busiest airport in the U.S. and the second busiest in the world with over 76 million travellers through the airport in the year 2006. (source) Because so many flights come in and out of Chicago, there seems to be no logical reason for the placement of connections. They’re sometimes a full half-hour walk away and with delays, inclement weather and general O’Hare confusion, it’s not uncommon to miss one’s connection at this airport.

Even if you’re a runner.

This must be the largest airport in North America because I think I have walked the whole thing several times and I’ve had the blisters to prove it. I know now that being routed through Chicago will cure the “feeling-like-a-blob” blues. Especially today, when I had ten minutes to make it between terminal B and terminal C and had to basically run and walk at the same time while dragging my luggage and fellow travellers behind me.

There’s a causeway between these two terminals that amuses me. It’s designed like an eighties nightclub with neon tube lighting zigzagging across the ceiling and overall dim lighting in the tunnel to enhance their dance. They flip on and off like they’re on a slow strobe and the adjoining mirrors give the impression that there are even more lights going on than there are.

I know this is the airport’s attempt to install art in between the monotonous transfer between flights, but little did they know that they not only gave us a visual experience here, but they gave us a temporary exit from reality; an experiential gateway into what feels like another dimension.

An essential partner to this installation is the moving sidewalk that is installed here – two lengths of it – and perhaps you know what I’m talking about when I call these devices “trippy.” By this, I mean that it sometimes feels like I’m in another state of consciousness when I’m on them, especially if I’m also walking down them (not just letting them carry me) like I was doing today in my attempt to make the connecting flight. It is dream-like, as though you’re part floating and walking while also being swept across the floor towards the other end the way a camera zooms in and takes your eye with it without your consent.

Just head towards the light.

So put them together with the neon lights and it’s even more trippy. It suddenly makes me feel as though I’m under the influence of a reality-shifting drug and squashed into an all-ages travellers’ nightclub at which carry-on luggage is mandatory fashion. It was all I could do to stay focused and keep walking today without letting myself get lost in the colours.

I made it out the other side without disappearing into the illusion of it all, I’m proud to say. And, I also made my connection. The flight attendants with their colourful leis and big smiles had held the plane for the various delays that had already rippled their way across the entire airport. Our flight left about forty-five minutes after the schedule departure time, so I’m hoping that they also found the time to put our luggage on the same plane as our bodies. I guess we’ll find out when we land.

Maui, here I come.

I once had to stay overnight in Chicago because the President of your country down there had decided to spontaneously come to Chicago that day. This, of course, delayed all the flights (for security reasons) and made hundreds of people miss their connections. In fact, this was the information that we received from the Canadian aircraft that we were flying on because they had to delay their landing and do an extra loop around the city.

When we arrived at O’Hare, they told us that the delay was as a result of “inclement weather.” When I told these conflicting explanations to my friend in Chicago (who I phoned during my long attempt to find an alternative means home before giving up and heading for a hotel), she said: “The weather was perfect today here! And, yeah, the president was here too. They’re all such liars. They lie as easily about bombs as they do about the weather. What a joke!” I just sighed and didn’t feel any less helpless in the circumstance. I simply became part of a herd of discontented people forced to pay overpriced hotel fees and grumble under our breath about injustice.

(I did have some of the best vegan pizza that night that I’ve ever eaten. So, it wasn’t all that bad.)

Before the hotel decision, however, we had walked the whole of O’Hare airport being told to try various flights for openings to get us back to Canada. I believe that day that we walked a total of ten kilometres.

I think it was after that experience that I invested in carry-on luggage with wheels.

After O’Hare, I’m always happy to sit down again. Even if it’s in a plane while squashed into economy seating.

Now if only they could improve the lighting in the actual cabin. I’d love an optical illusion or two for such a long flight. I have many hours to go now.

Hawaii. Ten hours. Too much perfume. No vegetarian fare.

Where’s the flashing neon when you need it?