Pilot Hid Note in Cockpit of Plane as Fleet Was Grounded in March 2020, Now We Know the 'Very Chilling' Sight He Was Greeted With
A message from what to many Americans feels like a bygone era surfaced recently as a note scribbled by a Delta Air Lines pilot is a reminder of how it felt to descend into the tunnel of the pandemic, and how it feels to emerge.
On March 23, 2020, First Officer Chris Dennis brought plane 3009 into a storage facility in Victorville, California, according to Delta’s website.
“It wasn’t until we were on final approach headed in for landing when it hit me,” Dennis said. “The VCV instructions noted to go behind a ‘follow-me vehicle’ that brings you to a parking spot. As we crossed the runway: Delta aircraft. It’s hard to fathom how many aircraft Delta has until you see that many of them parked in one place.”
“When we got in line, it looked like an optical illusion. It just kept going and going,” Dennis said. “I don’t know how to describe it — it was shocking.”
Then he realized the scope of the shadow creeping across America.
“I thought about how many people’s jobs rely on just one of those airplanes,” Dennis said.
“From the Reservations agent, to the ticket agent, to the pilot, flight attendants, mechanics, the ramp crew. Then you go a level deeper: the rental car agency, the hotels, the tourism companies,” he said.
At the time, he thought the plane would be parked for 14 days, and left a note for the crew he expected would fly the plane later that spring.
“Hey pilots – It’s March 23rd and we just arrived from MSP,” he wrote, referring to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. “Very chilling to see so much of our fleet here in the desert.
“If you are here to pick it up then the light must be at the end of the tunnel. Amazing how fast it changed. Have a safe flight bringing it out of storage!” he wrote.
Dennis posted his thoughts at the time on Facebook. He called the sight of rows of jets in storage “chilling, apocalyptic, surreal..all words that still don’t fit what is happening in the world.”
“For those airline folks who were around for 9/11, this feels even more real, more urgent. During 9/11 aircraft were stuck at airports around the country and the enemy was known. Now, they are all concentrated in huge lots and mothballed waiting for this battle to turn around against an enemy we can’t see or fight,” he wrote.
He noted on Facebook that reaction to his post “shows that all of us, around the world, right now, have something in common. We are all dealing with this virus. Stuck inside our houses, waiting to see extended family, go to work, have a wedding, or attend a funeral. Stay healthy, stay safe, social distance. Soon enough, we look back on and talk about ‘those Cornovirus days.'”
As the darkness receded, Delta First Officer Nick Perez came to the Victorville facility to bring the plane out of mothballs. It was not an easy task. During its time on the ground, the plane — the last Delta Airbus to return to the skies — had been scavenged for parts.
Tom Trenda, a mechanic who helped get the plane ready for the skies once again, told Perez to check the tray table on the flight deck.
When Perez did so, the note from Dennis emerged.
“He had to have been thinking he was leaving his job,” Perez said. “Back in March, I was 100% certain I was going to lose my job.”
Perez said he is ready to leave pandemic days behind
“I kept thinking about my mindset now compared to his when he left this note,” Perez said. “[Back then], we were getting good at landing empty airplanes, now we’re going in the right direction. I’m in good spirits. I’m very optimistic. I feel like how I felt in 2017 again – ready to get going.”
Dennis said that the world has done a 180-degree change.
“As they get into that airplane, they are going to see the opposite view than I saw,” Dennis said. “There’s going to be an open runway in front of them.”
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