Jamaican-born American Airlines pilot, Captain Diego McKnight had only recently qualified to fly in the airline’s international department when he was assigned his first flight from Miami, United States to Kingston, Jamaica.
“My trip was taking me from Miami where I grew up to Kingston where I am from, and back to Miami en route to Dallas/Forth Worth, Texas. It was a long-cherished dream, a huge deal for me,” said McKnight after completing his virgin flight on one of the world’s biggest commercial airlines.
As if being at the controls of flight AA1866 — barely more than a year after joining American — was not momentous enough, McKnight’s dad, the well known chartered accountant and philanthropist, Leighton McKnight, decided to surprise him by booking himself on the flight from Miami to Kingston.
“It was difficult to describe the emotion when I saw my dad in Miami getting ready to board the flight. I had told him I would be flying the plane but he did not give me even a hint of what he was planning,” the young pilot, now tearing up, told the Jamaica Observer.
The elder McKnight is the former territory leader at PwC Jamaica and currently executive-in-residence at the Mona School of Business and Management (MSBM), The University of the West Indies, Mona.
“I can’t find the words to tell you how moved I was, the pride I felt as his dad, that Diego was getting his first AA flight to Jamaica and that I was able to be on that flight,” the overjoyed father explained to the newspaper. “Mi head swell!”
The icing on the cake was when his son came on the intercom to make a passenger announcement and used the opportunity to inform the flight that his dad was on board. The entire plane broke out in his applause and the elder McKnight was invited to tour the cockpit.
Captain McKnight recalled his boyhood days at his grandmother’s house, which is in the approach path of aircraft landing in Kingston, watching the planes arriving and taking off and dreaming of one day being a pilot himself.
“This is where at about 8 years old I decided that I wanted to be a pilot and that desire stayed with me even when I moved to the US. Given that a lot of my family, including my dad, lived in Jamaica, I flew back and forth between Miami/Fort Lauderdale and Kingston, mostly on American Airlines and Air Jamaica when it was in existence,” said McKnight.
He said his emotions really overflowed when, upon arrival at Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, he found family members waiting to greet him, singling out cousin Tamu Briscoe Allen who still resides in the area where his late grandparents lived and who videotaped his flight over the house from which they watched airplanes as boys.
“I am so grateful that God granted me the opportunities and placed people in my life to get me to this point, and when I landed in Kingston for the first time I felt like everything had come full circle and I could proudly say ‘Mama we made it’.
“For those who [are] still working towards your dreams: Keep going, keep working at it. Our dreams do not always come true at the time that you want them to, but that does not mean they will not come true,'” McKnight advised young people.