It was Dec. 24, nearing 11:30 a.m., and boarding on Delta Flight 2494 had completed.
Mike Levy, 31, reclined in his first-class aisle seat, grateful for the unoccupied chair to his right.
Following a week-long family holiday in Florida, Levy was en route home to Toledo; his parents were settling in across the aisle from him.
“I thought I’d either have my own row or I’d be sitting next to a celebrity,” Levy told The Washington Post during an interview.
Passengers on the Boeing 737 were seated, attendants were closing the overhead bins, and then Hal Vaughan — a smiley, luggage-less man who offered to squeeze by so as not to burden Levy with standing — stepped slowly onto the aircraft.
Because it was nearing Christmas Eve, Levy asked, “Are you going home for the holidays or heading off on vacation?”
“I’m just along for the ride,” Vaughan replied.
Vaughan’s daughter Pierce was one of the Delta flight attendants on board. He planned to fly on all her scheduled Christmastime flights so they could spend the holiday together.
Levy learned that the Vaughan family had recently spent time at Hal’s home in Ocean Springs, Miss.
When the father discovered Delta scheduled his daughter on holiday shifts, he penciled in the six flights, too; they spanned the nation, from Louisiana, Florida, Massachusetts and Michigan.
By the late-morning flight on Dec. 24, Hal Vaughan had already journeyed through four. He had two more to go.
The Fort Myers-to-Detroit crew flew without much fanfare.
Pierce Vaughan had little spare in-air time, though Levy said she checked in periodically. Another attendant also stopped by to compliment Hal Vaughn for being father of the year.
“Obviously, he really loves his daughter, or he wouldn’t have taken all those flights to spend Christmas with her,” Levy said, calling the gesture “a great Christmas story about a father and his daughter.”
Hal Vaughan explained to Levy he had fallen from a ladder several months earlier and broken his neck.
“Slowly but surely, he got back on his feet,” Levy recalled him saying, adding that Vaughn said he spent a few days as a quadriplegic.
The Christmastime adventure was Hal Vaughan’s first since the accident.
Levy captured the moment and uploaded the photo to Facebook, writing: “I had the pleasure of sitting next to Hal on my flight back home. His daughter Pierce was our flight attendant who had to work over Christmas ☹️. Hal decided he would spend the holiday with her. So, he is flying on each of her flights today and tomorrow around the country to spend time with his daughter for Christmas. 😊. What a fantastic father! Wish you both a very Merry Christmas!”
The post went viral before they touched down.
“We appreciate all of our employees for working during the holidays to serve Delta customers,” a Delta Air Lines representative said in a statement to The Post, “and love seeing this awesome Dad having the chance to spend Christmas with his daughter — even while crisscrossing the country at 30,000 feet.”
The father-daughter duo was set to part ways in Atlanta, Pierce Vaughan to return to her Ann Arbor hometown and Hal to reunite with his wife for the drive back to Mississippi.
The flight to Detroit began its descent, and the pilot came onto the intercom: They were going to land earlier than the 2:24 p.m. arrival time, the voice announced.
For most passengers, the news was welcome. There were just a few hours to spare before Christmas Eve.
But Hal Vaughan was exactly where he wanted to be — with a window seat, a view from above and still coming down from cruising at 35,000 feet with his daughter Pierce.