In most standard relationships, AvGeeks are hard to love. Consider the effects of our passion: we are either always gone, pining to be gone, or perhaps spending hours on end stalking planes at the nearest airport. My friends and I often joke about how “mixed” relationships (that is, relationships with just one AvGeek partnered with a “muggle” – an outsider) are difficult in that there is a lot of compromise and time apart. It can add additional friction and baggage to the already complex reality of finding the perfect partner.
Consider for a moment that happiness is attainable to all. For most of my adult life, I didn’t believe that. The fact of the matter is, AvGeeks are hard to love. Of course, the solution is easy – find someone with similar passions and interests, things that you can bond over. Except upon a survey of the AvGeek landscape, it becomes apparent that women are an extreme minority. Much has been written about the severe lack of women in aviation, a concerning trend that unfortunately extends across most STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) industries.
Being a rational person I recognized that my passion would statistically put me at a disadvantage against my non-plane obsessed peers. Imagine how excited I am to come to you today (on Valentine’s day no less!) to tell you my AvGeek passion didn’t get in my way. Instead, it was the catalyst and enabler for my relationship with my now fiance and best friend…
Jillian and I met virtually in February of 2015, thanks to Twitter and the #AvGeek hashtag, a place where Twitter folks go to see what’s going on in the topic and to connect with like-minded people. Consider it the subreddit of the days before the ubiquity of Reddit. We were both college students and aspiring world-travelers. While Jillian was working on her undergraduate degree and taking pilot lessons in New England, I was gearing up for my master’s program and spreading my AvGeek wings writing stories for AirlineReporter like my #AirlineSampler series while based here in the Great American Midwest. Jillian and I became great friends in the coming months but given the major geographic limitation, I expected our friendship would remain just that.
In 2016, Jillian came to Kansas City to meet her well-organized KC-based AvGeek pals and to enjoy our many travel-worthy AvGeek attractions, to include the TWA Museum. That’s where I met Jillian in real life for the first time, outside of what we locals call TWAM (not to be confused with NAHM- the National Airline History Museum on the other side of the downtown airport.) As a person who has historically placed emphasis on fact over emotion, I have long been a skeptic of the “love at first sight” concept. Perhaps our year of social media banter and chit chat enabled it, but when I laid eyes on Jillian standing outside of the museum, I knew she was extra special and that she was the one for me.
Upon my arrival to the museum, Jillian told me that she had just spotted a train passing by carrying what appeared to be the iconic green Boeing 737 fuselages. “Greenies” as we refer to them are known to pass through the heart of downtown KC en-route from Wichita, KS to Renton, WA. I had some experience in chasing these and knew that they are often delayed by traffic in the train yard just north of the airport. Excited, I invited her to hop into my car so we could go to a well-known park and wait for them to pass by. As fate would have it, only a few minutes after getting positioned the train-carrying-planes emerged and provided for an extra special treat for our visitor. Even knowing that they pass by a few times a week, catching these intentionally irregularly timed trains proves to be a real challenge. I couldn’t help but think something special was afoot.
Our AvGeek weekend came and went, and Jillian returned home to Connecticut. She and I were at the time both otherwise involved, but I couldn’t shake her. I later came to find she felt the same way. Over the coming months, we tried to live our lives but it was hard to ignore what might have been. As things do, relationships change and some opportunities demand attention. Jillian and I decided to try the “long distance” thing and thanks to low fares and high frequencies between Kansas City and New England we made it work. I’d love to go into detail about how Southwest was the enabler of our relationship but we already have a similar story: How low-cost carriers helped save my relationship.
As our relationship progressed it became clear that while always having an excuse to travel and earning Southwest Airlines A-List status at a record pace was fun, it wasn’t sustainable. We decided to take a break from aviation and road-tripped to the Utah desert where we would take a stab at living together, albeit only for a week in an Airbnb. While this important phase of our relationship wasn’t directly tied to aviation, it did lay the foundation for what came next… Relocation.
Over the coming months, we continued our Southwest Air-enabled back and forth until Jillian left her home, her family, and her career to join me in Missouri. Finally together for more than a few days, we took advantage of her newfound free time, my overflowing time-off bank, and nearly all of our accumulated rewards points to travel the country together exploring new cities and furthering our bond. True to my passion, most of our flights were with Southwest, but we squeezed in a few with others, including Jillian’s first aboard Spirit Airlines in the most economical and comfortable seat in the U.S. skies: The Big Front Seat, or BFS.
Until I met Jillian I never really understood the excitement behind marriage. I’d made it thirty something years into life with an unfavorable view of the arrangement. There were broken and bad relationships all around me, why would I subject myself to the same? As love and time worked their magic on me I came around to the idea. The thought of a commitment to my best friend and peer seemed to be a logical next step in the advancement of what had been an already incredible relationship. I ordered a custom-designed heart-shaped diamond and began plotting my engagement strategy.
As AirlineReporter readers know, I’m a big fan of Southwest Airlines and figured a company so crucial to our relationship had to somehow be involved. I booked a weekend trip to Dallas for the two of us, plus my son. Given our whirlwind year of travel, it came as no surprise and raised no eyebrows. On our way to the airport that Saturday morning the unthinkable happened. Our flight was canceled and as a result, my plan to propose under a Southwest Heart-liveried-737 at Dallas Love Field fell apart. While our plans didn’t quite pan out as expected, we were able to secure a much later flight to Dallas. Thankfully, my friends at Frontiers of Flight Museum came through with an excellent backup plan. For those not in the know, Southwest was the launch partner for the Boeing 737-300. The very first to roll off the line served Southwest for many years before being donated to the Frontiers of Flight Museum at Dallas Love Field. I may not have had airside access, but thanks to self-described sucker for love museum president Cheryl Sutterfield-Jones, I did have access to a plane.
Just before the sun began to set, we arrived at the Frontiers of Flight Museum which had been reopened just for us. Moments later I proposed to my now fiance in front of family and friends in what has since been referred to by my closest friends as “the most JL way possible” — under an iconic plane and with Southwest involved for good measure.
I thought my passion for aviation would be a hindrance to finding love and never considered that it could be an enabler. By the way, it turns out even moments after getting engaged, while the tears of joy are still streaming, it’s still easy for an AvGeek to get distracted by planes passing by. Only in our case, we were distracted as an AvGeek couple.