NPR pays tribute to Bette Nash, the world’s longest-serving flight attendant

American Airlines flight attendant Bette Nash, who warmly welcomed passengers as they disembarked from her daily return flight to Boston at Reagan Washington Airport in 2017, passed away earlier this month.

The aviation community is deeply saddened by the loss of Bette Nash, a flight attendant based in D.C. who passed away earlier this month. Bette dedicated almost seven decades of her life to serving passengers in the skies, leaving a remarkable legacy as she made history along the way.

In 1957, at the young age of 21, Nash embarked on her career with Eastern Airlines, which unfortunately no longer exists. It was a time when Dwight Eisenhower held the presidential office, and flights between New York and D.C. were a mere $12. Back then, the dedicated flight attendants, known as “stewardesses,” would impressively serve lobster on platters and even distribute cigarettes to passengers during the journey.

During Nash’s time in the industry, there were significant changes, particularly with the advent of technology. For instance, handwritten tickets became a thing of the past. Additionally, American Airlines assumed control of some of Eastern’s routes.

However, as she expressed during a commemoration of her 60 years of dedicated service in 2017, the delights of the job continued to bring her fulfillment.

Nash expressed his deep fondness for the experience of interacting with passengers during boarding and deplaning. He shared, “I have always cherished the opportunity to meet and greet people as they embark and disembark from the aircraft. Each passenger has a unique story to tell, and it brings me immense joy to witness the fascinating diversity of individuals.”

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Nash’s presence on American Airlines flights has become more and more familiar in recent years, especially on the shuttle flights between Washington and Boston known as “the Nash-Dash.” This route holds a special place in her heart as it allows her to be there for her son, who has Down syndrome.

In 2022, Nash achieved the remarkable feat of becoming the longest-serving flight attendant, as recognized by the Guinness World Record. With an impressive career spanning over 64 years, Nash has dedicated her life to providing exceptional service in the aviation industry.

According to ABC News, she never officially retired. The news outlet reports that she passed away at the age of 88 while receiving hospice care, after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

American Airlines has confirmed the unfortunate news of her passing in a statement issued over the weekend. The airline described her as a “legend” within their company and the industry as a whole, acknowledging her significant impact and ability to inspire generations of flight attendants.

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants expressed their sorrow over Nash’s passing, acknowledging her exceptional career and the impact she had on the lives of many with her warmth, dedication, and unmatched service.

The union, which represents thousands of American Airlines flight attendants, expressed its admiration for Bette’s unwavering dedication to her passengers and her love for flying. They described her as an inspirational figure whose impact will be forever remembered in the aviation community and by all those fortunate enough to have known her.

Highlights from a historic career

In this captivating photo from the late 1950s, we see Nash in her role as an Eastern Airlines stewardess. The image, captured by James M. Thresher, showcases Nash in her element, serving passengers with grace and elegance.

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As a teenager, Nash’s first flight from Washington to Dayton, Ohio left a lasting impression on her and inspired her to pursue a career as a flight attendant.

According to American Airlines, she was captivated by the crew members’ spiffy appearances and gracious manners, and she herself fell in love with them a few years later.

In the late 1950s, passengers had the unique experience of purchasing life insurance from airport vending machines and paying for their airfare onboard, as reported by ABC affiliate WJLA.

Flight attendants were required to wear gloves, and Nash, in particular, was known for always carrying two pairs, just in case one got dirty. Additionally, they had to weigh in before starting their shifts.

In 2017, Nash shared with WJLA how the situation used to be dreadful. He expressed, “You would gain a few pounds and constantly have to monitor your weight. If you didn’t meet the standards, they would remove you from the payroll!”

Throughout her career, Nash had the privilege of serving numerous renowned passengers during her time at American Airlines. Interestingly, her most unforgettable encounter did not involve a prominent celebrity like Jackie Kennedy.

In a 2019 interview with the travel website The Points Guy, Nash shared a story from decades ago, before the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990. She recalled an incident where a passenger with disabilities was left behind at the gate during the boarding process, leading to a debate among the crew on how to handle the situation. Nash stepped in and assisted the passenger in boarding the aircraft. Throughout the flight, she also provided him with food as he was unable to use his hands.

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In 2017, American Airlines honored Nash’s “diamond jubilee” with a ceremony held at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, located just outside of Washington, D.C.

To celebrate her remarkable 60 years of service, the company presented her with a beautiful pair of diamond earrings. Additionally, they made a generous donation of $10,000 to the Sacred Heart Catholic Church Food Bank, a cause close to her heart and one she frequently supported.

Nash assured everyone that she had no intention of retiring from her flying career anytime soon.

“I find it enjoyable to continue working as long as I am in good health and capable,” she expressed. “It brings me a sense of fulfillment and keeps me engaged.”

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