The magic of flight in the eyes of a young child, fueled by curiosity and imagination, can light up a room. As aviation professionals, Endeavor Air employees know all too well the wonderment of this industry.
For Christopher Lavelle, before he could walk, much less crawl, his path was set thanks to the footsteps laid before him by his father, Chris Lavelle. The journey that led them both to Endeavor is full of twists and turns, ebbs and flows of family responsibilities, and the uncertainty of an ever-changing airline industry.
Undaunted, this story is one of perseverance and a dream come true for father and son.
It’s 1982. Ronald Reagan is president, Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year” is a computer, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” is released, and Epcot Center opens at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Airlines are flying gas-guzzling beasts like the DC-9s and L-1011s, while the technologically-advanced Boeing 767 enters service. Trans World Airlines – or TWA – is operating a fleet of large and small shells from coast to coast, around the globe, and spending money like there was no limit.
For Chris Lavelle, his sights were set on two things – driving open-wheel race cars, and earning his wings at TWA. Trouble was, he didn’t grow up with the means to obtain his commercial pilot license. His best friend Todd’s dad was a captain at TWA, inspiring the boys to spend hours talking about the places they’d fly as TWA pilots, and how their paths would align in the sky behind the controls of those majestic machines.
While a tragic accident would take Todd’s life a few years later, Chris Lavelle never gave up on his dream. The Lavelle family scratched together enough money for him to train and build time in small Cessnas, and after getting hired at a regional carrier, Todd’s father ultimately helped Chris land in the big leagues at TWA, flying L-1011s, MD-80s, DC-9s, 757s, and 767s fulfilling his lifelong dream.
While his professional aspirations were budding, his personal life was blossoming, as well. Along with his wife, Dana, the Lavelles welcomed Christopher to the world. Soon, Jonathan, and then Rachel. The dream of driving Ferraris F1 team was replaced with the realities of raising three children, and time away from home for work and training events meant family obligations trumped the aspirations of globetrotting.
Then, as if thrown back like a reverse thruster, the TWA world screeched to a halt due to a merger with American Airlines, and ultimately, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The stable lifestyle the Lavelles had come to enjoy quickly spiraled into uncertainty, but their faith and family bond served as the bedrocks of their future.
Christopher Lavelle loved being the son of a commercial airline pilot. From his adolescent perspective, his dad was a giant, commandeering gravity-defying titans, soaring and roaring from the grasps of earth’s surly grip. As early as his little brain could comprehend the mechanics of these mighty machines, Christopher learned everything he could about them.
He studied his father’s flight manuals, taught himself the fundamentals of flight, and even climbed up onto a stool to reach the controls of the family computer to play Microsoft Flight Simulator until his eyes could no longer stay open. He was waiting for the day he might be just like his dad – a TWA pilot.
As Christopher and his siblings grew older and saw the harsh realities of the industry undermine their father’s best laid plans, the benefits of remaining close as a family made the years fly by – literally. After saving some cash, earning some money through odd jobs, and securing a small loan from his grandfather, Christopher knew it was time to let his dreams take flight. He purchased a 1976 Cessna 150 of his own and started flying.
With his father as his co-pilot, and Certified Flight Instructor, the Lavelles embarked on a father-son journey 19 years in the making.
Chris Lavelle and son Christopher never talked about flying together as commercial pilots. Those hundreds of hours in the Cessna 150 allowed them to learn from each other – father instructing and passing down skills, son demonstrating a mettle built up from years of observation and patience – creating a truly unique connection.
If this was the apex of their flying together, life’s blessings were pretty good.
As Christopher completed his formal training at Southern Illinois University – Carbondale (the same school Chris attended decades earlier), his career path led him to make a tough decision on what to do next.
Having secured an internship at Delta Air Lines, where one of his big projects was helping to develop the Student to Endeavor Pilot Initiative – known as STEP – at Endeavor, Christopher quickly realized where his career path was heading.
Once he hit his 1,500 hours, Christopher interviewed and was hired at Endeavor, where he started in early 2018. As it turned out, the corporate contract his father was flying was winding down, so son reached out to father and offered a simple suggestion.
“I told him, ‘Dad, wouldn’t it be cool to fly together at Endeavor?’” said Christopher. “I was super impressed with the training, the interview process, and the culture. I hadn’t even started ground school, I had just gotten my CJO, and remember telling him he might be interested in joining me.”
“He talked about how they handled his interview, some of the things they were offering, so I looked into it,” Chris said. “What I saw was a package that set Endeavor apart from the pack, and I was really happy for my son. Great perks. So, I started thinking about what it might be like to fly with my son…”
Both Lavelles were hired and started a few months apart from each other. Christopher was the first to join the team, meaning he had seniority over his father. Once Chris finished IOE, the two started commuting to New York City, sharing a crash pad, and learning the ropes of the regional world together.
“I wanted to make sure he gets going in the right direction,” the senior Lavelle added. “He doesn’t need me here, he’s a tremendously proficient pilot. Honestly, I had hoped he’d be a TWA pilot with me. Plan A didn’t work, but Plan Z, here we are.”
“I always imagined one day we might fly together for an airline, I just didn’t know it would be at my first job,” concluded Christopher. “I don’t have a plan to move around to get paired with him, I’m just rolling with it and building my time towards [Captain] upgrade. This experience alone has been awesome.”
To which his father added: “I’d be honored to sit in his right seat.”
The magic of flight in the eyes of a father and son who have grazed the clouds and touched the sky together can light up a room. It can also create a pretty unique legacy that might just pass itself down for generations to come.