Monday, January 29, 2018

10,000 flights and 30 million gallons of fuel later, Fort Worth pilot ends 33-year career with a final trip home

American Airlines 787-9 (40641/503) N823AN departs Los Angeles International Airport (LAX/KLAX) (January 28, 2018) as "AA2459" bound for Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW/KDFW) with Captain Jeff Rowland in command performing his final flight following a 33 year carrier with American Airlines.
(Photo by Michael Carter)

A pilot from Fort Worth ended his 33-year career with American Airlines when he touched down at DFW International Airport on Sunday.

After 10,000 flights and 30 million gallons of jet fuel, Capt. Jeff Rowland had prepared a typed note to thank his last round of passengers.In the note, which Los Angeles Times reporter Sam Farmer shared on Twitter, Rowland reflected on a long career in the pilot's seat. He said he'd certainly miss flying the $200 million Boeing 787 plane, but he'd miss his passengers most.

"Transporting you to destinations all over the world, while you graciously endured my lame PA's, critiqued every single landing and thanked me for safe flying, provided purpose for this lifelong endeavor," he wrote.

He poked fun at common airline complaints, but Rowland said he can think of only one mistake American Airlines made during his decades with the company.

"They paid me, and I would have done this for nothing!" he wrote.

Rowland, who was born in Fort Worth and now lives in Dallas, had spent much of the last decade piloting long international flights. Before he started his career with American Airlines, he’d worked as a flight mechanic and a Fort Worth police officer.

He relished flying because the job let him solve problems. Sometimes those problems were invisible — like when an engine would quit and he’d handle it so calmly that none of his passengers would even know, he said.

Or there was the time his plane was stuck on a ramp in Abilene with a plane full of antsy passengers. They wanted to get off and drive to their destination, he said.So he improvised.

“One of my gifts was being able to sweet-talk people,” Rowland said. “I remember going down to operations, calling Domino's and ordering 10 pizzas for the passengers. It's just what I think a normal person does.”

Rowland’s calm, methodical nature coupled with his thoughtfulness made him “the picture of what you would want in an airplane captain,” his colleague Ken Goins said.

“If you're thinking about who you'd want to be in charge of the plane if they had a problem, that's Jeff,” said Goins, who used to fly with Rowland on 15-hour flights to China. “He never gets rattled.”

Rowland said it was hard to walk away from flying, but he'll keep busy in retirement: he and a pilot friend are building a plane. With Rowland's background as a flight mechanic, they'll finish putting together the plane after parts of it are assembled overseas.

For his final flight, his family and close friends piled into first class, and the plane was decorated with balloons and streamers. He couldn’t hear it from the pilot’s seat, he said, but his wife let him know that the passengers broke out in applause when he landed.

When he was 16, Rowland flew over that same airport as bulldozers cut it out of the dirt, he said.

“As a 16-year-old kid flying around in an airplane by myself, I was like, 'Holy moly. That is a big thing,'” Rowland said. “And here I did thousands of flights in and out of there after all this time. It's really an amazing thing.”

(Dana Branham - The Dallas Morning News)

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