Flight Attendant Ava McWilliams Ellington serves up the best spirit and gumbo

Photos by Susan Ewbank

Whenever she gets the chance, San Diego–based flight attendant Ava McWilliams Ellington cooks for her co-workers.

“It’s amazing how one pot will feed so many,” says Ellington, a 30-year Alaska employee, explaining that she loves cooking and serving her homemade dishes to everyone from the front desk to the flight deck. 

Ava McWilliams Ellington

Ellington, who started her flight attendant career in Seattle and also spent time based in Los Angeles, is known for making kind gestures to guests, as well—such as decorating a rare unclaimed Signature Fruit and Cheese Platter onboard and serving it up as a birthday cake. 

“She is so imaginative and has such a big heart,” says fellow San Diego flight attendant Ricky Martinez, who has sampled Ellington’s cooking firsthand. “Her chicken enchiladas are the best, and her gumbo isn’t bad, either!”

Prior to winning her 2019 Legend Award, Ellington earned a 2018 Award of Excellence from the airline for “setting the highest standards of professionalism, dedication to customer service and teamwork.” She treats every flight as a window of opportunity to make a positive difference.

“I try to make at least some connection with every passenger, and I have a finite time to do so,” she says. “I still feel nervous excitement before each flight. It’s like I’m backstage before a performance, thinking, ‘Here comes my audience—it’s showtime!’”

With her skill at reading people’s needs and providing excellent inflight service, this veteran crewmember is a natural at mentoring younger employees. She also supports colleagues as co-chair of the Association of Flight Attendants’ Employee Assistance Program in San Diego. 

Ellington says she far prefers helping and encouraging co-workers to talking about herself: “I feel like I’m here to be there for others—to prop them up, to watch them fly.”

Questions & Answers

What do you like most about your job? Every flight is a chance to touch people’s lives and to have them touch mine.

What advice do you have for new hires? When days are longer and flights are bumpier, I remind them to think of how proud they felt when they were chosen to fly. This job is an honor and a privilege.

What was a memorable day at work? When I met my husband, Alaska Captain Gary Duke Ellington. He popped his head out of the flight deck, and I was gone!

What’s on your travel to-do list? My mom has always wanted to go to Hawai‘i. I’d like to take her there and to see the place through her eyes.

What do you pack when you travel? My 6-inch electric skillet. I can use it to have a gathering or to cook for myself. Cooking is my happy place.

Kudos from Ava’s Co-Workers

“Ava is constantly thinking about how to put a smile on everyone’s face. Her humor is part of what makes her memorable. She makes sure people leave the plane happy.” —Kristina Rasband, Flight Attendant, San Diego

“Ava truly cares about how our passengers are treated during each and every flight. She is kind, caring and helpful.” —Prett Galloway, Captain, Los Angeles 

“She’s just a great flight attendant, a great friend, and I love flying with her. She is amazing to our passengers.” —Kathy Massey, Flight Attendant, San Diego

“She’s fun, spontaneous and a pleasure to be around. She makes passengers and crew alike feel completely comfortable.” —Rod Massey, Flight Attendant, Los Angeles 

“Ava is efficient, charming, witty and beautiful. Customers want to be her friend; flight attendants want to be like her and learn from her.” —Jayneanne Giannotto, Flight Attendant, San Diego