'The Best Trip I've Ever Had'

By Capt. Sean King (JetBlue)

From left, Capts. Sean and Mark King (then a first officer) after piloting a father-son flight for JetBlue.

In June 2015, I went on the best trip I’ve ever had, and one I will never forget. I had a retired Delta pilot with more than 40 years of flying experience as my first officer. He was also my dad.

My dad commuted for a good portion of my childhood, but what I really remember is how much he was still there for things like little league or golfing trips during the summer. And I remember that he used to have the pairings cut out of the bid packet; I enjoyed learning the airport codes and where he was going.

When I was in kindergarten, he and Scott Hersha (a classmate’s father who was also a Delta pilot) came to talk to our class. Another year, he had to spend Thanksgiving in Las Vegas, Nev., so my brother and I flew there to meet him. Early the next day he was flying to Los Angeles, Calif., so we got on his plane to go home. I remember sitting down in first class and falling asleep. I woke up after we’d landed and thought we were still in Las Vegas. My dad asked me what I thought of the landing, and I told him I’d slept through it so it must have been great.

Thanks to my dad, I always wanted to be a pilot. But once college came around, I started taking pre-med classes and planned on buying a plane to fly on the side, like my grandfather. Two years into college, though, my dad and I flew with a group of his friends to Oshkosh, Wis., and camped under the wing. I had so much fun that I was in flight school two months later. I owe that in part to my stepmom, Judy, who provided the encouragement I needed to start.

One of the best things about having a father who’s a pilot is that I could always call him with questions. He gave me a ton of good advice on getting hired, keeping my logbook up to date, and living below my means so that I could afford the pay cut required to start over at a major. Every time I have a problem at work, he has some good advice. And in return, I answer all his IT questions.

In 2005, my dad retired from Delta but rejoined the workforce the next year at JetBlue. When it came time to apply to a mainline, I knew where I wanted to go. I joined him at JetBlue from ExpressJet in 2008. Unfortunately, right about the time he was about to upgrade to captain he went out on medical leave. But while he was out, I upgraded ahead of him.

And that led to my favorite trip, with F/O Mark King—thanks to the chief pilot at Orlando, Fla. My dad was Orlando-based, and I was based out of JFK, but they worked things out for us to fly together once before my dad upgraded.

I knew my dad was proud of me, but I wanted to show him he had reason to be. Also, I wanted to make nicer landings than him, but honestly I think he edged me out on those. I’ve heard a lot of stories of pilots flying with their kids, but never with the parent in the right seat—and we were actually the first father/son team to fly together at JetBlue at all. It was a unique experience, and one we will always talk about. 

I haven’t been back to Oshkosh in the years since it first started me on this journey, but I’m going back this year in my dad’s plane—and we’re taking my five-year-old son. Maybe he’ll be the fourth generation of King pilots.