Role Model Pilot is known for both Safety and Service; it’s possible & positive

role model pilot
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A Role Model Pilot

A proper accounting of an airplane’s safety includes mechanics, dispatchers, ground crew and the pilots who fly the plane. The list intentionally overlooked the cabin crew; because passengers and regulators frequently do not mention the flight attendants’ safety service. Thus, their essential role in this risk-reducing effort has been championed here. The list of their contributions to safety has drawn specific note.

On the other hand, the roles of pilot-in-charge and the second-in-charge have been heralded so much that their flaws make more news than their predominantly impeccable performance.

Like the stereotype of the flight attendant whose perceived role is customer service and the safety function is diminished, the pilot’s contribution to flight is seen as the person manipulating the controls while her/his ability to enhance the total passenger experience is often ignored.

The below story about Captain Denny Flanagan shows that a fully successful job performance in front of a plane can include more attention to the folks in the back, who pay for the flight.  

This brief article by his employer commemorates the Captain’s last flight with a story about an encounter 7 years before between the PIC and this 10 year old boy. Upon learning about the retirement of his inspiration, who took the time to make a career as a pilot a reality, Robert Loesch wrote this letter to his hero/role model:

Hello Captain Flanagan!

My name is Robert Loesch. I am 17 years old and live in Denver, Colorado. I doubt you remember me, but my mother and I were traveling on one of your flights about six or seven years ago. It was a flight on board a Boeing 757-200 from Chicago O’Hare to Denver. We arrived to the airport in the late afternoon and were scheduled for a flight right about then. That night changed my life.

I had always had a passion for aviation, but that night you helped shape my future and became a role model in my life. Our flight kept having rolling delays due to weather in the Chicago area and it was on my birthday. All I wanted was to be home to see the rest of my family. When the flight was continuing to be delayed, you stepped up and made a personal announcement from the podium to the passengers asking us to sit tight and that you would soon return with food for us. A few minutes later you returned with pizza and a basket of fruit. As you walked around and personally greeted everybody while passing out food, you took the time to stop and give me a brief hello accompanied with a Boeing 757 trading card and some plastic wings. We struck up a small conversation and got on the topic of flying and how I wanted to be a pilot when I grew up. Without even a second thought, you escorted my mother and I down to flight ops and gave us a personal tour. You stopped to show me how to look up weather on the computer, show me how you planned a flight, and personally introduced me to a handful of pilots that night. On our way back up to the B gates, you handed me the large book on the history of United Airlines. But you didn’t stop there. When we were finally boarding the aircraft, you took me up into the cockpit even so you were extremely busy trying to get a severely delayed flight into the air. Last but not least, you gave me the business card where I found the email address that I am writing this email to.

That night changed my life. I knew exactly what I wanted to do. From that moment on I have been working to become a pilot at United Airlines. Not just any pilot, though. I hope to someday carry on your legacy of premier customer service. There is one quote from you that I live by every single day. You have said that, “The cockpit is my office and I am the CEO of the airplane.” You go above and beyond to make sure everyone has a very pleasant experience flying on your aircraft. I read in an article a few weeks ago about your retirement flight coming up. Tears came to my eyes when I read this. I wanted very desperately to get on your flight just to be able to fly on one more of your aircraft. Unfortunately, it seems as if all of the seats have now been sold and I must attend my college orientation the very next day. This coming fall I will be attending Metropolitan State University Denver to continue my pursuit of aviation. I will be studying Aviation and Aerospace Sciences with an emphasis on being a Professional Flight Officer. I am currently working on completing all of the coursework for my Private Pilot License and hope to have that completed by early or mid summer. To this very day, my favorite aircraft of all time continues to be the Boeing 757, and I am jealous that you have gotten to log countless hours on it. I hope to complete my turbine time with a regional carrier and my ultimate goal is to become a Captain at United Airlines. Thank you so much for continuing to be an inspiration to me and many other pilots who strive to be the gentleman and excellent pilot that you are. I hope to someday continue your legacy of wonderful customer service in the friendly skies. I hope all is well with you and your family and hope that you enjoy a happy retirement.

Thank you for being a true role model,

Robert Loesch

The Captain invited his pal to the UA/CO training center in Denver and visited Robert while in the simulator:


The company story includes videos, some of which was taken by CEO Munoz, of Flanagan’s last flight. It’s rare when an airline’s senior executive takes time to so honor one of his pilots:


This service-oriented individual caught the attention of one travel journalist who wrote a lengthy piece which captured how the man up front kept the passengers in the back in the forefront of his consciousness.

Here are pictures of how this pilot routinely reflected his thanks for his passengers:

Role Model Pilot

For a delayed flight


Role Model Pilot

Supporting the US Olympic team


Role Model Pilot

Making sure that the four-legged passenger is ready for flight


Role Model Pilot

Writing a note of appreciation


Randy Petersen, the founder of FlyerTalk and frequent flyer guru, recognized the momentous nature of Captain Flanagan’s last flight and held a contest among his readers for a seat on the flight. This picture is of Mike Holovacs with the winner with Peterson:

Role Model Pilot

Safety first, but there’s room to make the passengers feel special.



ARTICLE: United pilot surprises teen he inspired

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