This year SWA will say good bye to approximately one hundred Pilots due to retirement. Federal Aviation Regulations mandate an Airline Pilot's retirement at age 60. Retiring Pilots are allowed to chose the Crew for their last flight, and I recently had the honor of working Captain Steve Williamson's last flight along with Flight Attendants Laura Freeman and Gina Anderson. Acting as Steve's first officer was Captain Chris Plaisance, a long-time friend of Steve's since their Air Force days. We were wearing T-shirts imprinted with Steve's picture and "Thirty years of Luv".
Steve joined SWA in April 1976 and has flown over 29,000 total flight hours. I've known him since 1984. Steve was always a delight to fly with. His smile showed he was happy to see you, his crew briefing was thorough, he assisted when able with passengers, kept the flight attendants briefed on weather and even helped us tidy the aircraft between flights. The only thing I can remember that Steve DIDN'T do was bring candy! It seems just a few short years since his family flew on one of my flights going to one of their young daughter's gymnastic meets. Now Steve and his wife Connie are grandparents.
On his last day we met Steve's flight when it came through Dallas on the way to Tulsa. Joining us were Connie, his mother Marge and her husband Lloyd; son Rob, his wife Lisa and their two children; daughter Stephanie, her husband Kevin and their daughter; and daughter Amy and her husband Andy. Also included were his siblings, in-laws and a few close friends. In fact, half the passengers on the aircraft were there to honor Steve. The rest of the passengers were happy to join the party!
Our decorations included pictures of Steve from his first days of flying until the present. During the flight we played games, awarded prizes, and asked everyone onboard to write retirement advice on index cards to present later. We also handed out biography sheets and Steve gave a brief speech. While taxiing to the gate in Dallas, two fire trucks on opposite sides of the runway sprayed arcs of water across the aircraft nose in salute (a tradition for a Pilot's last flight). Fellow Employees waited in the jetway for a last farewell, handshake, and good luck wishes. Then we headed to the General Offices and the upstairs cafeteria for a farewell party, where there were many active and retired Pilots, their wives, personal friends, and SWA Employees enjoying food and drink (at Steve's expense!) Speeches, gifts, pictures, cake cutting - a good time was had by all.
There will continue to be Pilots with whom we enjoy working, but for those who are retired--you may be gone, but you are not forgotten! Thank you for being the Spirit of Southwest.