Two for Takeoff

UPDATED 11/03/2003 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 11/03/2003 at 01:00 AM EST

As the 737 revs its engines on the Phoenix tarmac, two Southwest Airline pilots run through their preflight routine: Flaps—check! Fuel quantity—check! Suddenly, the captain remembers something important he had been meaning to tell his first officer. "Nicole," he says, "you need to call your mom." Nearby, a flight attendant wonders aloud, "How would he know that?"

Meet Mike and Nicole Lewis, who last year became the first father-daughter pilot crew to fly the skies together at a major airline. They don't announce to their passengers that they're related; often they don't tell the flight attendants either. "We like to have fun," says Nicole, 26. Like when she takes a familiar tone with dad, as daughters are wont to do. "They'll think, 'How dare you talk to a captain like that?' " says Mike, 52, who flies with Nicole once every several weeks.

It wasn't Mike but his wife, Karen, 52, who pushed the older of their two daughters toward the cockpit. Karen loved to fly planes—she met Mike in Colorado Springs when they both flew as a hobby—and she encouraged her daughter to try her hand at the controls at age 17. "I did it to get my mom off my back." allows Nicole, who lives near her parents in Gilbert, Ariz., a Phoenix suburb. "Then I got out of the plane and said, 'I' want to do this.' " During her first job, with Great Lakes Aviation, Nicole logged extra hours so that she could move up to 737s—and one day join her dad at Southwest. Though Nicole admits to taking a bit of ribbing from him—"He always teases me because he says I operate the aircraft so delicately"—there's no one with whom she'd rather fly. "We'll just be doing our job, and then we will suddenly realize that this person sitting next to you is someone you really love," she says. "That makes it extra special."

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