The hula dancers, ukulele music and cake came out even before the plane took off.
Southwest Airlines likes to make a splash during inaugural flights to new destinations, and Jackson residents Doyle and Diana Vaughan joined in the fun for Southwest’s first run from Oakland, California, to Kahului, on Maui in Hawaii. Up in the cockpit their son Capt. Kevin Vaughan, a Jackson Hole High School graduate and former Broncs football player, sat at the controls.
“They really rolled out the carpet for us,” Doyle Vaughan said once back on the ground in Jackson. “It was awesome.”
After Kevin Vaughan realized he would have the honor of piloting the inaugural flight April 7 to Maui, he bought tickets for his parents.
Doyle Vaughan introduced his son to aviation at a time when pilots could freely invite their children into the cockpit. Doyle Vaughan was a pilot for Southwest in 1971 when it had just three planes and 17 pilots. Now Southwest boasts more than 800 airplanes and 9,000 pilots, including Kevin Vaughan, who is based in Los Angeles.
Doyle Vaughan recalled piloting an inaugural flight during his tenure, that time to Harlingen, Texas.
“They made a hoopla, but it wasn’t like this,” Diana Vaughan said.
After starting the party in Oakland, Southwest continued entertaining the Vaughans and other passengers — 175 altogether — with live music by Maui singer-songwriter Lily Meola at a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet. Once the plane touched down at the Kahului Airport, Hawaiians greeted the plane by blessing it with a lolo ana ceremony traditionally used to bless new canoes. The ceremony aimed to connect the pilots and crew to the land by having them partake of fish, sweet potato, taro, kalua pig and coconut water, The Maui News reported in a front page story.
“The welcoming from the local Hawaiians has just been outrageous. It’s crazy,” Kevin Vaughan told the News. “We feel like family.”
The reception also included a lei made out of tea leaves that was draped around the nose of the airplane.
“They didn’t miss a thing,” said Doyle Vaughan, who is also a former member of the Jackson Hole Airport Board and a current member of the Wyoming Aeronautics Commission. He also landed the first 737 at the Jackson airport when flying ski charters between Houston and Jackson in 1985, he said.
As someone who “lived and breathed Southwest” for 20 years, Doyle Vaughan couldn’t be prouder of his son.
“Kevin is a Wyoming boy, a Jackson boy,” Doyle said, “and he has done a really good job.”