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Monday, September 01, 2014         

INCIDENTAL LIVES


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Longtime flight attendant embodies isles' friendly skies

By Michael Tsai

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When Maydell Morgan began working as a flight attendant for Hawaiian Airlines, the country was reeling from the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy; Richard Nixon and Eugene McCarthy were embroiled in a pitched battle for the presidency; and Hawaii was in the midst of a dramatic surge in population, commercial development and tourism.

Morgan was just 21 in 1968. She spent her days attending classes at the former Church College of Hawaii (now Brigham Young University-Hawaii) and working at night. Hawaiian's flights were strictly interisland then, and all of the flight attendants were women.

In the 42 years since, the airlines expanded both its routes and its hiring practices, yet Morgan remains the same smiling, imperturbable presence patrolling the cabin aisles.

"To me it isn't work, it's enjoyment," Morgan says, emphasizing each word lest her sincerity be underestimated. "I've been blessed with a job I love, and I've never wanted for more."

To be sure, Morgan has spent more than a few interminable shifts dealing with unruly drunks, screaming babies and high-altitude hypochondriacs. And, certainly, she is not so far removed not to remember the days when flight attendants were ashamed to wear their uniforms in public, when residents joked that HAL (the airline's code) stood for "Hawaiian always late."

But as Morgan says, of all the good and bad she has seen, she prefers to remember the good.

Morgan grew up in McCully, the youngest of William and Irene Asing's seven children. She remembers the family home as a hub for neighborhood kids.

While in middle school at Kamehameha, Morgan caught a vision of her future.

"I had a teacher who I thought was so beautiful and well rounded, and she was a part-time flight attendant," Morgan says. "From that point on I wanted to be one, too."

Morgan spent the first 15 years of her career flying interisland. Since then she's worked routes to and from Australia, Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti, the Philippines, Korea and other countries.

Her favorite stop is Manila, a city where the hospitality and humility of the residents reminds her of her own modest beginnings and of the many comforts she now enjoys.

Indeed, while Morgan values the opportunities she's had to experience other cultures, what she loves best about her job lies closer to home.

A doting mother and grandmother, Morgan says she enjoys nothing more than taking care of others, be it her high-spirited grandchildren or the petrified passenger whose hand Morgan will hold through takeoff and landing.

"To me it's an easy transition going from home to work," she says. "I love my family. I love being a mother. What I do best is take care of my family, and when I go to work it's the same thing. The pilots, passengers, agents and other flight attendants are my extended family."

Reach Michael Tsai at mtsai@staradvertiser.com.






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