Skip to main content

Southwest Airlines Community

Flying for the First Time at Age 106

Explorer C

On June 9, my station received a radio call from the inbound Pilots of Flight #612 informing us that there was a very special Customer onboard their aircraft that would be arriving in Baltimore/Washington (BWI) shortly.

Lela Burden had wanted to fly her entire life.  And for her 106th birthday, her nephew, purchased her a ticket on Southwest Airlines to travel between Baltimore/Washington and Norfolk--roundtrip in one day! 

As Lela was wheeled into the gate area by her nephew upon her arrival, an announcement was made to the entire terminal.  Led by our BWI Ops Agent Karen Roberts, our Employees and Lela’s fellow Passengers sang her Happy Birthday, and we presented her with a certificate of flight and a bottle of Southwest’s finest champagne, to which Lela told her nephew “don’t open the bottle, it’s for me to drink later!”

A few of our BWI Employees were lucky enough to be able to share this special day with her.  Over lunch at Phillips Seafood for Maryland Crab cakes, she shared her wisdom and humor with all of us--we even learned that, up until her 99th birthday, she had  competed in Senior Olympics. After she dined, we presented her with flowers and some Southwest Airlines items that our Employees were able to quickly gather at the airport. 

 Lela could not believe the attention she was receiving.  When asked if we could take her photo and share with Southwest Employees and others, she insisted on mailing us a "proper" photo with her Sunday best.

I had the honor of escorting Lela to her return flight, and to everyone’s surprise, the outbound Flight Crew had already heard about our special guest and lined up to greet and welcome her aboard. 

 One of the Pilots pointed out that Lela was born the same year as The Wright Brothers’ first flight 1903.