Aug. 31, 2007 -- This summer, flight cancellations nearly doubled, delays rose to the worst in a decade, and planes were fuller than ever. But The Wall Street Journal managed to find a bright spot -- United Airlines Captain Denny Flanagan.
On a flight headed your way, there is a pilot who is literally a gift from the heavens. For 21 years now, Flanagan, a former navy pilot, has put the friendly in friendly skies.
With his sense of humor and personal touch, he individually welcomes aboard every passenger on his United Airlines plane.
A father of five, Flanagan has also been known to buy food for plane-loads of passengers on delayed flights. He snaps photos of dogs in the cargo hold to show owners their pets are safe and calls the parents of children traveling alone.
"I want to treat them like I treat my family and it works. It's like hospitality. You stand at the door and you greet people when they come in and you say goodbye on the porch and wave to them," said Flanagan, who is 56 and lives in Ohio.
His unique brand of hospitality includes sending handwritten notes to frequent flyers and raffling off bottles of wine.
"How 'bout that? A bottled of chilled chardonnay from a pilot," said a delighted Paul Schroeder, a lucky United passenger.
He has developed quite a following in the air and on line. One of the many posts on FlyerTalk.com about Flanagan read: "His effort rubbed off on the crew too, they were great."
Part of his secret is keeping customers informed and engaged, Flanagan said.
When asked how he would handled a situation like the Jet Blue debacle, where passengers spent 10 hours trapped on the tarmac, he said, "when the engine shut down, I walk up and down the aisle, talk to the customers, pull out my cell phone and ask customers -- some customers have Web sites on their cell phones and they pass the weather around."