Rebecca Verzosa-Santos, first PAL international stewardess: A PAL icon has flown home
(The Philippine Star) - December 19, 2015 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines - A Philippine Airlines (PAL) icon has flown home to the heavens, giving inspiration to today’s corps of airline frontliners.

Rebecca Verzosa-Santos, the first international stewardess of Philippine Airlines who served on the epic first trans-Pacific flight of PAL to fly home weary American soldiers after World War II, passed away on Dec. 14 in New York due to complications from a heart attack she suffered late September 2015. She was 92 years old.

Becky etched an unparalleled record in PAL’s nearly 75-year history. She was one of PAL’s first domestic cabin attendants at the resumption of operations in February of 1946 after the Second World War. She was assigned to train the first cabin crew of Japan Airlines when it was a start-up carrier. She wrote PAL’s first manual for flight attendants, the basis for today’s cabin crew training manuals. After training other cabin crew, she became the first head of PAL’s baggage handling unit — the Baggage Claims Department.

She once said, “It’s a beautiful experience to help people find their lost baggage.”

But her claim to fame was that 41-hour-long first trans-Pacific flight that made stopovers at Wake Island, Guam, Johnston Atoll and Honolulu before landing at Oakland, California, using a four-engine DC-4 that was chartered from Trans Ocean Airways.

On July 31, 1946, she looked after 40 homesick US soldiers, manually pumping air into mattresses for them to sleep on during the long flight. Becky said, “I slept on the bucket seats.”

For passenger meals, she prepared coffee using hot water from thermos bottles and provisions of sandwiches.

She became a PAL stewardess at age 22, passing the minimum height requirement of five feet. After her studies at the University of the Philippines, she briefly worked at the US Air Force before applying at PAL.

“I applied not so much because I would get to travel but because I thought the work was exciting and fun and challenging,” she said.

Becky was last with PAL officials, including PAL Chairman Dr. Lucio C. Tan and PAL president Jaime J. Bautista, during a dinner-reception celebrating the flag carrier’s return to New York in March 2015.

She was a special guest at that star-studded dinner in Manhattan (her second home since 1987) where Becky received a standing ovation after her pioneering contributions to the flag carrier were cited by Mr. Bautista.

Dr. Tan, who was humbled by the presence of a PAL pioneer that night, gifted Becky with two round-trip Business Class tickets — New York-Manila-New York — so she could come home but did not have the time because even at her age she continued to travel with friends.

Granddaughter Alex recounted she would almost always chaperon her so-called “partner in crime” to different trips and reunions and often get sidelined once participants started pouring their attention onto Becky.

Weeks after the heart attack, friends and former colleagues would check on her at her small sixth-floor apartment on 27th Street in Manhattan.



She is survived by her children — Fr. Caesar (one of the chaplains at the University of Asia and the Pacific), Gary (works at the stock market), daughter Rebecca (who works at the United Nations International School in New York), son-in-law Tim Murry, and granddaughter Alex whom Becky looked after since birth.

Fr. Caesar, recounted how his parents met: “My mother was invited on a blind date by her best friend, also a flight attendant. Captain Miguel Santos, who flew with the US Air Force, was paired with Becky. That blind date eventually led to marriage.”

Becky has left volumes of memories and a trail-blazing record (41 years, to be exact) in local commercial aviation history.

In a New York coffee-table book that featured her, she was quoted as saying, “Make use of all your faculties while you are going toward your golden years, because you want to be of service. To give yourself, to love — this is why we are on earth.”

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