About 70 years older than the average U.S. airliners, this flight attendant has the most seniority of anyone in the country. But all good things come to an end, and on Sept. 8, at age 84, Ron Akana will finally retire.
However Akana will exit his enduring career with a footnote in history, earning his place in the Guinness World Records as the longest tenured flight attendant in U.S. history, according to a Denver Post report.
It all started back in 1949 when Akana responded to a United Airlines want ad in a Honolulu newspaper. He didn’t even know what an airline "steward" was at the time, but he needed a job.
Akana, 63 years later, plans to work his last flight back to hometown Honolulu as crew chief, accompanied by his wife, son, grandson and daughter, Jean, who is also a flight attendant. Monday, he is scheduled to fly back to Denver as a passenger.
"It was a job that started to grow on a person. I always flew with new personalities," Akana said at his north Boulder home. "I know I'll miss it, but the time has come. Aching bones and joints."
In 1949, United president Pat Patterson, also from Hawaii, hired Akana and seven other Hawaiian natives to serve passengers on eight Boeing Stratocruisers, the airline's first Hawaiian fleet. Akana says he and the other "stewards" represented the eight islands of Hawaii.
Akana says his pay was $185 a month when he started, plus $6 or $7 a day for expenses. Of course money was not the only motivation for some dudes in their 20s flying out of Hawaii.
"In those days, when you could get off the island it was a big deal," Akana said. "We flew into San Francisco and did a lot of socializing."
Akana recalled delivering a safety presentation for the passengers once when American comedian Red Skelton, cigar in mouth, mimicked his entire presentation.
"He just had everybody laughing," Akana recalled. "No one was listening to me, of course."
Akana worked some of United's earliest flights between Honolulu and Los Angeles in 1951, and remembers when Hollywood starlets like Deborah Kerr lounged in private staterooms installed below the passenger deck in large Boeing airliners, according to newspaper reports.
It was 1962 when a co-worker left Akana a note that a good-looking young United stewardess had just landed in Hawaii and wanted to visit Waikiki Beach. He arranged an introduction and escorted Elizabeth Ann Ebersole; six months later the two were married in her hometown of Baltimore.
"He was handsome, and he took the time to come to the beach," Elizabeth Akana said matter-of-factly when asked what attracted her to her husband.