Travel blogger Andy Luten is used to living life on the go. For eight years, Luten has outlined his adventures and given valuable advice to other travelers through his successful blog. But for now, like the rest of us, his life has changed. With the onset of COVID-19, Luten is sticking close to home, but that didn’t stop him from using his creativity. Intrigued by the impact that the pandemic has had on the aviation industry, he set about capturing grounded airplanes in a series he calls They Will Fly Again.
Luten visited six airports around the U.S. and took a helicopter up to see what things look like when airplanes aren’t in action. With most flights canceled and the skies quiet, these once busy hubs take on a different look and feel. There is a certain haunting beauty to these airplanes lined up, row after row. And at the same time, there is a sadness of what this visual represents.
The aviation industry is one of many that is struggling due to the drastic changes brought on by the coronavirus. With countries closing their borders and travelers canceling their trips, it remains to be seen how airlines will pull themselves out of this crisis. Luten, who drove in between airports, uses his photography as an instrument for understanding and as a way to immortalize this unique moment in history.
We spoke with Luten about this unique perspective of travel during the coronavirus and his hopes for the recovery of the aviation industry. Read on for My Modern Met’s exclusive interview and read more about Luten’s adventures creating the project on his blog.
What inspired your love of travel?
My grandmother worked three jobs before I was ever born so she could take our entire family on trips, so we’ve been a traveling family as long as I can remember. We went on a family trip to Europe when I was 15 that opened my eyes to different cultures and foreign experiences that brought me so much joy, I knew from the second I walked out of Gatwick Airport in London for the first time that I was absolutely hooked.
How has COVID-19 changed your daily routine and work life?
It’s been a mental stress more than an economic one for me, as my full-time job—I’m a financial software consultant—has been remote-capable for years. I’ve made sure to stay active (thanks Peloton!) and am making more of an effort to reach out to friends and family more often to make sure everyone is doing ok.
How did the idea for the photo series come about?
I saw stories about jets being grounded all over the country and didn’t see any art in it. I’m an experienced aerial photographer and knew that I could contribute something beautiful out of such a macabre situation. When I learned that some jets were parked at an airport close to me I called my favorite helicopter charter company and went up to see them. When I looked at the images I realized that I was capable of it and the images were beautiful. From there I decided to just go for it and went to five more airports around the country.
What is it about airplanes that makes them such a fascinating subject for photography?
Airplanes are some of the biggest objects which are still “relatable” for the average person. Generally, people know how big an airplane is compared to themselves. From an artistic standpoint, juxtaposition always gets attention, and the juxtaposition of being in the air—where the planes should be—taking pictures making huge planes look small on the ground—where I should be—just seemed such an obvious and palpable perspective.
What was the most challenging part of the project?
Staying focused on the theme. There were so many avenues I could’ve taken (planes to focus on, maybe a specific airline, etc.) but having the discipline to stay focused on my main goal was challenging but ultimately rewarding. I took 7,500 images and was able to narrow that down to 88 final images without too much effort, purely because of artistic discipline.
What were you aiming to capture through your work?
In the near-term I wanted to give the general public a well-executed perspective on the enormity of the problems the aviation industry is facing. In the future these images will become far more important, as airlines and an entire industry will look back on them to say “This is what we’ve come back from. This was the low point.”
What was the most surprising thing you discovered through viewing all these aircrafts?
Having been a travel blogger for almost 8 years now and knowing so many in the aviation industry, I was surprised how emotional I was while in the air. I wasn’t seeing planes on the ground, I was seeing my friends nervous about their jobs, pilots nervous about furlough, and entire companies nervous about their very existence. What I thought was going to be simple photo flights turned into a stark confrontation with empathy that I wasn’t expecting.
What’s your hope for the travel industry coming out of this pandemic?
A closer connection with their customers. Ultimately, travel magnifies connection, and I feel maybe some of the travel industry got a bit too profit-focused and lost some of that connection with their customers. Since this all hit, I’ve heard stories of customers buying meals for one of the reservation desks at a major airline, just to try and boost their spirits, and other stories that show just how much customers care about their favorite companies. I hope that impact is felt (and I know it is) and returned toward the customer when this all opens back up.
What do you hope that people take away from the work?
I hope people understand the enormity of the battle being fought to stay alive, not just by airlines but as a proxy for the rest of the economy. What’s happening to the airlines is happening to myriad other industries. These images are a tragically beautiful look at a moment in time that will hopefully never happen again. To understand something, you need to begin with the right perspective and I hope people find that from my work.
A break! I recently went out to Zion National Park in Utah as it gradually reopened and am looking forward to some downtime in my hometown of Dallas. As the world reopens, it’s so important to know where your batteries recharge, and for me that’s at home. I love traveling so I can enjoy coming home.