Celebrating Christmas at 36,000 Feet

The holiday season is a great opportunity to take a pause and spend some time with family and friends. Unfortunately for many of us, we live far away from our loved ones, with visits often requiring us to get on a plane. If you can avoid flying, you probably should — you don’t need to be named Kevin McCallister to know that air travel this time of year can be chaotic. But of course, not everyone can.

And then there are people like Hal Vaughan.

On December 23, 2018, Vaughan did something a lot of people did that day — he boarded a plane leaving from New Orleans to Detroit, hoping to spend some time with his family. But despite the fact that his daughter Pierce lived in nearby Ann Arbor, Michigan, Hal didn’t stay in Detroit. He quickly hopped on another plane, this time to Ft. Myers, Florida. And when he arrived in Florida, he once again took to the skies — now destined back to Detroit. He was back home in time for Christmas, taking what appeared to be two unnecessary flights to get there.

So of course, the next day — Christmas Eve — he got on a plane again, this time to Hartford, Connecticut. And he didn’t know anyone who lived in or near Hartford; in fact, as he told the New York Times, he had “never been that far north in my life.” He spent the day in that area and then, on Christmas Day, got on his fifth flight — not home nor to Detroit, but to Atlanta. Finally, on December 26th, having spent a good amount of time in airports and in the friendly skies, Hal Vaughan took one more flight, landing in New Orleans and finally driving home to a small Mississippi town. 

The time spent with family? 

All of it, actually. Except for that last flight. Just ask Mike Levy, the man wearing earbuds and taking a selfie in the photo on the left, below. He was sitting next to Hal Vaughan on that flight from Ft. Myers to Detroit. 

Levy and Vaughan had never met before, so Levy, being a good plane neighbor, introduced himself. He asked Vaughan if he was “going home for the holidays or heading off on vacation,” according to the Washington Post. Vaughan’s answer shocked him: “I’m just going along for the ride.”

The explanation is the picture on the right. That’s Pierce Vaughan, Hal’s daughter. She was working as a Delta Airlines flight attendant and was scheduled to work over the Christmas holiday. As the New York Times reports, Pierce had “always spent the holidays with her family. Even when she graduated from the University of Mississippi and spent a year in Australia. (Her parents flew out to meet her.)” And Hal Vaughan didn’t want 2018 to be any different. So he booked himself on all the flights that Pierce was scheduled to staff and kept her company in all of the various places they landed. 

Levy, hearing the story, was impressed with this father’s effort to spend his time with his daughter, especially after hearing how Hal had spent the previous few months recovering from a serious injury. Levy posted the story and the photos above to Facebook and they went viral, with the Times, Post, and lots of other news outlets reporting on the dad’s ultimate dad move. 

Hal Vaughan has spent every Christmas since then similarly, joining Pierce on her flights during Christmas. But this year, as Fox 10 Phoenix reports, that’s going to come to an end. For the first time since 2018, Pierce isn’t scheduled to work over Christmas, so the family will be able to get together on solid ground. The Vaughans are going to spend their holiday in Mississippi.

Bonus fact: If you were flying in 1989, there’s a very good chance that the Academy Award-winning movie “Rain Man” was your in-flight movie. The film was so popular that many airlines decided to show it to passengers that year, but not without reservations or, for that matter, edits. There’s a scene in Rain Man in which Dustin Hoffman’s character lists off a number of fatal plane crashes, as evidence that plane travel is uniquely dangerous. (It isn’t, as Tom Cruise’s character tries to point out.) According to the New York Times, no fewer than fifteen different airlines edited that bit of dialogue out of the in-flight version of the movie, not wanting to spook passengers. The notable exception was Qantas Airlines, and for good reason: in the movie, Hoffman’s character notes that Qantas “never crashed.”

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