RYE, ENGLAND - At two oʼclock in the morning, everything is quiet. The dim light of the desk lamp is following the contour of the pencil, its shadows placed like stamps onto the coloured pages. The year is 2003. Sitting across from me, my cousin suddenly gives me a worried look. He whispers: “We really should be going to bed.”
Most 11 year olds hide to play video games, or watch movies; we hid to draw. We would wait patiently until our parents fell asleep, then place sweaters at the bottom of the door to prevent any light from protruding through the cracks and into the hallway. We would tip toe to the desk, turn on the lamp and start drawing models of airplanes.
What makes this story rather comical is that we would not draw models of planes in the traditional sense. Looking back, we did not care much about their exterior design. What we would focus on instead is building a great airline, at least in our eyes, our designs having some cool features to entertain our target pre-teen passengers. I remember designing a rather neat children’s play area at the back of the plane, equipped with slides, ball pits and everything an 11-year old would want for a comfortable journey. Looking back 15 years later, I wish I could book a ticket!
Oh, did I mention all our planes had two decks, way before the A380 was the cool kid in town?
Left: Andrei Biltan turned his childhood dreams into reality. Right: Making friends during a stopover.
I grew up fascinated about aviation. Tangled in my innocence, I was dreaming about far-away places, my ball pit filled jet taking me to countries that I only learnt about from school. The large world map pinned to the wall on the side of my bed acting like a gentle reminder that there is something much greater, waiting there outside, far away beyond my bedroom walls.
Going into university, I almost applied to be a pilot. I thought this was the right career for me. I was afraid. I did not know if I could handle the lifestyle. I backed out and went into business instead. Dreams about a jet-setter life kept me in a state of paralyzed wonder for much of my post-graduate career. The four years were slowly coming to an end and I had to make a choice. I told myself, I would not settle for anything else unless I could travel and help people.
On a sunny day late June that same year of graduation, I found myself sitting in the conference room of a Toronto hotel, filled to the brim with a sea of red lips, buns and tailored suits, hoping for a shot at the Emirates Airline life.
Everyone was mostly quiet, the sounds of a hundredth whispers cutting through the tension in the room. The recruiter looked at me, her green eyes scanning my frightened face, and in a soft, direct voice asked me: “Why Emirates?”
I froze. It was definitely over. I thought I was going to be sent home right there. She waited patiently, for what felt at the time like the longest silence Iʼve ever experienced, and then briefly called my name: “Andrei?”
“I want to join Emirates to travel and help people,” I said quickly while stumbling on my words.
Her serious face lit up for a brief moment, and with a half-smile and a soft giggle, reassured all my fears: “I would love to find out more about that in an interview tomorrow, if you gave me a chance.”
Over the last two years with Emirates, I got to do just that: travel and help people. The sound of the alarm ringing at odd times reminding me of yet another adventure waiting to be explored, yet another story to create.
Left: Andrei relaxing between flights in Dubai. Right: Enjoying some down time in Singapore.
Every morning, when I get to put on my uniform, it feels just like the first day of school; I keep thinking who Iʼll get to meet and the kind of difference I could make. There is nothing more rewarding than when a passenger comes up to you and shows their gratitude. “Thank you for helping me out with my toddler. Iʼm a single mom and have travelled for 18 hours, Iʼm exhausted.”
In those moments, you get to be grateful. Thankful for having the chance to do what you do.
Iʼm lucky, I think. I get to work for an airline that always promises the future. Just like in my childhood drawings, whenever I step onto the plane, I am met with a fresh air of innovation. You canʼt help but get amazed, at what is and what could be.
Iʼve travelled to over 60 countries; Emirates flies to over 80. Every month, you get a ticket to new destinations. Regardless of how long youʼve been flying, there are always new places to visit. As the globe sitting next to my bed spins, so are my thoughts planning the next adventure. When I was young, I would look at the map of the world and ask when, now I just get to hop onto a plane, and answer with a simple now.
This is not a dream; I need to remind myself. Itʼs the daily reality of many of us, who chose to call Dubai, and respectively, the world, our home.