Southwest Pilot Surprises Young Passenger with Meaningful Gift

"It's not pretty cool, it's extremely cool."

Many passengers may not think very much about who's flying their plane, but for one young traveler, his pilot was as famous as a rock star.

When Southwest pilot Captain Brian Udell had to divert a flight to Panama City, he explained the situation to passengers in person. After he explained the situation to the cabin, passengers began asking about Udell's flight experience.

Udell, a former elite Air Force pilot shared a story about the day he made aviation history, surviving the highest speed ejection at low altitude from an F-15E.

According to the airline's Facebook post shared earlier this month, one young passenger named Seth was so impressed with Udell's story he wanted the pilot's autograph. But he fell asleep and never had a chance to ask.

Courtesy of Southwest Airlines

Over the next few days, Seth's mom went on a mission to track down Captain Udell. She found his wife Kristi, a Southwest flight attendant, on Facebook and sent a message, explaining the situation and asking if Udell would be able to send his autograph.

When Udell learned that Seth wanted his autograph, he decided to go above and beyond. Along with his sons, he drove to Seth's house to meet the little boy in person.

Udell showed up at Seth's door in St. Louis, Miss. with an autographed picture of Southwest's latest livery, Freedom One, saying, "I heard you wanted something." When he handed over the autographed photo, Udell asked if it was "pretty cool."

"It's not pretty cool, it's extremely cool," Seth responded.

"When I was told about Seth wanting an autograph, I saw it as an opportunity to make a positive impact in a young person's life," Udell told T+L in a statement. "I would have done this for any kid. But what made it so rewarding for me was that Seth is such a great kid with amazing parents."

Udell also spent time with Seth and his family, answering his questions about the Air Force and flying.

"I also saw [this] as an opportunity to show my sons' how a small act of kindness can make a big difference," Udell said. "I teach my kids that the best Leader is a Servant Leader with a Servant's heart and I felt this was a good way to demonstrate that."

It isn't the first time a Southwest pilot has gone out of their way for a kid who loves their work. Southwest invited six-year-old Blair to tour its headquarters and gave her a chance to fly a Boeing 737 simulator after she began wearing a pilot's uniform on every flight she boarded.

Cailey Rizzo is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure, currently based in Brooklyn. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, or at

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