- Delta pilots Brent and Kelly Knoblauch first met as interns in 2010. Now, they’re married with two kids.
- They said communication and flexibility is the key to both a successful flight and relationship.
- Here are their top 10 travel tips for couples, as told by Insider reporter Hannah Towey.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with ATL-based 737 Captain and First Officer Brent and Kelly Knoblauch, who are both commercial pilots at Delta Air Lines. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Kelly: Brent and I first met in 2010, when I was still in college at the University of North Dakota. I got this call from Delta and was able to interview for a flight operations internship and ended up getting it, which totally blew me away. So I went down to Atlanta for the summer internship and on my first day walking to my cubicle … there’s Brent.
Brent: I graduated a year prior from Jacksonville University in 2008. I was a Delta intern in 2008 came back to help with our triple seven pilot group and do a sleep and fatigue study, of all things. So that’s what I was doing during the summer we met. With those internships, it’s a lot of fun. We get to do a lot of stuff to support our flight operations team but then also in your off time, if a seat is available, you can travel. So we spent that summer kind of traveling the world together.
Kelly: It was a group of four of us interns at the time and we would just go anywhere we could find open seats. We would hit these random cities and then eat and sleep on the airplane on the way back and be back to work by 8 a.m. on Monday. So that was kind of how our relationship first developed.
Brent: It’s been fun because ever since that point, we’ve really kind of been stepping together along our different career paths. I went to ExpressJet and then a year later, Kelly flew for ExpressJet, and we were flying regional jets. Then in 2014, I was hired at Delta. And then I think almost a year to the day, Kelly was also hired as a pilot back at Delta.
Kelly: I became an airline pilot just over 10 years ago and been on the 737 at Delta since 2015. I grew up on a farm kind of watching crop dusters, and I have six brothers and sisters — so I always did my best to be the most interesting.
Brent: I grew up in upstate New York, kind of in the Finger Lakes region. My mother was the director of the tourism bureau for our county. So we would do a lot of traveling to tourism conferences across the country as a kid. I took my first flight lesson in 2003. That summer, when I turned 16, I soloed an airplane for the first time, a little Cessna 150. My dad literally had to drive me to the airport because I didn’t have a permit or a driver’s license or anything — so I got to solo an airplane before I ever got to even drive a car.
Kelly: It’s funny just how different our starts were, you know me on this farm and way up in Northern Minnesota. I had never been on an airplane at all before I went to flight school — so my first time flying was my first lesson. Growing up on the farm, I always wanted to drive things, I always wanted to be the one who got into the combine and got to harvest the wheat and I had this tractor to drive around. For a career, I knew I wanted something where I could be out and about and not sitting in an office somewhere, so I landed on aviation.
Brent: I’ve helped out with our propel pilot career path program, I’m a pilot recruiter actually, and this is an extremely exciting time in our industry. If you have that interest or passion, go take a discovery flight. Go to your local airport, get in a little plane and see if you like it. There are so many opportunities out there in this industry.
We’re very reliant on childcare, but we actually get more time with our kids than a regular 9-to-5 would allow
Kelly: We have two little boys. They’re six and four. People ask me specifically, probably more than Brent, like, “who raises your kids?” But I think we actually have more free time and more flexibility in this job than most people have been a regular nine-to-five.
Obviously we’re very, very reliant on our childcare. I was lucky enough to talk my niece into moving in with us recently so now we kind of have a live-in nanny situation. We also have an extremely comical series of photos where Brent will drive up to the airport with the kids in the car, and we’ll basically do a curbside high five, I’ll jump in the car and run back home, and he’ll go back to work.
Brent: It’s always been a partnership with equal roles and responsibilities. The key to any successful relationship and also by the way, any successful flight, is communication. Being able to see what you’re seeing, what you’re hearing, what you’re suspecting, and just being open about that. I think that’s something that we’ve learned on the job that has also benefited us so much personally.
Kelly: It’s crazy how some of that training that we get in the flight deck really carries over into our personal life — sometimes in good ways, sometimes in bad ways.
What’s really cool is that I think we probably talk shop to each other a little more than most people. The pilot career and lifestyle is so different from most people’s that when you try to communicate how it actually is, sometimes it’s hard for other people to understand. But, we’re able to bond over that in a way.
We piloted our first flight together in January during a massive Winter storm
Brent: We actually just flew a plane together for the first time in January.
Kelly: That was the first time our careers finally aligned because Brian upgraded to Captain last February and after that, I went to the training department to work as an instructor. So I ended up back on the line in January and Brent was looking at the same trip as me — so we flew the three-day trip together.
We started off down Panama City and up to Hartford, Connecticut and then back to Atlanta. With the two little guys, it felt like the first time we were able to have an uninterrupted conversation in years. It was funny because we got into the airplane and you just snap into it and it was like flying with any normal Captain.
Brent: Besides just flying together, the trip will be memorable because there was a big old storm that went up the East Coast. We were one of the planes that unfortunately had bad weather sitting over the airport and we couldn’t land. We had an unplanned stop in Charleston to get gas, but everything worked out.
Kelly: It actually went really well. And I was like, well we do hard things together all the time. Like, you never know when you’re going to have a kid sick in the middle of the night and you just go and deal with it.
Every couple has their own travel style, and you learn to play into each other’s strengths
Kelly: When we’re traveling together, we have this yin-yang thing to be honest. Brent in general is more of a planner and more methodical.
Brent: The first thing I do when I get to a hotel, at least when I’m traveling for work, I set a timeline for when I’m leaving this hotel and I immediately get myself ready for the next day. That’s my organization style.
Kelly: Even when we’re planning personal trips, Brent is the one planning itineraries and making dinner reservations and I just show up. So it’s fun, he’s able to figure out the overall structure.
Brent: But when you’re traveling, you also have to be spontaneous. And I can always count on Kelly to bring that energy and it kind of breathes new life into the whole trip.
Kelly: One of the main things that we do every time we travel is pack for flexibility because you never know what could happen. If we can manage to, we love to just travel with carry-ons, and if you can’t manage carry-ons, at least have something that gets you through at night in your bag at all times.
Brent: When you travel a lot, you learn to be very flexible and over-communicate. The other thing about being a pilot is always knowing what your other solutions are and always having a backup plan.
Kelly: The other thing too that I think passengers should have is a mental mindset that hey, everybody here wants to get this done. The pilots want to get there, the flight attendants want to get there, the gate agents definitely want us out of there. So if something’s not going to plan, it’s not because they’re not trying hard enough.
These are our top 10 travel tips and hacks for couples
- Be spontaneous: Don’t plan out your entire trip and see where it can take you. Being spontaneous has been a fun way to bond and figure it out together. Always understanding that the journey is just as important as the destination.
- Always pack snacks: Staying fueled helps you avoid any added travel tension.
- Learn each other’s travel style and play to each other’s strengths: Every couple travels in different ways. Brent is very much the planner and does all the research for the trip, where Kelly adds spontaneity and fun by showing up just ready to go at the airport.
- Your time on vacation is just as valuable as your money: Whether it is obsessing over finding the “right” souvenir for everyone at home or queuing for that perfect Instagram photo — you planned, waited and saved for this trip — spend your moments wisely.
- Get off the beaten path: When it comes to where you stay, what you do, and how you eat. Although it is always worthwhile to see the major attractions of a given destination, our most lasting travel memories are usually the more authentic, local, cultural experiences.
- Remember everything you pack you must carry: Nobody wants to be the person getting off the airplane with an unmanageable load of stuff — don’t overpack!
- Pack a portable sound machine that can help mask the thinnest walls and the inevitable late night emergency vehicle/junior high cheerleading competition in your hotel.
- Create a fun Kodak Photo Challenge: On most vacations we have our own Kodak photo challenge. We buy a single use camera for a given trip. Sometimes the limited number of shots help you to slow down and really appreciate each moment. Plus, the printouts are usually epic.
- Brent’s top hack is to create a note that lists everything you may have in your wallet: Just in case it gets misplaced. We also carry a photocopy of each other’s passports and leave non-essentials at home.
- Kelly’s top hack is to pack a night-stand kit: Streamline your night-time routine by creating a kit with your ChapStick, phone charger, hand cream, etc. to make your time away feel a little more like home.