By MINA KAJI, AMANDA MAILE, and SAM SWEENEY, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — Thirty-two years ago, Alaska Airlines Capt. Lee Erickson sat next to a flight attendant named Brenda during a layover on a red-eye flight from Seattle to Anchorage.
“I thought, ‘Boy, she sure is a nice girl, you know?"” Erickson recalled.
Six months later they were married.
Lee and Brenda continued flying for Alaska and expanded their family over the years — having two sons, Kalin and Keaton, and a daughter, Sidney. All three would later join the Alaska family, Kalin as a first officer, Sidney as a flight attendant and Keaton as an intern.
Over the years, Lee would captain countless flights while Brenda and Sidney worked the back of the plane.
“It was great because we all love each other to death and get along,” Brenda said. “It’s kind of funny though, you try to be professional, but one time Sidney called on the airplane and says, ‘Mom — I mean Brenda — call dad — I mean Capt. Erickson."”
The Ericksons always dreamed of working a flight as a family, but then COVID-19 took hold of the aviation industry.
“The industry changed just almost overnight because of COVID and the shutting down of air travel,” Lee said. “Seeing everything suddenly grind to a halt and then gradually coming back at a lower level with very few passengers on the airplane, realizing the company was losing money daily at a rapid rate.”
Now with more than 30,000 airline employees nationwide facing furloughs, the days of Sidney calling for mom and dad – or Capt. Erickson and Brenda – are over.
Brenda and Lee, after more than 35 years at the company, made the tough decision to accept early retirement offers in hopes it would save Sidney and Kalin’s careers.
“To give our younger employees, including our own children, a chance not to be furloughed, and a chance to have the same career we did is very important to us,” Lee said.
On Monday, Lee piloted his final flight — with his son Kalin as the first officer.
“It’s a little surreal,” Lee said. “It seems like I was just pushing him on the tricycle and now I’m calling to him for the before-start check. Having him there for that last flight — it is like handing over the baton.”
Brenda, who was furloughed earlier this year, was right beside Lee as he exited the aircraft as a pilot for the last time.
The couple says it’s the family memories they will miss the most.
“My finest memories are flying with my family,” Lee said. “Especially having all three of my kids in my jump seat at one time or another, even the youngest one who was an intern for Alaska. So that’s been a real pleasure.”
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