Bette Nash, Longest-Serving Flight Attendant in the World, Dies at 88

Nash became a flight attendant in 1957 and never stopped working

Woman in flight attendant uniform on a plane smiling
The late Bette Nash holds the Guinness World Record for longest career as a flight attendant, as well as oldest active flight attendant. Bill O'Leary / The Washington Post via Getty Images

When Bette Nash started working as a flight attendant in 1957, it was the golden age of air travel. Tickets from New York to Washington, D.C. cost just $12 (around $134 today), and travelers didn’t need reservations. They wore their Sunday best to the airport and treated flights like special occasions.

Much has changed since then—steeper fares, stricter security, less legroom, more casual outfits—but one thing remained constant: Nash’s warm hospitality and professionalism. She died on May 17 at age 88 due to complications from cancer.

Nash spent a record-setting 67 years working as a Washington-based flight attendant—and she never officially retired from the job. Since January 2021, she’d been the Guinness World Record holder for the longest career as a flight attendant. At the time, she’d been on the job for 64 years and 61 days—and counting.

The following January, Guinness World Records recognized Nash as the oldest active flight attendant. At 86 years and 4 days old, she was still bustling around American Airlines’ cabins.

“Bette was a legend at American and throughout the industry, inspiring generations of flight attendants,” the airline wrote on Instagram. “Fly high, Bette. We’ll miss you.”

Born in New Jersey in 1935, Nash decided she wanted to become a flight attendant at age 16. She attended Sacred Heart College in North Carolina and briefly worked as a legal secretary but finally made her dream a reality when she was hired by the now-defunct Eastern Air Lines at age 21.

She worked briefly for the “Trump Shuttle,” a short-lived airline operated by Donald Trump that took over some of Eastern’s routes in 1989, and then for U.S. Airways, which merged with American Airlines in 2015. Though Nash could pick any route she wanted in recognition of her seniority, she liked working the 6:30 a.m. flight from Washington to Boston, which regular commuters called the “Nash Dash” in her honor. Those daily shuttles allowed Nash, a single mother, to get home in time for dinner with her son Christian, who has Down syndrome.

Nash lived in Manassas, Virginia, and attended Sacred Heart Church for more than 45 years. She and her son often volunteered together at the church’s food pantry, reported Zoey Maraist for the Catholic Herald in 2017.

Providing for Christian was a big reason Nash kept working. But she also loved her career, which gave her an opportunity to interact with people from all walks of life.

“My job is my social life,” she told the Washington Post’s Nick Miroff in 2007. “I'm addicted to the lifestyle.”

Over nearly seven decades, Nash interacted with thousands of travelers and fellow flight attendants (who weren’t shy about asking for an autograph or a selfie). Despite all of the changes affecting the aviation industry—especially after 9/11—she stayed positive and “touched countless lives with her warmth, dedication and unparalleled service,” according to a statement from the Association of Professional Flight Attendants.

Nash’s motivation? As a flight attendant, she could take care of people and make them feel special—and, in doing so, make the world a little bit better of a place. Writing for the Points Guy in 2019, J.T. Genter described Nash as “a breath of something different: humanity on board.”

“People want a little love,” Nash told the Boston Globe’s Matt Viser in 2014. “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. You can give this to people for free.”

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