Local pilot flys amongst the stars
Dave Reid hasn’t always been a fan of hockey.
CAPTAIN DAVE – Dave Reid (left) a pilot of 34 years has spent the last 10 years of his career flying for Air Canada’s Jetz program, a charter service that flies NHL and NBA teams, corporate clients, politicians and musicians. Photo courtesy of DAVE REID
Dave Reid hasn’t always been a fan of hockey.
As a child, he was more interested in the sky, and how a mass of aluminum alloy and jet fuel could cut through it.
By the age of 15, he was telling his peers at FH Collins Secondary School that someday he was going to be a pilot, just like his father.
No one believed him.
Now, Reid is one of the people responsible for transporting 20 of the NHL’s 30 teams across North America.
A pilot of 34 years, Reid has spent the last 10 with Air Canada’s Jetz program, a charter service that flies NHL and NBA teams, corporate clients, politicians and musicians.
Born and raised in Whitehorse, Reid currently lives in Delta, B.C., where his most frequent clients are the Vancouver Canucks, Anaheim Ducks and LA Kings.
He flies an Airbus 320, one of five used in the Jetz program.
Commercially equipped to carry 144 seats, the planes are stripped down to 64 and customized to suit whatever team is flying that day.
Each year, a crew of flight attendants are heavily screened, selected and then assigned to one team for the entirety of the season.
In addition to providing a concierge service to the players and team staffers, the attendants also groom the plane after each landing and replace the head biddies, menu cards and napkins to correspond with the next team.
“The plane looks like it’s owned by the team when they’re done with it,” said Reid in an interview in downtown Whitehorse.
“You’d never know that a couple hours later it would look the same for another team.”
The attendants also develop a relationship with the players, getting to know what food they prefer, what they like to drink and when they just want to sleep.
“The attendants learn everything, so when the players sit down, everything is customized for them,” said Reid.
“I think that’s why this program continues to grow, because we do whatever it takes to make everyone happy.”
With their schedules heavily loaded with travel, sleep is an important factor to consider for the team.
Several of the teams bring ‘sleep coaches’ on board, who determine when it would be most advantageous to sleep and how much rest each individual should get.
The teams also bring along a nutritionist, who work with the flight crew to prepare meals and accommodate individual diets.
A standard Jetz menu includes an assortment of canapés, roast beef garnished with cantaloupe, crab salad garnished with parsley and radish or grilled beef tenderloin with green peppercorn sauce and oven roasted vegetables and garlic mashed potatoes.
But one of the most popular choices is a little simpler than that: peanut butter and jam sandwiches.
“You can offer them steaks and all this high class food but if a guy gets on and wants a peanut butter and jam sandwich for whatever reason, and a lot of them do, well they (the flight attendants) get out a loaf of bread and make it.”
The item is requested so often the attendants operate under the nickname of ‘PB and J’s.’
Air Canada is the only airline that offers a charter service like Jetz and it’s dedication to accommodating it’s clients has allowed the program to grow from six, 13 and now 20 NHL teams over the last 10 years.
“The beauty is you’re not going into a terminal building and checking in with all your hockey equipment,” said Reid.
“Most of the time they finish late at night and maybe there’s no direct flight so it becomes very complicated. What we offer is… they finish the game, have a shower, do their interviews and drive right to the airplane.”
By the time the bus pulls up beside the plane the equipment has already been loaded, customs officials clear the team onboard and a little more than an hour after finishing the game, the team is
in the air and en route to their next destination.
The teams board in the same pattern; the coaches, general managers, trainers and press take their seats in the front while the players head to the back, sitting in the same seats each time.
Interaction is mostly limited to the players amongst the players and the team staff amongst the team staff.
“I was surprised,” said Reid.
“You’d think everybody would be going everywhere, but their not all really buddies because any day the coach could come down and say I’m sending you to the minors or trading you here.”
Reid has flown both the regular season and into the playoffs and said while the energy is higher in the playoffs, the players tend to react the similarly after each win and loss.
“In both the post-season and regular season, there’s not a lot of emotion after a win or a loss,” he said.
“For them it’s just another day at work. Some you win and some you lose.”
No time was this more evident than in a New Year’s Eve match-up between the Canuck and St. Louis Blues in 2009.
Reid was scheduled to fly the Canucks home after the game and he, along with other members of the flight crew, were watching the game unfold at the airport.
Earlier in the day, the flight attendants had purchased champagne and streamers in anticipation of the celebration to come but with the Canucks trailing 3-0 heading into the third period, they thought they might as well pack everything away.
In that final period, Daniel Sedin woke up the team with just over five minutes to go, burying a wrist shot into the back of the net. Goals by Henrik Sedin and Mikael Samuelsson would send the game into overtime.
Just over two minutes into the extra frame Christian Ehrhoff scored the game winner and the players erupted into celebration on the ice.
At the airport, the flight crew prepared for a raucous ride home.
When the bus pulled up, the players filed out, took their seats, enjoyed their snacks and went to sleep.
“It was just another game,” said Reid.
“Maybe they were just bone tired, but we thought they would be coming on and celebrating but they just took it easy.”
In the post-season, the players are even more focused on getting their rest.
“They walk up the stairs, I can see them out my window, and they all look like they’ve been in a street fight,” said Reid.
“They’re cut and bruised and bandaged. It’s amazing they can go out the next night and strap on their skates and do it again.”
Along with the 20 individual groups of flight attendants for each of the 20 teams, there is also one mechanic assigned to each plane that travels on board.
A large cross-section of employees that are anxiously waiting to see how a seemingly impending NHL lockout unfolds.
Next week, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will meet with the NHL board of governors and all signs indicate that the players will be locked out for the third time in the last 18 years.
For Reid, a lockout means he’ll be back to commercial flying.
With just three years to go until he turns 60 and takes his retirement, Reid is looking forward to returning to the Yukon full-time and moving into his home on Army Beach in Marsh Lake.
His song, Cameron, is based out of Whitehorse where he flies a Hawker-Sidley 748s for Air North.
While he’s impressed with his Dad’s gig, Cameron is happy with the tight-knit operation that Air North runs.
“He really loves flying for them and he’s told me he could spend his days there,” said Reid.
As a kid, Reid never expected to be flying around some of the most famous people in North America but he credits growing up in Whitehorse and the opportunities he was granted in the North to helping him along in his career.
“I just knew flying was what I was always going to do,” he said.
“Anybody can do it, you just have to put in the time. From an aviation point of view, the North has an advantage. There’s a lot of opportunity here because of the distance, flying is just a big part of the North where as in a big city, it’s not as much.”
Despite not being a fan of the game while growing up, Reid said he’s changed his mind over the years.
His proximity to the players, coaches and team staff have granted him insight into a world many can only dream about.
Just ask the kids in his neighbourhood.
While walking to his car one day on his quiet suburban street a curious bystander happened to ask Reid where he was going.
“Well, I’m flying the Canucks down to Boston,” he responded.
“I am now the man,” Reid says, laughing and reflecting on the scene.
“Everyone says, ‘say hi to Roberto for me, say hi to Henrik for me,’ and as much as I think it’s a cool job, the neighborhood kids think it’s very, very cool.
“We’re all buddies now.”