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6 Oldest Flight Attendants Ever in the World – Oldest.org

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While people aren’t doing much traveling these days due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, flying is still one of the most popular forms of transportation around the world. One of the things that make a flight enjoyable (or horrible) are the flight attendants. Flight attendants have been staples of air travel since 1912 when Heinrich Kubis became the first ever flight attendant. While none of these early flight attendants are still around today, all of the flight attendants on this list worked for over half a century! And some of them are still active today.

As of August 2020, the information on this list is as accurate as possible and will be updated as needed.

6. Ida Gomez Illanos (1940 – Present)

Age at Retirement or Current Age (as of August 2020): 79 years in 2019
Country of Origin:  Arkansas, USA
Airline(s): Delta Airlines
Tenure: November 1962 – June 6, 2019 (56 years, 7 months)

Ida Gomez Illanosphoto source: The Daily Mail


Unlike the other flight attendants on this list, whose longevity was celebrated, Ida Gomez Illanos was fired after 56 years of service with Delta Airlines. Gomez Illanos was terminated on June 6, 2019 for allegedly stealing milk. Of course, Gomez Illanos says that these allegations are not true and are part of an ageist smear campaign by her younger colleagues. According to Gomez Illanos several of her younger co-workers were jealous of her seniority and salary, which was $250,000 per year before she was fired After being fired, Gomez Illanos filed a wrongful termination lawsuit, but there has been no recent update on her case.

Despite how her career ended, Gomez Illanos had previously had a spotless record and has many fond memories. Gomez Illanos was well-liked by passengers and often received many kind letters.

Did You Know?

Before she was fired, Ida Gomez Illanos said that she hadn’t missed a day of work or called in sick in over 40 years.


5. Norma Heape (c. 1937 – Present)

Age at Retirement or Current Age (as of August 2020): 82 years in 2019
Country of Origin:  USA
Airline(s): United Airlines (formerly Continental Airlines)
Tenure: June 21, 1957 – December 17, 2019 (62 years, 5 months, 26 days)

Norma Heapephoto source: captainjetson.com

Before her retirement at the end of 2019, Norma Heape was one of the oldest and longest-serving flight attendants in the world. Heape was 82 when she retired and had started working as a flight attendant in 1957 when she was only 20 years old. Heape started her career with Continental Airlines, which later merged with United. At the time of her retirement, Heape was the most senior United Airlines flight attendant.

According to Heape, she says that she chose to work with Continental because she really liked their uniforms, which were different because it did not have the look of the traditional military-style flight attendant uniforms of the era. In her interviews, Heape also talked about how different things were back then for flight attendants. She said that female attendants had to be slim and were weighed before each flight. Things have come a long way since, but Heape never stopped loving her job.

Did You Know?

Before she became a flight attendant, Norma Heape was a model and lived in Hong Kong for awhile. She also attended Le Cordon Bleu School in Paris.


4. Ron Akana (1928 – Present)

Age at Retirement or Current Age (as of August 2020): 83 years in 2012
Country of Origin:  Honolulu, Hawaii, USA
Airline(s): United Airlines
Tenure: 1949 – August 2012 (63 years)

Ron Akanaphoto source: The New York Times


Although Ron Akana is not the oldest flight attendant ever, he does hold the Guinness World Record for being the longest serving flight attendant at 63 years. Akana joined United Airlines in 1949 when he was still in college and he was one of the airline’s first male flight attendants. According to Akana, he and his friends didn’t even know what a flight steward was and that they just enjoyed working with their female colleagues. Akana, who is from Hawaii, also said that becoming a flight attendant was a great way for him and his friends to get a ride to the continental U.S.

Akana ended up enjoying the job so much that he stayed. He was drafted in 1951 and served for two years in the military during the Korean War. Akana returned to United Airlines after his service ended. After 60 more years as a flight attendant, Akana decided to retire in 2012 after he was offered a buy-out.

Did You Know?

During his 63 years as a flight attendant, Ron Akana flew more than 20 million miles, the equivalent of circling the globe about 800 times or flying roughly 40 times to the moon and back.


3. Bette Nash (December 31, 1935 – Present)

Age at Retirement or Current Age (as of August 2020): 84 years, 7 months, 12 days
Country of Origin:  Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Airline(s): American Airlines (formerly Eastern Airlines)
Tenure: November 4, 1957 – Present (62 years, 9 months, 8 days and counting)

Bette Nashphoto source: The Points Guy


Bette Nash is currently the oldest active flight attendant in the world at 84 years of age. Nash’s story has been featured all over the internet in recent years as she continues to work and shows no signs of slowing down. In December 2019, Nash turned 84 and said once again that she had no intention of retiring anytime soon.

Nash said that she had dreamed of being a flight attendant since she was 16 years old and flew for the first time. After graduating from high school, Nash went on to earn a college degree, but never steered away from becoming a flight attendant. Nash made her dreams come true on November 4, 1957 when she was hired by the now-defunct Eastern Airlines. These days, Nash works the “shuttle” flights between Washington, D.C. and Boston so she can get home every night to take care of her special needs son. Since she’s a frequent staple on these short flights, they’ve come to be known as the “Nash Dash.”

Did You Know?

During her 62 years of service, Bette Nash has served some incredibly famous celebrities, including Jackie Kennedy and other members of the Kennedy family.


2. Iris Peterson (1922 – Present)

Age at Retirement or Current Age (as of August 2020): 85 years in 2007
Country of Origin:  USA
Airline(s): United Airlines
Tenure: 1946 – April 23, 2007 (61 years)

Iris Petersonphoto source: unitedafa.org (Iris Peterson pictured in purple)

Iris Peterson is the oldest female flight attendant ever so far (her record may be surpassed soon by some of the other women on this list). Peterson retired in 2007 at the age of 85 after 61 years of service with United Airlines. When Peterson was hired in 1946, airlines still had very strict requirements for their female flight attendants. Some of the rules placed on these women stated that they had to be unmarried, have no children, and had to retire by their early 30s because they were “too old” at that age.

Peterson set out to change things by holding various leadership positions in the flight attendants’ union. In 1953, Peterson became the first lobbyist for the Air Line Stewards and Stewardesses Association. Peterson and her female peers worked hard to destroy discriminatory practices, advancing the rights of women and uprooting gender discrimination.

Did You Know?

In 1952, Iris Peterson and the Association Of Flight Attendants (AFA) founder Ede Lauterbach helped conduct the industry’s first aircraft evacuation tests.


1. Robert Reardon (May 7, 1924 – June 3, 2016)

Age at Retirement or Current Age (as of August 2020): 90 years, 3 months, 23 days in 2014
Country of Origin:  Waverly, Minnesota, USA
Airline(s): Delta Airlines (formerly Northwest Orient)
Tenure: October 1, 1951 – August 30, 2014 (62 years, 10 months, 29 days)

photo source: unitedafa.org (Iris Peterson pictured in purple)

In 2014, Robert Reardon was forced to retire at the age of 90, making him the oldest flight attendant ever in the world. Despite working for Delta Airlines for over 60 years, Reardon was unceremoniously let go even though he was not happy with Delta’s decision. While Reardon’s colleagues at the time admitted that it was time for the 90 year old to retire, there were also upset at the way handled Reardon’s retirement. According to these colleagues, airlines typically happily celebrate these types of big milestones for their employees, but Reardon only received a small farewell party from co-workers. Up until the end of Reardon’s career, he maintained a full flying schedule and still flew around the world several times a month.

 

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