Ron Akana, 83, worked his last route over the weekend on a United Airlines flight from Denver to Kauai, ending his career in the state where it began.
Hawaii, however, wasn't his final stop. His destination was retirement in Boulder, Colo., where he has been living since 2002 to be closer to his grandchildren. He spent his first few days of retirement writing thank-you notes to well-wishers.
"I wasn't expecting this much attention," he said Tuesday.
Akana joined the airline while a student at the University of Hawaii in 1949, when friends spotted a newspaper ad. "We didn't even know what a flight steward was," he recalled. "But it meant getting to the mainland, which was a huge deal in those days.
"It seemed pretty exciting and it proved to be more than that," he said.
And so he became one of United's first male flight attendants. "We just liked working with girls," he said.
The Korean War took him away from his job for two years when he was drafted in 1951. Akana said his most memorable moments included meeting the cast of the 1953 movie "From Here to Eternity," — mentioning Frank Sinatra and Deborah Kerr by name — and going from propeller planes to jets, which cut travel time in half.
Over the years, he's seen it all. Passengers would dress up, not down. Think suits, not flip-flops. Smoking was no big deal, not a federal offense.
Over time, though, things changed. The meal service became better. No more smoke. In-flight movies, which he said started to be shown seven or eight years after he began his career. And, of course, tight security after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Guinness World Records came calling a few months ago and later sent him a plaque recognizing him as the longest-serving flight attendant. He's been told he'll appear in the record book in October.
To get a sense of how long he's been in the air, consider that if his 200 million miles counted toward United's frequent flyer program, he could treat the entire town of Big Rock, Ill., population 1,138, to a first class trip from Chicago to Honolulu and back — then once a month for the next 12 years, he'd still have enough miles to travel with his wife, Elizabeth, anywhere they want in the continental U.S.
Akana decided to retire after he was offered a buyout. But he admits being tempted to hang on for the arrival of the next super jet, the Boeing 787. "I shall have to watch from the sidelines," he said.
While he's now retired, Akana is not done flying. From now on, his wife will be joining him.
"I got terrific travel privileges," he said, adding: "There's a lot to be seen."
Article with photos at The New York Times:
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