Ben Gurion AIRPORT, Israel (Reuters) – Hedwa Opatovsky’s first flight to the United Arab Emirates was his last flight to El Al, the Israeli flag bearer, whose routes he has carried out for nearly half a century of wars and peacefully.
The airline’s longest-serving flight attendant retired on Wednesday after leading cabin crew on a spectacular return trip to Abu Dhabi with Israeli messengers, who signed a deal to normalize relations with the Gulf power.
“It’s a historic flight, I think, to (my) 46 years – very, very emotional,” he told Reuters, referring to his long career with the airline. “This is a good opportunity to open up other countries to make peace with us.”
“This is what we want forever,” he said, referring to the Hebrew for “hello” or “goodbye” – “shalom” – also means “peace”.
When Opatowski joined El Al, Israel was recovering from the 1973 Middle East War. Three years later, her husband, an Israeli security officer, accompanied diplomats, who established peace talks with Egypt. A similar deal with Jordan would take place after 20 years.
She has joined Israeli Prime Ministers and foreign dignitaries. On Monday, the outgoing flight to Abu Dhabi passed over Saudi Arabia – a breakthrough for Israeli aviation that allowed it to gaze upon its vast and previously inaccessible desert.
Passengers hailed as Flight 972 – a node for Israel’s telephone code – landed in Tel Aviv on Tuesday. Opatovsky, retiring at 67 reluctantly, bid him farewell to the PA system: “May we always walk in peace.”
Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Philip Fletcher