New Year’s Eve in a Russian Snowstorm – interview with Lufthansa Airbus A340-Captain Sigurd Behrens

Lufthansa captain Sigurd Behrens has often spent Christmas and New Year’s in the air. One particular New Year’s Eve was particularly memorable because his cockpit crew missed the turn of the year in a snowstorm over Russia

Mr. Behrens, a peaceful Christmas by the tree with the family, a boisterous New Year’s Eve with friends and fireworks – that’s how most of us imagine spending the holidays. For Lufthansa pilots, it doesn’t always work out that way. Does that bother you?

I’ve probably flown on the holidays for 20 years. It may not be the case this year, but I still don’t really have the holidays off. Over Christmas and New Year’s, I will be handling our fleet’s 24-hour hotline and I will also be in the office at Frankfurt Airport on the days in between. Before I had a family, I didn’t really care about being at home for the holidays as much as I do now. If it doesn’t work out, though, it’s not the end of the world. My flying colleagues and I knew this when we chose our profession, and we’re not alone in our “fate”: other professions like doctors, nurses, air traffic controllers, and police officers also work on holidays. In the worst case, we just celebrate Christmas early or late; we’ve done it before.

But celebrating far from your friends and family is a different matter, isn’t it?

I think you get used to it. And, provided that there are free seats on the plane, we are generally allowed to take our partners along for free over the holidays. Depending on the destination, your layover can be short or long – with a little luck, it may even be in an attractive city.

Have you ever been in the air at midnight on New Year’s?

On a winter’s night ten years ago, we left for Moscow late on New Year’s Eve. The weather forecast was far from festive: heavy snowfall and storms. As always in such cases, we had additional fuel in our tank, because Moscow Domodedovo had been temporarily closed due to a snowstorm. When air traffic control still hadn’t released the airport for approach after we had been circling for about 45 minutes, we decided to fly to Saint Petersburg instead. After a bit of back and forth with Russian air traffic control we were finally cleared and headed northwest. In the middle of the trip, my co-pilot suddenly wished me a happy New Year. It was 2:00 a.m. by then, and the turn of the year had simply passed unnoticed in the snowstorm over Russia. Then we wished our passengers a somewhat belated happy New Year as well.

Have there also been any unforgettable moments with Lufthansa on the ground?

Definitely – on the one hand, we often celebrate Christmas or New Year’s at our destination with the entire crew. The captain organizes a shared dinner that is subsidized by our employer. Once, our entire crew was invited to a temple in Japan at New Year’s and I have also celebrated New Year’s in Malabo in Equatorial Guinea, and in Abuja in Nigeria. As a young Senior First Officer, I once spent eight days in Bangkok at Christmas. I was only able to eat one spoonful of the spicy Thai food at the Christmas Eve dinner with my colleagues and ended up ordering my actual Christmas meal at a Western fast food chain a little later. Wherever you are or have to be for Christmas or New Year’s, what matters is what you yourself make of it. And thanks to video calls, my friends and family in Germany seem a whole lot closer these days if I’m not able to celebrate the holidays at home.