S4-EP10: Suzanne Watkins on finding her wings at age 60

Feb 11, 2022


Debbie talks to Suzanne Watkins about becoming an international flight attendant at age 60: exotic destinations, not enough sleep, loaded guns, and why she loves it.



Debbie talks with Suzanne Watkins, a friend she met several years ago, who became an international flight attendant at age 60. 

If you’ve ever wondered about the life of an international flight attendant – all those hours on your feet, exotic destinations, and constant jet lag – this episode’s for you.

Suzanne wanted a career change when she turned 60 and realized that her life was “not a dress rehearsal.” She’d spent years working a typical 9-5 in the travel industry helping others plan their adventures, and also raising her children. But then she had a serious health crisis, coming close to death. That experience reminded her that she is mortal and it was time to pursue her dreams.

So she applied to be an international flight attendant. She tells us about the bootcamp, a brutal selection process she survived in order to get hired by a private charter company that flies various groups, including the military, around the world. The airline industry is surprisingly open to hiring older employees, she tells us.

The job is exciting but challenging. Her passengers, often military personnel, may carry semi-automatic rifles but they are always compliant, following her orders to stow them with “butts to the captain and muzzles to the rear.” 

That always gets a laugh, she says.

The disruption of her circadian rhythm is very hard, Suzanne says, as is being on call with only two hours notice to work the next flight. She sometimes works for 23 hours straight and then gets 9 hours off. Her biggest challenge is getting enough sleep. 

But she seems to thrive on the unpredictability. Her schedule might take her from Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria to Guam, which is the largest of the Mariana Islands in the north Pacific and also a U.S. territory. Debbie had to look that one up. 

They end this delightful conversation with Suzanne offering a few tips for those thinking about reinventing themselves at midlife or later.


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Thanks to our media partners

Encore.org, our newest media partner, is an ideas and innovation hub tapping the talent of those 50+ as a force for good. Founder and CEO Marc Freedman is an award-winning social entrepreneur and author, most recently, of How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations. Looking for a great gap-year transition program? Check out Encore Fellowships, which match skilled, seasoned professionals with social-sector organizations in high-impact, paid assignments.


Modern Elder Academy is a program dedicated to navigating mid-life transitions. MEA, based in Baja California, Mexico, provides the place and the tools to start reframing your lifetime of experience. Grow whole, not old. Founder Chip Conley is a New York Times bestselling author, award-winning hospitality entrepreneur and a rock star of the mid-life transition movement. His newest book is Wisdom @ Work: the Making of a Modern Elder.


Next For Me is an important new resource for the 50+ crowd focused on rewriting life. Taking a gap year or timeout may be the best way to figure out "what's next" when you're in this stage of life. Founder Jeff Tidwell explains, Next For Me "connects and inspires our generation to evolve our post-50 lives through new work, a new purpose, or a new social contribution."