Chris Dennis knew things weren’t good when he boarded a Delta Airlines A321 to fly from Minnesota to California last March. But the first officer had no idea how bad things were about to become.
Dennis walked through the airport in Minneapolis on March 23, 2020, just like he had countless times before during his 25 years as a pilot. But things were different on that day. The airport was virtually empty, and his airplane was as well, except for a bare-bones crew.
His assignment that day was to fly the Delta A321 to Victorville Airport in the California desert, where the plane would be parked as flights were halted at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Dennis assumed the plane would be there for two weeks. His estimate was off by 421 days.
Shock In The Desert
The aircraft Dennis flew to Victorville, where it was parked with much of Delta’s fleet, was the last to leave the desert at the start of this month. After 435 days.
“It wasn’t until we were on final approach headed in for landing when it hit me,” Dennis said in a Delta news release. “The VCV [Victorville] instructions noted to go behind a follow-me vehicle that brings you to a parking spot.”
“It’s hard to fathom how many aircraft Delta has until you see that many of them parked in one place,” he continued. “When we got in line, it looked like an optical illusion. It just kept going and going. I don’t know how to describe it. It was shocking.”
Overcome by what he was seeing and feeling, Dennis wrote a note, stuck it in a tray table, and shut the table in its locked position.
Last week, that note was found by pilot Nick Perez, who was there to pick up the plane and put it back into the Delta flight rotation.
“Hey pilots,” the handwritten note reads. “It’s March 23rd and we just arrived from MSP. Very chilling to see so much of our fleet here in the desert. If you are here to pick it up, then the light must be at the end of the tunnel. Amazing how fast it changed. Have a safe flight bringing it out of storage!”
The gravity of the note hit Perez, he said, and he wondered what Dennis had been thinking at the time of its writing.
“He had to have been thinking he was leaving his job,” Perez said. “Back in March, I was 100 percent certain I was going to lose my job.”
Dennis said he wasn’t only worried about his job on the day he parked the airplane, but everyone else as well.
“I thought about how many people’s jobs rely on just one of those airplanes,” Dennis said. “From the reservations agent to the ticket agent to the pilot, flight attendants, mechanics, the ramp crew. Then you go a level deeper: the rental car agency, the hotels, the tourism companies.”
Thoughts Of A Brighter Future
As Perez prepared to fly the aircraft out of the desert, his thoughts were of a brighter future. “I kept thinking about my mindset now compared to his when he left this note,” Perez said. “[Back then] we were getting good at landing empty airplanes. Now we’re going in the right direction. I’m in good spirits. I’m very optimistic.”
Dennis is feeling better as well. “As they get into that airplane, they are going to see the opposite view than I saw,” Dennis said. “There’s going to be an open runway in front of them.”
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