I first met Captain Denny during a FlyerTalk "DO" in March of 2011, where he was able to arrange a behind-the-scenes tour of United's operations in San Francisco, and then flew twenty of us (FlyerTalkers) aboard a 767 to Chicago. He did the same thing a year prior, and had the ATC callsign of the flight changed to "FlyerTalk 1".
For those of you that have not met Captain Denny aboard on one his flights, or at one of the numerous FlyerTalk events that he has arranged, check out these articles (and the video in the first one) to learn more about what makes Denny such a celebrity amongst United passengers.
Captain Denny with Neil Armstrong
The veteran pilot is, says Cordes, truly a first-class captain, "on a mission to inject some humanity into an experience that, let's face it, these days can seem pretty dehumanizing."
On his flights, unaccompanied minor always get a window seat, and their parents back home, a phone call from the father of five, straight from the plane.
"It's called working from the heart. It's just working from the heart," Flanagan told Cordes.
Capt. Denny Flanagan is a rare bird in today's frustration-filled air-travel world -- a pilot who goes out of his way to make flying fun for passengers.
When pets travel in cargo compartments, the United Airlines veteran snaps pictures of them with his cellphone camera, then shows owners that their animals are on board. In the air, he has flight attendants raffle off 10% discount coupons and unopened bottles of wine. He writes notes to first-class passengers and elite-level frequent fliers on the back of his business cards, addressing them by name and thanking them for their business. If flights are delayed or diverted to other cities because of storms, Capt. Flanagan tries to find a McDonald's where he can order 200 hamburgers, or a snack shop that has apples or bananas he can hand out.
Although the point of Saturday's dinner was not to highlight Captain Denny's accomplishments at United, he spent close to five hours interacting with the twenty people who had shown up, many of them having flown from as close as Kansas City ;-), to as far as Reno, for the dinner. During this time, he answered all of our questions about United, but also provided a glimpse into the work that he does with the Dahl Fund, a scholarship program established for Captain Jason Dahl, one of the United pilots killed on 9/11.
As an alumnus of San Jose State University, Captain Dahl graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Aeronautic Operations. Jason joined United Airlines only five years later (1985), becoming a flight engineer on the 727, a co-Pilot on the 727 three years later, a Captain on the 737 in 1993, and then settled as a Captain of the 757/767. His love of aviation was known throughout the industry. Jason later married Sandy, an ex-TWA and at the time, United flight attendant. Although he was not scheduled to fly on September 11th, Jason changed schedules as the last minute so he could take Sandy to London to celebrate their 5th wedding anniversary.
In 2002, the Captain Jason Dahl Scholarship Fund was established to provide two deserving aviation students a scholarship grant in Jason’s name. Originally available to students at Dahl’s Alma Mater, San Jose State University and Metro State University in Denver where Dahl lived, the program has since been expanded to NATIONAL status as an IRS recognized 501(c)3 non-profit program supported through corporate and individual donations alike.
This past May 12th, Sandy Dahl issued $18,000 in scholarships to 12 young men and women attending accredited aviation programs. Capt Dahl won a $2000 scholarship at San Jose State by writing an essay titled “Why I Want To Fly”. We use the same process and choose one student from each university that participates. San Jose State and Metro State in Denver each receive $5000 and the other students receive $1000.
Sandy started this scholarship eleven years ago to keep both Jason’s memory and love of flying alive. Additionally, she commented multiple times that this shows the terrorist that they have not won. Two weeks after Sandy Dahl presented this years scholarships she passed away in her sleep at a young age of 52. Sandy has been a tremendous advocate for the scholarship program and she will be sadly missed. We will continue our work keeping the memory of Capt Dahl and spirit of Sandy alive.
Teaming up with the Reno Air Races, the Dahl Fund was able to raise $8,400, all of which went to the scholarship fund. This year, the goal is $10,000, which will go even further in aiding the goals of young people interested in aviation. As part of their fundraising efforts, the Dahl Fund is also running a raffle, with the winner receiving a ride in a World War II T-6 Texan airplane, as well as two reserve seats, pit passes to the air races, and a parking pass. The pit passes are valid for all five days of the races. The prize is valued at $500.
For those that would rather not join in the raffle, please consider a symbolic $11 donation to the scholarship fund.
If you've had any fun experiences with Captain Denny, or would like to share stories about the Captain Dahl foundation, feel free to post below.