Meet The Most Senior Flight Attendant In The World

The Boston Globe ran a fun story over the weekend about Bette Nash, a 79 year old US Airways flight attendant who has been flying for 57 years. That possibly makes her the longest serving active flight attendant in the world.

Here’s a video of her on a Washington National to Boston flight:

The article is also well worth a read, and focuses on how the industry has fundamentally shifted since she first started flying. But most insightful is the biggest lesson she has learned from all of these years:

But Bette, as she approaches her birthday on New Year’s Eve, says she has found something that seems universal and true.

“People want a little love. And I don’t mean a lot of hugging and everything, even though we might do that. But this is the big thing: People need attention. You can’t buy love. You can’t buy attention. But people need this.”

“And it’s for free,” Bette says. “You can give this to people for free.”

What an awesome person!

I find that the super senior flight attendants (the ones that have been flying for 40+ years) are both among the best and the worst in the industry. Some long for the “good old days” of how things used to be and are disgruntled and disgusted by the current state of the US airline industry, and let that out on passengers. Others genuinely seem to love what they do, regardless of whether they’re serving filet or pretzels. And Bette definitely seems to fall in the latter category.

I hope to fly with her one day!

Comments

  1. She does seem great.

    That said, same comment as the last video about that dude who’d been flying forever…Is she really expected to perform all the safety stuff? Opening doors and exits, slides, helping people get out quickly in case of an emergency?

    Do they have an extra FA on the plane when she’s flying?

  2. I think it goes both ways. The passenger will certainly help make a flight attendant like Bette smile more if he/she gives her some attention back — for free! 🙂

  3. @Neil S

    You would be surprised at what good physical condition some older folks are in….being a flight attendant isn’t an easy job. Many flight attendants are on their feet most of their day. So the work keeps one in good shape.
    Besides you do know captains don’t have to retire until age 65?

  4. I love this.
    Just one question, I know F/As get favourable flights based on seniority. Dying to see what her schedule looks like, haha!

  5. I cannot seem to wrap my head around someone this old successfully directing and assisting dozens or even hundreds of irrational passengers twice her size and strength in a true emergency. I don’t expect American flight attendants to be friendly or attractive, but I do expect them to be relatively competent when it comes to safety. Perhaps I’m still expecting too much from a US based service industry.

  6. Congratulatios to Bette for staying with the industry this long.

    If Norma Heape is still flying with United, I think her and Bette might be tied for this title. Peter Greenberg did a similar article back in late 2010. Here it is. http://youtu.be/SuaJSKZ7EeM

  7. @DAX,
    I understand why you would see some difficulty in an elderly flight attendant during emergency situations, however I do not have the same concerns. If hundreds of unruly passengers is the issue, then being a young fit female is scarcely an advantage. The unruly passengers would still be twice her size and strength. I think that in an emergency leadership and stability are essential. If Bette behaves in a calm reassuring manner, the nearby passengers will hopefully take her cue and behave likewise. If not, then being 40 years younger will probably not have any positive effect on the situation. Just my opinion.

  8. @JP…

    It’s not about a single attendant physically holding back dozens of passengers through shear strength. It’s about being sharp enough, quick enough, and authoritative enough to counteract a mob mentality before it gets out of control. If passengers see the attendants taking charge and handling the emergency with relative ease then that experience helps keep people calm and compliant. On the other hand if passengers see an old lady straining to be heard over the crowd and struggling to get around others then their faith in the staff’s abilities will quickly deteriorate.

    It’s not only failures and crashes I’m talking about. Time and again I’ve been told that the attendants are there primarily for our safety. If that’s the case then fair enough, but when was the last time you read an article about an unruly passenger being restrained by the attendants alone? The best those frail ladies and skinny men can do is cry for help from the paying passengers. At which point we’re basically down to shouting instructions and hoping for the best.

    That’s not to say I’m against all these elderly attendants who were working these jobs even before I was born. If anything I wish they received enough pay from our airfare to retire comfortably before reaching the age where they risk serious harm by falling or being bumped into.

  9. I second the many concerned opinions here. It’s “cute” to read about 100-year-old FAs, but frankly I don’t feel safe around them. I understand that they “may” have passed a recent fitness/safety test, but a) I doubt it, and b) even if they did, perception is everything and I want to “feel” like my FA is fit for the job.

    In addition, what @Lucky said: many times being old makes them cranky and mean. This lady is an exception on that front — obviously — but my initial point stands.

  10. Bette….good for you! I flew for United and at 69, wish I were still flying. I loved my job, but because of my children, I made a decision to quit. Besides being a veteran of the U.S. Navy, flying was the best and most rewarding career for me. Congratulations and I hope you have many more years of flying,

  11. On a recent flight (Sat, 3/7/2014 at 10:00) from BWI to Charlotte, there was a US Airways F/A’s who was old, fat, grumpy, and all she did was bitch in the jump seat in the back of the plane about how bad she has it and how crappy her job and union are. It was loud enough to be heard well into the cabin from the back of the plane. She kept rambling on about her schedule and how she had been there for 27 years and deserved better in addition to complaining that she and her family of 4 can’t get any free flights for being a USAir employee like she used to. It was done from the time she put the seat belt on until the plane landed. If I am a US Air, I’d be pissed that she was representing the company. She couldn’t even get down the aisle because she was so fat that she had to turn sideways to move.

    But, she has seniority and is in the union so US Air has to put up with her, her horrible demeanor, and her inability to realistically help in a safety situation.

    This is why USAIR, United, and American suck. Southwest rocks…

  12. @rob anderson,

    I hate to say this, but many employees at many companies have very similar attitudes. I am not making excuses for these attitudes. But, since so many companies have been treating their employees like garbage, the attitudes have spread over to many different industries. It is sad. My own company used to be a top 10 employer, but now many years isn’t even on the top 100 employers list. I am hoping that the economy keeps improving, which will force employers to pay and treat their employees better. Because 7 years of low or no raises hasn’t helped attitudes at all.

  13. As a former FA with USAirways, I would fly with her anytime. You can’t buy love and experience.

  14. As a 30 year flight Attendant at AAL I would be honored to fly with Bette. I love her positive attitude toward people and wish more F/A’s were like her. She has it all going on!

  15. She most definitely has to pass the yearly recurrent training. It’s an FAA requirement and absolutely no one is given any free passes. You have to be able to open doors, open & lift windows on every single aircraft you are qualified on. You are also tested medical, self defense, safety and security issues. You must know how to locate and operate every bit of medical equipment on every aircraft. It’s 2 days of physical and mental testing. If you do not pass, you cannot fly.

  16. Being old doesn’t make them cranky and mean! Haven’t you ever had that grandma who baked you cookies and was nice year round? XD

  17. What an inspiring lady. The point of this story is lost among many. It has little to do with age other than to point out Bette’s tenure and experience with US Airways. It has nothing to do with physical size. And it has absolutely nothing to do with the last poor experience you had on an airplane. But it has everything to do with attitude of service, respect, warmth, a sense of humor, and love of people. I wish I had a ‘Bette’ on all my flights. It would be sheer joy.

  18. I believe that one of the original Hawaiian stewards at United beat this record, he only recently retired. 57 years is quite an accomplishment though!

  19. Having been a Flight Attendant for almost 27 years I can tell you that the FAA requires ALL Flight Attendants to demonstrate proficiency in opening aircraft door and window exits in very stressful simulated mock up situations. If you do not pass, you do not get to continue to fly….it’s that simple. We are always told that if an emergency situation ever does arise, that our training will automatically take over and we will execute our commands and actions just like we do in our annual drills. For me personally, I would feel very comfortable flying with Bette because she has gone through those evacuation and emergency drills so many times she could probably do it in her sleep. Kudos to you Bette! I hope I am still as vivacious and charming as you are when I have been flying 57 years!

  20. Flight crew are tested at least one time per year to perform evacuations of all aircraft, raft drills, medical emergencies, and cabin preps for planned/unplanned evacuations. Bettie meets the requirements.

  21. I had the privilege and pleasure to meet her personally on my flight from Frankfurt to Charlotte. We talked a lot and I was quite impressed about her very positive, outgoing attitude. What a great, loving, caring person she is. US Airways can be proud to have her as an employe! ♥

  22. I applaud Bette, as a 79 retired Realtor and pilot, I can associate with caring for people, she has more life experience than most people and carries herself proudly. The world needs more wonderful people like Bette! Toodie

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