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Piloting the Skies: A Family Affair

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In January 1979, Russ Mason joined Southwest Airlines as a Pilot. Several months later, in October 1979, his twin brother Rick left the military to join his brother as a Southwest Pilot. 

If two Mason Pilots weren’t enough, Russ and Rick wanted to get their younger brother Mark on board with Southwest, too. But after Rick’s training class, Pilot hiring at Southwest was put on hold. At the time, late 1979, our young and rapidly-growing airline was only flying within the state of Texas. Southwest was making plans begin interstate service when the Wright Amendment went into effect, which put strict limits on destinations of flights leaving Love Field. With the Airline’s expansion plans on hold, Mark stayed in the military.

That is until Russ, Rick, and Mark’s father, Red Mason, helped pull some strings in the right places. Through his job, Red was acquainted with Louisiana Senator Russell Long. When Red heard that Jim Wright—the sponsor of the Wright Amendment—was holding a House meeting on transportation, Red called up Russell and asked if the Senator could possibly speak at the meeting in defense of Southwest. Russell agreed, and he talked at the meeting about Louisiana’s interest in bringing Southwest service into New Orleans. Red attended the meeting, as did Southwest CEO Herb Kelleher. Afterward, Herb approached Red to thank him for being there, and asked what his interest was in Southwest. Red told Herb he had two sons who were Pilots for him, and a third who he wanted to get hired on. Herb shook Red’s hand and said his boy would be in the next Pilot training class.

Mason Twins

And the rest is history. Mark was hired on in November of 1980, and combined, the three Mason brothers have been Pilots for Southwest Airlines for a few months shy of a century. The twins both met their wives through Southwest – Rick’s wife Martha and Russ’ wife Nancy were both Flight Attendants (Nancy is still an active Flight Attendant), and Rick’s daughter Holly is one of the most outgoing, spirited Flight Attendants you’ll come across at Southwest. For the Masons, Southwest really is a family affair. 

Russ’ Retirement Flight

On Monday, December 17—almost 34 years since his hire date—Russ flew his Southwest Airlines retirement flight from Houston Hobby to Dallas Love Field. Russ was Captain on the flight, and Becky Sparks was the First Officer, with Rick and Mark occupying the two flight deck jumpseats.

Celebration
Rick, Russ, and Mark Mason

Nancy, Martha, Holly, and Mark’s wife Annie were all in the cabin on the flight. As Russ’ last flight, it was bittersweet, and there were a few damp eyes—but also much joy as the entire plane was able to celebrate this family. Holly handed out peanuts to the Passengers, and one told her: “Congratulations to the whole Mason family.”

Russ Mason's Last Flight
Toasting Russ’ Retirement Flight

Champagne was passed around the cabin just before landing, and Holly gave a toast to her uncle Russ. When the aircraft touched ground in Dallas, the cabin burst into applause, and the aircraft taxied to the gate under a water salute from two firetrucks.

There were banners and balloons in the gate area when Russ got off of the plane, and then a celebration at Southwest’s corporate headquarters building, where Herb, Colleen, and other Employees stopped by to congratulate Russ and his family.

From all of us at Southwest Airlines, we are incredibly grateful for the Mason family’s loyalty to the Company. We hope that Monday was a day that the big-hearted, hard-working, Aggie-loving Captain Russ Mason will never forget.

Final Voyage