Pilot Patrick Biedenkapp is a gay pilot based in Berlin. He began blogging about his life in 2016 and has built up a big social media following. We caught up with him to discuss flying, diversity in the cockpit, exotic locations and the sudden collapse of the aviation industry after COVID.
Patrick remembers his first solo flight when he was training in Croatia. “On the airfield, there were hidden bombs outside the landing strip. My instructor told me to hit the runway. He said ‘If you land next to the runway you might survive but then there might be a bomb.'” Fortunately, he didn’t land on a bomb and his career as a pilot began (took off?). As soon as he embarked on his first solo flight he knew he’d made the right career choice.
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Most international travel ground to a halt in March 2020. “Nobody would ever imagine this. It breaks my heart to think that travel and aviation have been affected the most. It will take years to get back to the levels we were at in 2019. Maybe we never get fully back to it. Especially for business people now they can do it digitally.”
With few planes taking off, Patrick has been working as a flight instructor. “When I started flying as a captain I had a lot of fun passing my knowledge onto younger pilots,” he said. Working as a flight instructor comes naturally and it’s a line of work he intends to keep going.
Gaining a following on social media
Patrick was one of the first pilots to document his experiences extensively on social media. “It wasn’t planned. Eight years ago a friend said to me I should blog and share my experiences. I thought ‘who’s going to read this?’ For me, it was normal to see a celebrity every day and fly to nice destinations. A few years later, social media became more popular – especially Instagram. I decided to start to share my experiences.”
“Since 2011 my cockpit door has been open. People can see what we are doing. I began to share my whole story of how I became a pilot on my blog. When I started there was no equivalent blog where I could find information.”
With over 700,000 followers on Instagram, he clearly has a knack for social media. Does he have a secret to finding success online? “There isn’t one,” he concludes. “You just have to be authentic.”
Diversity in the cockpit
Not many pilots come from minority backgrounds and Patrick thinks there are not many gay pilots. Have things improved in recent years? “In 2008 when I started training, I noticed when my flight instructor said ‘Women and people of colour do not belong in the cockpit.’ I was 21 at the time. I’d never heard someone say anything like that! It’s very different with cabin crew – you see such diversity. But inside the cockpit, it is still a different world. I think it’s getting better with a different generation. I hope my social media presence helps women or LGBT+ people who want to get into aviation.”
Has Patrick had any challenges travelling the world as a gay man? “When I went back to Croatia it all felt quite hidden. You couldn’t really find gay venues. I still felt super safe. I did a day trip to Montenegro. We were on a ferry and I was wearing quite fancy clothes – like a colourful bird. The ferry was busy and people were staring at me.”
Staying healthy while travelling
Travelling full time poses challenges if you like to stay healthy – disrupted sleep patterns, too many meals in cafes and restaurants, too many convenience foods. How does he stay fit and combat jet lag? “Luckily, I travel a lot in Europe so don’t have much of an issue with jet lag. But it can be a serious problem. On my blog, I share information about how to stay fit and healthy while travelling. You always have fifteen minutes to do a workout. You can do bodyweight exercises in your hotel room. People laugh, sometimes, but I always travel with a food bag – of healthy food! When you travel it can be hard to find a supermarket. If you travel a lot you have to think ahead and plan your meals.”
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Private planes and bucket list
So, how glamorous is it flying private planes? You would think it’s pretty glamorous, right? According to Patrick, it’s… complicated. Although you may be flying a private plane filled with famous people, you have to clean it when they leave – including the toilet! His book is called Pilot Patrick: My Glamorously Unglamorous Life as a Jet-set Pilot. There are definitely two sides to being a pilot.
Having travelled all over the world, does he have a favourite destination? “I live in Berlin – which is the best city in the world. I love Barcelona where you have the beach with the city right next to it. People are super friendly. It’s one of the top destinations in Europe. Lisbon is becoming more and more popular. The architecture is stunning. A favourite long distance place is Cape Town.”
Being an openly gay pilot
Having built a large following on social media, Patrick hasn’t made an official announcement about his sexuality. It’s just kind of known, he says. That changed somewhat with his book where he talks about being openly gay in more details. “I don’t think your sexuality should make a difference at work. This topic shouldn’t come up. My colleagues shouldn’t come up and say ‘I’m straight’ or ‘I’m gay.’ Thank you so much and happy landings.”