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Taking off from Miami - Photo: BlinkView | FlickrCC

I’m an unabashedly proud airline brat. My father was an airline pilot for all of my childhood and continued into some of my adulthood. Even though he was the employee, my parents raised me and my siblings to feel pride in our membership in the airline family. I have found that my experiences are similar to many others who also had a parents flying commercial planes. Here are a few reasons why I loved growing up in an airline family, even if I spent half of my childhood prior to turning twelve sitting in concourses of Denver’s old Stapleton International Airport.

1. The excitement of the airport

Most people feel dread when heading to the airport for many reasons. Lines. Stripping down for security. Lines. Delays. Crowded corridors. Expensive food and stores. Did I say lines?
However, growing up as an airline pilot’s son helped make the airport exciting. Which planes — the vast majority of which I could identify — would I see? Where would flights go? Would my parents take us down to the crew lounge or airport employee cafeteria where the other travelers couldn’t go?

That is geeky, but I even talked my dad once into spending a day to fly to Denver’s then brand-spanking-new airport just to explore it. You know I’m an AvGeek when I once took a date to watch planes takeoff and land at a park near a major airport’s runway (sadly that relationship didn’t work out — but I don’t blame the planes).


The more hours you have in your logbook, the cleaner your shirt is. By the time a pilot gets to the captain’s seat at a commercial airline, he or she has spent years wearing a white shirt while doing blue collar work, but her passengers will never know to what extent. Blue collar is not the image the public sees. What they see is a white uniform shirt with icons and symbolism dripping from the pilot’s shoulders and chest announcing experience, but it really represents the unglamorous hours spent behind the scenes, drenched in fuel, coffee, oil and blue juice.

From the first flight lesson to pre-flighting a heavy, pilots get used to wearing (and avoiding) petroleum products. Sumping fuel tanks, wiping dripping brakes, checking hydraulic and oil levels, and brushing up against leading edges smashed with bug guts — all while keeping a white shirt clean — is a learned talent; by the time pilots start flying corporate, they have it perfected.

Corporate passengers don’t realize that it’s sometimes one of the pilots who had to jump on a tug and move the aircraft out of the hangar onto the ramp. In the winter, pilots have also shoveled and plowed snow in front of the hangar. Then, the pilots have not only pre-flighted and prepped the aircraft, checked the weather, filed a flight plan, made the coffee, loaded the ice, soda, snacks, newspaper, magazines and catering, but they’ve also cleaned the wastebaskets, checked the lavatory blue juice levels, and made sure there was enough toilet paper. Very glamorous.

Lavatory on a Boeing 787 for ANA.

The last thing I wanted to do was break my wife’s arm, but that’s what happened as I tried to get her through the narrow door of the plane’s lavatory. It wasn’t intentional of course, but there is not enough room inside for a helper and a disabled person to be in the lavatory at the same time. So rather than stepping in first and safely pulling her in, I tried to move her in backwards. That turned out to be a big mistake.

We learned the hard way. The lavatory door had the “wheelchair accessible” symbol. One would have thought it would at least be safe, albeit inconveniently narrow. However, the little on-board wheelchair (a.k.a. aisle chair) wouldn’t fit through the lavatory door. What was to be a relaxing and fun vacation with friends in San Antonio became instead a five-day stay at a Texas hospital for my wife. We have learned that life with a disability means we continually make adjustments. Sometimes the best laid plans can go astray.