Married Delta pilots retire early after decades of service

Brekke Fletcher, CNNUpdated 30th August 2020
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(CNN) — They've flown around the globe and have seen the world side by side from the best seat in the house -- the cockpit of a Delta A330.
Meet Joe and Margrit Fahan, married and recently retired Delta pilots who chronicle their travels on their popular Instagram account, @flyingfahans.
After completing their final Delta flight on August 13, the couple sat down with CNN Travel.
Capt. Joe Fahan has been a pilot for over 36 years. Commercial airline pilots must retire at age 65, and Fahan was a little over a year away from retirement when Covid-19 hit. Air travel basically ground to a halt, creating a major crisis for the industry.
"All the airlines [were] losing an incredible amount of money they had to start scaling back. They offered early retirement, and it just made sense for us. So we decided to jump on it." said Joe Fahan.
Joe and Margrit Fahan wave farewell from the flight deck of a Delta A330
Joe and Margrit Fahan wave farewell from the flight deck of a Delta A330
Courtesy Joe Fahan
First Officer Margrit Fahan, Joe's wife and co-pilot, has been flying for 35 years. The last six years she has shared the flight deck with her husband, Joe, and has since witnessed the devastating effects of coronavirus on her industry. "I think the airlines fell back to a 5% capacity, 5% of their operation," said Margrit.
Margrit still had a few more years of flying ahead of her and was not ready to retire -- but she did.
"With Joe it made a lot of sense," Margrit said, "but I have five more years that I could fly. It was a tough decision. One day I'd feel like, yes, it's the right thing to do. The next day, it made me really sad to think that this could be it."

All in the family

For Joe, in particular, it's a very bittersweet transition into retirement.
"It's more than a job. It's a lifestyle. It's what we've done for most of our lives, and it's a definitely a different way to live. This kind of becomes your life, so when you're looking at giving it up, especially early, and you didn't have time to mentally prepare for it, it's tough. I said it's like losing your senior year of high school."
Margrit and Joe Fahan -- copilots in life
Margrit and Joe Fahan -- copilots in life
Courtesy Joe Fahan
The Fahans have two adult sons who are both pilots, Peter Fahan is deployed in Bahrain with the US Navy, while Billy Fahan is a recently furloughed commercial pilot for a regional airline.
For those of you doing the math, that makes four "Flying Fahans." And as Joe said it, "They were doomed from the start."
"Yeah, they were. We tried to show them other things," said Margrit.

Unlikely Instagram influencers

The Instagram account was kind of a fluke. The Fahans were in Greece when they ran into an old friend from Joe's days as a pilot with the now-defunct Allegheny Commuter Airlines.
The Fyling Fahans are #AVgeek Instagram influencers
The Fyling Fahans are #AVgeek Instagram influencers
Courtesy Joe Fahan
"I hadn't seen this character in 35 or 40 years. We didn't even recognize each other. We ended up meeting up, and it was great. I said, 'Hey, we have to keep in touch. Are you on Facebook?' He says, 'No, I'm on Instagram.' I said, 'Instagram? What's that?'"
Several years and 15,000 followers later, the adventures documented on @flyingfahans tell a story of partnership, a deep love of aviation, a passion for fellow air travel professionals -- from the towers to the tarmac. The Fahans love interacting with their followers, whether to answer questions or to say hello when they encounter them in person. Many followers have since become their friends.
"It's pretty cool how you can make so many connections through Instagram, said Margrit. "You meet people from all over the place, all different fields, especially the aviation crowd. They tend to stick together. It's kind of like a little addiction, people who like airplanes, flying, traveling. They all stick together."
Owing to the success of @flyingfahans, the two have enjoyed a kind of celebrity within the aviation and travel community.
Newly retired Delta pilots Joe and Margrit Fahan
Newly retired Delta pilots Joe and Margrit Fahan
Courtesy Joe Fahan
"People come up to us in airports. It's flattering and embarrassing at the same time, but it's a lot of fun." Joe said. "I always say it's because of her, because I'm just another typical pilot. But when she's with me, it becomes something a little bit unique."
After raising two children, spending years apart, tag-team parenting until their sons went off to college, the Fahans thoroughly enjoyed the time they had flying together -- Captain and First Officer -- eating their meals on transcontinental routes on the flight deck of the A330. Airplane food is not their favorite, either.
Both agree that the A330 was their favorite airplane. "We flew other planes, but we've been on this airplane for 17 years. I've never gotten tired of it," Joe said.
"[The Airbus] is totally made for a pilot," Margrit said. "It's comfortable in the cockpit. It's quiet. It just has all the little creature comforts that you really like to have."

What's next?

Now that they're retired, the Fahans definitely want to keep flying, one way or another. In fact, a week after their final flight, Joe joined one of his Instagram brethren, Julian Javor (@pilotjulian), the founder of Pet Rescue Pilots, a non-profit whose mission is to relocate animals from kill shelters to locations that have a better likelihood of adoption.
Javor connected with The Fahans via the social media platform, met in person and became friends.
Margrit flew a rescue mission with Jover earlier this year, from Los Angeles to Calgary, "Canada has better neuter and spaying regulations, so they don't have a lot of adoptable pets," Margrit explained. "So, he flies them all the way from California up to Canada where they all get adopted."
After his final flight on August 13, Joe joined Javor on an Operation Baghdad Pups relocation mission (funded by grants from The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) International and VCA Charities). The Baghdad pups outfit is very much aligned with Javor's organization -- they reunite dogs left behind on military bases with their friends in the service who have returned to the US from deployment.
In usual form, Joe Fahan took to Instagram to record the rescue mission -- and Javor hosted the Fahans (Margrit arrived separately) at his mother's home in Los Angeles.

Fahan fans and friends

"They're awesome. They're great. And now it's gotten to the point where it's like, you know, they know my mom and her friend circle, and it all started from that little app."
When asked about the Fahan's early retirement, Javor had this to say: "When they told me that it was going to happen, I was very shocked."
All told, Javor and Fahan relocated approximately 18 Baghdad pups on multiple flights, starting from JFK. "Watching that plane come in landing, knowing that it had come from Iraq, we were all on the tarmac at 2:45 in the morning unloading this plane. It was incredible."
CNN Travel reached out to Delta to comment on the Fahans retirement, "It's a wonderful privilege for Delta to have been a part of Capt. Joe Fahan and First Officer Margrit Fahan's story. Their passion for aviation and dedicated service to our customers was evident throughout their combined 71 years flying, and we're excited to see where this next adventure in retirement takes them."
No matter where they travel next, one thing is for certain, the Fahans aren't hanging up their wings.
"We don't mind a little break," said Joe. "But let's say we're open to opportunities."