Globetrotter: The CEO of Hyundai UK on hair-raising travel experiences

Travel Q+A: Tony Whitehorn, CEO of Hyundai UK, made a forced landing on a Russian military base.

Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Where do you travel?

I go to South Korea, Hyundai's global HQ, a few times a year. I also report regularly to our European HQ in Frankfurt. Once a year, Hyundai organises a conference for dealers in a luxurious location. We've been to Hawaii and Canada, and this year it's Monte Carlo.

Describe a typical trip

When flying to South Korea, I leave London about 9pm, which means I land at Incheon airport the next evening. A typical trip lasts a week. Some of the time will be spent attending meetings and visiting our factories near the coast, but there will always be a trip to a palace or something too - South Koreans are very proud of their culture. I'll stay in a hotel in Seoul most of the time, but I might also spend a night or two in a five-star hotel on Jeju Island, just off South Korea's southern coast.

How do you pass the time on a long flight?

Even though I travel business class, I find it difficult to sleep. On a 12-hour flight between London and Asia, I'll sleep for an hour. I'll have a glass of wine with the evening meal and watch four or five films to pass the time.

Rome is Tony Whitehorn's favourite city

Most hair-raising travel experience?

Shortly into a flight back from Korea two years ago, the plane jerked then started descending. The captain asked us to prepare for an emergency landing and we got into the crash position. You'd think people would be screaming but it was completely silent. I started to worry when I saw a hostess crying.

We circled over a lake in Mongolia dumping fuel and eventually landed at a Russian military airbase. It turned out a warning light had flashed in the flight deck to say there was a fire on the tailfin, but it was a false alarm. We took off about five hours later after refuelling. I honestly thought I was going to die.

Favourite city?

The most interesting city is Rome. There's so much history and you have the Coliseum, the Vatican and museums all in walking distance. I'd also say London if I didn't live there, with its architecture.

Which hidden gem would you recommend?

Lanai, an island just off Hawaii. Most tourists head to Honolulu, Hawaii's capital, so it's much more tranquil. There are just two hotels - one near the mountainous area and the other by the beach, where you can swim with dolphins. That's where we stayed for our delegation conference two years ago.

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