A Lancashire lady who paved the way for women to excel in the transport industry is taking to the road for a new role with coach company National Express.
Maureen Baxter from Walton-le-Dale has been appointed a ‘National Express ambassador’, which will see her help champion affordable coach travel for senior citizens.
As part of its ongoing commitment to providing affordable travel which is accessible to all, bosses at National Express launched a search for senior citizens to become ‘ambassadors’ and receive free travel in return for feedback. They were blown away to receive a letter from 78-year-old Maureen, who detailed her extraordinary career path from air hostess to a commercial pilot, and expressed her desire to help encourage other senior people to keep travelling.
It is hard to think of a more apt travel ambassador than Maureen – indeed, life has been quite a journey for the Walton-le-Dale citizen.
Originally from Hitchin, Hertfordshire but brought up in Lancashire, Maureen’s love of travel was sparked as a young girl who, on family seaside holidays with her grandfather, watched in wonder biplanes taking tourists for pleasure rides over Morecambe Bay. At ten years old she flew as a passenger.
At 21 years old Maureen realised her dream of taking to the skies, spending the first years of the swinging sixties flying all over the world as an air hostess, first with British European Airways, then the British Overseas Airways Corporation, which later merged to form British Airways.
Despite loving life as an air hostess, a role which saw her rubbing shoulders with the world’s glitterati, including World Cup heroes Bobby Charlton and Nobby Stiles and aviation legend Charles Lindbergh, Maureen was still reaching for the stars and, in her spare time, began training for a pilot’s licence.
Studying outside of work and working up to the 500 hours flying experience needed to become a commercial pilot was no easy feat, particularly because no-one was willing to sponsor a woman to undertake the exams. But years of hard work paid off and Maureen became one of just a small clutch of women in the world to achieve her commercial pilot’s license in 1979.
She recalls: “When I obtained the commercial pilot’s licence there was only a handful of female pilots and it was wonderful to know that we were pioneers in the early days of commercial aviation. Many people were surprised when they saw me in my airline pilot uniform and hear me introducing myself on the public address system – they just couldn’t quite fathom a woman pilot.”
Indeed, Maureen recollects an occasion chartering a private flight when a glamorous ‘dolly bird’ was ushered on board to ‘entertain the pilot’.
“The girl was brought in to the cockpit and we just fell about laughing,” says Maureen. “The pair of us ended up having a really good chat on the flight but there were definitely a few red faces that day.”
She added: “I must say though overall I had lots of encouragement from other pilots which was lovely.”
After a distinguished career, Maureen retired in 1985 and has since inspired others with her experiences, giving over 200 talks about her amazing past.
Now, aged 78, Maureen is showing no signs of slowing down and is looking forward to her role as a National Express ambassador.
She said: “As an air hostess and an airline pilot I travelled all over the world to far-flung and exotic places like Fiji, Hong Kong and Singapore but even though I have travelled so extensively, I still really appreciate our countryside and cities here in the UK. I am very much looking forward to being a National Express ‘ambassador’ as I love travel and meeting people and I believe coach travel offers a really important means for senior people to travel affordably and to connect with friends and family all over the UK.”
She added: “I can’t wait to hit the road.”
National Express, Managing Director, Tom Stables added: “Maureen is a true transport pioneer and it’s hard to think of a better ambassador for our services – we are thrilled to have her on board. It’s so important that senior citizens are able to travel affordably and the appointment of senior ambassadors to give us feedback underscores our total commitment to delivering a first-class service.”