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Lone passenger on U.S. flight gets VIP treatment: 'Welcome aboard, Bob'

"Hi Bob," the pilot said with a wave to the jet's sole passenger, who filmed the experience. "I'm just making a video," Bob Pitts said. "Talking to myself. There’s nobody to talk to."
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A man on a Southwest Airlines flight from Ft. Lauderdale to St. Louis on Thursday night didn't need a seat in first class to receive VIP treatment.

That's because he was the only passenger on the plane.

Bob Pitts documented some of the flight in a series of videos.

"We're going on our little flight from Ft. Lauderdale to St. Louis," Pitts said from his aisle seat. "It's about 8:30 and I'm the only person on the plane."

"It's a very, very, very unique experience," he said.

As unique as it may have been for Pitts, airline travel has dropped so precipitously that even with reduced flights, some of those planes that remain in the air apparently have fewer passengers.

The Transportation Security Administration said this week the number of people choosing to fly has plummeted over the last few months as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Airlines for America, an industry lobbying group that represents Southwest and other major carriers, said passenger volume is down 97 percent to a level not seen since 1954.

"Before this global emergency, U.S. airlines were transporting a record 2.5 million passengers and 58,000 tons of cargo each day," Airlines for America President and CEO Nicholas E. Calio said in a statement Tuesday.

Pitts, who wore a gray bandanna as a face covering on his flight, was traveling to St. Louis for his mother's wake. Her death was unrelated to the coronavirus.

In another of his videos provided to NBC News and recorded during the pre-departure announcement, Pitts is personally greeted by a flight attendant and the pilot.

"I'm talking to Bob," a flight attendant says to the pilot as he stands near the cockpit.

"Hi Bob," the pilot says as he waves to Pitts.

Pitts responds: "Hello everybody."

The flight attendant seemed to see the humor in the situation.

As she addressed the audience of one, she advised Pitts to make sure his seatbelt was securely fastened, the seat back and tray tables were in their most "uncomfortable" position, and "all those carry-on items you brought on board are underneath the seat in front of you or in the overhead bin, leaving the area around your feet clear."

"Thanks for coming along with us," the flight attendant says. "I want to make sure we show you some of this Southwest hospitality. So when you land, you're going to take out that flip phone your grandma bought you for Christmas. You're going to call her. You're going to tell her, 'This was my best flight ever.' Welcome aboard, Bob."

At the start of another video, Pitts says into his camera, "I have a wake to attend this weekend that's very important to me," before he is approached by a flight attendant who asks how he's doing.

"I'm doing fine. Thank you so much. Doing just perfect. I feel like I'm VIP," Pitts says. The flight attendant asks who he is talking to on his phone, and Pitts says: "I'm just making a video. Talking to myself. There’s nobody to talk to."