For one dedicated pilot, making his career choice meant following in Mom’s contrails
Author A. AVERYL RE
FLIGHT ATTENDANT Krista de Jonckheere loves to tell this story: She was flying to Paris not too long ago when the pilot called her to the flight deck. Her son, 757 First Officer David de Jonckheere, was heading to Ireland from Newark, N.J., and when he heard the Paris call sign he got in touch with the captain of Krista’s jet. She talked to her son on the radio for a while, then told him, “I have to get back to work now. I love you, sweetie,” to which David responded, “I love you too, Mom.”
According to David, what followed was comical. As it turned out, they had an audience. “It’s the middle of the night, you’re crossing the Atlantic and you hear all these other pilots out there saying over the radio: ‘I love you, Mom,’ ‘I love you, Mom,’ ‘I love you, Mom.’”
That David was on that flight deck at all is something of a miracle. In 1995, when he was 18, he was diagnosed with a medulloblastoma, a highly malignant brain tumor. “The doctor said he had never known anyone who had that type of tumor to be able to drive a car, but now David’s a commercial airline pilot,” says Krista, who has been with the airline since 1987.
Beating the odds seemed to come naturally to David. He had surgery and entered a clinical trial in Denver for treatment, which lasted nearly a year. During his struggle to overcome the disease, he received Intersport’s junior division Arête Award for Courage in Sports. Gordon Bethune, the former CEO of Continental Airlines, heard about David and wrote him a letter of encouragement, enclosing four plane tickets with a note reading, “When you’re done, why don’t you take your family on vacation?”
That gesture, and all the letters and emails and prayers from his mother’s coworkers, made David’s career path simple: He never considered working anywhere else. “If they can treat an employee like a family member, it made it the only place to work,” he says. “Having cancer was definitely the worst year of my life, but it was also the best. It showed me what is important, which is your family and friends and making the most of every day.”
David has been with the airline since February 2007, after working for Continental Express for two years. Though they are employed by the same company, Krista and David have gotten to work only one flight together because she works international flights while David flies mainly domestic. “I just wish we could fly on the same plane once in a while,” Krista says. David says his co-pilots agree with her sentiment because “every pilot who has ever flown with her loves her. She’s one of those flight attendants who know how to take care of people. She instilled those values in me.”
Krista says her knack for the job comes from realizing that flying is not an everyday thing for many who sit in the airplane’s seats. “For some of these people, it’s a big thing. It’s important to remember how much planning, money and thought have gone into their trip. This may be their only opportunity to take a big trip, especially internationally,” she says. “The other thing I keep in mind is that people compare how they are treated from one airline to another. They come back for a reason.”
In addition to upholding his mother’s values, David has a very simple motivation for doing his job well: “They say kids with cancer can’t grow up to do what I do. I want to show them they can. I don’t want to let down my mom or all the people who sacrificed and prayed for me. It’s an amazing job to be a pilot, to meet the people who fly on my plane, especially the children. It puts a smile on my face every day.”
When not flying, Krista enjoys golf, while David has volunteered as a pole-vaulting coach at Houston-area schools for the past four years. “It’s the closest thing to flying,” he jokes.