Longtime Alaska Airlines pilot and flight instructor Stephen Day was greeted at Gate 4 of the Juneau Airport on Wednesday morning with hugs, balloons, roses and smoked salmon.
As he emerged from the passenger walkway, Day wore a jeweled pasteboard crown crafted for the occasion by operations agent Susan Duval.
"It's for the Captain of the Winds," Duval said.
Day deserved a crown. Piloting Flight 62 from Anchorage, he was unable to land on his first approach due to poor visibility from a snowstorm, but made it down safely 15 minutes later. "It's right down to minimum today," he said. "I have been here when it's worse than this - but I couldn't get in."
A terrain positioning system patented by Alaska Airlines a year ago gives its pilots the advantage of painting the landscape in colors on a screen; it lets them know exactly where they are. That system helped guarantee Day could make a successful landing - the final landing at Juneau of his 35-year career. His co-pilot on the passenger flight was the oldest of his three children, his son Scott, a flight instructor at the airline's Seattle flight operations headquarters.
"It's really going to be sad. He has been here forever," said customer service agent Lisa Crowe, who has known Day for 15 years.
"He's a great guy," said operations agent Alice McNamara as she signed a banner with glitter letters reading, "Thank You, Captain Steve Day."
Although he has reached the mandatory retirement age of 60, Day is reluctant to go.
"Damn, I don't want to do this," he said, as he walked under the banner to fill out paperwork necessary for the next leg of his flight to Sitka, Ketchikan and Seattle.
The final flight of his career will take place Feb. 14. Then he'll go home to Bellevue, Wash., for a lot of boating, snow skiing and motorcycle trips. "I also want to travel around the U.S. in a car; I've never done that," he said.
"I'll come up here and harass these guys," he said of the grinning friends who surrounded him.
Day began his career in 1966 flying the C-130 Hercules. He served as a flight instructor for 19 years on 737-200s and 737-400s, McNamara said.
Lately, he has been flying to Southeast and Southcentral Alaska in the summer and to Mexico in the winter, his son said.
"Alaska Airlines has been real good to me," Steve Day said. "I enjoy working for the company. It's still small enough that you can feel you know everybody, and Southeast is great because it's so small and you get to know people."
"I will miss him at work," Scott Day said. "And Alaska Airlines is going to miss him a great deal. However, on the positive side, he is allowing me to move up one number in seniority."
The younger Day began flying 12 years ago with ERA, switching to Alaska five years ago.
Heidi Wahto, a flight attendant for 20 years, brought Day smoked salmon. Her husband Douglas, another Alaska Airlines pilot, considers Day the mentor who "taught him all the tricks," she said.
"This is the only retirement party I have ever come out to, in 20 years with the airline," Wahto said. "I don't have a lot of time for this nonsense, but he's worth it," she said, pulling out her new camera to capture the moment.
"There goes a pile of history for this airline," said security officer Larry McGee. "We wish he had another five years."
Ann Chandonnet can be reached at email@example.com.
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