Spirit Pilot Finds Her Birth Family and Her Flying Roots

By John Perkinson, Senior Staff Writer
Capt. Shari Ritchkin (Spirit), left, and her sister, Tammy Holloway-Servedio, at Los Angeles International Airport before Ritchkin flies back to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

It’s not uncommon for airline pilots to have family members who also work in the airline industry, but for Capt. Shari Ritchkin (Spirit) the news came as a surprise. Over the course of several weeks last winter, she discovered that her love of aviation was in her DNA.

Forty-eight years ago, three days after Ritchkin was born, she was put up for adoption. Growing up, she had a wonderful relationship with her adoptive parents. She would go on to earn a master’s degree, becoming a high school dean of students and supervisor of health and physical education. But Ritchkin felt something was missing.

“Flying was always something I wanted to do,” she said, adding, “It’s something I’ve always been fascinated with, but I just didn’t know how to get started.” Opportunity knocked in 2004 when Capt. Mark Segaloff (United), a childhood friend, mentioned that he was taking a flying lesson and wondered if she might want to join him.

“I was hooked,” said Ritchkin, noting that she spent much of her free time building her hours to earn her pilot’s licenses and other ratings. By the summer of 2008, she decided to take advantage of the school system’s summer vacation and temporarily relocate to Florida, where she worked as a pilot for Monarch Air Group, flying freight to the Bahamas. She enjoyed the job so much that during the school year, she commuted to the Sunshine State on the weekends to continue this second career. Ritchkin would eventually leave her job in academia to fly for ExpressJet before transitioning to Spirit Airlines in April 2012.

For years, Ritchkin’s adoptive mother, Joyce, encouraged her daughter to seek out her birth parents and, late last summer, the Spirit captain decided to complete the paperwork for a popular genealogical DNA kit. She received the results and, several weeks before Christmas, began putting together the pieces of her biological family puzzle.

Ritchkin learned that her parents, Roy Holloway and Cindy Praske, were unmarried and that prior to her birth had arranged for her to be adopted by a warm and caring family. She discovered that Roy had passed away many years ago and that Cindy appeared to have been a former ALPA employee. Ritchkin asked Segaloff, a former ALPA executive vice president, to do some investigating. As it turned out, Cindy had worked for the Association for 31 years, retiring in 2008 as administrator of the Human Resources Department. Sadly, she died last September, just months before Ritchkin could connect with her.

Ritchkin also learned that her biological parents had wed 13 months after her birth and, a decade later, had another child. She soon discovered that her biological sister, Tammy Holloway-Servedio, is a private pilot and a senior manager of airport operations ramp services for United Airlines at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

“As sisters, our lives likely crossed paths many times over the years and we never knew it,” remarked Ritchkin. “We were both based in Newark, N.J., for several months. I was a pilot for ExpressJet back then, and she worked for Continental Airlines as senior manager of airport operations.”

Excited to meet her newfound family, Ritchkin quickly picked up a January 3 trip with a long layover in Los Angeles, Calif., and purchased a ticket for Joyce to accompany her. The two flew to LAX where they met Ritchkin’s sister and her sister’s husband. They later drove to San Diego to meet her grandmother and many other relatives who warmly welcomed her to the family.

While there, Ritchkin learned that her Uncle Rob is also a pilot and that years ago he sold a Swearingen Merlin to Monarch, the same company for which she previously transported cargo. In fact, she recalled flying that same plane.

“I continue to meet more relatives as I fly throughout the United States,” said a grateful Ritchkin, noting that she recently met the East Coast members of her family during a trip to Baltimore, Md. Call it kismet, but finding this lost aspect of her life has led Ritchkin to a better understanding of who she is and the motivations that have driven her career and life choices.

This article was originally published in the May 2020 issue of Air Line Pilot.

Read the latest Air Line Pilot (PDF)