Now Boarding, sign up for BoatNotes
HomeTravel DealsLearn MoreGet a QuoteInterline CommunityAbout Us

55 yrs & Loving it

Flying too Long....

Once Upon a Flight

55 yrs Still Loves his Job

After 55 years, NWA's (now Delta) most veteran attendant still loves his job

JULIE FORSTER - St. Paul Pioneer Press
ST. PAUL - Longer hours, pay cuts and strike threats. Those could be good reasons to quit your job.

Bob Reardon will need several more. At 82, he has no intention of giving up the title of Northwest's longest-serving flight attendant.

After 55 years of working the aisles of Northwest Airlines planes, Reardon keeps a full-time schedule as purser in charge of the cabin crew on the airline's international flights.

Sure, his job gets under his skin sometimes. Yes, he's dismayed at cuts and work-rule changes that require him to work more for less pay.

But Reardon finds the rewards of working Northwest's Pacific flights too alluring to surrender.

"If I didn't like the job," he says, "I would have quit 20 years ago."

Grumbling about work, for many, has been raised to an art. And who hasn't tossed a few bucks into the lottery pool with an eye on sudden retirement?

Evidently, not Reardon.

His affinity for his job is fueled by some basic factors widely viewed as keys for a fulfilling work life: control over your schedule, a sense of responsibility, a job that complements your personal life and the ability to walk away if you want to.

As purser, Reardon is the lead flight attendant on Northwest's 747-400s, its largest aircraft. They seat 403 passengers and require a cabin crew of at least 12.

In his job, he communicates with the pilots in the cockpit and makes sure the cabin service flows smoothly. He smooths over disputes, extinguishes potentially hostile situations with passengers. He tends to ill passengers. He prepares incident reports and customs documents.

He also tries to keep morale up, imploring workers not to take out their frustrations on each other. He does a lot more morale boosting these days as flight attendants are mired in a labor war with Northwest.

As the most senior flight attendant, Reardon can bid on exactly the trips he wants. The sense of control over his schedule gives him the feeling of being his own boss.

"There's a certain freedom," he said. "You can build your time to suit yourself."

Lately, Reardon's monthly schedule includes two six-day trips. He flies from the Twin Cities to Tokyo. Once his plane touches down, Reardon doesn't hunker down in the hotel for the night. Instead, he's off for dinner with his friends who live there and who are a major part of his life.

He stays in Tokyo overnight and flies the next day to Hong Kong or Manila. After a 36-hour layover, he returns to Tokyo, then back to the Twin Cities the next day.

Reardon's time in the air keeps his body at a trim 160 pounds. Working a flight is like a workout: more than 12 hours of remaining tense and braced, twisting and balancing much of the time.

The job is a lot more physical than the public realizes, said John Murray, a Northwest flight attendant for 37 years. Just being in a pressurized cabin for a 12-hour flight takes a toll.

"That's what amazes me - that he could still do it," Murray said of Reardon.

Being a flight attendant at Northwest is becoming more of an endurance test.

Before the most recent work rule changes and pay cuts imposed upon the flight attendants in July, Reardon typically averaged 72 to 74 hours per month of flight time. To meet the new minimum requirement of 75 hours per month, Reardon had to add another flight to his monthly schedule: roundtrip to Honolulu, boosting his flying time to 82 hours.

Attendants could be scheduled with as many as 100 hours a month. That's just time in the air. Time on the ground, including boarding and deplaning, or any ground delay, is unpaid. The increased hours eventually will have to change, he says. "It's got to or people will just drop over."

Reardon doesn't have to work for the money. His salary - though recently cut 21 percent - will come to $36,000 to $38,000 per year. Like many in his era, he receives a nice pension, which, after taxes, amounts to $2,300 each month. Federal law allows people to collect their pension at age 70 1/2, working or not.

Unlike many of his co-workers, Reardon has no mortgage. He has no children. Nor does he have car payments. A cabin cruiser he owns is paid off. The rent for his Highland Village apartment runs $625 a month. He doesn't worry about saving for old age because he's already there.

"You have a stress-free existence," one flight attendant told him. Stress free, perhaps. Persnickety definitely.

Before each of his trips, he goes to the neighborhood barber for the minutest trim of his short gray hair, which he keeps combed into place and shot full of hair spray on his trips. Halfway through the 12 1/2-hour flights to Asia, he changes into a fresh shirt. His garment carry-on bag is packed in the same precise manner, with four days' change of underwear and an extra change of clothes - in case his luggage doesn't make it. His attache case is packed the same always: with four types of currency, traveler's checks and his passport.

His exacting manner leaves little room for suggestions or negotiation.

"He knows exactly how he wants things done," says his friend and co-worker Lori Rothmund, who also is an international purser. "He knows his job and how things should be done, and he does it consistently. He is just a perfectionist."

Reardon began his career with Northwest in 1951 with a mind to take a year and a half break from his post-graduate studies in French and Spanish literature at the University of Minnesota. Studying was getting tiring and he needed a change of pace.

At that time, the plan was to return to school after his break and then pursue a career as a foreign-service officer. Plans have a way of getting derailed.

"I liked the job so much that I didn't want to quit," he said. "A year would go by, another year would go by. After 20 years, I said, 'Well, I guess it's permanent.' "

The job becomes a lifestyle, particularly for someone who lives alone.

"That is part of the reason Bob is still there," said Wanda Murray, a flight attendant, who is married to John Murray. "He has a lot of friends in Asia. His co-workers - in our own way - we are family."

Maybe it's living the life he loves that keeps him young and healthy and on the job. Maybe it's passion for the work or the uncomplicated life he leads. For one, while he hears his job described as high stress, he doesn't consider it so. Not yet, anyway. If that changes, so will he.

"If I don't feel well," Reardon says simply, "I'll quit."