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A Wider Field of Vision with a Pilot with Mark Vanhoenacker

Program Number: 3777

Gone are the days when flying was a fun and unique adventure. We now have to cope with lines of people at security; no more travel agents combing through airline schedules for the best deals; we now have to do that for ourselves. And, we hope there will be enough room in the overhead bin when we finally get to our seats for our carry-ons. Today’s guest, a long-haul commercial pilot, is an impressive genius in reminding us how magical it is to take to the sky. When asked about how he arranged the topics of this memoir/travelogue he said, “[H]ometown is your first language because it’s where you first learn all the elements, whether it’s bridges, streets, rivers, or even cafes and houses of worship. They are a kind of arrangement of basic forms that I like to think of as almost chromatic, grammatical arrangement pieces, which you can then identify, even as you’re exploring places that seem so different. I thought that the structure of city of gates or a city of snow was a way of saying that I understand these places are incredibly different from the place I came from. I also see in them the structures that I came to recognize growing up even in a small city that most of the people in this city probably haven’t even heard of.” Vanhoenacker opens our vision to a more expansive landscape. He says, “Every pilot sees more of the world from above and then we get to explore the cities we land in. I get to see so much of the urban world, in particular, and it’s a joy for me to share it as best I can … Travel is a miracle and is something that would have amazed almost all humans who have ever lived to be able to travel the way some of us do now.”


Mark Vanhoenacker is a seasoned, long-haul commercial pilot and a brilliant lyrical writer about his journeys as experienced both from the air and on the ground where he chronicles for us some of the planet’s great cities. He is also a regular contributor to The New York Times and a columnist for the Financial Times. Born in Pittsfield, in Western Massachusetts, he trained as a historian and worked in business before starting his flight training in Britain in 2001. He now flies the Boeing 787 Dreamliner from London to cities around the world.

Mark Vanhoenacker is the author of:

  • Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot (Alfred Knopf 2015)
  • How to Land a Plane (The Experiment; Illustrated edition, 2019)
  • Imagine a City: A Pilot’s Journey Across the Urban World (Alfred Knopf/Penguin Random House, 2022)

To learn more about the work of Mark Vanhoenacker go to www.markvanhoenacher.com

Topics explored in this dialogue include: 

  • Why cities had a fascination for Vanhoenacker since childhood
  • How Vanhoenacker organized his book by topics such as gates, rivers, snow, and more
  • Why the color blue is so important to him and an excerpt from a city of blue, Cape Town, South Africa
  • Why our ancestral home is important and why so many of us look it up on google maps
  • What is it like to visit the same city over time
  • How, as a young person, pen pals from all over the world opened his vision to new landscapes
  • What is his impression of Brazilia, a ”purpose built” city
  • How does he cope with “place lag”
  • How flying can offer a cone of solitude when we choose to take a break from all our sources of media

Host: Justine Willis Toms   Interview Date: 11/4/2022   Program Number: 3777

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