It was a pleasant surprise for passengers and the pilot of the Air India flight from Port Blair as it touched down Chennai on Thursday. The Air Traffic Controller instructed the pilot to "turn into a particular taxi track". Moments later, water from two fire tenders hit the flight for a water cannon salute, honouring the pilot, Captain Sebastian Joseph, who would retire the next day after a 33-year-long tenure with the airline. It was his sign-off flight.
His wife Mischelle, a senior cabin crew was on duty on the same flight and his son Karan, a pilot with another airline was onboard too as a passenger to make it special. None of them knew this was planned.
"It was an emotional moment. I didn't expect such a big surprise. My colleagues and my students put together a fabulous send-off," Captain Sebastian told NDTV.
Captain Sebastian has trained and groomed around a hundred pilots. Three were on the flight. Passengers also got to hear about his contribution from them on the public address system.
An alumnus of Loyola College, Captain Sebastian says he was interested in flying after seeing wings adorning shirts of the NCC flying club members in college. He joined flying classes during his second year and joined Air India in 1987 and there was no stopping him since.
No luring by private airlines worked and his love story with the Maharaja continued for 33 years.
Captain Sebastian says, "Air India is more like a family. If there is a problem, you have someone who you can call up who knows how to go about. It's like a family".
He says he began with flying Boeing 737 and over the years switched to A320, A330 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
The veteran who loves challenging table top landings besides touching down on hilly terrains and unfavourable weather conditions says Srinagar and Ladakh are his favourite spots.
Having been a non-medical frontline warrior flying passengers amid the coronavirus pandemic, the veteran says deadly virus has shaken the aviation industry. When asked for a message for aspiring pilots he says this is not the best time.
"A lot of people are scared to board an aircraft even though people wear PPEs. Business travellers are getting used to teleconferencing. But definitely flying will come up," he adds.