Longest Serving Delta Pilot Retires After 45 Years, Never Missed Day Of Work

Captain Calvin “Cal” Flanigan retired from Delta Airlines last Friday, after devoting 45 years of service to the airline. Thirty-seven of those years were served as a pilot for the company. And, to top off his incredible career, he never missed a day of work.

Flanigan first joined Delta as a mechanic 45 years ago, with hopes of one day flying. A year later, in 1969, he was drafted into the Army for two years. Using the GI Bill and money saved from his Delta wages, Flanigan managed to pay for pilot training at a time when few other African-Americans were flying commercial airliners. He realized his dream in 1976, when he became a first officer flying DC-9s for Delta.

In 37 years as a Delta pilot, Flanigan has logged more than 26,000 flight hours, flown roughly 12.5 million miles, and landed in nearly 100 countries. Flanigan also had the most seniority out of all of his fellow pilots and an exceptional performance record. He reportedly never missed a day of work, making him a role model to fellow pilots.

Unfortunately for Flanagan, sixty-five is the age that Delta mandates for their pilots to hang up their wings. While he’d had other opportunities to retire, Flanigan said that he wanted to fly until the very last day he was eligible. Delta’s rules state that a pilot must retire at age 65, and Flanigan’s 65th birthday was celebrated the day after his final flight.

He was greeted on arrival at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on a flight from Los Angeles with a water cannon salute as he taxied to the ramp.

Flanigan said that he approached his retirement with mixed emotions, but that he recognized that it was time to “pass the baton.” Delta Airlines spokesman Steve Dickson said it was unlikely that his long tenure and attendance record would ever be replicated. Meanwhile, now that they can, Flanigan and his wife plan to do more traveling … together.

Flanigan is excited his 13-year-old grandson has an interest in aviation. Flanigan also relishes speaking to youth at schools, churches and community groups about the importance of preparing now to achieve their dreams. He still remembers former Rockdale County Public Schools chairman and Delta captain James Miller Jr.’s encouraging words at his high school graduation.

“He asked me what I wanted to do and said something like, ‘OK. Come on. Be a pilot. I’d like to see you in a Delta uniform,’” Flanigan said. “Other than that, I didn’t know anyone else in aviation at the time. That’s why it’s so important for me to speak at schools.

“I tell them their parents don’t have to be Bill Gates or Donald Trump. As long as they have will and drive, kids today can be pilots.”

Though retirement will be hard for Flanigan, he says that he has plenty of plans in place. Flanigan said he plans to keep his pilot license active and fly his own plane.

By the numbers: Capt. Cal Flanigan’s flying career

  • More than 26,000 flight hours
  • About 12,500,000 miles flown
  • Landed at 95 destinations on 6 continents
  • Certified on 9 aircraft: DC-9, DC-8, MD-88, MD-11, Lockheed L-1011 Tristar, Boeing 727, 757, 767, 777
  • 45 years with Delta
  • 37 years as pilot
  • 25 years as captain

Get 'Aviation Overload' with the Wings & Airpower Complete PDF eBook Set!

We've digitized all 36 years of 426 Wings & Airpower vintage aviation history magazines into downloadable PDF eBooks for you to read on your computer, tablet, or smartphone. Purchase and immediately download your Wings & Airpower Complete Set today!