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Pilots Reveal What It’s Like Working With Their Dads

June 17, 2018
12 min read
Pilots Reveal What It’s Like Working With Their Dads
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It’s one thing to have your father teach you to drive or coach your sports team, but a whole other experience to work with the man who likely changed your diapers at one point in time. This Father’s Day, we reached out to three pilots who’ve done just that — and lived to tell about it.

In fact, as you’ll read below, it turns out working with a parent is a unique experience that not only brings with it many special memories but also life lessons — especially when those careers involve aviation, a field that many go into out of sheer love for it.

These are their stories of dad jokes, near-crash landings and bucket-list adventures.

Julie Savage, 777 first officer at United

Julie Savage has been a first-officer at United based out of O’Hare for the past five years, flying a Boeing 777 — her favorite plane. Her father, Mike Savage, works as an aircraft maintenance manager at the same airport, celebrating his 40th anniversary with United this year.

Mike began his career working as a US Air Force crew chief for the Lockheed C-141 Starlifterhis favorite plane — on Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base. He landed at United back in Chicago, where he was from, two months after completing his service, and “the rest is 40 years of maintenance history,” he says.

From childhood, Julie shared a love for aviation with her father. “My dad was always pointing out airplanes to me, taking me to visit airplanes. We lived on the South Side right by Midway. All I had to do was look up in my backyard,” she says. “We would ride our bikes to the airport. Back then they didn’t have those tall fences, so we’d stop and watch the airplanes.”

On a family vacation to Florida when Julie was 7, she was invited into the cockpit by an airline captain during a weather delay. When she looked out over the control panel, onto the nose of the plane, she knew it was for her, she says. “If you talk to my parents, they would tell you I was always into planes, even pointing to them as a baby.”

Mike later drove Julie to her first Private Pilot Ground School lesson at age 15. Julie was up in the air by the end of that year and got her pilot’s license in high school.

Fast forward to adulthood, and Julie’s father now regularly performs the maintenance inspections on her aircraft prior to take-off, according to United. “It was always my dream to work at the same company as my dad. I got my offer of employment on my dad’s 35th work anniversary.”

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“For me, getting to work at United with my dad was really special because he’s been here so long. He’s been working with the same guys his whole career. Mechanics come up to me and tell me how great he is,” says Julie, who, in addition to United, has worked for Comair, American Eagle and Frontier. “I get it all the time.”

“The mechanics that work with and for me have really taken Julie under her wing,” Mike adds. “So many people know her as my daughter and it was not something I publicized. It just grew,” he says of the large-but-close 600-person mechanics team.

In addition to sharing a special bond, this setup also has a few advantages. “As a pilot, I’m focused on the flight operations. When we have a mechanical issue we call the professionals. But there have been multiple times where I’ve known where this is gonna go. I’m able to offer more insight than the average pilot,” says Julie. “I’ve been listening to this stuff at the dinner table for years and years.”

Julie remembers one instance having hot brakes in Vegas when she talked to her dad about the issue, then told the maintenance guys what to do. “I have my dad on speed dial,” jokes Julie.

“When my daughter started flying the Airbus A320 for Frontier, I knew the airplane pretty well and she would call when they had a [maintenance] message and she would ask me my opinion. We were conversing on something I understand,” says Mike.

The perks work both ways: On a Frontier flight, where the crew knew Julie, Mike was rolling VIP status. “The golden treatment would be an understatement,” he says. He’s also flown once on a plane Julie was piloting — by chance — with his wife and Julie’s three kids. Seeing his daughter do the landing in San Diego was a special experience.

For Julie, there’s still an important item left on her aviation bucket list: “I would love to be a captain and have my dad sign off my plane in the logbook.” Although timing for making captain can be tough to nail down, Julie hopes it could happen in the next three to four years. Luckily, Mike has no plans to retire anytime soon.

Talk about making your father proud.

Julie attributes her success thus far to her father’s can-do personality. “I never thought I couldn’t do anything. In aviation, it’s served me so well.”

Seth Laskin, private pilot

Seth Laskin has worked as a commercial pilot briefly for North American out of Long Island and also has a private pilot license as well as a multi-engine license — all of which he earned with guidance from his father, Rob. Rob has worked for Dallas Airmotive in South Jersey as a jet-engine mechanic since the early 1980s. He spent most of his career working on private jets, and even Air Force One while living in Philly. Growing up, Seth worked “literally right next to him,” but on piston-engine airplanes.

“My dad actually bought his first airplane in the '80s before he had a pilot’s license,” says Seth. “Growing up, my whole life he had the airplane.” That first plane was a Cessna 150, which Rob eventually traded in for a four-seater Grumman Cheetah that would take the family to Myrtle Beach, Virginia Beach, Ocean City and even airshows.

Seth says life traveling by private plane had its pros and cons. “It’s convenient because an eight-hour drive is a two and a half hour trip in the air.” The cons? You can’t travel through bad weather like you would in a car. “One time my dad took us up to New Hampshire and dropped us off and he couldn’t come back to get us because it was a full week of bad weather. My brother and I were stranded up there, homesick.”

That wasn’t enough to stop Seth from starting his own path into aviation. “As soon as I was old enough to follow directions he put me in the left seat and let me fly, before I could reach the pedals or see over the panel,” says Seth. “I would steer and it would get quiet and he would be completely asleep. Regardless, it worked because I ended up getting my license.”

“My dad was my flight instructor. He taught me how to fly, and got me through all the requirements,” says Seth, who took his checkride when he was a senior in high school. “He was a great instructor. I wanted to impress him, not as an instructor but as my dad. That helped motivate me. He was accessible anytime I had a question. He gave me confidence.”

“Because he [flies] so much, he has a lot of different experience: flying through storms, picking up ice. That gives me perspective on what I should do if i’m ever in a threatening situation,” says Seth. “There’s not too many people I trust more than my dad.”

“I think it’s kind of a unique connection and it branches out in so many different directions. It’s not just airplanes, but the things you’re required to learn about to be a pilot: meteorology, geography, physics. If there’s a news story about anything related to aviation we both pick up on it and it gives us something to talk about,” says Seth.

Seth says hands down the duo’s most memorable flying experience was a practice trip to Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay. “The only way to get there is by small plane or boat. It’s a real short runway, which was an added challenge for a young pilot. We walked around for an hour or so then sprinted back to the airplane. It was very desolate.”

Another memorable flight occurred during a fuel stop in Farmville, Virginia, on the way home from picking Seth up from getting his instrument rating in South Carolina. “It was a very short and narrow runway. In order to compensate for the wind, [Rob] turned the plane more and more into it until the runway was literally out the right window just in front of the wing. The wind was bouncing us around so much that my waist and shoulder was getting sore from the seatbelt holding me in place.” The plane eventually made a safe landing thanks to Rob’s expert skills.

“When we got out of the plane, the guys working asked if we were okay assuming that anyone trying to land in that wind must’ve been desperate. We looked at the current weather on a computer inside and saw a direct crosswind at nearly 50 knots. My dad and I both looked at each other laughed. ‘If you can’t fly in the wind, you can’t fly,’ he would say. As soon as we were off the ground, my dad finally admitted that he wasn’t sure we were going to make the landing.”

Anthony Glenn, MD-11 captain at FedEx

Captain Anthony Glenn has worked for FedEx for 14 years, and served as captain for two of those years flying the MD-11. His father, Captain Albert Glenn, was born “with an airplane in his hand” and flies the Boeing 777 for FedEx. 44 years on the job gets you major seniority: Albert guesses he is number six or seven from the top.

Albert’s love for planes runs deep. “I still have wings from when I rode on TWA over to France with my mom in 1956,” he says. “My father was in the military in air defense. I saw airplanes from a very young age until I went to college and decided to be a pilot as a senior.”

In 1983 he joined FedEx, a company that now has 664 aircraft in its fleet, serving 220 countries and territories and working in and out of more than 375 airports to deliver 6 million packages (27 million pounds of freight) daily.

For Anthony, joining his father in both aviation and at FedEx was a no-brainer. “I’ve grown up around aviation. [Learning] to fly with the [Cessna] 172 that my father has, it gave me the opportunity to have a great career that I enjoy,” says Anthony.

“We come from a family of pilots,” says Albert, whose youngest son is also a pilot. “As a child you see your parents do certain things. It’s amazing when that same passion becomes a desire to do the exact same thing,” adds Anthony. Time in the air serves as a “great bonding moment that you never forget.”

“Every step of the way he’s been my instructor-slash-mentor — which has guided me to where I am today,” says Anthony. “ I have not taken for granted that not only is he my father, he is my mentor.”

“What’s really interesting over the last 14 years at FedEx is that I remember the lessons he taught me prior to FedEx. I’m starting to see those lessons spill over into this job I have now. Like patience — with people, in situations — when things may not look good. I make sure I try to carry that torch, in aviation and at FedEx,” says Anthony.

They duo even had the opportunity to fly together on a Memphis → Seattle → Houston → Washington → Memphis route when Anthony was a first officer on the MD-11. “Everyone came out when we got back to greet us,” Anthony recalls. Since then, they’ve done two more trips together on the MD-11.

One thing on Anthony’s aviation bucket list is to fly one of Albert’s international routes on the 777, which is outfitted with four business class seats in the back and a bunk. Albert’s latest journey was a 12-day trip that covered Memphis → Honolulu → Anchorage → Narita → Osaka → Guangzhou → Delhi → Dubai → Milan → Memphis with a 2-man crew, plus a first officer.

Anthony also hopes to fly the coveted 777 himself one day — when the opportunity presents itself. And in November 2018, when Captain Glenn’s 44-year FedEx career comes to end, Anthony will be one step closer, getting “bumped up on the list” when his father retires.

“This has been a great journey for me, to be here with my father, to have that opportunity to fly with him. It’s been a lifetime moment, which I’ll never forget,” says Anthony. “I definitely cherish the 14 years we’ve been working together at FedEx.”

Albert plans to continue his career in aviation while also serving his community by opening a flight academy. “We’re working on a foundation that will help kids to learn to fly without being restricted by the cost. From a legacy standpoint, 20-30 years from now we’ll been able to help others achieve the same dream we had,” says Albert. He’s also set up an OBAP scholarship in honor of his sister Carol, who passed away a few years ago. “[Aviation has] provided us an opportunity to give back," he says.

Featured image by Getty Images/fStop