A child is photographed with his pilot father in the plane. Nearly 30 years later they recreated the image


Robin Flowers found the photo by chance.

It was early 2023, and he was leafing through photo albums at his grandmother’s house. And suddenly, there it was: a snapshot from 1994, taken on a plane, depicting him as a young child sitting next to his pilot father.

In this photo, Flowers looks at his father with admiration. His father smiles at the camera, ready to fly the plane.

Flowers had forgotten the photo existed, but upon seeing it again, he was flooded with memories of growing up, inspired by his father. He loved their trips to the airport, going to the training center, and walking around in the simulators. He beamed with pride when his father talked about his job at the school’s career day.

The timing of the rediscovered photo was perfect: Flowers, now 30, was about to follow in his father’s footsteps and start flying as a first officer for Southwest Airlines.

Meanwhile, Flowers’ father – also named Robin Flowers – was nearing retirement and preparing for his final trip to the Southwest as captain.

The two men were excited to briefly overlap in the Southwest and hoped to have a chance to fly together.

“It’s been a dream of mine to get to this point and fly with my dad, and that was probably my first goal in aviation,” the younger Flowers told CNN Travel.

After rediscovering the old photo, the two Flowers men added closure to the goal: Not only did they want to fly together, they wanted to recreate the photo of the 1990s flight deck, more than two decades later. Not just as father and son, but as teammates and co-pilots.

Cut to March 2023 and the older Flowers is flying on his final Southwest flight, piloting a plane from Omaha, Nebraska to his hometown of Chicago, Illinois. His son was by his side as his first officer.

“That was a great feeling,” the older Flowers says. “To look over there and see my son next to me on my final landing.”

Naturally, they recreated the 1994 photo, and they’re both smiling happily in the 2023 version.

“It was great to be able to relive that moment,” the younger Flowers says. “It was a dream come true moment.”

Also on board Flowers’ senior retirement flight were his brother and cousin, both of whom also work for Southwest. In case you haven’t realized by now, flying is truly a family affair for the Flowers family.

“There are seven of us,” explains the older Flowers. “My brother is a pilot. I have three children, all of them pilots. My nephew is a pilot and my cousin is a pilot. It’s amazing to me that they all wanted to be pilots.”

At family events and on holidays, the Flowers try to keep business talk to a minimum, “but there’s always a story that sparks that conversation, and then it turns to flying,” the younger Flowers said.

The Flowers family aviation legacy began when the elder Flowers was a child growing up in Michigan in the 1960s and 1970s.

“One pilot asked me one day if I wanted to climb into the cockpit. “I did,” he recalls. “Oh my God, it was like I had been bitten by a bug – I wanted to be a pilot. From that point on, I focused solely on being an airline pilot.

Once he qualified, the elder Flowers made it his mission to inspire others to follow in his footsteps. The fact that it ended up including so many of his loved ones was accidental. He says he always encouraged his children to explore whatever they loved, whatever that might be.

The younger Flowers says that while he grew up in awe of his father and proud of his work, he didn’t officially decide to become a pilot until halfway through college.

However, looking back now, he believes the signs always pointed in that direction.

“It was always something that was probably in the back of my head and I probably wanted to do my whole life,” he says.

Flower men in photo taken by Southwest Airlines.

The elder Flowers’ retirement journey was always emotional, and having his son by his side made it even more emotional. He says it’s no surprise that when they entered the gate “there were some tears.”

The younger Flowers says the father-son dynamic working in the air was no different than “doing the garden together, or something like that.”

“It went smoothly and naturally, and it was great,” he says, though he adds that he was definitely trying to “impress” his father with his skills and competence.

The older Flowers says he knew the flight was a one-time opportunity for him to pass flight information to his son on site.

“It went really well, it was nice and smooth,” he says of the experience. “And it was a great feeling – doing a passenger assistance mission, and finding out there was a father and son in the cockpit. Everyone applauded…”

Here Captain Reuben Flowers and First Officer Reuben Flowers lean out of the plane.

While the elder Flowers has now left Southwest, his legacy lives on at the airline — not just through his son, but through other pilots he worked with and mentored over the years.

Flowers speaks fondly of his mentor, Louis Freeman, who became Southwest Airlines’ first black pilot when he was hired in 1980.

“He was a mentor to me,” says the elder Flowers of Freeman. “Now I try to be a mentor to others. I hope my son can be a mentor to others, not just family members.”

While at Southwest, Flowers was part of the airline’s Adopt-A-Pilot program, where she worked with elementary school children to inspire them to explore careers in aviation.

He is also a long-time member of the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP), where he works to uplift black aviators.

He encourages prospective pilots to do their research online, research programs, and talk to anyone and everyone they can to get inspiration, information and advice.

Flowers echoes this: He is actively involved in mentoring young pilots via social media, but he also has the occasional in-person conversation with a potential pilot as he passes through the airport. He says that if he could, he would always stop and impart some words of wisdom between flights.

As for his personal goals, he has now fulfilled his dream of flying with his father, and the younger Flowers’ next dream is to fly alongside his younger brother, who recently completed pilot training.

He has actually enjoyed flying with his pilot sister for several years, and says it would be incredible if he could complete the family trilogy.

“That’s what I’m looking forward to, is to be able to fly on the plane with my brother,” he says.

The older Flowers was excited for the day, too, and says he’s endlessly proud of his three children.

“It’s unbelievable,” he says. “It’s a great feeling to know that my son is flying, and my daughter and my youngest son, all three of them are flying.”

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