The country’s longest serving cabin crew member is celebrating 45 years in the job and showing no signs of slowing down.

Janette Kelly, who lives in Patcham, has been on thousands of flights, but she very nearly missed out on the job that would be her life’s work when in 1976, before her first interview for a cabin crew job, she was measured at 5ft 3.5in.

The height requirement was 5ft 4in. She was taken to another room at her interview and told sorry, we cannot interview you.

Two years later, and Janette, originally from Cowdenbeath in Fife, Scotland was working in an office which overlooked the flight path into Edinburgh.

“I was at a certain crossroads in my life, I thought I might have another go,” said Janette.

Janette, then in her early twenties, found out which airlines flew from Edinburgh and applied to Britannia, who offered her an interview in Glasgow.

It was a winter’s evening in 1978 and Janette drove through “heavy, heavy snow” and was late for the interview, looking like a “drowned rat”.

The Argus: Janette in one of her first uniformsJanette in one of her first uniforms (Image: Janette Kelly)

“The chief stewardess asked me what do you think happens when you get to Majorca, and I was being sarcastic saying ‘You just come back’, and she said ‘Oh yes, very good,’” said Janette.

Just two days later she heard she had got the job, and was asked if she could start in a month’s time.

She started with Britannia in 1978. She was based in Luton at the time.

Her very first flight was from Luton, to Palma and then back to Birmingham in a Boeing 737-200, which then had 130 passengers, four cabin crew and two pilots.

Janette and her crew were then driven back to Luton in a limousine.

“I will never, ever forget that,” she said.

Janette was based at Luton for several years but relocated to Brighton in 1993 to be based from Gatwick.

The Argus: Janette said one of her favourite destinations is Mombasa in KenyaJanette said one of her favourite destinations is Mombasa in Kenya (Image: Janette Kelly)

One of her best friends who she had met as an air stewardess, lived down in Brighton so she could be near him and another friend.

Fast forward 17 years, and in 2020 Janette was working for TUI, where she still works now.  

A friend who she had worked with for many years, took the enhanced redundancy offered during the pandemic, but Janette felt she loved the job too much and was not done with it yet.

She told of the emotional time of her first flight back after the first Covid lockdown.

“Walking through the airport was bizarre because it was deserted at Gatwick. But everyone on the plane was just so happy to be back,” said Janette.

“One positive was wearing the masks all the time, I did save on lipstick.”


Janette has been able to travel the world in her job, seeing places she could never have imagined as a young woman.

The Argus: The uniforms have changed a lot over the years, said JanetteThe uniforms have changed a lot over the years, said Janette (Image: Janette Kelly)

She even went to the Falklands during the Gulf War.

“We went on a two-week trip, flying from the RAF’s Brize Norton down to Ascension Island.

“I got to crawl on my belly through a penguin colony, which was just remarkable.

“We then stayed in Stanley, before flying back to Ascension and going home.”

“One of my favourite places we went to was Mombasa in Kenya, we would get a week at a time as the flights only went once a week,” said Janette.

“I was quite apprehensive because I didn't really know anything about it but it blew my mind. The people were fantastic, we tried all sorts of new foods and did a safari.

“I remember thinking, this is brilliant, we get paid to do this.”

In 1994, Air New Zealand was planning to set up a low-cost airline, so Janette got to be based there for five or six weeks.

She saw the Great Barrier Reef and went white water rafting while she was there.

“It was just amazing,” said Janette.

The Argus: Janette's first roster from 1978Janette's first roster from 1978 (Image: Janette Kelly)

Recalling any famous passengers, Janette said: “We often have soap stars on, my colleagues always know who they are but since I don’t watch them I’m not familiar.

“I work in premium cabin and recently on of the other girls came up to me and said 'Janette, that couple in row 8 are TikTok stars,'

“When we got to the hotel and got Wi-Fi she got their TikTok page up and showed me.”

The Argus: Janette wants to try for 50 years in the jobJanette wants to try for 50 years in the job (Image: Janette Kelly)

Janette now works in premium and prefers long haul flights.

“It’s a smaller cabin and you can build a rapport with the passengers because you are spending more time with them,” said Janette.

While she loves the job, one downside can be the “numpties".

Recently, a flight to Cancun she was working on had to be diverted to Bangor to offload two drunk and abusive passengers.

She said: “Luckily, it doesn’t happen often.”

Janette also remarked on how lowcost airlines have made flying the norm.

“Back in the day, passengers would get dressed up with a shirt and tie – it was more of an adventure. I think for a lot of people now it's just like getting on a bus,” she said.

Though she is now in her late sixties, Janette says she still loves it every day.

“People always ask me, when are you going to retire, but I’m not ready yet.”

With 45 years in the bag, Janette is now looking on to the next milestone.

“I’m going to try for my 50 years,” she said. “Perhaps they will make me a custom zimmer frame to celebrate.”