To Command Pilot Chris Bennett, an Angel Flight represents more than a simple drop-off. Since he began flying missions in February of 2014, he has developed meaningful friendships with passengers who fly regularly with him. Two of these passengers are Eileen and Tiffany: two women in different walks of life, with different personalities, traveling for different reasons and for different treatments, but both have grown to know their pilot and create memories in the air.
Command Pilot Chris Bennett and Passengers Eileen & Tiffany
Eileen is a retired teacher who flies with AFW to receive treatments for breast cancer, saving her the time she’d otherwise spend completing long and difficult drive to Stanford Medical Center. “I think everyone knows that I am president of the Chris Bennett Fan Club!!” Eileen says of her experience.
By swapping stories over the years, the two have grown close: hearing about each other’s families, chatting about updates in their lives, and getting to know one another. Chris treasures hearing about Eileen’s granddaughter. “She’s a very proud grandmother,” says Chris. “I get to hear her stories about the light of her life. It’s just delightful.”
Eileen values flying with a pilot who truly cares. “Chris is someone who when he asks you how you are, he is not asking just to be asking. He is asking because he is really interested and he is a wonderful listener.” she says.
Chris also flies frequent missions for passenger Tiffany, who is 28 years old. She is diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, and has had several lung transplants. Chris says that throughout the years, her strength has taught him how to be strong in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. “She’s facing the future with determination. She was dealt a bad hand, but she’s determined to play it out. It’s a privilege to be involved in her life, in any capacity. And our paths never would have crossed if not for Angel Flight.”
He recalls one flight with Tiffany where the pair had some extra time, so they stopped in nearby Half Moon Bay on the way to Palo Alto. Tiffany shared that she’d never tried gelato, so Chris took her to a local favorite shop, and the two enjoyed their treat while taking in the gorgeous day. “My sense is that as you develop rapport with someone, they become more comfortable during their travels,” Chris says, “which seems to reduce anxiety about their treatment.”
Though many of our volunteers initially sign up to spend some extra time in the air, most report that it is the personal connection to the person they are flying that encourages them to sign up for missions over and over. Pilot Chris Bennett says flying for Angel Flight West allows him to see the impact of his contributions firsthand. “A lot of volunteering is just a one-off,” he says. “This is the first time I’ve been able to volunteer somewhere with enough frequency to get to know people. It’s a much more rewarding experience.”