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Millions of Americans spend decades preparing for retirement, yet it sometimes sneaks up suddenly, when you’re least expecting it.

That’s what happened to Rocky Mann. He wasn’t planning to hang up his wings as a pilot for Southwest Airlines for at least a couple more years. But when the company offered him a generous buyout package this summer, he took it.

He and his wife Linda, a Southwest flight attendant who continues to work, are in good shape financially. They own a home in Cave Creek, Arizona, with no plans to downsize. Mann, who turns 61 in November, said Southwest will pay him more than two-thirds of his regular pay until 65. He also will retain his health insurance until then. 

While Mann likes the company and still enjoys flying, he said retirement