Huh? I knew the day was coming, I just never thought it would come and go so quickly. Yes, Gentle Reader, I turned 65 and had to leave the best job anyone could ever want to have. On October 31, 2018 I flew 300 folks on a Boeing 777LR, Delta Air Lines Flight 546, from Atlanta to Los Angeles. For. The. Last. Time.
In the back of the plane were my wife, Ginger (a former Delta Flight Attendant), our two grown children, Erik and Kelly, and a few friends who spent their hard-earned money just to ride on my last airline flight. In the right seat, helping me to stay out of trouble was a life-long friend. A Company Check Airman on the 777, Paul Tuvman is qualified to fly in either pilot seat and because this was my final flight, he wanted to work it as my First Officer (an accomplished musician, Paul has produced a couple of albums that, among other things, have been featured on Delta’s inflight entertainment).
The funny thing is, and it doesn’t seem that long ago, I remember my father’s retirement in 1980, when he flew his last trip as a 747 Captain for United. Back then, along with Paul, I was still working to become a major airline pilot and any thought of my reaching his retirement age was laughably way out in the future. Looking back now, I can see I wasn’t thinking about how fleeting and ephemeral time can be. (Any kid who has watched the classroom clock oh-so-very-slowly tick toward 3 PM knows what Albert Einstein knew: Time is relative. And it always seems to go faster and slower than you want. While I can vividly remember a particular 3-hour flight in heavy weather that just couldn’t end soon enough, the year of that same flight went by in a blur.)
In spite of my best efforts, my final flight went well and afterward there were laurels and embarrassing little speeches to go with all the hoopla. After some pizza, we went home and for the final time, I took off my Very Important Airline Captain Uniform. Gentle Reader, all of this was very surreal.
I will miss many things about being an airline pilot. Not counting the super model pilot groupies, I will miss flying around the world and seeing the endless surprises: watching from a short distance gigantic thunderstorms at night as they throw off nearly continuous bolts of electricity, descending out of an overcast sky and glimpsing the snow laden trees and houses of a pristine Bavarian town on a gentle rise , a South Pacific ocean covered with so many fishing boats that at night they look like a city, tropical islands surrounded by rings of brilliant green, yellow and blue reefs, St. Elmo’s Fire covering our cockpit windows with tiny lightning (not unlike electricity inside a plasma ball), watching a submarine rising through a smooth ocean surface, Humpback Whales breaching just below our plane as we approach a tropical island runway, and the super model pilot groupies (I changed my mind, they do count). But more than anything else, I will miss operating the coolly complicated and incredibly capable and reliable jets that have comfortably taken my crew, our passengers and me from one side of our planet to the other.
I was very fortunate to be able to have the career that I did. I worked with and for great people and a great company. But most of all, I worked for and always had the support and love of a great family. Thank you, all.
Delta Flight 546 on October 31, 2018, from Atlanta to Los Angeles, flying with my good friend, Paul – both a remarkable and unremarkable flight all at once. That’s Paul on the right.