Pilot chartered a plane to take 112 friends to Hawaii for his retirement

Keith Rosenkranz and friends in front of plane on tarmac
Courtesy of Keith Rosenkranz

How do you celebrate your retirement after over 40 years of zooming through the skies? For Keith Rosenkranz, it was with one final, incredibly memorable flight.

The Delta Airlines pilot flew 112 friends to Hawaii for a joyful, 24-hour party — one that reunited longtime Air Force buddies and culminated in the renewal of his wedding vows with his wife, Colette.

“I still get emotional talking about it,” Rosenkranz says. “Friends from just about every part of my life were there. It was just the greatest trip I’ve ever had.”

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And that’s saying something, because Rosenkranz has had some incredible experiences as a pilot. He began his career as a fighter pilot for the United States Air Force, flying 30 combat missions in the Gulf War. He went on to write a book about the experience, called “Vipers in the Storm: Diary of a Gulf War Fighter Pilot.”

“My picture is on the cover, and I told them to make me look like Tom Cruise, but they failed miserably,” he says, laughing. “I like both [“Top Gun”] movies. It’s not quite how we would do it in a real life combat situation, but still it was very entertaining.”

Keith Rosenkranz with cut-out photo of a younger version of him
Courtesy of Keith Rosenkranz

The retirement trip took Rosenkranz a year and a half to plan. The party started out at the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, where about 50 of his friends boarded a Delta A330 jet. His friends had decorated the plane with lots of old photos, as well as a life-size cutout (he posed with it in the photo above) of Rosenkranz from the cover of his book.

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He flew the group to Los Angeles (the city where he grew up), where another 60 or so friends joined the party.

The plane ride to Hawaii was a celebration in itself — one that Rosenkranz was able to join for an hour or so, since he had pilot friends on board who could take the controls.

Here is footage of the flight taking off:

They didn’t dine on typical airline food, either, since this chartered flight included catering. “People were eating real steaks, salmon omelets, Dove ice cream bars, beer, wine, soda, whatever you wanted,” he says.

When the group arrived in Hawaii, they were driven to a hotel, where Rosenkranz quickly changed into the yellow Hawaiian shirt that he was wearing the day he met Colette on Aug. 22, 1977. (Yes, he’s kept it in his closet all these years.)

Keith and Colette Rosenkranz
Courtesy of Keith Rosenkranz

The group gathered at a grand staircase, where Rosenkranz gave a brief speech about his career. Then he surprised Colette by asking if she would renew their wedding vows.

That moving ceremony was followed by a lively luau, complete with pulled pork sandwiches, ribs, rice and various Hawaiian delicacies. There were also plenty of cocktails like piña coladas and blue oceans for revelers to enjoy.

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The next morning, they all boarded the plane and returned home. While Rosenkranz isn’t disclosing how much he paid for the event, he says the cost amounted to about one year’s salary.

“My friends have been just so thankful to be part of it,” he says. “But I told them, ‘the best gift of all was you being there.'”

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About the Author
Jennifer Graham Kizer
Jennifer Graham Kizer has written features and essays for over a dozen magazines, including Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Health, Parents, Parenting, Redbook and TV Guide. Visit Scripps News to see more of Jennifer's work.

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