In a Facebook post at the time, Dennis shared photos of what he saw at the airport in Victorville, Calif.: long rows of Delta and Southwest jets parked on the runways under a cloudy sky. In one, a somber Dennis appeared in the foreground.
“It’s hard to fathom how many aircraft Delta has until you see that many of them parked in one place,” he said later in a Delta news release. “When we got in line, it looked like an optical illusion. It just kept going and going. I don’t know how to describe it — it was shocking.”
The final picture in the Facebook post was of a note penned by Dennis, a first officer, to an unknown eventual audience. Delta called it a “pandemic time capsule” that waited out the past 15 months behind a tray table in the cockpit.
“Hey pilots, it’s March 23rd and we just arrived from [Minneapolis-St. Paul],” the note reads. “Very chilling to see so much of our fleet here in the desert. If you are here to pick it up then the light must be at the end of the tunnel. Amazing how fast it changed. Have a safe flight bringing it out of storage!”
He expected the plane to stay out there for a couple of weeks, Delta later said. In the end, things didn’t change all that fast: It took 435 days for the next pilots to come back for the plane known as 3009 on June 1.
In the meantime, the jet did have some purpose: More than 120 of its parts were used for other aircraft while it was parked in Victorville. Delta said it’s common for planes in long-term storage to be used for parts.
Dennis’s note was initially found as mechanics worked to prepare the plane to start flying again. Tom Trenda, who has been working to wake planes back up, knew the next pilots would be interested.
Nick Perez, a first officer, was part of the team picking up 3009, the last Airbus A321 still being stored at the California airport. Trenda told him he should check the tray table before he took off.
The note fell out.
“I kept thinking about my mind-set now compared to his when he left this note,” Perez said in the Delta news release. “We were getting good at landing empty airplanes, now we’re going in the right direction. I’m in good spirits. I’m very optimistic.”
On Friday, according to the Transportation Security Administration, the number of passengers topped 2 million for the first time before the pandemic began. Traffic set a new pandemic record of 2,097,433 Sunday.
Back when Dennis first wrote his Facebook post, one user wrote: “Chris I bet that note ends up in a museum somewhere. It should be displayed as part of the history of all of this.”
Delta said in its release earlier this month that the note was “ready to be added to another time capsule, as a symbol of the 15 months Delta spent navigating the pandemic, toward the light we all knew was at the end of the tunnel.” And the photos that Dennis shot at the airport are now part of the Delta Flight Museum.