GUEST OF THE MONTH | MARCH 2016
Who hasn't said they want to be a pilot when they grow up? Well Michael Lesser actually is one! We chatted to the New Zealand based Qantas pilot, who gets to fly Boeing 737's throughout Australia and New Zealand, for his "bird eye" point of view on travel.
As someone who is at the front, literally, of luxury travel, has there been an airline experience when you've been off duty that has blown you away?
Of course - and I still really enjoy the experience of airline travel.. The best experience I had was actually one that I never meant to have! I was flying from Dubai to Johannesburg and was booked on Ethiopian Airlines. Being semi OCD with airline connections, I was paranoid that if the flight was late I would miss the connection despite it being the same airline. After a few weeks of checking I realised that they had changed the schedule and I would indeed miss my connection through Addis Ababa. 40 minutes on the phone to Ethiopian Airlines HQ in Addis Ababa and I managed to get a refund and book new tickets. This was after lots of researching, and thankfully managed to get a business class ticket on Qatar Airways for almost the same price as an economy ticket from a Dubai based airline. In one word.. WOW.
Everything from check in and bus transfers, to the lounge experience in Hamad International Airport was fantastic. It was on a brand new 787 Dreamliner and the seat was one of the most comfortable I've had. The inflight entertainment system was also the best I have used on a flight. I could not fault the cabin crew, the toilets were kept spotless and for someone who eats A LOT of plane food, I can say it was probably one of the best aeroplane meals I've had.
You take some amazing images from the cockpit and have a fascinating Instagram account. Sunsets, sunrises, landings - from a view most of us wouldn't normally be able to see. What inspired you to start this photographic journey?
I have always loved photography, be it travel related or not. I have memories as kid rifling through family friends photo albums and being told off for not asking first. I'm quite fascinated by photos and love that someone has taken the time to capture a moment for the purpose of sharing and remembering it.
So fast forward to flying. Originally I was taking photos around the NT outback when I lived there for 4 years. It was simply things I have never seen and I figure so many Australians probably haven't. I also did so many cool things and experienced many travel destinations for free that people pay thousands of dollars for. Naturally I wanted to capture this and remember this time of my life. I'm always amazed how many people tell me that they have no photos. I canrecall most memorable flights I have done via a photo. I have thousands of them on my computer. It has become somewhat a journey and diary of my life as a pilot. Also, I figure it's the coolest thing I do haha.
My photos these days are now purely trying to share with the world what I get to see and how amazing it is. I loved SO much as a child being able to visit the flightdeck during all phases of flight, and now we don't allow that anymore post September 11. So I try to bring people the same experience via my photos and videos. Hopefully it will inspire some people to follow their dreams of being a pilot. I can tell you now as much as I wanted to be a pilot my whole life, I never ever thought I would actually be one.
Your worst flight experience either as a passenger or pilot?
My worst experience was as a pilot experiencing severe turbulence for the first time. I say severe as we have a ratings in the pilot world of light, moderate and severe. We were flying along and hit a huge area of clear air turbulence. I couldn't see the screens as the plane was shaking so much and I couldn't press any buttons on the flight computers. Basically it was the only time I can remember being somewhat frightened in a plane. So if I was there feeling like that - I can only imagine what the passengers were thinking and feeling!
It was quite sobering. The captain and I had a big chat about it as it was the first time he had encountered severe turbulence too. Despite what people think, as pilots we hate bumps. We want it as smooth as possible! We go out of our way to try find smooth levels and avoid weather. The positives from this encounter meant it was a good lesson in management and also the best course of action to follow if you experience it again.
Your favourite hotel?
I have many favourite hotels around the world, so it comes down to the experience and memories rather than the actual hard product.
My favourite (for the memories) has to be the Intercontinental in Singapore. My father who travels a lot has stayed there for 20 plus years now and over the course of my life I have as well. On my 21st birthday they gave us the presidential suite as a gift which was an amazing experience. They also gave me a cake! The hotel has always looked after me as a guest and nothing has ever been too much to ask or too hard. Over the years, the staff and I have become Facebook friends. When I return I still generally take a whole bunch of chocolates for them. Overall it's always a great experience and always made the hotel feel like a second home. On top of this, South-East Asia 5 star standards, comfortable rooms and beds; absolutely no arguments from me!
Second most memorable hotel was the Conrad in Tokyo. It was a very spacious suite, with all the amenities, including delicious plum wine! Couldn't fault the hotel for service or decor and a fantastic location towards the Tsukiji fish markets. I still remember walking in on the maids cleaning, on their hands and knees scrubbing the floor and cleaning it with a towel. Not sure if I liked to see that sort of thing, but you cannot fault the attention to detail. And it's a memory that has stuck with me!
We imagine you've been pretty much everywhere. Is there somewhere you've wanted to visit but haven't yet had the chance?
There is SO much of the world I have yet to see. I feel as though I haven't done enough! My last big trip was to Africa and I can't recommend it enough. I really cannot wait to explore more of it. Countries like Namibia, Mozambique, Kenya and Tanzania are all high priorities.
I'm shortly heading to see the Monastery in Petra, Jordan! Cannot wait.
I can never get enough of Europe and am off there for 4 weeks in May. I'm excited to head to Romania and Italy, and the final two weeks I'm thinking Montenegro or Spain/Portugal. Still not decided on what to do.
I'm more and more becoming interested with the idea of South America and Cuba. Cuba seems like an amazing place to step back in time. (Flat mates all loved it!) I haven't done North America for almost 20 years, so would love to revisit NYC, San Francisco and Seattle. Also seeing some of the southern states, and visiting a lot of BBQ rib restaurants. I would love a trip to Turkey.. Istanbul and Cappadocia sound unreal. Marrakesh in Morocco.. I can keep going.. Nepal and trying to make it to Everest base camp. Would also love to see the planes land and take off out of Lukla. Perhaps the Maldives to see what the hype is about. A captain recently came back from Madagascar and said it was the best trip of his life.. I'll stop now!
HOW DO WE SCORE AN UPGRADE??
I think the only way to get an upgrade is to be loyal to an airline and make sure you join the frequent flier clubs. Earn points and use them for upgrades from economy! And if you get status and the flight is oversold, the top tier people will be upgraded if it suits the airline. Some airlines virtually won't do it, but you do still hear about the odd upgrade. Airlines like Emirates tend to upgrade a lot more. Alternatively shopping around and going via different cities. If you aren't overly budget concerned then you can get reasonably priced business class deals. Alternatively, become friends with someone who has staff travel! All the best for your upgrade! Remember you will ruin air travel for a long time!
Follow Mike's travels and photography here: