Eric Retires from Southwest Airlines
by Steve T. Trigg March 2022
Eric flew his last flight for SouthWest Airlines Thursday March 11, 2022, the day before his 65th birthday. Mandatory retirement of 65 was forced on the FAA in 2009 by Congress with an act called “Fair Treatment for Experienced Pilots Act”. Before that, the FAA had adamantly maintained 60 as the mandatory retirement age for Part 121 pilots, which was supported by the Airline Pilots Association as well. Congress could see the injustice of forcing a large segment out of income, without any data to justify an unsafe component, well before eligibility for Social Security benefits.
Eric took about twenty friends and family on the last segment of a three day trip, a roundtrip from Denver to Hayden and back. He had come from an overnight in Chicago and arrived in Denver a few minutes late but with enough time for an on time push, which was not to be due to late arriving flights with connecting bags. However, we did arrive in Hayden actually ahead of schedule because the flight is planned at an hour six for only a 26 minute flight.
Hayden is in the Yampa Valley, close to Steamboat Springs ski area. The Yampa River joins the Green in Dinosaur National Park about 25 miles east of Vernal, Utah. Yampa is a Snake Indian word for an edible root from their early diet and the name Snake Indian is a general term applied to tribes of the northern Great Basin in the 1800s, especially used by Oregon Trail immigrants for the Bannock, Northern Paiute and Shoshone and is not commonly used today. Like most names for Native American tribes, Snake is likely the adoption of the Mandan and Lakota description of them as “snake people” and spread by early day French trappers and traders. This is the process by which most tribes became named; the adoption of the names used by neighboring tribes as Europeans moved through them on to, as yet unmet tribes.
It was a great and festive affair! and for me at least, there was a twinge of tearfulness.
The Trigg side of the family came in on Wednesday. Yolie and I non-revd in from Durango and Sean and Melissa flew his primo 180. Sean upgraded his 180 with a bigger engine, state of the art IFR avionics and a bright, shiny new paint job. He is IFR rated and stays current but made a wise decision to stop and rent a car in Colorado Springs due to bad weather which began forming north of Pueblo mid-morning with the presence of icing and intermittent minimum IFR landing conditions. Sally and Kelly drove from Taos arriving around 9PM. They arrived relieved and laughing, telling a harrowing tale of a life and death blizzard episode north of Colorado Springs, a storytelling art Sally has perfected. Eric’s family, Christine and Colton, Connie, and her two boys, Jory and Coby, Matt Daily and of course Al Wilson was there. Al is a retired American pilot and neighbor. Al has become a cherished Trigg Family member. A gaggle of friends and neighbors, who I did not know, were there; among the first to put their names in the hat for this memorable event.
Southwest provided free positive space rides for all! Quite a remarkable gesture in these days of increasing airline stinginess. It was the last two legs of a three day trip and Eric flew both legs in this Boeing 737-700. Both landings were GREAT! The inside joke among pilots is; “Any landing is good if you can reuse the plane”.
We made one turn in holding at Hayden for a plane ahead of us to get in. Radar coverage is poor in that area (no radar below 10,000 feet) and Center will let only one plane at a time into a large segment of airspace around the airport due to the requirement for positive radar contact in order to guarantee separation.
Cheers, whoops and yells following the landing and more when Eric came out of the cockpit. Eric engineered with the gate our permission to stay on board during the turn and we all moved from the back to the front of the cabin, took a lot of pictures and kept up constant chatter.
Though often Southwest pilots do not meet their flight attendants before a flight, this cabin crew of three got right into the spirit of the affair. Pilot retirements are a big deal. The second attendant led the effort to hand out napkins to all on both legs and solicit passengers to write words of thanks and encouragements to Eric. There were many cute and creative ones! She also collected Eric’s story from Christine to share with the passengers over the PA. On the return flight, Eric recited a cowboy poem, from his repertoire; about a cowboy roping a bear. He is known for this all the way back to his Mesa Airline days.
Arriving back in Denver, traffic was landing to the north which means arrivals from the north are vectored way around to the south, to join a twenty mile ILS. This waste of time is abhorrent to old Mesa hands. Eric mentioned to the controller it was his last flight and asked for the much shorter and rarely given RNAV Z approach which was instantly given. This cut off five minutes. We landed to the north on the west side of the airport, but ground control sent him the long way around the terminal to the east and back to a west gate. This added back five minutes. Eric told me that had happened to him only a few times before.
Another nearly perfect landing, more whooping and cheering and more at the gate. Eric greeted all the passengers who reciprocated with warm remarks, handshakes, a few hugs and I think at least one phone number from a female admirer. Eric Knudson, Eric’s first officer, wheeled him up the jetway in a transport wheelchair where a group of fellow Southwest pilots waited with congratulations. After much camaraderie, everyone met at a favorite breakfast restaurant of Eric’s near his house to share and swap more lies and stories.
Eric finished his airline career with 21 years and 14,000 hours for Southwest.
He’s had Quite a Ride!