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“Every Layover Is A Date Night” Husband And Wife Fly Commercial Planes Together
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“Every Layover Is A Date Night” Husband And Wife Fly Commercial Planes Together

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“Love is in the air” is one of the most popular wedding and romcom songs ever – it describes the invisible magic of this incredible feeling. Well, for Joel and Shelley Atkinson, love is literally in the air – a couple who met 30 years ago as US Air Force jet pilots now fly Southwest Airlines planes together as a dream team and they say there is no turbulence in their relationship.

More info: Instagram

Love has been literally in the air for these two pilots in love

Image credits: southwestair

If you spend a few minutes a day scrolling on your phone, you’ve probably come across the “invisible string theory” stating that you’re always connected with the one you’re meant to be with; maybe you lived on the same street as kids or went to the same school before the Universe decided it was time to meet and begin a path together. Shelley and Joel are a fine example of that theory.

Shelley grew up in Iowa but as a teenager, she moved to Colorado, the state where her future husband resided. They graduated from high school the same year, still unaware of the incredible love story fate had in store for them. In the late 1980s, they both went to study at the United States Air Force Academy to become professional pilots. Well, that was Joel’s dream – the young man was very impressed by Tom Cruise’s “Top Gun”.

“Top Gun made flying jets look like a lot of fun,” recalled Joel.

And young Shelley was very athletic, seeking to play college basketball: “I didn’t attend the Academy to pursue flying, initially. Once I was there I realized it was a great opportunity for a fun and challenging career,” she confessed. “And the introduction to flying there made me want to pursue it further.”

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Image credits: southwestair

They both attended US Air Force Academy training to become jet pilots – Joel confessed he had watched Top Gun one too many times

Image credits: luvpilots

Soon, four years at the academy had passed without Joel and Shelley actually meeting each other, although Joel admitted he was aware of this beautiful girl studying at the same academy: “There’s not that many women at the Air Force Academy, so I kind of knew who she was.”

A few more years later, they finally met after completing their pilot training in different states. As if to make it even more magical and serendipitous, the couple got the same first assignment – to fly the Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft in Texas.

Joel had been there for a few months prior when Shelley walked into the office and he was instantly captivated by her beauty:

“She’s tall. She looks great. She left the room and this other coworker was just looking at me smiling. And I said, ‘What?’ And he could tell.”

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Image credits: luvpilots

Image credits: luvpilots

While Joel was aware of Shelley at the academy, their paths never crossed until after graduation, where the newly trained pilots received the same assignment

Image credits: southwestair

Joel believes that the look on his face instantly gave his feelings away, although he didn’t believe that stunning Shelley would ever consider going out with him.
“She’s taller than me. And I had never dated anyone taller than me. She’s an athlete, she’s a natural leader, and just an impressive person.”

But when true love strikes, such details don’t really matter. Joel made Shelley laugh until her cheeks hurt – every time she would see him, she could not stop smiling. But it was his gentle and warm nature that appealed to her the most: “He just really has a sensitive heart to people, all people around him, he looks out for people.”

A year later, they started dating during their first deployment abroad – the couple would spend hours talking about everything, getting to know each other’s darkest secrets and most sacred wishes. In their hearts they both knew that they had found the one, so a few months after their return, they tied the knot.

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Joel was so taken with Shelley’s beauty, he was afraid she wouldn’t want to date him. Little did he know she fell for this kindhearted man who always made her laugh

Image credits: southwestair

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Image credits: southwestair

After starting their family, Shelley quit flying and focused on raising their kids while Joel became a commercial pilot

Image credits: southwestair

After getting married, they both became instructor Air Force pilots. In the early 2000s, the couple welcomed their twins and Shelley decided to take some time off flying and worked at US Air National Guard while Joel became a commercial pilot. Once the kids left the nest, Shelley found herself dreaming about soaring the skies again despite not being in the cockpit for over two decades. However, the urge to return was stronger and she strongly considered becoming a commercial pilot just like her husband.

Joel loved the idea as soon as Shelley voiced it: “I said, ‘Come fly with me.’”
The same day, the Atkinsons got the sign from above as Joel saw a social media post on Southwest Airlines’ Instagram about a pilot who also had taken an over 20-year break to raise her kids before returning to flying.

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With her husband’s support, Shelley went on to study and update her pilot qualifications so she would be able to fulfill her dream. Sooner than she expected, she was hired by SkyWest Airlines to fly regional planes and in 2023, she joined Joel at Southwest!

“It was crazy. It happened way faster than I thought it would. It’s been amazing,” gushed Shelley. “It was meant to be.”

Once the kids had flown the nest, Shelley felt the urge to return to flying. With Joel’s encouragement, she updated her qualifications and soon joined her husband in the cockpit

Image credits: luvpilots

Image credits: luvpilots

Now the happy couple fly planes together, treating each layover as a date night

Image credits: luvpilots

Now the lovebirds soar the skies together, Joel as the captain and Shelley as first officer. They both praise each other for their expertise and unique skillset while on the job.

“She looks to me and relies on me for the experience that I have. But I also know that she is a very sharp person, she just went through a lot of training. So her knowledge is fresh. And she also has that wisdom and judgment,” shared Joel.

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The job is way more enjoyable when you’re doing it with someone you love and the Atkinsons are surely making the most of it. Once they reach the cruising altitude and are able to have some downtime, they spend it talking about everything just like they did at the beginning of dating.

“It’s so great, because all the years that I was flying, and she was at home, anything I wanted to talk to her about when I’m up in the air, it had to wait. You’re saving up conversations until you’re home. It’s like now we’re making up for lost time,” Joel expressed his joy.

And if they have layovers, the couple go on fun dates exploring different places, much to Joel’s delight, as he used to be very upset when he had long waiting times.

“It was a wasted time, because it was just me, and I couldn’t share it with her. But now we’re together when we’re on the road – it’s so fun. Because every night on the road, it’s a date night together.”

Image credits: luvpilots

Shelley hopes that her story will inspire other women who are dreaming about returning to the workforce. We hope they all have supportive partners like Joel

Image credits: luvpilots

Shelley hopes that her story will inspire others to take that leap of faith. Perhaps, there is a mom who wants to return to the workforce after years of raising her little ones looking for a sign just like Shelley was. After all, it’s never too late.

“I hope it encourages other women that there is this opportunity out there – you can come back and you can still do it.”

But does it get boring or frustrating to spend so much time with one’s spouse? Not at all, believe Joel and Shelley. They consider each other best friends and there is no one they’d rather be with – that’s the perk of choosing the perfect partner.

“If you love doing something, why not do it with the person you love?” pondered Shelley.

Would you ever work with your partner?

Commenters loved Shelley and Joel’s love story

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adam_jeff avatar
Adam Jeff
Community Member
2 weeks ago DotsCreated by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

For some reason, I would have expected there to be some protocol forbidding this, even though I can't quite put my finger on what the danger is.

hannahtaylor_2 avatar
DarkViolet
Community Member
2 weeks ago DotsCreated by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

Yowsers, but in the picture on the right, those two look like they were still in high school! Anyhow, I'm happy for them. But I thought that there was a policy that a husband and wife working for an airline could not fly on the same flight. Has that policy been rescinded, or did I misread it?

tuliplovef76 avatar
Emie N.
Community Member
2 weeks ago (edited) DotsCreated by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

"Fell for the kindhearted man who always made her laugh". It would be nice to know if she makes him laugh too. Sorry I just always roll my eyes when I hear those stories because you never hear men say they love their women because she's funny and makes them laugh. Even though just as many women can be funny as much as men are.

adam_jeff avatar
Adam Jeff
Community Member
2 weeks ago DotsCreated by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

For some reason, I would have expected there to be some protocol forbidding this, even though I can't quite put my finger on what the danger is.

hannahtaylor_2 avatar
DarkViolet
Community Member
2 weeks ago DotsCreated by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

Yowsers, but in the picture on the right, those two look like they were still in high school! Anyhow, I'm happy for them. But I thought that there was a policy that a husband and wife working for an airline could not fly on the same flight. Has that policy been rescinded, or did I misread it?

tuliplovef76 avatar
Emie N.
Community Member
2 weeks ago (edited) DotsCreated by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

"Fell for the kindhearted man who always made her laugh". It would be nice to know if she makes him laugh too. Sorry I just always roll my eyes when I hear those stories because you never hear men say they love their women because she's funny and makes them laugh. Even though just as many women can be funny as much as men are.

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