Meet The 83-Year-Old Flight Attendant Who Has Seen The Decline Of An Industry

ron akana flight attendant

Photo: screenshot via New York Times video

Ron Akana, 83, has worked for 63 years as a flight attendant for United Airlines (now United -Continental), making him what many believe to be the longest-serving flight attendant in the United States, writes Michelle Higgins for The New York Times.Though Akana is considering retirement (the job has changed through the years, as safety has become more important than service) the work is not without its perks.

At one point, Higgins writes, Akana was making $106,000 a year. He can choose his own schedule, which for him entails three trips a month from Colorado to Hawaii, where he sees friends or plays golf.

Unlike stewardesses who were subjected to strict age restrictions in the 1960s, stewards like Akana were not as tightly regulated.

He recalled the glory days for Higgins:

Seats [on the Boeing Stratocruiser] were all first class, with four bunk beds up front and a private stateroom in the back with its own beds and bathroom. A circular staircase led to a lower-deck cocktail lounge, and flight attendants prepared hot meals for the 52 to 54 people on board.

Passengers dressed up to fly. “All the men had suits and ties on. The ladies were always showcases of fashion,” Mr. Akana recalled. “There was no such thing as walking on a plane with slippers.”

But of course, it wasn’t all glorious. And Akana has seen the industry decline. Writes Higgins:

In the early days, Mr. Akana recalls, cigarette smoke filled the cabin as passengers lighted up after takeoff. And between flights, the aircraft was sprayed with pesticide while flight attendants were still on board. He has lived through decades of deregulation and the turbulent industry economics, including bankruptcies and cuts that stripped flights of most services.

Now check out the best first class airline seats >

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