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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.


Explorer C
That is so great that SW made her flights memorable and i hope Lela really enjoyed her flights. You are the Best!!!
Explorer C
Only thing that confuses me, is if she wanted to fly her entire life, why did it take her until now to actually go on a flight? But regardless, this is an amazing story. I love how much care Southwest gives it's customers!
Explorer C
This is just too wonderful!! What a nice gift from her nephew!! All in one!!! Southwest treats their customers really well!!!
Explorer C
Now that's just cool.
Explorer C
Soben - Probably for the same reason that Southwest Airlines became so successful...many people couldn't, and there are many who still can't, afford to fly. Considering she is 106, she was already 75 when airline deregulation happened and even though that brought fares down, she was likely already on a fixed income and still couldn't afford it. Kudos to Southwest for making this special lady's first flight(s) so special!
Explorer C
This is an example of what makes WN one of the best airlines in the United States! Keep up the good work!
Explorer C
I worked the flight that Lela was on back to Norfolk. It was a great pleasure having her on board as she was the biggest sweetheart!
Explorer C
Kudos to the WN staff at BWI and the crew and PAX of her flights. In these days of extra fees and lean times, I wonder how many other airlines would have gone the extra mile like WN did.
Explorer C
I was looking up Japanese living to the age of 106, and I found this cute story! I don't mean to sound off topic, but thing is I'm creating a character for a story I have. This character is the daughter of another of mine named Sakura. I was trying to figure out whether Sakura's mom would still be alive or not, being born in the same year as Lela, and after reading this I know that she is, and I know her name now too! ❤️ Lela, what a pretty name, and she sounds like a charming lady as well. It must have been amazing growing up in her time periods. Just amazing. I'm envious of how you got to meet her~ But I'm so happy that you all enjoyed yourselves!