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Flying the skies
Larned woman takes to the air as flight attendant
Dody Burkey raises the flag every morning at the Hillside -Envisions Site in Larned.

LARNED – Allow me to introduce Dody Burkey from Larned.

Here’s a synopsis: Dody worked in the fashion industry as a buyer for 22 years; she was a long distance runner and triathlete (swimming, cycling and running); and she is now an airline flight attendant for American Airlines.

It might catch your attention to know that Burkey is turning 75 soon, and that she is not limited only to what I have described. She is modest, so I am the one who coaxed this information out of her. She is an interesting person.

Her mother, Margaret Corbet, was the owner of the Harvest Inn in Larned for 10 years, and she eventually opened an antique store. When her mother began to fail, Burkey moved to Larned to take care of her mother and to run the antique store. Corbet passed away, and eventually Burkey was able to resume her career, returning home every two weeks or so to keep the business going. 

Knowing that Burkey is a flight attendant, I visited with her in the local library where she recommended a book, “The Day the World Came to Town; 9-11 in Gander, Newfoundland.” The book tells how when the tragic 9-11 attack happened, that planes in the air all over the world were grounded close to their nearest landing surface. None could enter the United States. Gander and the surrounding villages became an oasis of kindness, landing 38 large planes and caring for over 6,700 strangers during this stressful time. It was a captivating book. 

“I was based in Boston where AA flight 11 originated. Both American and United lost two planes, the crew, and passengers on that day,” she remarked. Tears welled up in her eyes, as she related these details. It was personal then and now to these airlines, and the effect is still lingering with her as well as with all of us.

In her earlier years, working for the fashion industry as a buyer, and dividing her time between New York and Los Angeles, she lived a traveling, hard-working, and creative lifestyle. During that time of deadlines and stress, Dody began swimming over her lunch hour to relax and enjoy some solitude. She began her swim routine on a small scale, but was soon swimming a mile daily. 

Her sister-in-law suggested she take up running. Why not? She started by running a half block and daily increased her distance. She was about 33 years old at this time.

Soon, she bought a bicycle, and before she knew it, she got acquainted with an entirely new world; the world of triathlon competition. Triathlon is a multi-sports event combining three continuous, sequential endurance races. She got hooked and was soon competing in marathons and triathlons. 

She still runs but it takes her twice as long to cover the distance. 

Somewhere in her early 50s, she felt the need for a change. The fashion industry workplace had become digitalized and mundane to her creative tastes. She needed to work, but the fashion work was no longer “it.”

What kind of job would give freedom to choose her own time schedule, permit her to travel, and provide benefits? A friend suggested the “airline flight attendant” field because the airline industry was seeking middle-aged attendants. Being already a bit older (55) didn’t deter Burkey, and she applied. 

In those days, applicants were not hired and evaluated on-line. She remembers filling out a rigorous resume with detailed questions about her life and experiences, as well as an interview.

They hired her. That was almost 20 years ago, and she still loves her work. 

Burkey lives in Larned, and her base is New York City. She flies from Wichita to New York to catch her flights. She and a pool of other attendants share an apartment in Queens. They call it their “crash pad”; it has a washer, dryer, dishwasher, etc. 

The different attendants involved work on different schedules, so the apartment stays busy but workable. 

Burkey’s assignments vary. She has flown all over the world, but that doesn’t mean that her flights will always be overseas. To the contrary, each month she must bid on the internet for her monthly schedule.

She is junior in the system. The assignments are given according to seniority, so perhaps her request might be her third preference. On her next assignment, she will catch a connecting flight the day before in Wichita to New York. She’ll depart from there, and she’ll work a 15- to 18-day schedule.

Attendants must be thoroughly familiar with each type of aircraft since they will fly all kinds of planes. Assignments are given for each trip sequence (one to four days), and each attendant might have different duties on different trips. 

The crew must stay sharp and up-to-date. To be qualified and re-certified, all flight attendants including the pilots must be re-tested every year. A part of the examination is to set up a scenario inside a plane. Then, an emergency or difficult situation of some sort is injected into the scene. Each crew must respond appropriately and work as a team to solve or handle this challenge.

When asked if she experiences difficult passengers often, she responded that this is over-blown in the news media. She added, “those extreme reports on television never tell how a passenger was acting beforehand in the terminal, or how he/she was conducting himself as he entered the plane, etc. The story is often never totally related in entirety.”

Seldom does a flight attendant experience problems other than occasional health issues often due to dehydration. “Remember to drink your water when traveling by air,” Burkey added.

“Usually, when we deplane in Europe or South America, where we have worked a long trip and are tired, the crew will spread out in the bus to the hotel. At some places like Paris or Sao Paulo, Brazil, the travel is usually slow. Sometimes, we get chatty about the 300-passenger flight we just completed and it’s funny, but each crew member knows who that one person on the plane was who stood out for whatever reason.” 

At this time, Burkey is actively involved in a new venture. She and several partners bought the Hillside Grade School and have established a non-profit group, Hilllside-Envisions, Pawnee County Inc. The purpose is to provide space for small businesses and entrepreneurs to rent and showcase their goods and services. 

There are many ideas generating for the multitude of events that can take place in this facility. At the present, “Lilypad Photography by Kelci” is located in the building, and Alleviation, the business of a certified massage therapist, Kasi Schartz.  

Judi Tabler, Special to the Tribune