An airplane recently pulled a banner through the skies over Tampa Bay with an unusual message: COME TO PROM WITH ME, KAYLA?
Aerial proposals and love notes aren't unusual.
But for a date to the prom?
Alex Chichkov is 17. He and Kayla Bennett are seniors in the International Baccalaureate program at King High School.
"I wanted to do something big and unique," he said this week.
He timed it just right. The pilot had left Albert Whitted Airport in St. Petersburg around 4:30 p.m. Saturday. Thirty minutes later, he sent Alex a text to say the plane was near King High.
There, the young couple were walking at the school's Relay for Life event with more than 600 of their peers, raising money to fight cancer.
At nearly 5 p.m. the plane swooped low above the crowd.
Most of their friends already knew it was coming. Alex feared that one of them would slip and tell Kayla.
But no one did. She was completely surprised.
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While business clients have slowed in recent years, personal ads like Alex's have grown, said Remy Colin, owner of Aerial Messages, which operates nationally and internationally. His clients usually aren't teens, though — Alex was just his second. (About two weeks ago, Colin flew a similar prom invite.)
His planes make five passes, Colin said. The first is the "Wow!" That's where they say, "You're amazing. I can't believe you did this," Colin said.
On the second pass, people on the ground grab cameras, catching a blurry picture by the third trip. The fourth pass photo is the keeper.
By the fifth pass, the people on the ground are doing jumping jacks for the pilot, Colin said.
Pilots typically pull banners for wedding proposals, congratulations and anniversaries — and occasionally offer an apology.
But the "I'm sorry" banners never work, Colin said.
"Those guys, or even girls, have really messed up," he said. "Like cheating. I take their money knowing it's not going to change anything."
But love messages are always a hit.
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Alex works at Pardini USA, a shooting range on Dale Mabry. His dad owns the company and is training Alex to shoot in the 2016 Olympics.
He used his own money to pay for the banner, he said.
How much? Well, he didn't want to say — a true gentleman doesn't reveal the cost of a gift.
But the Times checked on the Aerial Messages website, and let's just say it's a bit costly for a high school student — more than the average prom night limo ride and dinner. He also ponied up for a dozen roses.
He and Kayla, who both live in Temple Terrace, have been a couple for two years. They've also both been admitted to the University of South Florida this fall. They plan to major in premed.
When Kayla, 18, realized what was happening, she said "yes."
Actually, she had assumed they were going together and already bought her dress for the April 21 prom.
Said Alex: "It was well worth it."
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3431.