Captain Luis Castillo and First Officer Luis Castillo Jr. are father and son pilots who often get the chance to do something most only dream of: fly planes together.

The Mexican-American United Airlines pilots once thought their dream of flying together was a “faraway fantasy,” but their paths lined up before Captain Castillo’s retirement.

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As the proud father explained to mitú, “The idea of my son now following in my footsteps, in this career and in this industry has been an absolute dream come true.”

Captain Castillo talked to mitú about growing up in East Los Angeles, enlisting in the Air Force, eventually “flying big jets” for United and the “surreal experience” of seeing his son become a pilot like him.

Meanwhile, his son, First Officer Castillo Jr., shared how his dad has been his inspiration since day one: “I thought if I loved any career as much as he loved his, I’d be doing well for myself.”

Father and son pilots Captain Luis Castillo and First Officer Luis Castillo.

One more adorable fact we can’t get over? When they’re not flying planes together in the cockpit, they love going on thousand-mile adventures on their motorcycles. Here’s everything about the father-son pilot duo we didn’t know we needed!

Captain Luis Castillo:

We’d love to know about your childhood. Can you talk to us about your childhood in East Los Angeles? Do you remember anything in connection to aviation?

I was born and raised in East LA, in a little town called El Sereno. There were a lot of lowriders in the neighborhood, so I had dreams of owning a lowrider as a kid. But not airplanes. Airplanes were pretty foreign to us as kids in East LA. 

You explained that kids from your neighborhood “didn’t typically dream of being jet pilots.” What inspired you to pursue your future career? Did anything specific in your childhood spark that idea?

Not in my childhood. I was getting into trouble as a teen and the idea of joining the military was a solution to escape my neighborhood to do something more positive. I went to enlist in the Marines, but the recruiter for the Marines was busy that day. Instead, I met with the aviation recruiter, who suggested that I enlist in the Air Force.

Looking back, I was 17 years old, and this was the summer before my senior year of high school. I completed my GED and enlisted in the Air Force without attending my senior year of high school. This is where my passion for flying really took shape. I started out as a jet mechanic for fighter jets, and from there, it became a realistic dream for me— the idea of flying these jets one day.

Father and son pilots Captain Luis Castillo and First Officer Luis Castillo.

Can you describe your time in the U.S. Air Force? How did you transition into becoming a Captain for United Airlines? What was behind that decision?

When I was a mechanic for the fighter jets in the Air Force, one of my friends suggested that we go to the small local airport and get our private pilot’s license. We went to the Apple Valley Airport and that is where I started to fly.  Once I got my private pilot’s license, one of the instructors suggested that I continue my training for a commercial license.

It was suggested that I become a flight engineer in the Air Force. I became an engineer for C104 — it’s a big transport jet. At that point, I was able to talk face-to-face with the pilots and converse about the potential to enter this as a career and start flying big jets for the airlines. From there, it really started to take shape for me.

How does it feel for your son to have followed in your footsteps today? Did you ever imagine that would happen? How does it feel when you fly together?

It’s such a surreal experience. At first, he started in the civil air patrol flying little planes, but when it was time to go to college, his interests were not in aviation. That’s where I felt my dream of him joining me and working together would probably never happen. He went to school to become a Park Ranger and I was very proud of him. But it wasn’t until after college that he realized his passion for flying. I started thinking that if he were to get his license before I retire, there was a chance we’d be able to fly together, and he might end up with me at United.

It felt like a faraway fantasy at this point, but when he really got involved and started flying for airlines, I realized that the timing could line up. We might be able to fly together at United before I retire – I’m retiring in 10 months! Once he got on at United, he got on the 777, which was exciting because most new hires start with narrow-body planes, but the 777 is a wide-body. The dream of us flying together became a reality, and ultimately it came true. It was amazing!

Father and son pilots Captain Luis Castillo and First Officer Luis Castillo.

Can you talk to us about the importance of family and legacy for you?

Coming from a Mexican-American family, the idea of family has always been very important to me. There were seven of us growing up, so the importance of family was embedded in us since we were little. I feel the same with my own family. I have four daughters and one son, it’s an absolute blessing.

The idea of my son now following in my footsteps, in this career and in this industry has been an absolute dream come true. I’m also starting to think now that I have grandchildren, perhaps I can get them involved in the journey as well and continue this legacy for our family long after I retire.

What would you recommend to any of our readers who dream of becoming a pilot?

Stay in school. But make sure that it is something that you are truly passionate about — make sure you are doing it for YOU and not someone else. This industry has many challenges and demands and only those that have a love of flying will keep going. If you truly love it, you will pursue it despite any obstacles. It was my love for flying that kept me moving in this direction to get to where I am today.

First Officer Luis Castillo, Jr.:

Can you talk to us about your childhood? What was it like growing up with a father who is a pilot?

I was born in LA but ended up going to junior high and high school in the suburbs of Chicago. I think you do most of your growing up when you are in high school. My dad really cemented in my siblings and me that being a pilot was an option — which was not the case for him growing up.

The biggest part was seeing how much he loved the job and the industry. I thought if I loved any career as much as he loved his, I’d be doing well for myself. 

When I was young, I was a little too immature to realize the benefits of the job and I thought it wasn’t cool to do the same thing as your dad. I went off in a different direction and pursued my own interests, but those interests eventually led me back to aviation.

How did your father inspire your future career? Did you always know you wanted to follow in his footsteps?

No, not at all. I was too immature in the beginning to realize the benefits. But my passions led me back to aviation, and I surprised my dad by calling him one day to tell him I wanted to talk about being a pilot. This can be an intimidating industry to get into unless you know someone who can guide you like a mentor.

That is what my dad did for me to really help identify which path I wanted to follow, and we came up with a plan together to get me there. It was incredibly helpful.

When I became more serious in my career, United [Airlines] was truly my goal. Throughout the process, I knew what I needed to do to get there, and I took the steps to do so. United, in general, was a worthy destination for my career, and having my dad work there made it that much more fulfilling. 

First Officer Luis Castillo.

Describe the pride you feel towards your father today.

The pride is pretty obvious. I grew up watching my dad go to work as a captain for United Airlines. Walking through an airport, people recognize the uniform and there’s that sense of prestige that comes with it.

Any time we’d travel together, or through my early career when I was flying smaller planes, I was always incredibly proud to see him in the airport and spend time with him. It left a pretty huge impression.

How does it feel being on the same base and fleet as your dad? What is it like getting the chance to fly planes together?

Since I started this journey, I always hoped it would happen. There were some cases where it seemed far-fetched, like during COVID. I thought for sure the chances of catching my dad before his retirement were out the window.

I was relieved when the effects of COVID on the industry were starting to recede and hiring picked up again. It revived the dream. And man, when I ended up on the 777, it was an easy choice that I had been training and hoping for a long time.

What do you and your dad like to do in your downtime? Any other notable hobbies or activities?

In our downtime, we ride motorcycles together. Not street riding, but more off-road riding with dual sports motorcycles. We went on a nine-day, 1900-mile adventure from southern Utah to the Sierra Nevada together, just the two of us.

Father and son Captain Luis Castillo and First Officer Luis Castillo.

We’d also love to know about the rest of your family life.

Right now, I’m living in Detroit with my partner, my best friend and our little dog. We are in the process of rehabbing our home and planning to move to California to be closer to base and enjoy flying as much as possible in base.

Lastly, what do you have planned for Father’s Day?

First Officer Luis Castillo Jr.: That is a bit of a secret for now! 

Captain Luis Castillo: I’ll be in San Diego visiting my daughter, but maybe there will be a surprise! I love when all my kids can get together.