Fred Finn
Credit: Marisa Garcia

Fred Finn earned the Guinness record for most air miles flown in 1983, and has kept that record going, crossing the Atlantic by plane more than 2,000 times (and more than 700 at supersonic speeds on the Concorde.

He’s visited 139 countries, many of them more than once, and has a particular fondness for Kenya, which he has visited 600 times, and for the country of Georgia.

Travel + Leisure met with Finn at the Crystal Cabin Awards Ceremony in Hamburg, where he was the keynote speaker, and asked him to share his views on the changing passenger experience. Over more 52 years in the skies, he’s seen his share of airplane cabins from the classic Boeing Stratoliner to the 747, and today’s next-generation planes, he’s watched aircraft cabins evolve, and seen many iconic airline brands dwindle or disappear.

He told T+L that he's felt a bit let down by today’s airlines.

“It’s all very well, all the nice things that go on here [at the awards] with innovation. But, you know, airlines today are a low-cost hybrid. They’ve lost all of the attraction that they had,” Finn said. “The seats are narrow, and the pitch is cramped. They should come back to where they were. It’s all for profit and they forget the people.”

“When you go back years ... you used to sit in a big armchair,” he said. “Now, it’s gotten so commercialized and so uncomfortable. They pack people in.”

Even with today’s airline service standards, though, there’s no place Finn would rather be than on a plane to somewhere.

We asked him whether, as much as he’s traveled, he’s overcome jet lag. Finn says he doesn’t really believe in jet lag.

“I’ll tell you what I believe jet lag is,” he said. “First off, people are worried about flying the night before; they’re packing. Then, the time comes to go to the airport and they are worried about whether the car will make it, and whether they’ll make their check-in time. Then they have to go to the check-in and find the bag is two kilos heavy, so they have to deal with that. Then they have to get through security. Then they have to get to the gate. Then they are boarding and have to find their seat and a place to put their luggage. They’ve already been going for six hours. Now they fly for another eight or nine hours. When they land, they have to go through immigration, customs, get in a car, get to their hotel. They’ve been up for twenty hours.”

Finn says that it’s important to adjust to local time at your destination early.

“The minute they close the aircraft door, I set my watch to the place I’m going to and I live on that time,” he said. “When I get there, I go to bed at local time. And any jet lag, per se, is gone when I wake up in the morning.”

He also believes that keeping hydrated in flight is important, but eschews fancy skin treatments.

“What I do is I spray water on my bare skin and every hour or so I close my eyes for 15 minutes,” he said. He also credits modern aircraft for cabin conditions that are gentler on the body. “I like the new Boeing Dreamliner because the air is more moisturized.”

While some advise that drinking alcohol on the plane is bad for the body, Finn disagrees.

“I drink red wine on a flight,” he told T+L. “It never affected me. What affects me in flight is champagne. It just goes to my head, but then it does the same on Earth. It’s how you pace yourself.”

We asked Finn what advice he might give nervous fliers.

“Don’t drink to get drunk before you go onboard. That’s the worst thing you can do. It will make you feel worse,” he said. “Talk to someone who is experienced in flying. I did a fear of flying classes for Pan Am. A lot of the airlines offer those classes now, and they are 98% successful. I think the fear of flying comes mainly because you can’t see where you are going and you can hear all sorts of funny bumps and rumbles going on with the wheels and the flaps coming down. It’s a very strange environment.”

If Finn has any pet peeves in the cabin, it’s not crying babies. He says they’re just doing what comes naturally.

“No, it’s the people who when I’m asleep on the plane grab on to the back of my seat to go out,” he said. “That is a pet peeve. Also, if I’m sitting on the aisle seat near the front of the aircraft, how many times I get banged by some guy with a big backpack.”

As much as Finn loves flying, he is not a fan of flying for hours at a time. In fact, his ideal journey is short and supersonic.

“I had a 27-year love affair with Concorde,” he said. “It was the most amazing beautiful aircraft in the world — ever. It was a piece of art in the sky.”

Finn set a record for flying 718 times on the Concorde, even making the jump across the Atlantic three times in one day. He has been keeping track on the progress of new programs and is most excited over the recent announcement that NASA will have Lockheed Martin build its low-sonic boom aircraft.

“I do believe is that the Lockheed NASA thing will succeed. Lockheed are very good — they’ve got the Blackbird. If they can navigate the legislative issues — with the low boom that sounds like a cough — that’s going to lessen the time flying from New York to Los Angeles to about an hour and a half. Then, it’s going to be viable. It’s going to be brilliant. I want to fly on that.”