His daughter helped him recover from a broken neck, so he took six flights in three days to make sure she spent her holiday with family.
- Posted on Oct 31, 2019
Hal Vaughan became an internet sensation last year when he booked six flights for December 23 to 25 to be with his daughter Pierce, a flight attendant. They flew from New Orleans to Detroit to Fort Myers, back to Detroit, then Hartford and Atlanta and back to New Orleans.
PIERCE: My mom and dad and I have always been close. We always spend holidays together, and I go home whenever I can.
HAL: Pierce was born when I was 40, the youngest of four. We fight like cats and dogs and we laugh the whole time. She treats me like I’m a crotchety old man.
PIERCE: Only when he acts the part. And we don’t really fight. It’s just that he doesn’t always appreciate my honesty.
HAL: Some have asked why my wife, Kimberly, Pierce’s mom, didn’t go on the trip at Christmas with us. But when the three of us are together, there’s too much of everybody talking at once. So for trips, I usually go with one or the other, or the two of them go without me.
PIERCE: Plus, someone has to stay home to take care of our three cats and two dogs.
HAL: Really, I’d never cared much for travel. But I’ve discovered the beauty of flying—partly because Pierce guilted me into it.
PIERCE: I did not!
HAL: She can’t stand to miss a good deal. So she found these flights that were too good to pass up, she said. A waste not to book. We’d been talking about going to all sorts of places thanks to her job, but we thought we had all the time in the world.
PIERCE: Until Daddy had a terrible accident three months after I started.
HAL: I broke my neck in June of last year. My neighbor and I were trimming tree limbs between our houses. I was on an eight-foot ladder in the back of a parked truck, which rolled a bit and dropped off the pavement. It catapulted me, and I landed headfirst. I was numb everywhere but my neck and shoulders, which felt like they were on fire. They took me to a trauma center and operated the next day. Then I couldn’t feel anything. The doctors said maybe after the swelling went down…but they really didn’t know.
PIERCE: I was working an international flight, and when I landed I got the terrible news. Mother could barely get the words out. They didn’t know if Daddy was going to live—or remain paralyzed. I felt helpless.
HAL: It took Pierce a couple of days to get to me, but when she did, she sent Kimberly home to rest. Every time I opened my eyes, she was right there. It did me good. She said, “As soon as you’re up and about, we’re getting those flights.” She told me about all the places she wanted us to see. I started to believe it was possible.
After three weeks, I moved to a rehab facility and got to where I could feed myself and use my hands and arms again, but I wanted to walk. I did in-home therapy for two months and got to where I could stand up and use a walker. Then I could walk with a cane, and then I threw that away. I’m a little wobbly, but I make do. By December, I was pretty well back to my old self. We found out Pierce had to work over the holidays and would be alone on a layover in Connecticut on Christmas. She tried to hide her disappointment, but I could hear it in her voice. And she’d spent all that time with me in a lonely hospital room….
PIERCE: I guess he could see through me. I’d come to accept that I had to work, but I’d never spent Christmas without my parents. I joked they could come with me, but I didn’t expect them to actually do it.
HAL: I told Kimberly, “One of us needs to go.” She said it ought to be me since I’d missed out on so much during my recovery.
PIERCE: And they were so casual about it, like, “Oh, your dad’s going to come hang out with you on all six of your flights during Christmas.” At first I laughed, but then when I saw it was for real, I worried that the flights would all be full, not unusual that time of year.
HAL: Well, I got six consecutive flights on standby—and on two of them, I got a first-class seat! Pierce had come home for a pre-Christmas Christmas, but when we got to the airport, it was all business. Pierce was merciless, kept telling me to hurry up.
PIERCE: As a flight attendant, I walk with purpose. You have to get to that gate on time. But I wasn’t merciless! I gave him ample time. The part that killed me was how we’d be on a plane for three hours with easy access to water and a bathroom, but then as soon as we got off, what did he want? Water and a bathroom.
HAL: On the plane, I was busy, though. Pierce had told me beforehand, “Whatever you do, do not film me when I am doing the safety demo,” and I was like, “Sure.” So naturally I not only filmed her but also made faces at her the whole time.
PIERCE: Imagine trying to complete a safety demonstration in front of hundreds with this flash going off every few seconds and passengers wondering why this guy is taking pictures. I couldn’t stop my presentation, so I stayed composed while signaling for him to cut it out.
HAL: I have a great picture of her giving me the evil eye. After, she came over and said, “Sir, you need to learn how to operate your camera so the light doesn’t come on when you’re filming,” and I replied, “Oh, I need to get my daughter to teach me that!” And the person next to me said, “That must be your daughter!”
PIERCE: On another flight, Daddy was sitting next to this guy Mike, who asked if he could take my picture. Daddy had told him what he was doing, and Mike wanted to post about it on social media. I never thought I’d see it. But I have a unique name, so it was easy for people to find me. Mike found me on Facebook and apologized. I was like, “For what?” I didn’t know the post had gone viral. I went to Mike’s page and saw how many comments and likes there were and how people were sharing it nonstop. It just blew up.
HAL: She said, “Daddy, 4,000 people have looked at this,” and I said, “Is that a lot?” Then it was 10,000, and then 40,000. Kimberly called and said we were getting calls from newspapers and shows. When I got home, we joked about how Hollywood we’d gotten because The New York Times called while I was on live radio with the BBC, and we told Fox News I’d have to call them back.
PIERCE: It showed me how fortunate I was to have parents who’d go to the ends of the earth to spend Christmas with me. People on social media said they’d give anything to spend Christmas with their dad, who’d passed away. Some said things like, “My daughter moved and I haven’t talked to her in years…” or “My dad walked out on us” or things like that. Daddy and I didn’t think we were doing anything out of the ordinary. But others pointing it out made me see how special our relationship is.
HAL: It changed how I see Christmas. A relationship like ours…well, it isn’t like that for everyone. One girl said, “What I wouldn’t give for my dad to do that for me,” and it hit me so hard because why wouldn’t he? I want to enjoy what I’ve got because I know it can go away suddenly.
PIERCE: That’s why I’m taking my parents as many places as possible. It’s so much fun to experience the world through their eyes. You should’ve seen them in Chile. Daddy assumed that everyone everywhere spoke English. I had to explain, “No matter how slowly you speak, or how loudly, it’s still not Spanish!”
HAL: My daughter doesn’t ever cut me a break, but I think we have quite a few more adventures in store. Where will we spend this Christmas? Let’s just say it’s up in the air.