In this article describing cabin crew-life before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the airline industry, we are proud to present Norma Heape, perhaps the world’s most experienced flight attendant. Here you can learn about this beloved flight’s attendant fantastic career in the sky.
This is an update of this article, published on January 5, 2019.
Being a flight attendant is not a job – it’s a lifestyle
Have you noticed the often-large gap between the age groups of your flight attendants?
Of course, with today’s anti-age discrimination laws in hiring practices, there is no surprise to find a mature-looking cabin crewmember on duty just to discover she or he is a new hire!
Some flight attendants simply want to try out the job for a couple of years to see the world while getting paid. Then they intend to move onto something else.
For others, it becomes a lifetime love affair.
So many have told me: “being a flight attendant is not a job; it’s a lifestyle for life.”
The cabin crewmember experience
No flight attendant on earth is more fitting of the job’s description of “being a lifestyle rather than a job” than one of the world’s most senior ones.
This one may even be THE most senior cabin crewmember on earth!
Norma Heape became a flight attendant for Continental Airlines in 1957.
That was years before jets entered the market.
Back in those days, flight attendants were called “Hostesses”.
When Norma got hired Robert Six was the CEO of Continental Airlines (1936 to 1980). He was one of the finest airline CEO’s ever and a highly respected man among Continental’s employees.
Norma had the privilege of working under his helm, and his very-active-with-the-airline-second-wife, actress Audrey Meadows.
Audrey Meadows played Ralph Cramden’s wife in the Honeymooners TV series, starring Jackie Gleason.
A Tribute to a great Flight Attendant
Before entering the airline world
Prior to getting hired with Continental, Norma had already fallen in love with traveling the world.
She worked as a model, and she lived for a short while in Hong Kong, as well as attending Le Cordon Bleu School in Paris.
Working as a Flight Attendant
The glory days of the airlines are long gone, but Norma is like a walking encyclopedia of what it is like working for an airline as a cabin crewmember.
Reflecting on the early times, Norma says that one of the things which attracted her to Continental Airlines was that the airline’s flight attendant uniforms were different.
Continental’s uniform was different because it did not have the look of the traditional military-style flight attendant uniforms of the era.
She says that
You were basically expected to know how to walk and talk, plus know the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements.
A flight attendant could not be married, and the airline would put you on a scale to meet weight requirements prior to flight.
Being asked out for dinner with the hotel manager on layovers and being asked to sign autographs at the airport were common requests that she received at the time.
Norma’s most notable Celebrity Passengers
Big celebrities Norma has served over the years include President Truman and Muhammad Ali.
The Vietnam War
During the war, Continental Airlines was a Military Airlift Command civilian airline operator. Their mission was to safely carry GIs to and from Vietnam.
She was one out of 17 Continental Airlines flight attendants who volunteered for this patriotic duty for 4 years.
Is she still actively working as a crewmember as of the original publishing of this article?
Yes, she is, going as strong as ever!
Continental Airlines merged with United Airlines in 2010.
The name Continental was abolished to operate the merged airline as United Airlines only.
Therefore, Norma is now a United Airlines flight attendant.
When asked if it’s time to retire, now at 82 years of age, her answer is simply
“not anytime soon”.
And, now to the most incredible fact about Norma:
She has not missed one day of work ever! In other words, she has not “called in sick” one single day of her working life in 62 years. That’s a perfect attendance record!
If you fly United Airlines, have you had the privilege of being served by Norma Heape? If so, please let us know, tell us about your experience!
A 2008 CBS News Story about Norma
Featured Image: Continental Airlines memories.