As a Delta Air Lines pilot put a grounded plane back into service last week, he got a blast from the pre-vaccine past.
More than a year later, first officer Nick Perez got the aircraft ready to take off for the first time since then. When he flipped open a tray table, a note fell out.
“Hey pilots,” the handwritten note began. “It’s March 23rd and we just arrived from MSP [Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport]. 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 note was signed by the last pilot to fly the plane, first officer Chris Dennis.
As he read the note, Mr Perez thought back to the dark early days of the pandemic, and imagined how Mr Dennis must have felt as he parked the plane.
“He had to have been thinking he was leaving his job," Mr Perez told the Delta News Hub. “Back in March, I was 100 per cent certain I was going to lose my job… We were getting good at landing empty airplanes.”
Mr Perez’s guess wasn’t far off. This month, Mr Dennis recalled the uneasy feeling he had as he landed the aircraft.
“It wasn’t until we were on final approach headed in for landing when it hit me,” the first officer said, remembering the countless rows of Delta planes he saw parked in the desert. “When we got in line, it looked like an optical illusion. It just kept going and going.”
Mr Dennis believed he was leaving the plane in storage for a 14-day lockdown. It stayed there for 435 days.
Today, with more than half of all US adults fully vaccinated, planes are taking to the skies again. On Memorial Day Weekend, record numbers of people passed through American airports.
After flying Ship 3009 out of the desert, Mr Perez says he feels optimistic.
“Now we’re going in the right direction,” he said. “I feel like how I felt in 2017 again – ready to get going.”