By Angela Johnson
Life is all about making a difference. That’s the motto by which retired flight attendant turned entrepreneur Rita Husmann has always lived. These words are far more than just a catchphrase. To Husmann, the owner of The Lady Bug Connection, they’re wholeheartedly her way of life.
“Taking home a paycheck was never quite enough,” Husmann said. “Taking home the energy and power of a smile was what was important to me.”
In her 31 years as a flight attendant for United Airlines, Husmann affected the lives of countless people, as she flew back and forth across the ocean. When she wasn’t flying, she was busy at home raising three children.
At age 23, Husmann was living in North Carolina and working as a bank teller. There, she met a coworker who was applying for a job as a “stewardess,” and encouraged her to go with her to an interview. Husmann hesitated at first, claiming she was “just a small-town tomboy.” But she went to the interview. Although she didn’t receive a call back from her initial interview, she must have made an impression. She interviewed for the same man again a month later in another city, and he instantly recognized her and offered her the job.
The outgoing personality that landed Husmann in an airplane carried over into her daily work. She genuinely cared about the people she met, and never hesitated to help her passengers out in whatever way she could. This often meant going above and beyond the traditional expectations of her job.
“I loved my passengers,” Husmann said. “I’ve been known to take them home with me. One little old lady overshot her destination and when she got where she was going, it was too late to get on another flight. She didn’t have enough money to spend the night in a hotel, so I took her to my house and let her spend the night.”
Husmann shared more than her home. On a flight to Alaska many years back, she opened her checkbook to help out a passenger. A businessman who had to run from his car to the airplane, barely making it in time, had left his wallet in his car. Husmann made arrangements for the airline to get his wallet to him, but was concerned that he had nothing in the meantime. Without hesitating, she gave the man $200, explaining it was all she could afford.
“I thought it was the normal thing to do!” she said.
Husmann was based out of Denver when she first started flying. In her first year, she received the Flight Attendant of the Year Award. It came as a big surprise; at the time she wasn’t even aware that such an award existed. After being notified, she was convinced that someone was playing a joke on her. Husmann was nominated for the award six more times in the years to follow.
It’s this kind of humbleness and humor that make it easy to understand why Husmann’s passengers were so fond of her, and why she remains friends with so many of them to this day. On a flight to Hong Kong almost 18 years ago, she became friends with a couple. For the next two and a half years, while on layovers in Hong Kong, she visited the Wong family and toured Mr. Wong’s business, as well as the Port of Hong Kong. Both families have taken extended trips and stayed with one another throughout the years. She also still writes letters to a good friend who was a passenger the first month she flew.
Flying mostly international flights, Husmann has been to places of which many only dream. A great majority of her flights were to the Far East—to Korea, Hong Kong and Japan—but she also flew to Australia and London. Hong Kong and Japan are her favorite places to visit. She says she loves the cities, but especially loves the people. She’s also a big fan of their gourmet restaurants; she admits she’s been spoiled and can’t go to all-you-can-eat sushi restaurants in the United States.
Working as a flight attendant for more than three decades, one is bound to encounter the occasional “disgruntled passenger” among the many friendly ones. Husmann recalls one instance when she was forced to do some creative thinking as well as exercise a great amount of patience. On a return flight from Hong Kong, a man became angry with a fellow passenger who wasn’t happy about his smoking. He shouted at Husmann to remedy the situation, and jabbed her with his finger several times.
“Let’s see what you’re going to do about this,” he taunted.
She smiled and remained calm. Minutes later, she had managed to coax the other man into a different seat, and had both men settled in contentedly, one with a new pack of cigarettes and the other with a bottle of champagne.
“I was so scared, and sure he was going to choke me,” Husmann said. “You have to do what you have to do, because when people are disgruntled, they want attention. They want you to validate what they’re feeling, whether they’re right or not. Give them attention and validate their feelings; those are important steps.”
Husmann believes that meeting people from different cultures and backgrounds is a priceless experience. That’s one of the main things she’s missed since she retired six years ago. She also misses the camaraderie she shared with her coworkers.
“I’m missing my flying partners,” she said. “We all have experienced such a different way of life, a different way of looking at things. I think flying keeps you more open and young, and in tune with what the real world is all about from other cultures. I realize the corporate jet world is much different from the airlines, but the mindset of many of the passengers is still the same; they’re business people making a whole new world happen.”
Some of her passengers’ business sense must have rubbed off on Husmann, for she now owns and operates her own company out of Twisp, Wash. What started out as a part-time housecleaning job evolved into The Lady Bug Connection. The company specializes in in-home, business and aircraft cleaning, and steamer sales to aircraft maintenance bases that service corporate jets.
Lady Bug dry-steam vapor machines make the company different from other cleaning services. These powerful yet lightweight and compact machines clean and disinfect without the use of harsh chemicals. This allows them to clean more quickly, effectively and without damaging delicate surfaces, such as aircraft interiors. The steamers work by essentially emulsifying dirt and grease, and as Husmann testifies, “will change your idea of clean.”
When Husmann first started cleaning with the Lady Bug steamers, she was mostly doing in-home cleanings. This expanded into in-home demonstrations of the machines, in which she so passionately believes. The little red steam machines repeatedly impressed Husmann’s customers, and before she knew it, she was selling more than cleaning. She’s now a dealer for Advanced Vapor Technologies, the manufacturer of the Lady Bug.
Last year, Husmann’s son, Michael, who is a corporate jet pilot, called his mother. He was convinced that her steamers would be the answer to his troubles. Tired of struggling with harsh-smelling chemicals that never seemed to get his jets as clean as he desired, he asked her to bring her Lady Bug to New York.
The Lady Bug did an exceptional job cleaning the jet’s interiors, and Husmann and her son are now marketing their services to the corporate jet world. They believe their steamers provide a higher standard of clean, and cater perfectly to the needs of corporate jet owners. They use the steamers to clean even the most high-end jet interiors, such as those containing gold-plated fixtures and leather interiors.
Just as Husmann made a difference in the lives of her passengers, she’s now making a difference in the lives of her customers. It’s quite clear when speaking to her that she truly believes in her product and isn’t just trying to make a sale, much in the same way that she really cared about the people on board her flights, and wasn’t just trying to get them to their destinations.
“Making a difference is what life is all about, no matter where or how you do it,” Husmann said. “Retirement is not the end; it’s just the beginning!”
For more information on The Lady Bug Connection, visit [http://www.ladybugconnection.com].