Travel

A new calling to the air for a longtime youth minister

Matthew Beck, 52, is a new flight attendant for Alaska Airlines

Sixty years ago, if you were to characterize the typical flight attendant, it would probably be young, female and single.

When planes first started carrying passengers in the 1920s, all of the cabin staff were male. But that changed in the 1930s, due in part to war preparation efforts. Male cabin attendants have always served in the sky, but the majority have been female.

Anchorage author Erin Kirkland recalls when her mother, Diane Klepper, started flying for Northwest Orient Airlines in the 1950s:

“Only single women under 30 could fly,” she said. “The were weighed before every shift, with strict parameters on hair and makeup.”

As soon as a traveler steps aboard a plane now, it’s clear the crew is more diverse in terms of age, gender and appearance.

Still, when I heard that a friend was considering applying as a flight attendant, I did a double-take.

When I first met Matthew Beck, he was a youth minister at our church. Since 2005, he’s lived in Palmer where his wife, Dr. Teresa Beck, runs North Star Animal Hospital.

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The Becks and their three daughters were active in the community. Matthew Beck served two terms on the Mat-Su Borough Assembly.

“I had a 26-year career in church ministry,” said Matthew Beck, who turned 52 this year. That’s until the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench in the gears.

“In July of 2020, I got laid off,” he said. “So I started wondering what else I could do that involves people.”

Beck reached out to a couple of friends who were long-time flight attendants. “They told me I’d be great,” said Beck.

Initially, Beck applied with Horizon Air, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Alaska Airlines. Horizon flies smaller jets — the Embraer E-175 — between Anchorage and Fairbanks, Dillingham, Bethel and Seattle.

While Horizon’s hiring was on hold during the pandemic, Beck applied and was accepted at Alaska Airlines.

Throughout his training and during his first flights, Beck has learned that the airline’s own core values fit well with his own “servant leader” beliefs.

“This position is more than getting people from Point A to Point B,” he said. “It’s such a privilege that I can be present to people during an important part of their life.”

Travelers are not just going on business trips or on vacation.

“Sometimes they are flying to spend time with sick family members … or to a funeral,” said Beck. “I get to be the person who gets to accompany them. I’m there to support them in their moment of need.”

By “being present,” Beck strives to be the face of “welcome, hospitality and concern” for them.

In his 26 years of ministry, Beck traveled quite a bit and developed his own prayerful protocol, which he continues today.

“I touch the walls of the jetway. Then I physically stop before I cross the threshold to the plane,” he said. Then he prays that he might be present to the people on the aircraft, including the passengers and fellow crew members.

Beck admits that he really is “enjoying the game” of his new job.

Just like any other newly-minted flight attendant, Beck is “on reserve” at the airline’s base in Seattle.

Because he has to be ready to report for a flight within two hours, he’s renting a room from an old college roommate who lives in Tukwila.

“I’m about three miles from the airport, so I could walk to Sea-Tac if I had to. But the bus system is really good,” he said. “Since I’m on reserve, I know what days I’m going to work and I know generally what time of day I’ll be called. But I don’t know exactly where I’m going.”

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Part of the excitement of his new job is the variety of destinations he’s flown to. On a recent trip from Seattle, he flew to Portland and then to Boise for an overnight stay. The next day, they flew to Los Angeles and then back home to Seattle.

Just in case he’s called to fly to Hawaii, Beck always packs his swim trunks, flip flops and goggles. That’s in addition to toothpaste, PJs, underwear and cold-weather clothing. Beck posted a photo recently from Bozeman, where it had just snowed six inches.

“I’ve been as far east as Nashville and Chicago. Down south I’ve flown to Palm Springs, then up to Fairbanks and over to Dillingham and Bethel, " he said.

As a brand-new flight attendant, Beck works had to remember and internalize Alaska Air’s “core values”: safety first, be kind-hearted, deliver performance (do what’s expected) and do the right thing.

“We’ve had to improvise to do the right thing on a recent flight. We had to help a passenger hang an IV bag. We had to innovate, serving the needs of the people,” he said.

Beck admits his faith is thriving in his new role. “I’ve been able to identify the gifts I can offer. Now, I’m able to live out those gifts,” he said. “That fits my servant leadership style.”

Beck expects to be on reserve “for awhile.” But he looks forward to being based in Anchorage, closer to his family.

Scott McMurren

Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based marketing consultant, serving clients in the transportation, hospitality, media and specialty destination sectors, among others. Contact him by email at zoom907@me.com. You can follow him on Twitter (@alaskatravelGRM) and alaskatravelgram.com. For more information, visit alaskatravelgram.com/about.

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