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Meet the Delta Captain Who Spent a Year's Salary Chartering an Airbus to Take 112 Friends on a Retirement Flight to Hawaii "You don't want to be the richest man in the graveyard one day."

By Pete Syme

Key Takeaways

  • Keith Rosenkranz chartered a Delta A330 for his retirement with 112 friends and family.
  • He invited pilots who missed their last flight due to the pandemic and renewed his vows with his wife.
  • Chartering the plane cost him a "good year's salary," Rosenkranz told BI.
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Courtesy of Keith Rosenkranz via Business Insider
Keith Rosenkranz's retirement party in front of the

This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

Keith Rosenkranz went to high school next to the north runway at Los Angeles International Airport.

"On rainy days, I would sit in the second-story window of my high school, and just watch the planes take off and land," he told Business Insider. "And that was kind of a dream that I wanted to do that one day."

Throughout his 33 years as a Delta Air Lines pilot, Rosenkranz would dip the plane's wing toward his alma mater everytime he took off from LAX.

"There might be a young boy or young girl that's sitting in that window that's dreaming of flying just the way I did," he said.

On February 28, the 64-year-old dipped the wing of an Airbus A330neo for the last time as part of what might just be the coolest retirement party ever.

After 16 months of planning, Rosenkranz chartered the widebody jet from Delta to transport 112 friends and family.

Aviation news sites including Simple Flying and One Mile at a Time reported on the charter after it gained attention on X.

Delta's A330-900 has 281 seats, although Rosenkranz said he chose the number of guests because he used a transportation company with two buses that could seat 56 people.

Passengers came from different stages of his life: from grade school through to college and the Air Force, Delta coworkers, and Texas neighbors.

Rosenkranz told BI he got the idea in October 2022 because many of his coworkers' retirements were disrupted by the pandemic.

"Going back to when we were dealing with COVID, a lot of the pilots didn't get a final flight that they wanted," he said. "We canceled so many flights to Europe. One of my buddies, all he could fly was Atlanta to Orlando and back. He got one ticket for his wife, and that was it."

He called a friend in Delta's charter division with the idea, who told him: "Nobody's ever done that before."

Rosenkranz managed to negotiate a lower price than was first offered, after pointing out he was an employee rather than a professional sports team like its usual customers.

He told BI it cost him "a good year's salary," but added: "You can't put a price on something that was that big. You think about being able to go out that way and take all your family and friends on a whirlwind journey. You don't want to be the richest man in the graveyard one day."

Dallas to LA to Hawaii

Rosenkranz described the trip as "very emotional," especially when he and his family arrived at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport about 6 a.m.

"There are 50-some people in the gate area, and I just broke down," he told BI.

"Then when we got out to the jet and they had it all decorated with pictures and other things, that was emotional a second time," he added.

In Los Angeles, the jet was welcomed with a water cannon salute, which has become rarer due to the city's water restrictions. Rosenkranz told BI he was only the second pilot in nine years to receive the honor.

The trip went on to Hawaii. It needed four pilots because regulations prohibit flying both a domestic and ocean-crossing trip in one day.

Rosenkranz told BI he met the pilot who served as his first officer on the trip when they were 16-year-old box boys at Safeway.

Delta Air Lines pilot Keith Rosenkranz kisses his wife Colette in front of an Airbus A330

Keith Rosenkranz and his wife, Colette. Courtesy of Keith Rosenkranz via BI

In Hawaii, he and his wife, Colette, renewed their wedding vows.

"When I met her on August 22, 1977, I was wearing a yellow Hawaiian shirt. And the girl that introduced me to my wife was part of the guest list," Rosenkranz said.

"So I had her come up, and I had given her that yellow shirt. And so I'm taking off my current shirt, and putting on this yellow one. And then I invited Colette up, and she was very surprised and excited."

A passion for flying

By chance, Rosenkranz's last flight with Delta happened to fall on the anniversary of his last flight on an F-16 fighter jet, in 1991.

Before becoming a commercial pilot, he served in the Air Force where he flew 30 combat missions.

At Delta, he met a Vietnam War veteran who encouraged him to write a memoir after hearing his stories from the Gulf War. "Vipers in the Storm" was published by Aviation Week in 1999.

For the charter, one of his friends made a cut-out of Rosenkranz from the book's cover.

Delta pilot Keith Rosenkranz poses with a large cut-out of himself as a fighter pilot in the Air Force.

Keith Rosenkranz with his cut-out. Courtesy of Keith Rosenkranz via BI

Rosenkranz told BI how he writes back to readers who become inspired to join the military. He became good friends with one, named Isaac, who ended up in his same Air Force squadron. Years later, they ended up piloting the same Delta A320.

Rosenkranz's passion for flying is palpable as he smiles recounting past flights: "I've been all over the Far East. I've been to Moscow. I've been all over Europe. I've been down to South America. And I had a window seat the entire time."

The pilot recalled how he gives talks at schools, and always asks the kids when they think he last worked.

"I say I haven't worked since 1983 when I was at Safeway supermarket. Ever since then, I've been getting paid to fly jets."

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