Ode to a Flight Pioneer - United Hub

Ode to a flight pioneer

By Matt Adams, May 28, 2019

The best years of her life were the ones she spent in the air

With all due respect to the exhibits and gorgeous aircraft on display at The Museum of Flight outside Seattle, on a sunny Saturday in May, Betty Stockard overshadowed them all.

"Mom, tell them the one about Clark Gable," her son, Dick Stockard, urged, handing her the microphone and getting the ball rolling. Soon, Betty, who was celebrating her 100th birthday in one of the museum's banquet rooms, was recounting some of the more memorable episodes from her years as a United flight attendant in the 1940s.

Betty pictured at her 100th birthday celebration with Jennifer O'Brien and Ed Toschikat the Museum of Flight outside of Seattle Betty pictured at her 100th birthday celebration with Jennifer O'Brien and Ed Toschik at the Museum of Flight outside of Seattle

She told how she shared her lunch and a conversation with the legendary actor on a trip to Los Angeles, then recalled her friendship with frequent flyer and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. As her family and friends sat in awed silence, it was if the past seven decades had melted away and Betty was once again that intrepid young woman who forged her identity as one of the first non-nurse "stewardesses" in airline history.

Born near Kalispell, Montana, on May 16, 1919 as Elizabeth Jean Riley, and raised on a dairy farm, becoming an aviation pioneer was the furthest thing from Betty's mind growing up. But in early 1942, she saw a newspaper ad announcing that United was hiring a new crop of flight attendants.

For years, airlines had only hired nurses into those roles, but with more and more of them needed elsewhere during World War II, that was no longer the case. Despite having never stepped foot on an airplane, Betty applied. A few weeks later, she was in Chicago, where she joined 24 other women from across the country for six weeks of intense training. After graduation, she was assigned to San Francisco.

Flying up and down the West Coast was an experience that exceeded even Betty's wildest dreams. It was a glamorous and exciting career, and she was certain she had found the path she was meant to follow. Without a doubt, aviation was Betty's first true love. It wasn't until 1946 that another surpassed it.

Betty pictured with her late husband, Ray Stockard

That's the year she met a handsome former fighter pilot by the name of Ray Stockard. Ray was traversing the country interviewing for jobs with airlines when he introduced himself to Betty during a flight. They began dating shortly after, but it was a bittersweet romance. Betty knew if she got married she'd have to leave her career behind since, at that time, stewardesses had to be single. Alas, the heart wants what it wants, and Betty and Ray, who by that time was flying for Pan American, set a wedding date.

"I hated giving up flying, but I knew I was making the right move," she says. "I was looking forward to the next chapter."

Fortunately, marrying a pilot meant she didn't have to walk away from the industry altogether. In the years that followed, she, Ray and their four children – Joe, Denise, Ed and Dick – traveled extensively, and aviation was always a favorite topic of conversation around the house.

"My kids, instead of getting bedtime stories about three bears, they got flying stories," says Betty.

With those stories, she passed on her adventurous spirit to her children. As they got older, the Stockard kids followed their mom's example and went fearlessly into the unknown, visiting, living and working in some of the farthest corners of the globe – including Antarctica.

Even more than her unique connection to the history of commercial aviation, that is Betty's legacy. Her birthday celebration was packed with people who came from far and wide to honor the woman who showed them what it means to live life to the fullest. Among them were United's International Inflight Director Jennifer O'Brien and West Coast Base Director Ed Toschik, along with several retired United flight attendants.

"We have 25,000 flight attendants today, and Betty is one of the people who blazed the trail for all of them," Toschik says. "She is an absolute treasure and I'm so happy that she is part of our United family."

After saying a few words at the party, Toschik and O'Brien cemented that bond, presenting Betty with a new set of silver flight attendant's wings. As O'Brien pinned them to her lapel, Betty's face beamed, just like it had during her pinning ceremony 77 years earlier. The eyes that had seen aviation evolve from its near infancy shined as bright as ever.

And with that, an enviable life came full circle.

United Cargo operates more than 11,000 cargo-only flights in one year

By The Hub team, March 19, 2021

On March 19, 2020, United operated its first flight carrying cargo without passengers on board. While the passenger cabin was empty, its cargo hold was completely full, carrying more than 29,000 pounds of commodities from Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD) to Frankfurt Airport (FRA).

A year later, United Cargo has operated more than 11,000 cargo-only flights carrying more than 570 million pounds of freight. To support the COVID-19 pandemic recovery efforts, United Cargo has also transported more than 113 million pounds of medical and pharmaceutical products on both cargo-only and passenger flights as well as approximately 10 million COVID-19 vaccines, providing global communities access to the items they have needed most.

10 tips for spring travel

By The Hub team, February 24, 2021

Whether you haven't flown with us for a while or just need a quick refresher before your spring trip, read this list of tips to know before your flight and arrive at the airport travel-ready:

1. Download the United app for contactless bag check, travel assistance and more

Before your flight, download the United app to view your flight status, check in, sign up for flight notifications, locate departure gates, access our free personal device entertainment when available and more. We've also updated our app with new features that can make your trip a little safer, including contactless bag check.

Don't forget to use Agent on Demand for help with any and all questions you may have before your flight. This new capability is available at all our U.S. hub airports and allows you to use your own mobile device to contact a customer service agent via phone, video or chat to help with day-of-travel questions while you're at the airport. Learn more about Agent on Demand here.

United joins UNICEF COVAX initiative

By The Hub team, February 19, 2021

This week, we were honored to become the first U.S. airline to join the UNICEF Humanitarian Airfreight Initiative to combat the COVID-19 pandemic by transporting the vaccine and other critically needed supplies to underserved areas of the globe.

"We are committed to helping the global community in any way we can, and we all must work together to do our part to bring this health and humanitarian crisis to an end," said Director of Cargo Specialty Products Manu Jacobs.

We will leverage our expertise to transport these critical pharmaceutical and healthcare shipments around the world safely, efficiently and expediently. We are proud to partner with the United Nations to support this global effort and provide equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

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