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A captain's dream comes true

By Gladys Roman

SFO Boeing 787 Captain Al Langelaar was only 5 years old when his parents, survivors of WWII, decided to emigrate to the United States from the Netherlands in search of a better life.

"My parents grew up during the Nazi occupation. They were about 10 years old when the war broke out, and when they met later in life and had me, they didn't have a lot of money," recalled Al. "I remember my aunt dropping us off, us getting on a boat, and going inside a cabin to go on this journey across the Atlantic. We had really bad weather, and I got sick inside the cabin. That's basically all I remember."

It was Jan. 31, 1962, when Al and his parents arrived in New Jersey and then took a train to Pasadena, California, where they settled to start their new life.

"My parents didn't speak English, I didn't speak English, they were starting a new life and they worked hard," Al said.

The value of hard work is a lesson that he never forgot, and he knew he would have to work even harder the day he fell in love with airplanes.

"I was 18 years old, and one day a friend from school told me his dad had a small airplane and invited me to go up with him," Al recalled. "Once we were up in the air, he told me he knew some airline pilots. I asked him, 'How do you become an airline pilot?' And the next day I took my first flight lesson. I worked nights stocking shelves at a grocery store to pay for my flying lessons."

After working for several small commuter airlines, Al's career led him to United, and after 34 years of flying the friendly skies, he realized almost all of his dreams had come true. Just one thing was missing.

"I always dreamed of flying to my home country," he said.

Then, finally, the opportunity came. In August 2018, we announced new service between SFO and AMS (Amsterdam). When he heard the news, Al was enrolled in training to fly a Boeing 787 aircraft and wrote to Oscar asking him for the opportunity to be the captain for our inaugural flight.

"It would be an honor for me to fly this inaugural flight and represent United Airlines. My ties to the Netherlands are still strong, I speak fluent Dutch. I am proof positive that hard work and perseverance pay off, no matter how humble your beginnings," Al wrote. To his surprise, his request was granted, and on March 30, his dream came true.

"I actually teared up when my chief pilot notified me that I would have the chance to fly this route," said Al. "I wasn't expecting it. I know it's a very big deal. I know it takes a lot of coordination and trust, and It was just an honor to learn that they were going to put me on the flight and give me the opportunity to represent United on our very first flight from San Francisco to Holland."

After arriving at AMS, he returned to the neighborhood where he grew up, reuniting with the same aunt who drove him and his parents to the boat that took them to the United States 57 years ago.

"As we crossed the Dutch coastline and descended over the tulip fields just starting to bloom, the landscape looked familiar, but from a vantage point I never thought I would see," added Al. "The whole experience exceeded my wildest dreams."

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