I'm in Dulles. I got a pass to the gate to accompany my mother who is flying back to France.
We are sitting, silently, each thinking of all the time spent together. We don't see each other very often so each of her visit is precious.
I noticed behind us a couple also silent. The man is in a uniform. I can't tell if he is a pilot or any other member of the flight crew. The woman is dressed impeccably, her face is made up with care and she looks very dignified. Both seem to be in their 60s.
The man goes away after a while and she stays seated erect, looking straight ahead.
My mother and I are still waiting. I want to get her a better seat and go to the gate where the flight attendants are just arriving. A large group of laughing women, joking about the upcoming trip (and work!) that awaits them. One of them is asking something to the United employee at the gate. "Come on" she says, "It's his last flight!"
The employee looks up as the flight attendant explains: "He is retiring after this flight. Taking his wife to Paris for the occasion. You have to make this a bit special".
I realize immediately who are they talking about and after securing a nice seat for my mother, I come back to tell her the new story I got. She loves stories.
The pilot is back now. He came back with drinks ("diet Pepsi" for both) and he is giving his wife a small glass before sitting down next to her. They drink slowly and then walk up to the gate and I see them taking a picture in front of the panel that says
"5:45 PM" "Flight 914" "Paris".
Soon afterward he is gone to the plane and his last trip in the pilot's seat.
His wife boards a bit later with the first and business classes.