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‘I Would Do It Again a Hundred Times:’ A Delta Captain’s Ultimate Send-Off

Why one Delta pilot chartered an entire Airbus A330neo for his retirement flight.

Captain Keith Rosenkranz chartered an entire A330neo for his February 2024 retirement flight (Photo: Peter Krajewski)

Keith Rosenkranz has always been a self-described “aviation buff.” A Southern California native, the 33-year Delta Air Lines pilot and U.S. Air Force veteran said he dreamed of flying as he gazed out of a second-story window of his high school located on the north side of Los Angeles International Airport.

Decades later, Captain Rosenkranz returned to LA, where he commanded a specially chartered Airbus A330-900neo for his final flight at Delta. On board were 112 of his friends and family, including fellow pilots who didn’t get a proper retirement send-off due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

“Back when COVID hit, some of my friends…couldn’t get a final flight,” Rosenkranz told AirlineGeeks during a February phone interview. “My one friend, all he could do was an Orlando [Florida] turn instead of a nice international trip. And I remember thinking, you know, I don’t want to do that. I want to fly where I want to fly.”

To set his plan in motion, Rosenkranz said he pulled some strings in Delta’s charter department. The Atlanta-based airline regularly charters aircraft for sports teams and other special events, but never for one of its own team members.

Captain Keith Rosenkranz on a chartered Airbus A330neo (Photo: Peter Krajewski)

Although Rosenkranz wasn’t turning 65 until June, a weekday in late February proved more ideal for taking a widebody jet out of commercial service. Having become an Airbus A330 captain three years ago, he asked the airline for an A330-900neo, which is the latest-generation variant of the jet.

Not only did he receive his requested aircraft type, but Rosenkranz also requested the special “Team USA” livery on N411DX, which Delta also honored.

The Special Trip

Rosenkranz and his hand-picked passengers jetted off for Kona, Hawaii, on February 27 for a daylong overnight trip. The chartered A330 flew from Dallas/Fort Worth to LAX, where it made a roughly one-hour stop before heading to Hawaii.

Joining Rosenkranz in the flight deck were longtime friends, one of whom he knew from a high school job at Safeway. The duo were once box boys together for the supermarket and now fly one of Delta’s largest aircraft.

From left to right: F/O Doug Pratt, Capt. Peter Curtis (fellow box boy at Safeway), Keith Rosenkranz, and Captain Gerald Rapp (Photo: Peter Krajewski)

“We had four pilots because you can’t fly a domestic leg and an ocean crossing in the same day,” Rosenkranz said. “So I had two of my friends fly the domestic portions from Dallas to LA, LA to Dallas.”

Rosenkranz said he flew both oceanic crossings to serve as his final two flights. Roughly 50 guests joined him in DFW, while the rest boarded in Los Angeles.

“We showed up in the terminal here at DFW, and about 50 friends and family were already there,” he said. “And it was very emotional for me just seeing everybody there clapping and giving me hugs. When we got to the gate there in LA, and my wife and I walked into the terminal in the gate area, another 60 friends and family were there. I started crying all over again.”

Rosenkranz’s charter came with three different water cannon salutes, including in Kona, DFW, and most notably LA. The city of Los Angeles—which runs LAX—has long maintained a moratorium on water cannon salutes, citing local water shortages. By a stroke of luck, though, Delta was able to convince the city to make an exception for Rosenkranz’s special flight.

Water canon salute in Los Angeles for Rosenkranz’s final flight (Photo: Peter Krajewski)

“So a week later, [a member of Delta’s charter team] calls back and said, ‘Well, the pilot’s name is this, and he grew up in Southern California. [He] and the other pilot were box boys at Safeway. His high school’s here,’” he said. “And whoever that person was said, ‘You know what? Let’s make it happen.’ So the FAA approved, the airport authority approved, and the fire department approved. I think I was the second one in nine years to get a [water cannon salute]. So, wow, just great.”

A Decorated Career

Rosenkranz boasts a long and well-decorated aviation career, starting in the Air Force after graduating from an ROTC training course. In the military, he flew the F-16.

Later, he would go on to write a book about his experiences flying during the Gulf War titled, Vipers in the Storm: Diary of a Gulf War Fighter Pilot.

His airline career began in July 1991 when he started at Delta as a flight engineer on the Boeing 727. Throughout his time at the airline, he flew the 757/767, the Airbus A320, and most recently the A330 in the left seat.

“So, I would tell any new person…your love of aviation is going to carry you through anything, and then enjoy the job,” he said.

Crew and guests taken after landing in Kona (Photo: Peter Krajewski)

Rosenkranz said the number one question concerning his retirement send-off charter was the cost. Without going into too much detail, he said it was “probably a good year’s salary.”

“I mean, to be able to go out with your own jet and fly all your family and friends to Hawaii for a big lūʻau, you just can’t put a price on it,” he said. “And you don’t want to be the richest man in the graveyard one day. So, I would do it again a hundred times and never look back. And so, I’ll be OK in life. And my wife and I will never forget this trip.”

Editor’s Note: A full version of this story will appear in the May 2024/Issue #948 edition of FLYING Magazine.


Ryan Ewing
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  • Ryan Ewing

    Ryan founded AirlineGeeks.com back in February 2013 and has amassed considerable experience in the aviation sector. His work has been featured in several publications and news outlets, including CNN, WJLA, CNET, and Business Insider. During his time in the industry, he's worked in roles pertaining to airport/airline operations while holding a B.S. in Air Transportation Management from Arizona State University along with an MBA. Ryan has experience in several facets of the industry from behind the yoke of a Cessna 172 to interviewing airline industry executives. Ryan works for AirlineGeeks' owner FLYING Media, spearheading coverage in the commercial aviation space.

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