Wednesday, April 18, 2012


I like to grab a coffee, stroll back and mingle in the few minutes I have after setting up the cockpit for departure. I want a respite before the turbines spool-up and the electronic voices from my earphones begin spewing their enjoinments.

Since the 757 loads amid-ships (don't you love it when I talk navy?) I get a clear aisle in first class. I chat a bit, answer a few questions. Even grumps get civil when they see a pilot pause take an interest in them. I don't do this to make my company look good; I do it for me.

I also look for kids to invite to the cockpit. But the last several years of doing this has taught me not to bother asking teenagers. You likely won't get the courtesy of a verbal answer. They will only shake their heads, and may not even look up at you from their lightning fast orchestration of thumbs against tiny keyboards.

I've often wondered which of their curious emotional states are responsible for this behavior—overwhelming fixation on their texting tasks, or a reluctance to demonstrate they are interested in anything outside their tiny sphere of reference. Even if they are, it's simply not cool to be inquisitive about things that excite younger children or that adults are interested in.

And so it is to the pre-teens to whom I gravitate with invitations to visit our Jurassic aged Boeing cockpit. Sadly even they have succumbed to the spell of the Google god and the Apple alchemy. 

A few days ago two of them in first class curtly rejected my offer to go forward. So I ventured deeper back into the 757's bowel. It was busy back there—they were still boarding. But I noticed a kid about five rows back who had severe Down syndrome. When his mother noticed me I asked if he would like to visit the cockpit. She hesitated, then nodded. I halted boarding at the door and waited for the aisle to clear.

The boy, whom she called Andy, weighed at least as much as she did. His age was hard to determine. He could have been an adult.

I expected him to get up and accompany her forward, but it became evident he couldn't walk. He winced in pain when she maneuvered him into her arms and stood up. I was stunned to see her carry that boy to the cockpit and carefully place him in my seat.

Again his face became contorted with pain as she sat him down. The first officer, Karl, tried to help her, but she waved him off. She had her method. Then she backed away and raised her camera for a picture.

Andy's eyes widened to the size of dinner plates; his mouth fell agape and a guttural cry came out so loud that I'm sure the kids back in first class heard it. Probably snickered. But it was a cry of fascination and joy—I saw it in his big round eyes. Andy's head bobbled around as he tried to take in all the sights of the cockpit accoutrements. His babbles were gibberish to us but sweet exclamations of delight to the mom.

Then she wrestled him from the seat and heaved him up to her chest, holding him like a big baby with his head looking back over her shoulder. She passed me and said “Thank you.”

“No!” I said. “Thank you.”

She was gone before I could say any more, but what I wanted to add was this: “Thank you for showing all of us what unconditional love looks like.”

I noticed one kid in first class actually looked up from her phone with wide eyes and gaping mouth, watching Andy go by clinging to his mother as she carried her precious burden back to their coach seats.

I stepped back toward the cockpit door and passed by a flight attendant wiping tears out of her eyes. Karl and I just sat for minutes after that, not saying much—just thinking about Andy and his mom, and waiting for the push signal.

The sky was bluer that day. The ride smoother. We didn't complain much.

Never Forget
American flags flies permanently over Boston Logan Gate C-19
where Captain Victor Saracini and First Officer Mike Horrocks
 departed on their final flight, September 11, 2001.


  1. Reading that gave me goosebumps. Wow.
    Thank you for sharing that.


  2. Such a moving experience....kudos to you as well as that brave mom.

  3. Alan - February 4 to April 8 was a long, long dry spell.
    This post made me glad I hung in there. Thanks.

  4. I had a couple of visits to cockpits in flight when I was younger; a 7*mumble*7 and a Dash 8 come to mind. I didn't go on many trips but my dad always tried to get a visit, partially I'm sure for his own benefit.

    25 or so years later, and here I am with a CPL/IR and a worrying obsession with all things aviation.

    As a teenager, I'd certainly have put down whatever I was playing with at the time and jumped at the chance of a cockpit visit.

  5. Dear Andy and Andy's mom,
    Thank you for the tears of joy.
    (and the never-ending "attitude" adjustment).

    Giulia <3

  6. I also had tears & goosebumps ... it's wonderful that you had the opportunity & took it to make such a difference in someone's life.

  7. Cap, thank you for being a blessing to that Mom and special son and thank you for being a witness to the rest of the pax. I will never forget my first cockpit visit - in a Capital Airlines DC-3 at CRW.

  8. Thanks Alan!

    It almost made my cry (I am in public, so no crying!).

    Life is beautiful, and some people reminds us that unconditional love is the best way to enjoy it.

  9. Remarkable....we are blessed and may we never forget what we have in our everyday lives that we can overlook and take for granteed if we aren't careful :)

  10. This is really awesome. Never had a pilot ask me to check out the cockpit. That would have been awesome at any age. You rock!

  11. I believe the best one-word description for this post is "heavenly."

  12. Thank you for that. That's one more thing we have to "thank" hijackers for, pre and post 9/11, that the cockpit door is not only now shut, but locked and barred. And we all poorer as a result.

    I have flown UA and AA from KBOS and used both of the gates there will the flags flying, and I never fail to become angry at the hijackers and incensed at our "be afraid" government.

  13. It is hard to describe my emotions on reading this entry. If I knew you I would be proud to know you, if I knew the mother, I would be in awe of her love for her son. If I knew the son, I would hope he would be able some way to tell me what he felt.

    Thanks for the blog

  14. Alan,

    Thank you for sharing that special moment with all of us.

    YYC Dispatcher

  15. Alan,
    Your blog reminds me of a very petite female special needs student who use to ride my bus. She had the blondest hair and the brightest blue eyes I have ever seen. We saw your description of Andy's expression of joy and excitement on her face daily. Unfortunately she is no longer with us.(sniff) Thank you.