Pilot's Unusual Move: Turns Plane Around to Help Family Flying to Funeral

A flight delay almost caused a family to miss a funeral.

ByABC News
December 31, 2015, 1:32 PM

— -- An Arizona family faced with a horrible tragedy is praising a pilot for displaying an act of human kindness unusual in the airline industry: delaying takeoff in order to allow them to make the funeral of a beloved family member.

The family ran into a problem familiar to many travelers -- a flight delay -- on their way to Tennessee. The family was headed to the funeral of Jay W. Short, a 56-year-old husband and father of three who died on Dec. 16 after losing a battle to lung cancer about five months after being diagnosed.

A 90-minute delay in the family’s flight from Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport left them with about 7 minutes to make a connecting flight in Minneapolis, which was the last plane flying to Memphis that day. The funeral was scheduled for the following morning.

"This was our last chance to say goodbye to my dad and if we missed the flight we would [have] missed the funeral," Nicole Short-Wibel, Jay’s daughter, told ABC News.

By the time the family dashed to the gate in the Minneapolis Airport, the door to the jet way was closed and the Tennessee-bound plane was taxiing toward the runway. It was then that airport workers delivered the news to the family -- it was too late to make it on board.

"My son and I are waving our arms at the pilots and the ground crew as my two daughters are crying their eyes out. We are pleading for them to not take off," Marcia Short, Jay’s wife, wrote in a post that was displayed on her daughter’s Facebook page. "If we did not get on that flight we would miss the funeral. We had to get to Memphis."

The pilot, Capt. Adam Cohen, saw the desperation on their faces through the airport windows. That’s when he made an unprecedented move -- turning the plane back to ensure the family made it on board.

Cohen flies for Endeavor Air, a regional airline carrier owned by Delta Air Lines.

Marcia Short said on Facebook that Cohen and his first officer "Blessed my family and gave us a gift that no one else could. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts."

"It meant the world," Short-Wibel said.

Cohen’s decision and the attention it has received has not gone unnoticed by his employer.

"This Endeavor Air pilot’s decision to return to the gate in this special circumstance is a great reflection of the human touch we want all Delta customers to experience when flying with us," a Delta spokesperson said in a statement.

Cohen said that helping the family had a big impact on him and the crew.

"This is something we’ll take with us, knowing we made a difference," Cohen said. "Little moments like this to us are big to these customers and keep them coming back to Delta, but at the end of the day, it also keeps us going."

While Delta praised Cohen's decision, airline analysts said it's one that could have gotten him in trouble with his employer if it had worked out differently.

In order for the pilot to hold the flight, he had to risk "the censure of his company," ABC News Aviation analyst John Nance said.

"The door is always closed on time because the most important thing to airlines is on time departure records," said Nance.