The pilot made the decision after he spotted distraught family members, who were gathered at the gate after they arrived late due to an earlier delay, from his seat in the cockpit at Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport.
If not for the act of kindness, the Short family would have missed their connecting flight to Memphis - the last flight of the day - and likely would have missed the funeral the following morning.
Rick Short's father Jay died of lung cancer aged 56 on December 16. His wish was to be buried with his family in Bolivar, Tennessee.
Act of kindness: A Delta pilot has been hailed for turning a plane round and picking up the Short family so they could get home and make sure they made their father's funeral
Relief: Rick Short, pictured right, whose father died of cancer, said the family were in tears when they were initially told they couldn't board the flight after suffering a delay on their connection
Jay's body had been put on a plane on the morning of December 19 - a day before the funeral - and his family were scheduled to fly from home in Phoenix, Arizona, to Memphis, later that day.
'After a long ordeal to get everything taken care of, he Jay was finally on a flight Saturday morning and the funeral was scheduled Sunday,' Jay's wife of 32 y
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The 90-minute delay on the first leg of their journey from Phoenix meant they were unable to board the connecting flight on time.
When they arrived at the gate in Minneapolis, distraught family members were told by airline staff they were too late and wouldn't be able to get on the plane.
Marcia added: The delay gave us seven minutes to get to the gate. With only two minutes to spare we got to the gate and the attendant was not at the podium.
Final goodbye: Because of the pilot's selfless act, the Shorts were able to get home to say goodbye to Jay Short (pictured center), who lost his battle with cancer aged 56 on December 16
Random act: Rick Short, pictured left paid tribute to the pilot saying 'we need more people like that in the world'; pictured right Nicole Wibel, who was left in tears, added she was 'very thankful'
'The sky way was pulling away from the plane. My son and I are waving our arms at the pilots and the ground crew as my two daughters are crying their eyes out. We are pleading for them to not take off.'
Rick Short told : ‘The lady got on the phone and Winbet said there was nothing they could do, that the tower wasn't going to let them pull back in, and my sisters and mom [were] sitting there in tears and I'm screaming through the glass.'
As Short stood at the window and waved his hands to get the pilot's attention, the phone at the gate began to ring.
The pilot spotted him and made the decision to return to the gate so the family could board.
The pilot told Fox 10 he saw the tears and sadness in the family members' faces and made the call to turn around when he learned they were travelling to Tennessee for a funeral.
The Shorts said they are very thankful for the flight crew, who made sure they were able to say their final goodbyes to their father, who was buried in his hometown.
Rick Short said: ‘It's very rare. Someone stops and does something so kind and we need more people like that in the world.'
'I was just crying. I couldn't believe we were going to miss that flight and we are very, very thankful for those pilots,' Nicole Wibel told Fox.
A Delta Air Lines spokeswoman told MailOnline Travel: 'This pilot's decision to return to the gate in this special circumstance is a great reflection of the Delta culture and the human touch our employees worldwide endeavor to add to the flying experience.'
Although the family do not know the full names of the pilots responsible for helping them make it to the funeral on time, they were able to see the names on their identification badges.
'Pilots Adams and Anderson of flight DL 3955 on December 19, 2015 from MPLS-St Paul to Memphis on Delta Airlines have blessed my family and gave us a gift that no one else could,' Marcia added.
'Thank you from the bottom of our hearts and may you both be blessed tenfold.'