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Do you believe in serendipity?

Do you believe in serendipity? I certainly do. I’ve experienced it many times in my life, and my most recent moment happened on May 7 on a Delta Air Lines flight from Atlanta to Baltimore.

I was supposed to be in the back of the plane. But to my delight, I was upgraded to economy comfort, which meant I was put in an aisle seat in the first row of our section, which was the first row behind the first class cabin. Shortly after sitting down and getting settled in, I saw the captain and first officer come out of the cockpit to address the first class folks. Since I was practically in first class myself after my upgrade, I could see and hear everything as if they were speaking directly to me.

I listened as the captain informed the cabin this would be his last flight as a Delta pilot. I could tell by his tone that he was not excited to share the news despite putting on a proud face. He went on to say that he had flown for more than 30 years and would be celebrating his birthday two days later, on May 9. He informed us that Delta requires its pilots to retire at the age of 65. While his chest swelled with pride at the accomplishment, the remainder of his body language conveyed that this was a bittersweet moment for him. The captain finished by saying that he had given his copilot his first flight as an aircraft captain ten years prior and now the copilot would be returning the favor.

As I listened, I became overwhelmed with emotion. You see, the captain on the flight was not a stranger. Instead, I was looking at a good friend – someone I met nearly 50 years prior and served with in the Navy. His name is Warren “Ross” Parker. Ross and I met on July 6, 1977, during Induction Day at the United States Naval Academy. As a company mate, Ross and I would live in the 7th wing second floor of Bancroft Hall for the following four years. After graduation, we both went to flight school. We were assigned different duty stations, so unfortunately did not see much of each other after. However, we did a good job making up for it during Naval Academy reunion weekends when we would get together and reminisce.

I tapped the shoulder of the flight attendant who was standing directly to my right. She bent down and asked me how she could help.

“Would you mind telling your captain that his Naval Academy classmate, Pete Canalichio, is on the flight? I have known Ross Parker since 1977.”

Her eyes lit up. “Of course!”

The next thing I knew, Ross was announcing to the first class cabin that his friend, Pete, was on the flight. He invited me up and we stood together as he told everyone around us when and where we met. Seated in the first class cabin was his wife, Lisa, and two adult children who would be accompanying him on the flight. Knowing Lisa well from our reunions, I bent down and gave her a hug. Ross then introduced me to his son, Austin, and daughter, Peyton. The whole thing felt surreal. He then invited me into the cockpit to get a picture together. (Check out the cover photo!) Of course, he insisted I sit in his captain’s chair. Jason, his copilot, was kind enough to take the picture. We even chatted about a fellow company mate who had recently lost a spouse.

I congratulated Ross on a fantastic career, left the cockpit and returned to my seat for the duration of the flight. As we made our way to Baltimore, I recollected that Ross had assumed a leadership position evaluating each of the pilots in his aircraft type. That is why he knew Jason. Ross could have taken an easier path, but that was never his way.

Just before landing, the same flight attendant came by. This time she tapped me on the shoulder.

“Mr. Canalichio, would you be willing to sign Captain Parker’s ‘Last Trip Certificate’ along with the crew? I know he would appreciate that.”

My eyes welled up at the honor. “Absolutely! It would be my privilege.”

I have flown almost 2 million miles on Delta over the past three decades. I almost never see a pilot I know, despite having flown with many while serving together in the Navy. Never have I been on a final flight for any pilot, let alone one with whom I have known so well. Was this a chance occurrence flying on Ross’ last flight, or was it something bigger and more meaningful? I have no doubt something bigger was at play here. Sometimes these serendipitous moments in life go unnoticed, or we pay them no mind, thinking they’re less important than they truly are. For me, the opportunity gave me a chance to reflect on friendship, career, time and passion. Ross got to have a career he truly loved and was passionate about, and it showed. I have experienced the same blessing in my own career, and I know that I’ve gotten through some of the hardest moments as an entrepreneur because of the friends along the way who lifted me up by giving advice, offering support or just listening.

How have your friends helped you in your career? Have you had any serendipitous moments that you think helped you along the way? Please share with me!