During commercial aviation’s pandemic downturn, countless veteran airline pilots are retiring to save the jobs of their younger cohorts. But it was during Captain Paul Holmes’ final flight for Delta Air Lines that a chance conversation with an air traffic controller brought him back to his early days with the airline.
Tipped off to Holmes’ retirement flight, Boston Center controller Ashleigh Goldberg keyed up her microphone and asked if he flew for Northwest Airlines before it merged with Delta in 2008. Goldberg said her grandfather, William Hochbrunn, was a Northwest pilot.
“Bill Hochbrunn was your grandfather?” asked a surprised Holmes.
“Affirmative,” Goldberg replied.
A few seconds of stunned silence followed until Holmes explained that Hochbrunn, who died in 2018 at the age of 96, hired him at Northwest Airlines in 1981.
“We loved your grandfather,” said Holmes over the radio. “He gave us our careers at Northwest Airlines.”
“With traffic being kind of down, there was a little bit more time for some exchange on the frequencies,” Goldberg later told CNN. “It was the perfect book-end and everything kind of came full circle for Paul.”
Since they first spoke on August 19, Holmes and Goldberg have met in person and even went on vacation together with their families. The two got a chance to trade stories about Goldberg’s grandfather and how he impacted both of their careers in aviation.
“For him, it would mean a lot,” said Goldberg of her grandfather, who began flying for Northwest in 1941. “Nobody in the family did anything aviation related except for me.”
The fortuitous in-flight friendship has earned recognition from the FAA and Goldberg’s union as well as on YouTube, where a recording of the conversation was posted by Holmes’ co-pilot on his farewell flight. “I think was the best of all the flights that I’ve had in my life,” Holmes said. “I think it shows that the world is actually still a fairly bright and shiny place. A lot of good things happen in this world, you just have to be open to it and see it.”