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Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  3,270 ratings  ·  408 reviews
A poetic and nuanced exploration of the human experience of flight that reminds us of the full imaginative weight of our most ordinary journeys—and reawakens our capacity to be amazed. 

The twenty-first century has relegated airplane flight—a once remarkable feat of human ingenuity—to the realm of the mundane. Mark Vanhoenacker, a 747 pilot who left academia and a career in
Published June 2nd 2015 by Random House Audio (first published March 24th 2015)
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John Jr. Night Flight, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, contains skillful evocations of flight in an earlier era, when flying was riskier, sometimes heroic, and so…moreNight Flight, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, contains skillful evocations of flight in an earlier era, when flying was riskier, sometimes heroic, and sometimes tragic. Anyone thinking of it as a gift ought first to consider how the story turns out. Whether Skyfaring is the best recent book about flying is something I can't judge, but praise for it among professional reviewers has been high.(less)

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Petra on plane flapping arms vigorously
This book fails, but only just, on every single element. It's really sad. There were so many ways it could have succeeded and been a fabulously interesting book, but instead, the author just holds back.

He doesn't hold back in his writing, this is the exception. And it's a shame. He attempts a poetic, almost visionary kind of prose. If you have something somewhat metaphysical to say, it will come through without it being hammered home with a label that says, "Spiritual Writing of a Beautiful Expe
Jan 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
I used to be deathly afraid of flying. Once on a flight from Dallas to Amarillo, the pilot left the cockpit and leaned over my seat to look at the wings. He said there was a problem with the hydraulics system and that we may have trouble landing. We buzzed the control tower to make sure our landing gear was engaged and couldn't help notice the fire trucks and ambulances lined up on the runway. Even the news trucks had time to get there. After about an hour of terror, circling the sky unsure if w ...more
Jul 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
For this review, I am posting almost exactly what I emailed to the author, for the book was an exact fit for me to read; it matched my interests.

"With this book you have gripped my soul! Despite current efforts by government to ensure my safety with discomfort and airlines to squeeze me into a small seat and keep me locked there for hours, I still love to fly. Transportation is my heritage.

A grandfather worked for and developed a brake for the B & O Railroad. My father was a sea captain who got
Tony Fitzpatrick
Apr 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is an extraordinary book - basically a 30 something British Airways 747 First Officer sharing his love of flying. It covers some of the science of flight, the geography, the emotional aspects of living "an international life" which is normal for all long haul pilots, and much of the author's response to what he sees from the air (land, sea, clouds, snow, man made stuff). It also covers some personal background - family, career choices, first impressions of airports and planes. On business a ...more
James R Jackson III
A successful book

I always wondered what it would be like to live that life, with its outrageous geographical shifts and big machines instead of my life of one drug store and elegant sail planes. I think I have an inkling thanks to this interesting subjects and elegant prose. Thanks for the good read.
Oct 13, 2015 rated it it was ok
This book was a lovely meditation on flight and travel, written by a pilot who experiences these phenomena differently from most other people. Mark Vanhoenacker is clearly a well-read, thoughtful person with an ear for the poetic. He also included lots of interesting technical information about air travel that I am glad to know.

Why only two stars then? Frankly, I think only a person who shares the same level of passion as Mr. Vanhoenacker for the skies will find herself fully absorbed in the boo
Oct 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Every once a while it's good to read a non-fiction book. At times it shows us the world as it is rather than adding a spoon of fiction and cover it with a story. Every life around us is a story. There is a story in each one of us, waiting to be told and waiting to be heard.

I was browsing through The New York Times book reviews section when a particular book about flying and pilots caught my attention. There have been so many books about pilots and their love for flying then what makes this book
Jul 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Famous American writer and cartoonist, Theodor Seuss Geisel once said:

“You know you're in love when you can't fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.”

When I read Skyfaring - The Journey with a Pilot, I saw a man who set forth to accomplish his dream of flying despite the hurdles. In his late twenties, he started flight training, leaving his several years long career as a management consultant. The story of Mark Vanhoenacker is an inspiration for anybody who presuppose s
Aug 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I've always loved flying, but after reading this soaring work, I know much more about why I love to fly. The unexamined life is not worth living, according to Socrates, and in this narrative, a pilot's sense of appreciation and wonder are steeped with the same awe as a philosopher's poetry. This is transcendent stuff -- reflections ranging from the wonders of mechanical tuning to the puzzling beauty of sand crossing continents on the shoes of travelers, lessons in history and art from a master c ...more
Kenneth Iltz
Mar 05, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016-books
The author, Mark Vanhoenacker, flies a Boeing 747 for British Airways. I thought that if you are a pilot for an airline that you could fly any of its airplanes. Not the case. You are trained on a particular airplane and required to stay with it until you are trained on and move to another airplane. I also thought that pilots for an airline were part of a small club and that they knew each other. The author rarely encounters the same pilots on his flights.

Mr Vanhoenacker, fortunately for his rea
Jul 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: transport
I love to travel - and I have a daughter who lives on another Continent to me, so I fly frequently. However, for some reason that I've not quite worked out, flying scares me witless. The day before the flight my stomach starts its familiar sensation of knots and twists, and as we drive to the airport I feel nervous and fearful.
Once on the plane I do actually feel a little better, although I have hinted to my husband that I'd probably feel a whole load better if we were in Business Class! But he
Martha Love
Apr 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
SKYFARING is an excellent book written by an experienced international commercial pilot that gives us an inside view of air travel from the pilot's point of view. I was particularly fascinated by his theory of "place lag" and what this means to the human psyche as we travel. This book would be a perfect start for any Depth Psychology student studying the effects of "Place", and particularly as it relates to travel in a more and more global community. In fact, it would be so interesting to do a q ...more
Sep 19, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have flown domestic, short haul and long haul flights in everything from cattle class to Upper Class and as a form of transport it is a little bit dull. Flying is seen as mundane now and love it or hate it, you cannot deny that modern air travel is the thing that has opened up the world up. It is one of the safest forms of transport ever invented too, making travelling to destinations far and wide, safe, easy and painless.

In this eloquent book, Vanhoenacker tells us just what it is like to be
Dan Croft
Aug 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The dust jacket of this book and the reviews on the back cover extensively use the word poetic to describe this book. This is accurate and I can't think of how I could write a review of this book without using the word poetic to describe it. At it's core, it is a book about the tales of a 747 first officer as he flies literally around the globe. However, even people without any particular interest in aviation may find this book appealing. If elaborate prose and a complex vocabulary is not your t ...more
Excellent read - got me daydreaming

This book did an excellent job combining the emotional pleasure of flying with the techniques. Fun read that will have me daydreaming and thinking on my trips.
Sep 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: paper
Reading this book gave me a great sense of calm, very welcome in these times. Although the author's desire to tell a little bit of everything does make the book disjointed at times, I admire how he shares his continuing romantic sense of wonder, not just of flying but the way it changes how he views the world below. There's obviously a lot of curious trivia scattered across the pages of the book, but most of all it's about people and places and landscapes and air. That's what I like about it. ...more
JwW White
Dec 29, 2020 rated it it was ok
The publisher says that this book is a “poetic and nuanced” description of the miracle of flight. While that may be good marketing, it is also very misleading. I think that there are two far more apt words for describing this book: boring and pretentious.

Vanhoenacker spends the bulk of the book’s almost 350 pages playing armchair philosopher. He is far more interested in pontificating about things (many of them only tangentially related to flying) than he is in giving readers any real or nuanced
Roberto Macias
Jun 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
While wondering what review to write, I went through those of other readers to get the proverbial juices flowing. I think you can grab a bit from every review to get a picture:

I wasn't particularly happy with the overly metaphysical tone in some of the descriptions, but I don't think it's "overdone", it sets the tone and gives you a perspective of how Mr. Vanhoemacker perceives being a pilot.

On the technical side, well yes, the explanations don't get overly technical, they sometimes fall a bit s
May 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
What a beautiful book. I checked this out from the library, but I'm tempted to buy the Kindle version to revisit it on a future flight.

A favorite passage:
"To come home from a trip to a high place and a far city, from hours over the tundra or distant oceans, is a sudden and joyful deceleration. I feel this almost physically. As the airplane slows on the runway, both the actual speed and the place streaking, the self-blurring, begin to end. And once home it is the simplicity of the ordinary thing
Oct 21, 2016 rated it did not like it
If there was an option for 0 stars, I would give it that. Did this guy buy all the copies himself to make it a bestseller? Either that, or he bribed the writers of the bestseller list. There is no story or any point to this tripe. What a waste of time to even write this nonsense. Don't bother; go for a run instead. You'll feel better. ...more
May 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Upon boarding a commercial airliner (whether for a short domestic flight or longer overseas flight) many passengers simply slip into their familiar travel routine and cocoon themselves with their electronic blanket of noise cancelling headphones, tablets, laptops or the in-flight entertainment and the flight becomes a mere means of conveyance from one place to another.
Therefore, one might be excused for expecting the pilot of a 747 to be more of a technocrat than an aviator, given the routine na
Mary Lins
Jul 25, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lyrical, philosophical, full of poetic allusions and movie references, "Skyfaring" presents pilot, Mark Vanhoenacker's, musings on the life of a Boeing 747 pilot.

My son is a 767 pilot so the parts of Vanhoenacker's descriptions and musings that most interested me were about the direct experiences, processes, and procedures that pilots undergo.

Very interesting stuff!

Vanhoebacker writes beautifully, and he has other flight-related books out, maybe someday he'll consider a novel?!
Jun 03, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a child, I dreamed about flying airplanes. I sought out books about flying, trying to get some insight into what it was like and what a career in aviation might entail. I read Lindbergh's We and The Spirit of St. Louis. I built model after model. When I was older I devoured the memoirs of military pilots who flew in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. And then I did become a pilot, and embarked on a 24-year career flying trainers and fighters for the US Air Force. My dreams of late have turned to writi ...more
Biblio Files (takingadayoff)
Skyfaring is a bit of a throwback, a book that rhapsodizes about the romance of flying, of travel, in the way that you don't see much anymore. Mark Vanhoenacker is a first officer who flies Boeing 747s for British Airways, and although he's been flying professionally for about a decade, he's still almost giddy with enthusiasm for flying. Well, who can blame him? I worked at a major airport for overeleven years and never got tired of walking through the terminals, watching people coming and going ...more
Jun 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Skyfaring : A Journey with Mark Vanhoenacker is a book that eloquently describes the life of a pilot and how the author came to become a pilot and who now flies 747s on long routes and previously flew Airbuses around Europe.
The book is quite autobiographic with Vanhoenacker describing being the son of a father who was a Belgian missionary before meeting an American who had also travelled widely. Vanhoenacker grew up in New England, became a management consultant but then decided that his love of
Jake Goretzki
Jul 13, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015
Hmmm. Look, it's a strong proposition and our author has an ear for the metaphysical and the lyrical that will doubtless stand out among what I imagine is a straight-talking, (overwhelmingly) Alpha Male peer group.

Alas, it didn't quite land. Lots of wonderment and awe; the quiet beauty of the earth ever peeking through the window - but light on many aspects I wanted to hear about. Dislocated, almost. It reminded me of well preserved copies of the National Geographic. Volcanoes in brilliant doub
Bastian Greshake Tzovaras
May 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
I love flying. I think I must have boarded at least 18 planes this year already and I'm still not getting tired of it. On the contrary, I ten to get a bit nervous if I find myself without any booked flights for the weeks to come. And similar to the author of this book I especially enjoy the long haul ones.

So I should be the prime audience for this book. And in many ways the book lives up to my expectations. Fun stories about traveling up and high, technical details that one maybe doesn't think
Holly Russo
Jul 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Air, water, night, etc. I love experiencing the world through the eyes of Mark Van Hoenacker. The perspective he has is very comforting as I fall asleep amid molecules that float, bind, break apart, reform, transform; as awakeness falls into sleep and life becomes a pool of strange adventures. His dialogue on flight, planes and ever changing life make me want to jump back on a plane and see the world anew once again. It was interesting to read how relationships are affected by the schedules of p ...more
Andrew Post
I didn't quite know what to expect from this book. I'm a pilot and a non-pilot (but also globe-trotting) friend of mine recommended it to me. What I got was a collection of philosophical musings, reshuffled deep thoughts, and a hodgepodge of historical and scientific underpinnings concerning the nature of flight. Specifically international commercial flight, big 747s and stuff. I found it a joy, not because I'm particularly fond of big jetliners or flying internationally, but because I adore tra ...more
Patricia Baker
Aug 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
loved this book about a pilot's thoughts on flying. almost poetic at times in his descriptions. loved the scene of forest fires, oil well burn offs, and just the amount of water that is flown over during these flights. would love to be awakened to see the sky light up with flickering light waves even if it is three in the morning.
I wondered in reading this if the author had any help in writing his book as it seems to be a seasoned writer rather than the jumbo jet pilot. his phrases were wonderfu
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“The journey, of course, is not quite the destination. Not even for pilots. Still, we are lucky to live in an age in which many of us, on our busy way to wherever we are going, are given these hours in the high country, when lightness is lent to us, where the volume of our home is opened and a handful of our oldest words – ‘journey’, ‘road’, ‘wing’, ‘water’; ‘earth’ and ‘air’, ‘sky’ and ‘city’ and ‘night’ – are made new. From aeroplanes we occasionally look up and are briefly held by the stars or the firmament of blue. But mostly we look down, caught by the sudden gravity of what we’ve left, and by thoughts of reunion, drifting like clouds over the half-bright world.” 2 likes
“Jet lag results from our rapid motion between time zones, across the lines that we have drawn on the earth that equate light with time, and time with geography. Yet our sense of place is scrambled as easily as our body’s circadian rhythms. Because jet lag refers only to a confusion of time, to a difference measured by hours, I call this other feeling ‘place lag’: the imaginative drag that results from our jet-age displacements over every kind of distance; from the inability of our deep old sense of place to keep up with our aeroplanes.” 2 likes
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