Posted on Jul 14, 2019
Lots of pilots use their own planes for business meetings and long-trip vacations. John Key decided to become an angel as he became interested in the work of Angel Flight, a nonprofit that helps people who need transportation to medical treatment far from home. Pilots, at their own expense, provide the flight at no cost to patients and passengers.

John Key, gave Southwest Rotary of Wichita Falls an update regarding his flights in support of on Angel Flights, Key, who practices law in Wichita Falls and is a Past President of the Southwest Rotary Club, began volunteering for Angel Flight in 2008. "Angel Flight gives me the chance to be of some help to others while doing something I enjoy more than about anything: flying," said Key.

What Angel Flights does

Angel Flight South Central's mission is to help people in need of free air transportation for medical and humanitarian purposes. Angel Flight arranges travel through a network of volunteer pilots for people who require specialized medical treatment not available to them locally.

Volunteer pilots provide this transportation at no cost to the patients or passengers. Since 1991, Angel Flight South Central pilots have flown over 32,000 missions and have contributed over $90 million to this effort.

Angel Flight South Central cooperates with hospitals, doctor's offices, social workers, and social service agencies to identify those who need our services the most. Some hospitals (like Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center) have integrated Angel Flights into their admissions and social services departments to ensure availability to their clients.

Our mission coordination team connects passengers in need of transportation with pilots available for missions so that details such as airport of departure and destination can be confirmed. On the day of travel, the passenger meets the pilot at a local airport and is flown to an airport near their treatment facility. When necessary, multiple trip “legs” are arranged with additional pilots.  

Angel Flight South Central coordinates with similar agencies across the nation, which allows us to provide service to patients and passengers who require travel beyond our primary service region (TX, AR, LA, NM, OK). Because of the sacrifice and commitment of our volunteer pilots, we believe that no one has to be denied critical medical care solely due to the barrier of distance.

John’s Experiences


John shared that there are about 1500 pilots in Angel Flights South Central, with 500 active.  John is quite active, ranking in the top 10 pilots in Angel Flights South Central. Daily we get an email from the office in Dallas with information about flight destinations, passengers and weight and the time people need to travel,' Key explained. 'You put in for a mission and the next day you hear back if you got it.'

In discussing the patients flown by Angel Flight, Key said, "many are facing an acute medical crisis in their lives." Key said that he is impressed with the courage and graciousness shown by Angel Flight patients while facing circumstances that can seem overwhelming. 

John has 3000 hours in his 1966 Beechcraft Bonanza, most in support of Angel Flights.   His cruising speed is 165 knots. His plane is not pressurized, nor does it have air conditioning so planning the time of departures and arrivals makes a difference in passenger’s comfort. John normally cruises at 10,000 to 12,000 feet where the temperature is comfortable even in summer.

Houston flights going into Sugarland instead of Hobby can help as well as Hobby has so much air traffic that you can spend almost an hour routed at 5,000 down in the weather.

Half of John’s flights are to MD Anderson in Houston for patients to receive cancer treatment.  The support system in Houston includes volunteers with Houston Ground Angels who transport the passenger from the airport to MD Anderson.  At other airport locations passengers are responsible for their own ground transportation.

Key has met a variety of passengers, all on a mission of their own. Some love carrying on conversation from takeoff to landing, while others are shy and quiet.  'I like meeting people. Some are facing big medical decisions but they're still good for making the trip,' Key said. 'One lady told me God was the pilot and that nothing could scare her.'

Other Angel Care passengers have included victims of domestic violence; hospice care families visiting loved ones; people seeking second medical opinions; and CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteers visiting youth in their care.  While John has not transported blood, organs or tissue, other Angel Flight pilots have.

People seeking transportation have an online application filled out by a doctor or social worker and then their request is screened. Not so much a financial test but checking to make sure the passenger can participate as required in the travel, e.g. boarding the plane, traveling without medical attendants. About 40% of the requested missions are filled, those not filled are due to a lack of pilots.

John has also carried people on their way to Chicago, with John carring them to Wichita on the first of three legs for the trip.  He has also taken passengers to New Orleans and carried a baby and caregiver to Houston for life saving surgery.

John makes two to three flights per month on average.  In the last couple of weeks he has made seven flights.  Fuel costs are about $250 per flight with aviation gas costing $4.70 per gallon here in Wichita Falls and $7+ at Hobby. "And I'm proud of Southwest Rotary for being a part of making this possible," said Key. 

What are the ideas to do more?

John shared that Angel Flights South Central is working to get a turbo prop plane that would have pressurized cabin and cruising speed of more than 250 knots and would be able to get to Chicago in one flight.  In addition to purchase price of more than $2.5 million this plane would have a $30,000 to $40,000 per month operating cost.  

John and others in Angel Flights South Central are working to make this dream possible as one plane of this type available to passengers would help increase the ability to meet flight requests that can’t be served today.

John has a meeting in the near future with MD Anderson. Their CEO, CFO and a board member will join John to see what can be done to help fund this flight capacity need.

Southwest Rotary – People of Action

“Annually, SW Rotary Club puts some funds in my fuel account at Kickapoo Airport. It makes it possible for me to fly far more people than I could on my own,” says Key.  Fellow Rotarian Dan Campbell first proposed supporting John’s work with Angel Flight. "We are all very proud of what John is doing for people in our area who need this kind of assistance," said Campbell, "and I am very pleased that SW Rotary Club is able to support him in his efforts."