On his final flight before retiring, an American Airlines pilot gave his wings to a very special passenger and is warming hearts across social media.
Capt. Joe Weis retired from American Airlines earlier this month after 35 years with the company. His final flight was Oct. 2 from Madrid to Miami, and his wife, Wendy, was on board with him.
During the flight, the pilot’s wife met Ki Klitenick, a 2-year-old boy who was on the return leg of his very first international trip.
When she found this out, she knew her husband needed to meet the adorable toddler.
Weis welcomed Ki and his mother, Sarah Tamar Klitenick, into the cockpit after the plane had landed at Miami International Airport.
“My last flight was very special for many reasons,” Weis wrote on Facebook. “Since it was my last and his first we decided to make it special.”
The retiring pilot passed down his AA Captain wings to the curious toddler, a moment that was captured in a heartwarming video he later posted on social media.
“Our pilots and flight attendants have worn wings for more than eight decades,” the airline wrote on its website. “First given as a symbol of aviation training and qualification by the U.S. military in 1913, our wings are an iconic symbol of aviation, ability and adventure.”
Ki responded by signing “thank you” in American Sign Language before exploring the control panel of the cockpit.
“I will remember this always,” Weis wrote in his post.
“The idea that Captain Joe Weis was inspired to give us those wings is such a large honor I did not know how to respond except for awe and gratitude!” Klitenick wrote in an Instagram post. “They are a special treasure we will hold very dear to us!”
The young boy’s mother also said that her son won’t stop talking about his new friend.
She also said that whenever she says “Captian,” Ki quickly responds and points at his shirt where his new set of wings rest.
“This big day for him, he didn’t have to do anything for someone else,” Klitenick told The Western Journal.
“Travel with kids is extra work,” she said. “I was exhausted, but what a way to just flip that all around.”
View this post on Instagram
Ki went for his first international trip. We began preparing months ago with applying for passports, teaching Ki important Spanish phrases and much planning for our Biggest journey yet. This was by far our furthest trip from home and a spectacular one I will share more about separately. The Grande finale we had was on the way home. We were flying standby and got seats in the very back of the plane. We overhead our row mate Wendy explaining that the pilot was her husband and it was his final flight for American Airlines after 35 years of service. When he landed he was going to be retired! There is a special tradition they do called a water salute, by lining fire trucks on either side of the run way and shooting water cannons over the plane in an arch as you taxi towards the gate. Midway through our flight, as we had all been talking about our trips, the captain came to our seat. Wendy must have told him about it being Ki's first international trip and he felt moved on his final flight to pass on his captain's wings to Ki!!!! We were all in tears over the monumental statement! After our smooth landing and moving water salute we made our way to the cockpit for a ceremonial exchange of his captain's wings! The idea that Captain Joe Weis was inspired to give us those wings is such a large honor I did not know how to respond except for awe and gratitude! They are a special treasure we will hold very dear to us! The level of servitude it takes to give 35 years to a company is beyond my grasp as I only turn 35 years old this November! When I think of how many people he brought together for all their special occasions, holidays, work and business trips, funerals babies being born, people moving to a new place, adventurers and the list goes on but only with a captain to fly the plane could it happen. We thank you Captain Joe Weis for your service to @americanair The friendly skies have changed our lives and it's an honor to hold onto these wings. They mean more than I can express. Thank you again for the experience of a lifetime! #internationalbaby #Americanairlines #madridtomiami #cockpit #friendlyskies #thankyou #skytravel #unbelievable #aviator
“All of us at American are truly touched by the actions of Captain Joseph Weis,” American Airlines said in a statement to the Sentinel. “Captain Weis, who started with American in March 1985, always loved to engage with his passengers.
“We are all proud of Captain Weis and wish him all the best on his retirement. We also look forward to welcoming Ki on future American flights, along with his wings.”
Klitenick also shared the heartwarming moment on her Instagram because she thought others would be encouraged and gain hope for the future, but once media outlets began covering the story it quickly became more about “Ki with Down syndrome and Captain Joe” than about “Ki, 2-year-old international traveler, and Captain Joe.”
“If you put a label on there, then you think of something else besides Ki and Captain Joe,” she told The Western Journal.
“The story became about DS instead of the beautiful story,” she wrote on Instagram. “Ki Having DS is obviously something I’m not trying to hide, but when we use it to describe a person it unfairly categorizes and diminishes the value of the individual.”
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