The life of a freelance journalist. The first gig.

The life of a freelance journalist. The first gig.

This article was first published on Linkedin in April 2019

There can be no doubt that being freelance gives you a whole lot of freedom. You can work the hours you want to when you want to. It’s invigorating. Then again so is performing on a trapeze without a net! Because that’s what freelance is. Working without a safety net. There’s no backup, no comforting pay packet at the end of each month, no health insurance. You get the picture. However, no freelancer has ever complained about a local of fantastic experiences. Buy us a beer and we can keep you talking for hours about the thrills and spills, the ups and downs, the dangerous moments and more. For me, it’s when things go wrong that makes the job interesting. 

 With that in mind, let me tell you the story of my first gig as a travelling journalist. I’ve worked as a freelance journalist for over 8 years now, mostly for one magazine, and almost exclusively from the comfort of my desk. In October 2017, I got the chance to write for a new magazine, Airliner World. I’d met the editor at a show and we got to talking. The result, I was now freelance, working my dream job in the real world aviation sector. As with all things freelance though, it was unpredictable. My first challenge was trying to establish connections with various airlines and airports to get an article or two written. My name carried little if any weight, and it took a long 6 plus months to get anywhere. My patience paid off though and in late April, I finally got my first gig sorted with Swiss airline, Skywork. They operated a fleet of Saab 2000’s out of Swiss capital Bern. We agreed that June would be the meeting point at Bern, and I would fly out with them, spend two days in Bern due to the unusual flight timings, before heading home back to Vienna. I discussed the job with my editor, and he agreed to cover the cost of two nights of a hotel stay. (a decision that would come back to bite me in the ass, but that’s another story!). To help make the two days worthwhile, I also took on an article about Bern Airport itself. 

 Now Bern is a beautiful city, stretching back to the medieval period in places. Being an aviation journalist though, I’d be spending my time close to the airport. That meant staying in the small town of Belp, some 8km to the south-east. The accommodation was hard to come by, doubly so due to a surprise event a day or so before I was due to arrive. So I was left with a single place to stay, the attractively named Motel Belp, just on the outskirts of the small town. It offered a room, tv, bed and free WiFi. Due to the surge in accommodation demands, these two days would cost just around 200 Swiss francs. Not ideal, but ok. The airport was just 15 minutes away by taxi. I’d cope. The two days also meant I had one evening to call my own where I’d take the train into Bern. All very civilised. 

 The day of the trip, my contact at Skyworks contacted me to confirm my flight details and to let me know his business partner would pick me up at the airport and to take me to my hotel. It’s at this point the story started to turn sideways. 

 Before I continue, I thought it best I get this off my chest, a confession of sorts. I love to fly, be it’s a pilot or passenger, however, I find travelling to be a stressful experience. For someone where travel is a big part of the job, it’s an interesting problem. For the Bern trip, I had added stress. I was nervous. Years spent writing at my desk wouldn’t matter once I was face to face with my first Airline CEO in the morning. I desperately wanted to make a good impression. I needed this trip to run smoothly. The phrase ‘chance would be a fine thing.’ Springs to mind. 

 Back to Bern. I was asked where my hotel was? I answered the email with the Motel Belp address. A few minutes later, a frantic email returned. ‘You can’t stay there!’ Oh dear. Unknown to myself, the Motel was just down the road from a Brothel! And given this, my contact was absolutely certain I couldn’t stay there. Not as a woman travelling alone. The hotel was already paid for so I couldn’t get a refund. My contact promised to find me a room by the time I’d arrive, at a cost to themselves. It was a nice gesture that I couldn’t really refuse. So I’d arrive in Bern with no idea of where I’d be staying. Let’s move the stress meter up a notch. Still, it could be worse. My flight was at 14:30 that afternoon, so I had an early lunch and set off for the start of my two-day adventure to Switzerland. 

‘You can’t stay there!’ 

 By the time I reached Flughafen Wien, my flight had been slightly delayed. Max, my contact at Skyworks let me know it was due to a tech issue at Basel. Skyworks operated their aircraft on what’s known as ‘W’ routes. The aircraft had flown to Vienna this morning, then out to Basel, before it was due to return to Vienna and finally back home to Bern. So a 30-minute delay was expected. With my bag checked I headed to the departure gate. At Terminal 1 in Wien, I grabbed a coffee and got comfortable. This was a good call. Outside, dark clouds were growing. It was just the first week of June and the Viennese weather was predictably unsettled. The humidity was high and it was clear to me that a ground stop at Vienna would be coming within the hour. I was not disappointed. One of the biggest storms of the summer hit, delaying the Saab further. 1430 became 1530 which became 1630. A line of storms was stretching across the Alps all the way back into Switzerland.

Rainfall at the gate.
And So comes the rain.

By 1700 I was tracking the Skyworks Saab as she was caught in the aftermath of the storm. Turn after turn she held position over Linz, waiting for her turn to be vectored into a now congested Vienna. The aircraft arrived at just before 1800 and we were on board and in the air just after 1830. A whole afternoons work had gone, but the flight itself was pleasant and the storm cleared the air above the Alps creating some beautiful views. In contrast to the view outside, my stress levels were now starting to spike though. 

No alt text provided for this image
Boarding at last.

 We arrived at Bern in the midst of another storm, in fading light and darkened skies. Passing over Bern was nice though. I disembarked into the rain and made for the Terminal. Bags arrived promptly and from the aircraft door to arrivals with baggage was just five minutes. Out in the terminal, I met Max, who had now taken over taxi detail. I took to Max immediately. He was warm, genial and looked far younger than his 70 plus age suggested. He led me out to his car, a nice Porsche 944, to take me to my new lodgings. Along the way, Max explained there wasn’t a hotel in Belp that could offer me a room, so he called in a favour with a friend who ran a local restaurant. He had a room available that would normally house his staff. It sounded Idyllic. We stopped for a meal after a long day before I was taken to the room. I ate very little as stress was now screwing with my digestive system. I managed a bite and a beer though. In the morning there’d be breakfast and I’d head back to the airport to work. 

No alt text provided for this image

The view from my breakfast the next morning.

 I Reached my new room and my heart sank. It was spacious, clean but quite Spartan. No tv, no WiFi, no kettle to make tea! I had a bed, pillow, table, shower and toilet, and little else. 

No alt text provided for this image

No worries, I can use my iPhone for the internet. Except I couldn’t. Living in the EU, I’ve become accustomed to zero roaming charges. It helps me work while on the move. Switzerland, however, isn’t in the EU, and roaming fees still applied. At €12 a megabyte for data and more euros again for calls or texts meant I was cut off from the world. The feeling of isolation wasn’t helped by the restaurants’ location. It was South of Belp, sat next to a country park on a stretch of river. It was beautiful and incredibly quiet. A single bus stop sat on the main road, with the last bus at 1900! So my hopes of spending the evening in Bern were gone. Thankfully I had my iPad and it had a few downloaded films in case of emergencies. Most of my initial work is done on an iPad. However, the Swiss curse (so named now due to the days’ events!) popped back up and gave me a final issue. Swiss wall sockets are almost identical to standard EU ones. So much so that a Swiss plug can be used in any EU plug without issue. The same could not be said for my EU plugs. Without power, I’d be stuck an iPad by morning. Thankfully I’d brought an old travel hairdryer with me that started life in the UK. On that plug, I had an old UK to EU adapter and that had been designed to fit Swiss plugs as well. With the help of a hairpin, I got the Apple iPad charger into the adapter and then into the wall socket. Celebrating, I deducted to call it a bit and get some sleep. Outside, the silence was deafening. 

 The next day, my stress level was again high. Breakfast was difficult, and I managed just a small croissant and a coffee. Karin, Max’s colleague picked me up and we headed to the airport to prepare for the interview. Another coffee and a time to chat with the PR Team, It was all too soon, time to meet the CEO of Skyworks. Martin was an imposing man. He was stern and stiff, and he gave the impression that you’re annoying him by just being there. In truth, the interview with Martin went well. We agreed on items I couldn’t discuss, which was fair, then we spent an hour discussing Skyworks and Saab. I found him to be incredibly pragmatic. He knew how to run the airline and was doing all he could to build them up to a major regional carrier in what could be described as difficult circumstances. (Bern is a difficult airport to make money at, being just an hour away from Basel and an hour 30 from Zurich.) A few months later, when the sad news came that Skyworks had shut down after potential investors pulled out, I wasn’t surprised to learn that Martin had waited until all the aircraft made it home to Bern before he closed the airline. There was even money left in the bank. He did the right thing in difficult circumstances. 

No alt text provided for this image

Skywork’s CEO Martin Inäbnit 

 After the interview, I bid Martin fair well and we headed for lunch. Starving and feeling less stressed, I devoured my food, eaten at the Skyworks office building, outdoors looking over a beautiful landscape. I asked if I could be dropped off in Belp to do a little shopping. I’d discovered last night I’d discovered I’d packed my electric toothbrush, but not the head. I was sure I’d packed it, yet it remained hidden I needed to grab a new toothbrush and wanted supplies for the evening including some sandwiches since I couldn’t face eating at the restaurant. Late afternoon I returned to the airport and we shot pictures from the apron and the cockpit of a parked aircraft. 

No alt text provided for this image

Then Max dropped me off and I took the chance to head up to the room for a shower and some sleep. I was exhausted. A movie kept me company. I’d downloaded a fresh film while I was in Belp, finding some public WiFi. Sleep came and again the sound of silence was incredibly loud. 

 My final morning left me once again tired and unable to eat a lot. Airport PR man Jośe picked me up and we spent time touring the airport and enjoying an informal chat before my flight home. The aircraft departed on time and by lunchtime, I was home in Vienna and ravenous. 

No alt text provided for this image

 For a first trip, the whole thing had been a successful disaster. Despite late aircraft, poor weather and a last-minute switch of accommodations, I got the articles I needed, though the Bern airport article never made it into print for reasons beyond my control. We published the article for Skyworks in Early August, just in time for the airline to close a few weeks later. 

 Still, it was a fantastic experience. The last bite In the ass though came the following month, when my mobile phone bill showed a €70+ for the few minutes internet I’d used prior to the roaming charges text arrived! All in all, it taught me a lesson, never assume anything. The next lesson I learnt? Never try and cram too much into a trip. But that’s a story for another time.