A wish fulfilled: Captain Tristan reports for pilot duty at Alaska Airlines

In July, Alaska Airlines welcomed its youngest pilot: 11-year-old Make-A-Wish recipient Tristan. (Ingrid Barrentine)

Photography by Ingrid Barrentine

For years, 11-year-old Tristan has piloted his imaginary “Infinity Airlines” flights wherever he is: in his bedroom, backyard, or spending a long night within the four white walls of his hospital room undergoing treatment for a rare heart condition.

“I don’t wish it on anyone,” said his mom, Ebru, of the moment Tristan’s doctors diagnosed him with a critical illness four years ago. “It’s so rare no one really knows what to do; there is no cure. There are only therapies we can do which we do daily.”

Each moment Tristan spends in his imaginary airplane soaring high above the clouds or studying his flight simulator app is an escape from the realities of therapies, exhaustion and many unknowns that come with pulmonary hypertension.

Captain Scott Day helped Tristan get ready to fly with his own official uniform.

That’s why when Tristan found out he would receive a wish from Make-A-Wish®, he immediately knew he wanted to be a pilot. But not just any pilot: Tristan wanted to fly for Alaska Airlines.

Alaska Airlines has been a proud Make-A-Wish partner for more than three decades. Back in 1986 Alaska Airlines flew the very first local wish child to Disneyland. The partnership has expanded over the years—helping thousands of wish children and their families reach the destinations of their dreams. Alaska Mileage Plan members also contribute by donating their unused miles to Make-A-Wish.

These wishes fill a vital need for children facing critical illnesses. Research shows that wishes have the potential to give kids the hope and strength they need to fight harder. For children battling a critical illness, a wish can give them and their families the chance to believe anything is possible.

That’s exactly what Tristan and his family found when they arrived at Alaska Airlines Flight Operations for Tristan’s wish in July. Inside, Tristan received his official pilot identification card, a welcome letter and official uniform – custom made by Unisync, which also manufactures the uniforms for Alaska Airlines. Then, it was off to work for Alaska Airlines’ newest pilot.

Captain Tristan impressed Captain Scott Day and Alaska CEO Brad Tilden with his extensive knowledge of aircraft.
Being a pilot is more than flight simulators and uniforms. Tristan also learned about systems, engines and schematics.
Josiah Reimers, an Alaska Airlines supervisor of inflight training, discussed exit-row protocol on an Airbus aircraft with Captain Tristan during the inflight portion of his training.

“It’s fun, you get to fly all over the world, you get to hear the engine sounds, you get to see all kinds of scenery,” Tristan said as he listed off the reasons he wanted to become a pilot. “You get to meet lots of different people, I get to meet the pilots and ask them questions.”

He went through onboarding and paired up with Captain Scott Day, chief pilot, and Captain Jeff Severns, director of training. As the trio reviewed manuals, the young aviation buff listed the airplane models in Alaska Airlines’ fleet. He even visited flight dispatch, where he spoke to pilots in the air.

And Tristan filled the day with questions. “He’s brilliant. His body is frail but he’s a mental giant,” said Tristan’s dad, Michael. “Because he can’t go out and play—which is hard for him to see other kids play when he can’t—he’s become cerebral. He reads at an 11th grade level and he’s about to start fifth grade.”

Anne Shaw, Alaska’s director of inflight safety, made sure Captain Tristan’s training covered a full range of inflight protocols.

Tristan astounded the crew with his knowledge of aircraft—including at lunch with CEO Brad Tilden where the two chatted pilot-to-pilot about which airplane engine “sounds the coolest.”

Tristan and his new crew even spent time in the flight simulator where they did takeoffs and landings; practiced flying in rain, snow and sunshine; and got a feel of what it’s like to pilot a commercial aircraft.

Captain Tristan felt right at home in the pilot’s seat.

“It was super fun; there were lots of cool noises and it was super-realistic,” said Tristan.

“He was a natural,” said Michael. “Maybe this will be the impetus to become a commercial airline pilot. I couldn’t be prouder of him. He is the bravest of any person I’ve ever known.”

While Tristan’s flights were simulated, about 80 percent of wishes granted each year to children in Alaska and Washington state involve airline travel; it’s one of the largest wish-granting expenses. Using airline miles donated from individuals is the number one way we are able to stretch our donated dollars.

You can help by donating unused airline Alaska Airlines miles to Make-A-Wish Alaska and Washington. These miles are used to send wish children and their families, like Tristan, to the destinations of their dreams. Donate miles now at alaskaairlines.com/donatemiles.

“We’re all about taking care of people and that’s why today is so great; we’re taking care of someone today too,” said Cydna Knebel, executive assistant at Alaska Airlines.

Captains Jeff Severns and Scott Day welcomed Captain Tristan into Alaska Airlines’ pilot ranks.

That’s what wishes are about: bringing our community together to help a child realize the limitless possibilities of their imagination.

Tristan’s wish day will have a lasting impact on everyone involved.

“I’m extremely proud of our company, how involved we are in the community and with Make-A-Wish,” Day said.

“You made my day today,” said Tristan. “I feel really refreshed, amazing and good about myself. Thanks to everybody over here, they helped make my dream come true!”

Thanks to Alaska Airlines and our community for making wishes like Tristan’s possible. When you grant a wish, you help wish children replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope. Connect with Make-A-Wish Alaska and Washington on social and get started today @MakeAWishAKWA.

Tristan summed up his day perfectly: “I had bundles of fun!”

Make-A-Wish recipient Tristan had an unforgettable day as an Alaska Airlines pilot.

We Make Flying Matter: Alaska Airlines’ Charity Miles program

Make-A-Wish is one of nine organizations supported each year by Alaska’s Mileage Plan members through the airline’s Charity Miles donation program. Members raised more than 17 million miles in 2018, and are well on their way to reaching that goal again in 2019. Learn more.

21 comments on "A wish fulfilled: Captain Tristan reports for pilot duty at Alaska Airlines"

  1. Great story, very happy we were able to make Tristan’s dream come true.

  2. This story touched me much more than I could ever put into words. I don’t often reply other than a few thumbs up, but I was so moved but what I read, I had to! The character and culture of this company shines through in all of us in some way. It is contagious and you cannot help but let that inspire you.

  3. All the Alaska feels! Props to Scott and Brad for making this so special!

  4. Great story what a fantastic young man. God bless Alaska Airlines for doing this.
    Alaska one of the greatest Airlines and great people.

    David A Allison

  5. You Did the Right Thing , Thanks to all who
    Participated , Good Job Alaska Airlines
    Would Really Like to see this on the Big
    News Channels

  6. This is a great story! Warms the heart. Everyone needs a little hope sometimes in life and especially these kids. So proud to be a part of Alaska Airlines making a difference like this.

  7. I’ve read this blog post three times and still teary. I’m so impressed with the thought and attention you gave this experience – the name tag, uniform, welcome letter, meeting with CEO, etc. You clearly went above and beyond which is something I experience regularly with AlaskaAir as a MVP Gold 75 flyer. Thank you for making wishes come true!

  8. If I don’t use up my many miles I’m making a note to my kids to donate them to your Make a Wish.

  9. I would not expect anything less from Capt. Scott Day, a hearty well done to you and the rest of those involved in the heartwarming act of kindness. As a retiree you make us all proud to have been part of such a great airline.

  10. …. Crying at my desk. What a great story, and an amazing little kid!!!!

  11. I do not accrue miles when I fly being an employee but I do get them through Safeway Carrs stores purchases. I usually get past 100 miles and donate them to Make A Wish. I love reading stories about wishes being granted. Thank you

  12. Such a very special thing to do for the very special children in our midst. Thank you from me to all of you! (proud widow of an airline pilot!)

  13. This act of incredible kindness makes me proud to be an Alaska Airlines customer. Bravo Alaska Airlines!!!

  14. I love these stories, each one is unique and special like the children and families we serve at Alaska Air!

  15. That is class!! It makes my family happy we have been a part of the Alaska Air Lines family all these years.