This series chronicles Capt. Joe's journies during his last year as a Southwest Pilot. December Well December 2012 is about over and 2013 is just on the horizon. So just about nine months to fly for Captain Joe. December started off on the heels of a great Thanksgiving and all of the hectic Christmas shopping kicked into high gear.
The first trip of the month was to Jacksonville FL, (JAX) a beautiful city in northeast Florida. It was on the way to JAX that a spry and pretty feisty lady in her nineties, I’m sure, looked me up and down as she boarded and said, “How long have you been flying sonny?” I smiled and laughed as I said “Since Richard Nixon was President.” She gave me a smile back and said, “Okay,” as she walked down the aisle. I guess she was satisfied that I could fly her there, but just barely.
JAX was fun and the weather was gorgeous. Our hotel is right on the St. Johns River and the view was terrific. This is The Landings, an area right downtown with shops and restaurants overlooking the river, not to mention a live band is often playing in the main courtyard. Christmas trees even show up there. The best part of the overnight was having breakfast with my cousin Carmen who lives in St. Augustine and made the drive north for our get together. I not only flew the 500 th Boeing 737 built, but also Colorado ONE, our aircraft paint scheme that is a tribute to the Colorado State flag. On the way out of JAX we headed back to Texas via HOU and SAT. I didn’t know until a few weeks later that there was a couple onboard who were pretty nervous fliers. I know that many of our customers like to fly on us for a safe, quick trip to their destination, but a lot of them don’t really love to fly the way I do. So I try to make a few PAs (public addresses) to the passengers so they can sight-see along the way. I pointed out Panama City, the beautiful view of the Gulf of Mexico, Pensacola, Mobile Bay and New Orleans. I had no idea I would receive a “LUV Report” from a gentleman and his wife saying how much that put them at ease just knowing where they were and getting a good view out the window. Nice to get the positive feedback and know that you can make someone’s flight a little easier for them.
Well, Happy New Year! All the best in 2013! November Well, it’s the end of November, so almost 10 months to go for Captain Joe. A month in which to give thanks and enjoy a Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends
It’s been a great month with wonderful flying weather, crisp temperatures and more traveling around the country to see family. We had our usual early departure from Love Field, but always an opportunity for a good sunrise photo. While fall flying weather is mostly clear and blue skies, that doesn’t mean we don’t see a few storms and rain showers that we always fly around. This weather can be 80-100 miles away, but from the airplane looks fairly close. An early morning arrival into STL started the month, with a gorgeous view of downtown STL and the Gateway Arch. Built on the St. Louis side of the Mississippi River, the arch represents the “Gateway to West,” a memorial to the westward expansion of our country by wagon train pioneers of the 1800’s. This view is to the south as the Mississippi winds to the Gulf of Mexico. Passing through Chicago’s Midway airport we spotted Maryland One, our 737 with the Maryland State flag paint job. Very striking livery for this Boeing! We headed out west and left SFO with some great views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. Our passengers had a spectacular view, but we have the best seats on the airplane! The incredible Golden Gate Bridge. We headed east for an overnight in Tampa, Florida and a wonderful evening with family. As it was a long overnight, I was able to meet my wife, Kathie, who arrived the day before I did, and spent time with her 82-year-old Dad, Don Stoeckle. Dad is better known to his six kids, 15 grandkids, and one great grandson as “Papa Don.” That evening it was dinner with Kathie’s brother, Michael, his wife Kory, and my niece, Holly. Great food at Bella Bella near downtown Tampa. Italian, of course! It was time to wrap up this terrific trip and head west to Dallas. Kathie got to fly home with me from TPA-MSY-DAL.
Nothing like coming home to Dallas and that beautiful skyline after being on the road a few days. Thanks, see you after Christmas! October Well, Halloween has come and gone, and so has my last October in the skies as a Southwest Airlines Pilot.
This month, I had the chance to fly one of our new 175 seats 737-800s! Another great Boeing aircraft that will be a big part of our future. In October, I traded two of my trips to double up on family visits, with two overnights in BOS and two in BUF. My son, Adam, is a second year Masters student at Boston University School of Music as a trumpet performance major. As a proud Dad, and former trumpet player, I can easily say that he is an amazingly talented musician. On every BOS overnight, AJ has taken me somewhere different; Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market, Fenway Park, USS CONSTITUTION (Old Ironsides), plus visits to Harvard and MIT campuses. When he’s not playing or practicing his trumpet, Adam composes, sings, and plays his guitar as AJ Adams, and has a CD out:
Heart to Give -- www.ajadamsmusic.com Visits to BOS are always a great time, a historic and fun city. Me and my Son, Adam In BUF, where I grew up in the suburb of Williamsville, I get to stay with my mom, still living in the same house that we moved into in 1955—I think it’s paid for by now! I have borrowed my mother’s car and picked up the Crew at the hotel to take them around town or over to Niagara Falls. At my age, I still have to listen to mom tell me where not to take the crew in Buffalo. Of course that’s exactly where we go; “don’t forget to lock the car,” she says, and “watch where you park!” She’s a riot! Niagara Falls, 30 minutes from BUF Airport! In the Village of Williamsville is the Eagle House Restaurant, a local watering hole that was established in 1827 and holds the longest continuously held liquor license in New York State! There is a lot of neat American history in the Western New York area, from the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Erie Canal. The cities of Dallas and Buffalo both share the stigma of having had a President assassinated there: John Kennedy in Dallas in 1963, and William McKinley in Buffalo in 1901. For a time Mark Twain and his wife also lived in Buffalo. I always enjoy flying back to W. New York and visiting family
Now I have to see where I can go in November—Countdown Capt. Joe! September Greetings from Norfolk, VA or ORF. This September trip marks the last one for the month in 2012 and one year until I will retire from Southwest Airlines in September 2013. With the end of my flying career at SWA in sight I wanted to take an opportunity each month to blog about what flying for this terrific company has been like. Every pilot I fly with at SWA has a story about where and how they started flying. Each one has an interesting path on how they ultimately came to be flying here. Mine is a little different, in that after flying in the Navy for 6 years I got out of aviation, except for flying in the Navy Reserve, and started a business in SAN. After two years as a business man I decided I missed flying too much and got back in the game. I earned my Certified Flight Instructor rating, taught flying for two years, and earned many additional ratings. I flew a some charters, freight, commuter and finally got my break in the business with a corporate gig in LAS for three years. That led to another corporate job in DAL for ten years, with many SWA pilots to-be, and then to the best flying job I've ever had, Southwest Airlines. Many of the Captains I flew with when I was hired are still flying for SWA and will be after I leave. They got here at a younger age and sooner, lucky guys and gals. Lucky, because if you like to fly, like the people you work with, like your company, and as highly skilled professional pilots like your hourly wage, this is the place to be. For me, there's no better place to be flying than Southwest Airlines. I'm going to make the most of this last year and enjoy every trip as a Southwest Airlines Captain, every trip in the left seat that took me so long to get to. I'll include a photo each month from the airplane, because if we'll admit it, every pilot loves the view, and we have the best seat in the house! See ya next month.
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Over 800 Southwest Airlines Pilots are Adopt-a-Pilots for more than 1,200 fifth-grade classes all over the United States. These Pilots volunteer their time, and often travel and rent cars to get to their Adopt-a-Pilot classes. In fact, one Adopt-a-Pilot I have known for years in Chicago hit it off so well with his teacher that they eventually married! After all, we are the LUV airline. It is a very rewarding educational program covering many aspects of science, aviation, geography, math, and FUN. As a former high school teacher in another life, I can appreciate what the Adopt-a-Pilot program brings to these fifth graders. In 11 years as an Adopt-a-Pilot, I have thoroughly enjoyed the program, traveling to fifth grade classes in the Dallas area. For the past four years, I have been adopted by Pinkerton Elementary in Coppell, Texas and by the amazing fifth-grade teacher, Sara Hope. Mrs. Hope has completely embraced the Adopt-a-Pilot program and is an incredibly enthusiastic supporter for her fifth-grade classes. Did I mention Sara's husband, Robert, works for Southwest at our Company Headquarters in Dallas? This was a very special year for these Pinkerton fifth graders, as Mrs. Hope challenged them with a reading program that rewarded the top students who read the most books. The grand prize was to be a flight on Southwest Airlines flown by Captain Joe! Jeremy Basso and Jacob MacKenna, were the winning students. Jacob read 40 books, and Jeremy read 100 books! Sara and I coordinated a Saturday morning when her two students could make the trip to a nearby Southwest city and return home the same morning. We found a trip where I was flying home to Dallas through Little Rock, and that is where I met Mrs. Hope and the boys. They had flown in from Dallas earlier that morning, and I would be flying them back to Dallas on the one-hour flight. Before our flight, we preflighted the airplane by walking around the aircraft on the ramp and inspecting it, and then took some photos up in the cockpit. It was a real treat to fly Jeremy, Jacob—two future Pilots I'm sure—and their teacher, Mrs. Hope. We had a super time and our flight capped off a most memorable Adopt-a-Pilot year.
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On a recent flight to the Pacific Northwest, I was greeting my passengers as they came through the main cabin door. One gent, who looked approximately my age said, “You know I worked on the very first Boeing 737 when I was in college.” His statement immediately piqued my interest, so I asked him to stop and chat a minute in the cockpit doorway. His name was Kurt Smith. Kurt previously lived in Seattle while going to school, and also worked at Boeing. He said that, in 1964, he was working with a lot of Boeing employees on the first 737 aircraft, and they were behind schedule. At that time Boeing was competing with the DC-9, BAC-1-11, and Fokker F-28. In fact, Boeing was worried that they weren’t going to have a lot of orders for the new narrow body-sized medium to short-haul airliner. Little did the Boeing executives know that the 737 family of aircraft would eventually become the most successful jet airliner ever built, with over 7,000 aircraft delivered (the propeller-driven DC-3 totaled over 16,000 built). Boeing delivered over 550 737's to Southwest Airlines fleet, with unfilled orders of Next Gen 737 aircraft pushing that production total to over 9,300 737's. Kurt later left Boeing Aircraft, joined the Navy and became a RIO, or Radar Intercept Officer, flying in McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom fighters. He retired from the Navy after a 20-year career, but still recalls his days at Boeing as very memorable. Glad we were able to give him a great flight home on a Boeing 737, almost 47 years since he worked on the first 737-100 prototype. Just goes to show: you never know who you'll meet on a Southwest flight!
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Once my airplane arrives at the gate, I make it a point to help out our Operations Agents and ask them if they have any Customers in wheelchairs. Often they appreciate the extra set of hands, and it can minimize our scheduled turn time. On a recent Dallas to Lubbock flight, although I didn’t know it at the time, I had the opportunity to bring a very special passenger down to the aircraft.
This elderly, somewhat frail gent and I struck up a conversation as I was pushing his wheelchair, and I discovered he was a WWII Army Air Corp Veteran. As a retired Navy vet, I have a special respect and admiration for all of our veterans, but especially those from Tom Brokaw’s aptly named “Greatest Generation." I asked him where he had served during the war and he uttered one word: "Tinian." That one word struck me and I had to stop so I could ask him a few questions.
For you WWII history buffs no explanation is needed. For most folks, however, Tinian doesn’t always ring a bell. Tinian Island is in the Western Pacific, and was the base from which the most famous B-29 in military and U.S. history, the Enola Gay, launched to end WWII by dropping the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. On direct orders from President Harry Truman, this mission was the dawn of the atomic age. The overwhelming destruction caused by detonating an atomic bomb was incredible, and led to the Emperor of Japan's unconditional surrender and the war in the Pacific was over some three and a half years after it began with an attack on Pearl Harbor.
My special passenger, Louis McMenamy, told me he was a Navigator on a B-29 based at Tinian Island. He had flown six missions in the B-29 before the war ended. He remembers watching the Enola Gay take off on its historic mission. Louis is a living witness to a piece of history that affects us all to this very day. You just never know who you’re going to meet on a Southwest flight.
It was my honor to meet him and a privilege to bring his wheelchair to the airplane for his trip home to Lubbock. Another great WWII Texas vet!
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It’s hard to grasp that it has been a decade since the terrorist attacks on our country in September 2001. The world and our industry were changed dramatically with the repercussions of that vicious attack reverberating today. That Tuesday morning in Dallas was an absolutely gorgeous day and I was getting ready for a workout as I had a P.M. trip that afternoon. My wife, Kathie, called me to the family room and told me she had just received a strange phone call from her sister, Eileen, in Pittsburgh. Eileen asked Kathie, “Is Joe flying today?” Kathie told her I was home, so Eileen said, “Quick, turn on your television.” On the television, there was an incredible shot of one of the World Trade Center towers streaming thick, dark smoke out of a hole two-thirds of the way to the top of the tower. I remember having difficulty processing what I was seeing. Thinking there had been some kind of an explosion when the news anchor said an airliner had crashed into the tower, my brain went into sensory overload trying to rule out various flight scenarios. The phone kept ringing with more family and friends calling and e-mailing to see if I was flying for Southwest that day. We had no idea yet which airlines and aircraft had been flown into the World Trade Center towers or The Pentagon, which had crashed in Pennsylvania. Good information was so hard to come by. Why were the pilots flying so low? Were they landing at LGA/JFK? How could they accidentally hit the tower on such a crystal-clear day? Reality hit: it was a hijacking. Still analyzing the scenario, I thought that if you were a pilot faced with this unfathomable situation, you would instinctively bank the aircraft at the last second. Then the possibility struck me… the pilots weren’t flying the aircraft. Someone else was flying. I couldn’t believe it. American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower at 0846. Seventeen minutes later at 0903, United Airlines Flight 175 hit the South Tower. It was truly surreal to watch a large airliner strike the South Tower and literally disappear into the structure of the building. On 9/11, nearly 3,000 of our fellow citizens and many of our military and government workers at the Pentagon lost their lives, and a heroic group of passengers overpowered the terrorists on UAL Flight 93 only to crash into the Pennsylvania countryside. Every time I see the image of the twin World Trade Center Towers in a movie that was pre-9/11, it makes me shake my head and think of that day of infamy. In characteristic American fashion, the country came together. We were galvanized as a nation, despite the utter confusion of what had happened. People flew their flags and looked to our Leadership to fathom the enormity of this terrorist attack. What was going to happen? What were we going to do as a nation, as an industry, and as an airline? I questioned if and when we would fly again. Southwest Airlines Employees came together also, as this was a direct attack on our industry. Crews gathered together across the country wherever they were stranded. The industry was completely shutdown with no flights operating. This had never happened before in the history of the airline industry or the FAA. Crews looked out for one another, and many acts of kindness were happening in Southwest cities everywhere. It was no surprise that Employees wanted to donate money to the Company to help out in this critical time. It was a time of crisis, coming together, giving, and helping one another in a true display of Southwest Culture. On 9/11, we saw the airline industry change forever. We have rolled with the punches and not only survived in a tough new operational environment, but also thrived in incredibly harsh economic times for the past ten years. Southwest’s People are true fighters for our Company, our Customers, and our industry. So while we look back with somber appreciation for the sacrifices of those who perished, we also look to the future with hopeful optimism. We will never forget.
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There is always a lot happening in the jetway during Passenger Boarding and my recent HOU-SAT flight was no exception. I like to stand near the main cabin door to say hello to our Passengers, answer their questions, and welcome them aboard. During this particular flight, the quiet of the jetway was shattered by a high-pitched scream from a small boy who was not at all happy about getting on the airplane. Mom was frazzled, carrying about three bags over her shoulders and holding another, while Dad was trying to convince his five-year-old son, Alex, that everything would be fine. Alex was obviously not convinced. This was not your every day scream, it was a wail of indescribable intensity and pitch. This was a scream of abject fear that only a child who felt that he was in mortal danger could muster up. A scream that would give one chills.
I went out in the jetway to see if I could help the Dad and help to calm Alex. He seemed a little better when his Dad explained that I would be their pilot to SAT. His Dad told me that their flight to HOU had been very turbulent, and Alex didn't like it at all and was very scared to fly now. I followed Alex and his Dad to the row where Mom had picked out three seats. Alex continued his screaming. Boarding Passengers knew they were in for a rough trip if Alex couldn't be calmed down, and there were many "looks" in the direction of the family. I asked Alex if he would like to come to the cockpit, and a women one row in front of him said, "Please take him!"
Alex absolutely loved the flight deck with all the bells, whistles, lights, and noises. He asked me if we could fly "very low" and as he said this he moved his little hand like an airplane flying over the top of the seat cushion. I assured him we would fly low, assuming that he thought if we flew low it would be a nice ride to San Antonio. By this time Alex and I were buds and after I took his picture sitting in my seat, I carried him back to his folks. He had his arm around my neck and the screaming had stopped, as had his tears. Alex was a happy little boy and so were the rest of my Passengers. The applause from the cabin made Alex smile, and we all enjoyed his flight home.
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From February through May, fifth-grade students in more than 1400 classes across the country will “adopt” Southwest Airlines Pilots in the award-winning Adopt-A-Pilot program that leads students through science, geography, math, writing, and other core subjects, all based in aviation-related activities. Students also research careers, develop life values, and realize the importance of staying in school. The Southwest Airlines Adopt-A-Pilot program was introduced in 1997. Southwest Airlines is pleased to offer this program at no cost to the school. I was at Pinkerton Elementary in Coppell, TX speaking with my three classes of 5th graders. Their teacher is the very enthusiastic Adopt-a-Pilot supporter, Sara Hope. Who, by the way, is married to a Southwest Airlines employee at Headquarters! Anyway, as "Captain Joe," I was getting toward the end of that day's class and during this Q&A time, as usual, the kids are excitedly asking every airplane question they can think of.
I answered questions like, "How big is the 737?" "How fast does your airplane fly?" "How far can you fly?" "How much money do you make?" You know, the important stuff. Mostly all about the airplane, where we fly, how much it weighs, how many people it carries, etc. Off to my left was a student who hadn't asked a single question and who had just listened, very intently, during the entire period. When he raised his hand I immediately called on him and he asked, "Captain Joe, why does American Airlines charge money for bags and Southwest Airlines doesn't?" Incredible question from this young boy! Quickly realizing that I was talking to a future business major/MBA/CEO-material 11-yr-old, I answered that Southwest Airlines felt strongly that we would earn more customers by NOT charging for bags than American Airlines would gain by charging for bags. He liked that answer and I told him that I knew he would be a future entrepreneur. From the mouths of children.
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