Turning the Tables

By Capt. Paul Sanker (ExpressJet)

Capt. Paul Sanker (ExpressJet), right, with his father, Capt. David Sanker (United).

My father, David Sanker, was a United Airlines pilot, and I’m an ExpressJet pilot. Our jobs allowed us moments many fathers and sons will never have the opportunity to share. Many of our life lessons came in the form of amazing captain’s advice instead of a game of catch. This career brings families together for special moments that only another pilot family can understand.

Growing up, I was graced with many fun stories, from 747 flight deck tours to meeting all of my father’s larger-than-life airline friends. The story that makes me laugh the most, however, was a night my dad turned the tables on me—and I still came out ahead.

One month, my dad and I were both flying day trips. He was flying a Ft. Lauderdale turn, and I a West Palm Beach turn. It was twice a week, and every time, Dad would take off before I pushed. The tables turned, however, coming out of Florida.

While he would take off first, I had the advantage of geography on him. All month long, ATC would ask him to slow so that my flight could be sequenced in front of his for “spacing for Newark.” Yes . . . over northern Florida. With a smile on my face, I climbed each time to get ahead of Dad, again. Until one day I heard a deep sigh on the radio followed by a question to the controller: “Sir, do you have any children?”

“WHAT?!?” I thought.

The controller responded, “Yeah, why?”

My dad, not even missing a beat, said, “Well all month long I’ve been sequenced behind that jet ahead. That jet is being flown by my son. I’m guessing you would understand what it would be like having your kid beat you at your own game.”

Next thing I know the controller responds with, “Jetlink. Turn 30 degrees right for spacing and slow to your slowest practical airspeed.” The captain I was flying with gave me a look of shock, but all I could do was shrug my shoulders and laugh.

My father did in fact get ahead of me that day. The controller even wished him well and was more than happy he could help. Dad got into Newark smoothly, but my flight endured holds and vectors pretty much the entire way.

While the captain and I flew to our destination, we talked about how we couldn’t believe that happened, laughed, and wondered if my dad was enjoying a nice cup of coffee at the airport while he waited for us. You see, my dad and I carpooled. What Dad didn’t realize was I was waiting for him at his gate every night for 40-plus minutes. Guess who was waiting (for at least an hour) for me at mine, looking bored—but with a smile?