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.
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.
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!”
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.