Justin Kushner, International Airline Pilot

Justin Kushner is an international airline pilot for a major US carrier, and for a long while, was the youngest airline pilot in America.
Discover Justin's Lists in Compell'd

Justin Kushner is an international airline pilot for a major US carrier (and for a long while, was the youngest airline pilot in America). Exploration is more than a way of life for Justin, it’s simply hard-wired in his DNA. We talked to him over his layover in Dublin about his favorite ways to explore new cities, and so much more.

How did you know you wanted to be a pilot?

So, my mother’s from Sweden and she would take me back with her all the time as a kid. And when you put a wild, rambunctious four or five year old kid with a very expansive imagination, and an appetite for getting into trouble, on an airplane--and when you really think about it, an airplane is a time machine--for a kid, to be able to get on board this machine and to be able to go forward or backward in time, in seasons, in history... It was very overwhelming for me and I knew right away it was something I wanted to do. Everyone around me was always glued to the crappy TV in the aisles watching whatever movie they had on, and all I wanted to do was look out the window. I was hooked.

"When you really think about it, an airplane is a time machine. You're able to go forward or backward in time, in seasons, in history."

What do you love the most about flying? 

That is such a tough question. There’s a pilot that said “looking out the window,” which is an answer I like. For me, it goes a little deeper: it’s the romanticism behind aviation. There are so many French aviators and American aviators that came before me, and they’ve written stuff about "this lofty aspiration in the sky is where I leave my troubles behind" and all of that. It’s a quiet place where you can completely get away. Going 600mph at 35,000 feet is quite a rush.

How do you feel when you go on a new adventure, a new flight?

So that’s a great question because I was once sitting at a dinner and someone asked, “what’s your favorite place in the world?” We were going around the table, and someone there said, “the student section at the Big House.” Someone else said, “Grandma’s house at Christmas,” and everyone was really specific. I thought about it, and I said, “a lay-flat seat on an international flight.” The reason why is that, first of all, it’s like a big slumber party. You’re amongst fellow travelers, and there's this camaraderie there. But really, you don’t know what lies on the other end of this journey. When you land, you don’t know the people you’re going to meet, the experiences you’re going to have. I love the unknown that lies ahead. And I love that we’re traveling through the night over the dark, cold ocean to get there. It’s really unbelievable to think about. It’s freaking incredible.

"My favorite place in the world is a lay-flat seat on an international flight... I love the unknown that lies ahead."

What's left on your to do list for 2019?

Ah, the Galapagos Islands. I just can’t seem to win that bucket list item yet. To really do it right, you need to be on a boat for at least 7-10 days to get into these places where these unbelievable creatures are living, where these animals are only found in this part of the world. Every year the Galapagos ends up being very elusive to me, and it's going on my 2020 list for sure.

What are some of your favorite cities to explore? 

Well I love Europe because that’s where my family is from. I've always traveled through Europe as a kid and it’s amazing to do so now. I love Prague, and Amsterdam is one of my absolute favorite cities. It’s just so cool. London is phenomenal, and I’m in Dublin a lot which I love, too. These cities are so friendly; I love the European way of life.

So when you're exploring, how do you find the spots that you go to?

I go out walking and typically start by trying a new coffee shop. A cup of coffee is not a huge risk to take in terms of trying something new. But guess what? In Europe, I find that all the coffee shops are great. It’s like pizza shops in Manhattan... every coffee shop here is a win. I just walk the city, and I always bring a little backpack that I fit in my big suitcase so I can bring stuff back. I like to go out with a fully charged phone (and an extra battery), because lately I’ve been reading my books on my phone. I sit at cafes and I talk to the folks at the cafe, and ask them what to do from there. It’s really important to give yourself the space to kind of let yourself find out what happens organically and serendipitously. Some days I spend the entire day walking the streets or sitting in a coffee shop, and I absolutely love it.

You have an incredible Airbnb in your home city of Miami, how do you cull together the recommendations you give to your guests?

So for that Airbnb, it all comes down to one thing: the five star review. Anything less than five stars, for me, is a loss. So, I personally go out into the city like I do on my layovers, but I do it at home. If I find a new place that I love, I see it as a badge of honor that it made my list. If you stay with me, you get my list of spots that is totally vetted, where I know the people who work there personally. Up until now, the only place you could get my list is if you book with me, but now it’s saved in Compell’d, too.

What's the one thing people misunderstand about airline pilots?

Well, a lot of people think that the airplane does everything itself; there’s a very common misconception that because of autopilot, robots fly the airplane. The issue is that autopilot was invented so that the pilots can do many more complicated tasks in the air that autopilot can't do. We’re constantly doing all of these heavy-lifting tasks because autopilot allows us to. I always laugh it off when people ask “don’t planes just fly themselves?” Flying is so much more than what autopilot takes care of.

Thanks for sharing a bit of your story with us, Justin! We're dying to see the Wynwood Walls in your Miami, 🇺🇸Like a Local list.

Discover Justin's Lists in Compell'd
December 24, 2019

Stay in the loop on the latest Compell'd Connoisseurs, the lists we're loving, and other topics we can't get enough of.

Thanks for joining us, we're excited to have you.
Shoot! Something went wrong. Please try again.