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Erik Lindbergh

On the Fly with Erik Lindbergh
November 7, 2012

“Science, freedom, beauty, adventure; what more could you ask of life?”
---Charles Lindbergh

Interview by AnneLise Sorensen

Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic on a single-engine plane in 1927 in 33.5 hours. Seventy-five years later, Erik Lindbergh retraced his grandfather’s journey. It took him 17 hours. The timing alone reveals the impressive advancements of aviation. But for Erik Lindbergh, there’s still a long way to go. Lindbergh is a space pioneer, an artist, and a longtime proponent of alternative jet fuels. And this year, he launched the Lindbergh Card – the first global private jet card, with the highly regarded Air Charter Service (ACS).

We met up with Erik at the Explorers Club on NYC’s Upper East Side and he filled us in on the private jet revolution, his favorite travel destination (this may surprise you) and his travel ritual (this may surprise you too). But even in this new era of aviation, some things will always be the same. As Lindbergh says about his flight: “I was cradled in the same sky as grandfather was 75 years earlier.”

AnneLise: Thanks for joining us here on Galavante.Tell us about the Lindbergh Card, which you introduced this year.

Erik Lindbergh: For me, the Lindbergh Card is extremely exciting. It’s a business model that makes a tremendous amount of sense. Essentially, you’re offered any aircraft that’s available on the market at any time. In your name. No hidden fees. It’s customer-centric: You sign one contract. And then you can confirm booking via email. You’re not tied to a particular fleet or the vagaries of the aviation market. With the Lindbergh Card, you can take advantage of what the marketplace has to offer.

ALS: For those who are lucky enough to be in this kind of a quandary: Why choose a jet card over aircraft ownership?

Erik Lindbergh: Fractional ownership offers certain advantages over single ownership. And, our model makes more sense over both of these. It’s the model of not owning your own assets, because it’s very difficult if you do. Aviation is very cyclical; it tends to lead in recession and lag in recovery. It can be a brutal industry. You’re risking lots of capital on markets that go up and down. If you own an aircraft and you’re not flying it, it costs a lot of money. Hangar costs. Hourly maintenance costs even if it’s sitting on the ground.

ALS: And then there are all the other perks: Catered meals, tufted leather seats, skipping security. Private flying may be worth it just because you don’t have to take off your shoes in front of a line of bored passengers.

Erik Lindbergh: Yes, in private jet travel, not only do you not have to go through layers of security, but you also don’t have to sit for two hours before taking off. Also, you can fly direct to airports that aren’t hubs. In the plane, there’s lots of room to move around and stretch out. You can be productive and work comfortably. Or you can sleep very well. You have the choice of arriving having been very productive or very rested. And that’s a huge advantage.

ALS: Any diva stories from the private jet files? Celebrities behaving badly, à la Naomi Campbell?

Erik Lindbergh: You should hear the stories. I need to hold them confidential, of course, but there was the person who went ballistic because they couldn’t get the right Gatorade on their flight. And, the well-heeled woman who wouldn’t fly with her shopping bags on the plane. She chartered another plane for the bags. But, the beauty, of course, is that we can respond to any and all requests with our bespoke services.

ALS: When you flew across the Atlantic solo in 2002, you received global recognition. The History Channel covered it. President Bush thanked you for uplifting the country after 9/11. Share with us your solo experience in the plane you called The New Spirit of St. Louis.

Erik Lindbergh: Grandfather’s flight changed all our lives. His life, my life, it changed the world. But, it happened long before I was born – and I wanted to get a real, visceral feel for it. I approached the mission from a risk-management perspective. I was so busy in the cockpit that for a long time, it was hard to achieve that level of connection with grandfather’s flight. But then it hit. After I had passed St. John’s (Newfoundland), I was out of range of VHF communication. I had my satellite phone and then that went down for a time. The sun was setting, and I started to see icebergs in the ocean. I saw the orange sky behind me. And that’s when I really felt what it must have been like for him. I was cradled in the same sky as grandfather was 75 years earlier.

ALS: It doesn’t happen often, but we’re speechless. What an experience.

Erik Lindbergh: Yes, it was extraordinary. At one point, I thought I saw traffic ahead, and I communicated with the big airliners above to let them know. They laughed, and said that there couldn’t be traffic, because no one was flying across the ocean at my altitude. And that’s when I realized that the “traffic” ahead was actually the moon. It was a powerful moment for me – the idea that this was the same moon that grandfather saw. That my wings were being held up by the same sky that held up his wings.

ALS: As a pilot, you’re often in the air. But where are your favorite places to go when you land? Your top travel destinations?

Erik Lindbergh: Living in Seattle, we tend to have a gorgeous summer, so I like to be here. But when it’s dark and rainy, I like to go to Hawaii or the South Pacific for the warm, crystal waters. I love Fiji. But I’m also an avid skier, and in winter, I go to Grand Targhee in Wyoming. It’s right near the more famous Jackson Hole. But what most people don’t know is that Gran Targhee is even better. It’s on the western side of the Rockies so it actually gets more snow than Jackson Hole. It’s a place where nature is epic. Everything is oversized. You feel like nature could eat you if you let it. The mountains are extraordinary. The trees are huge and gnarled. And, it’s off most of the main airline routes so one of the only ways to get here directly is by private aviation. It’s accessible only by Driggs in Idaho, which has a 7,000-foot runway. Harrison Ford has a plane here. Paul Allen has a house here. And I come for the skiing.

ALS: Travel ritual?

Erik Lindbergh: When I was in high school, I started playing hacky sack. And now I always take it with me when I travel. I use it for hand-eye coordination. I use it in my hotel room. I get breathing really fast, so my heart rate goes up. And that’s my practice when I travel. It’s fun, and a great way to meet people. It fits in my briefcase. It’s amusing when I’m wearing a suit – and yet I have my hacky sack. It transcends language, cultural differences, everything.

Kind of like the magic of flight.

Interview by AnneLise Sorensen, Editor and Writer

(Photos: Courtesy of Air Charter Service)