Racking up the frequent flyer and dad points all at the same time…
In this edition of That Papa, we feature jet-setter, Niclas Loennborn – a private pilot who is privy to some of the coolest destinations around the world and a dedicated hands-on dad to 7-year-old twins, Pia and Lincoln. Niclas dishes on all the cool benefits of flying private over commercial flights as well as how he makes his unusual (and often, unpredictable!) schedule work with his family. We love that he’s intentional with the time he has at home with the twins, manages to avoid dad-bod and keeps the romance alive with his wife.
Tell us a bit about your background. What brought you to Hong Kong?
I grew up in Sweden, but moved to the US when I was 21 for flight school. I lived and worked all over the US until 2009, when I took a 1 month contract in Hong Kong. It was an amazing opportunity that sparked a keen interest in Asia. We moved to Hong Kong the following year and haven’t looked back.
What sparked your passion for aviation?
I wanted to be a pilot for as long as I can remember – some of my earliest memories (from 5 or 6 years old) are looking up at the planes and wanting to be the guy in the cockpit. I consider myself lucky to be one of the rare people who had a singular passion, followed it, and have found success in it. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
What’s the most memorable destination you’ve traveled to?
I think one of the coolest times was a period in the early 2000’s when I was flying the owner of the ice hockey team, Montreal Canadiens. He is literally one of the most genuine people I have ever met with an impeccable character. He is the kind of man that even a good man looks up to. He used to have us fly him all over the place, but particularly to the hockey games where there was always a spot in the Owner’s Box for me and the crew.
What’s the biggest difference between flying commercial and private planes?
It’s just so different. I flew commercial for several years, but in post-9/11 USA, aviation was just a really tough gig. In retrospect, it opened the opportunity for corporate flying and for that I am super grateful. Commercial has its benefits: you just show up and fly instead of having to manage the plane itself, your schedule is set, and the flight benefits can’t be beat. But, private – it’s dynamic, and exciting, and if I’m frank, much more fun. On the downside, we work on-call and don’t get flight benefits, but on the upside, my job is to get my clients to the most amazing places and then wait for them to leave. I’ve been to the London Olympics, the Champions League, the World Cup in Brazil, the Harbin Ice Festival, a week of diving in the Maldives, a week in Vegas just to name a few. It’s all pretty amazing.
Are you expected to bring gifts/souvenirs for the kids back each time you travel or are your kids over it?
Definitely not. If I go somewhere really special, I’ll make sure to bring them something. For example, I brought them souvenirs from the London Olympics, but otherwise I like to keep it spontaneous. It wouldn’t be special if it was every trip.
What’s worse, jet lag or sleepless nights when your twins were newborns?
Newborn twins hands down. It’s a whole different kind of tired. Jet lag never feels like it might kill you.
Time to switch gears a bit, what was your reaction to the news of your wife’s pregnancy?
Shock, awe, amazement, and joy. We consider ourselves ridiculously lucky. In aviation – the schedule can be a real hindrance to conception, but we decided to try and were immediately pregnant. Then the big surprise of twins! Wow. When we found out they were boy and girl – we felt like we’d hit the jackpot. It’s been an amazing ride. One and done.
How did you choose your twin’s names?
We looked for names that sounded the same when pronounced in Swedish and English, which made the process doubly hard as many of the vowels are problematic. In the end, and after hundreds of names, we finally landed on the first two names we started with, Pia and Lincoln. My wife is also really visual, so she printed out fake tech-CEO business cards with their names on them to make sure they looked both cool and professional.
What was your experience like changing the first diaper?
How does something so horrifying come out of such a perfect and beautiful little baby? I’ll never understand.
How hands-on were you during the birth process?
My wife, Elizabeth always describes the birth experience as a “non-event”. The whole thing was really chill and it’s a funny story in itself. We were already prepared for a C-section due to the position of Baby-A, so I was there and I cut the cord. I was definitely more ornamental in the process!
Who do your twins look like, you or your wife?
It’s freaky! It’s like we each have a clone. My daughter after my wife and my son after me.
What’s your favourite part of your parenting routine?
The walk to school. We recently made a house-move to be close to the school so the kids could skip the long bus ride and have more down-time at home. It’s been awesome, but the best part is the walk and talk time that we can count on each day. When I’m home, I never miss a day.
Who plays good cop and bad cop between you and your wife?
My wife is totally the bad cop. The kids joke that she’s the real Captain in the family!
What do you typically do with your family on the weekends?
My schedule doesn’t allow for us to recognise weekends in a traditional manner, so we treat whenever I’m home as an opportunity to have family time. Right now, we are hiking the country parks in preparation for a camping trip we are doing in Beaver Creek, Colorado this summer.
Favourite kid friendly places and activities in Hong Kong?
The outdoors, for sure. Country parks, city parks, beaches, and trails – there is something for every age and stage to enjoy. Though it would be nice if there were more bicycle and skateboard friendly public areas.
Favourite travel destination for your family?
That’s tough because we are trying not to duplicate any spots just yet. We aren’t huge fans of touristy destinations like Phuket and the twins are still a bit too young to go off and do “cultural” – like temples and ruins. So right now, anywhere with a clean beach, a great kids club, and a nice spa is on the list. If my wife and I can dive, that’s a big bonus.
How do you keep the romance alive after having twins?
Date Nights. And let’s face it – living in Hong Kong with so many great restos and events (and having a helper!) is the key. I don’t have a schedule so being able to plan date night with no notice and go out for an amazing, spontaneous evening makes it simple. You just have to decide to make the time and do it.
Favourite date night spots with just your wife?
Hands down, Xoco on Mosque Junction in Mid-Levels. It’s a true hidden gem. The food is authentic Tex-Mex, and since my wife and I met in Texas, it feels a little bit like home. The margaritas are top-notch and the service is the best we’ve had in Hong Kong. The owner/manager makes us feel like family which makes it the perfect start for a night out. Then, we like to bar hop to the regulars – Stockton, 001, or The Globe if we are feeling casual. Finally, we wander off to a rooftop bar where we can survey our “kingdom” and appreciate this fantastic city over a night cap.
What’s the hardest part of being a dad?
For me, it’s my schedule. I am not in control of my schedule to an extent where I can be present for every sport meet or school event. I’m really hands-on, so I think I’m probably more upset than the kids are when I miss stuff.
What’s the best part of being a dad?
It’s just mind-blowing. Just watching them grow up and turn into two of the coolest people I’ve ever met. It’s like soul-happiness, you know?
How do you avoid the dad-bod?
I run. And I’m probably just lucky that I don’t really have a sweet tooth or really enjoy sugar.
What’s your favourite characteristic of your children?
They are really good people. Some kids are just pricks and I think before you’re a parent, you are terrified you’ll end up with one of those, but the twins are really conscientious and kind.
What do you hope your twins get from you and what do you hope they don’t get?
I hope they get my sense of pragmatism and self-determination. I think it has saved me from a lot of the stress and indecision I see in other people, particularly in the early years when you’re building your career. They are also traits I share with my wife, so if they don’t develop these, we might feel like we have failed them in a way. I also want them to inherit my tidiness. If they organise a desktop like their “creative” mother, Lord help them! If I had to choose something for them not to get, it would be my stubbornness. I can be a bit set in my ways at times and it’s something I actively work on – being more open and flexible.
If there was one trait your twins could take from you and your wife, what would it be?
I’m the even-keeled one who can always keep perspective even in emergency situations. It’s obviously a good trait to have as a pilot, but I think just also generally in life. From my wife – it would have to be her intelligence. To quote the movie, Good Will Hunting, “My (girl’s) wicked smart”. If they are as smart as her, they’ll be unstoppable.
What’s the funniest parenting story you can share?
Kids are funny, aren’t they? Now, ours are fraternal boy/girl twins, so they are not at all similar. However, a few years back, they saw some kids program where identical twins traded places. Not realising that there are intrinsic differences, they set out on a mission of trickery. They disappeared for 20 minutes or so and came out to the living room dressed the same. Realising that their teeth were coming out at different rates, they even went so far as to draw paper inserts for their mouths so they would “match”! We played along and they ran off and switched clothes two or three times. They had the best time thinking they had gotten the better of us!
What do you know now that you wish you knew before becoming a dad?
Biggest lesson learned? You always think you’re not quite ready. Then you have kids and you learn that you were right.
Do you have any tips for soon-to-be dads?
It’s a tip that I think is good for parents generally, not just dads. It was advice given to my wife and I and it’s been so true… “Just because it’s not my way, doesn’t mean it’s the wrong way.” There can be lots of right or “ok” ways to do things and as parents, we need to give each other room to be and do, without judgment.