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  • Writer's pictureFaye Bradley

10 Minutes with…Katrine Friis Olsen, Pilot

An interview with Katrine Friis Olsen, First Officer

Image courtesy of Katrine Friis Olsen

A Little Background…

Katrine Friis Olsen has led herself to live quite the unexpected—and impressive—life and career. Once a girl from a sleepy little countryside village in Denmark, Katrine ended up as a pilot for one of the most prestigious airlines in the world. After an extensive amount of flight training (which goes from cadet training, to second officer, to first officer—then captain), she married a Hong Kong actor and learned to speak Cantonese, the local dialect of the city. Yet, there’s even more to Katrine’s multifaceted lifestyle; the 29-year old also has a liking for Chinese tea-brewing at home, traveling far off the beaten track, and regularly practices daily yoga, meditation to ensure a holistic lifestyle. Katrine certainly has lots of stories to tell, so we sat down and asked her a few questions about her life and recent endeavours.

Image courtesy of Katrine Friis Olsen

The Questions

1) When did you realise you wanted to fly?

Relatively late in life—I’m from a family who rarely flew anywhere, hence airports and planes was somewhat which didn’t exist during my childhood. My love for sailing however, planted the seed instead, so when I eventually met a pilot during a 4 month sailing trip in the Pacific Ocean at age 20, it was like a lightbulb moment. Sailing and flying seemed to me as more or less the same thing at that time—now I know better. Although, they do have many similarities, many of which makes up the reason why I love them both so much!

2) What was it like growing up in Denmark?

I feel very grateful to have had such a blissful childhood. I grew up on the beautiful Danish countryside with a loving family so I can’t remember having any worries in life apart from household chores and homework. Although I found my upbringing very normal, my mum would always be the one to fix the electrical plugs or a punctured bicycle tyre, while my dad was an excellent chef in the kitchen and equally took part in laundry chores and other household work. This turned out to have a significant impact on my later life; having had no concept of gender roles, I saw my opportunities in life equal to everyone else’s, our differences only defined by personality and aptitude, so later wanting to become a pilot seemed perfectly normal to me.

3) What’s been your favourite place to travel so far?

Greenland. The wild and pristine beauty of this place is just like no other place on earth! This actually helped me realise the urgent need for climate action even more. My recent expedition there in March was actually a fundraising trip to highlight climate change and fight gender inequality, a trip and challenge I’m incredibly proud of both because of the team’s success at becoming the first all-female team to bike the 200km snow covered Artic Circle Trail in Southeastern Greenland under such extreme winter-conditions. We were able to raise over 230K for underprivileged women and children here in the Asian Region 

Image courtesy of Katrine Friis Olsen

“Having had no concept of gender roles, I saw my opportunities in life equal to everyone else’s, our differences only defined by personality and aptitude, so later wanting to become a pilot seemed perfectly normal to me.” – Katrine Friis Olsen, Pilot

4) Tell us about your wedding! (and congratulations)

Thank you. The time before Covid-19 seems so long ago now, but it’s actually only our half-year wedding anniversary this month! It was such a magical and “hygge” day—a Danish word meaning cozy and laidback, which is everything you’d want for your big day that can otherwise get easily lost in the stress and strive towards perfection. This was also part of the reason why we chose to get married in Denmark (my home country) making it a traditional, low-key, countryside wedding with an intimate guest list and plenty of time to talk to everyone.

Image courtesy of Katrine Friis Olsen

5) What’s your favourite thing about being a pilot?

That’s a good question, it seems to change for me all the time and from flight to flight. Sometimes it’s watching the gorgeous first rays of sunlight from the cockpit as we arrive into Hong Kong, sometimes it’s spending a sunny afternoon walking The High Line in New York on a layover. Other times it might be an amazing team of colleagues who gives you a good laugh or the satisfaction of managing a challenging departure or arrival to bring our passengers safely home or on holiday—it really depends on the day. So perhaps you could say that my favourite thing about being a pilot is that every day is different.

6) Are there any new hobbies you’ve picked up since you started flying?

Oh lots! My curiosity always gets the best of me. I had a very adventurous and outdoorsy lifestyle for the first few years in HK with hiking, diving, etc. But over the years I’ve slowed down a lot, moved out to Sai Kung and actually prefer staying closer to home on my days off. Partly to spend more time with my husband of course, but also to deepen my studies in Cantonese, Chinese culture and tea—hobbies I can probably spend the rest of my life on. Interestingly my curiosity around tea already began during childhood, but since moving to Hong Kong it’s been able to turn into a full fledged obsession with old aged Puerh, gong-fu style brewing, yixing teapots and everything else tea-related. Apart from that, yoga, meditation, walks in nature and good books usually fills up the rest, being equally a pleasure and a necessity to counteract jet lag and my work life on the road.

Image courtesy of Katrine Friis Olsen

7) How often do you travel?

Surprisingly little now. Apart from work, usually just one big trip a year to some faraway mountains and then a couple of small getaways to Japan with my husband—I think you could call Kyoto our “second home” by now!

8) What do you like about Hong Kong?

Haha, it would be easier if you told me to list what I don‘t like! I really consider Hong Kong my home now—even the busy streets, the loud local restaurants, the traffic and cacophony of sounds and kitschy neon lights have their charm, and despite preferring our beautifully lush hiking trails and my quiet Sai Kung village, I do love the hectic and chaotic part of HK too. It’s all part of what makes HK so unique and unlike any other place I’ve ever visited (and that’s a fair bit!). Or to put it in another way: Sharing a cup of HK-style milk tea and a French toast filled with peanut butter and condensed milk at a busy cha taan cheng with my husband – in those moments I know I can never leave.

9) Any advice for aspiring pilots?

Having heard so many colleagues’ different career paths, I find it difficult to give one recipe to success, and it also depends on what kind of pilot you want to be. Some skills and education will obviously be required across the board and being curious, hard-working, confident and meticulous will always set you up for a good start. But perhaps one thing particularly important to recognise as an airline pilot, is that you’re always part of a large team—in fact you could easily change the proverb “it takes a village to raise a child” into “it takes a village to get an airplane off the ground”. That means social skills and good communication are some of our most important tools, and can be useful for aspiring pilots to have in mind as they embark on their training. Every flight is a teamwork effort!

10) I love the photography at your wedding. Did you have a theme in mind?

Thank you. Both yes and no—having a strong aesthetic sensibility, thanks to my mum who is a painter, planning our wedding was both a challenge and an incredible opportunity to bring a creative idea to life. And while having no specific theme per se, I had a very clear atmosphere in mind; cozy and classic like an old French picnic in the forest, elegantly striking the balance between the natural and careless and the stylish and sophisticated. But most importantly, I wanted our wedding to have an air of ease and joie de vivre, so that the imperfections that would inevitably happen on our big day, could become part of the charm – the “beauty marks” usually ends up being the best stories later.

Image courtesy of Katrine Friis Olsen


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