Pilot, attendant find love aloft


Aquanetta Johnson And Jim Betts


On July 17, 1997, Aquanetta Johnson and Jim Betts took an airplane trip that would forever change their lives.

Jim, a captain for American Airlines, was the pilot on a flight to Vancouver, British Columbia. Aquanetta was among the flight attendants. When the crew arrived in Vancouver, they decided to continue the camaraderie from the flight and go out for dinner.

It was Jim's first officer -- a woman -- who initially saw the spark between Jim and Aquanetta. So she did whatever she could to fan the flame.

"She kept pushing us together," Aquanetta recalls, laughing. "If we went somewhere, she made sure there was always an empty seat next to Jim for me to take."

Though Aquanetta didn't know it at the time, the first officer also had been talking her up to Jim in the cockpit.

Neither Jim nor Aquanetta had asked the first officer to get involved in their love lives. But with such an insistent cupid urging them along, the couple couldn't help but check each other out. Before they parted ways, Jim asked Aquanetta for her phone number.

After they returned home -- Aquanetta to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Jim to Fort Washington in Prince George's County -- Jim called.

It was the two-hour conversation that really fanned the flames. Aquanetta was impressed by Jim's intelligence as well as his down-to-earth manner. "He's a very bright man," she says. "But if he didn't know about something, he wasn't embarrassed. He'd say, 'Oh, tell me about that.' "

For his part, Jim was pleased that Aquanetta seemed both family- and goal-oriented. Besides working full-time as a flight attendant, Aquanetta is enrolled full-time in law school. She also makes frequent trips home to see her family in Augusta, Ga.

Two weeks after their first trip together, Aquanetta and Jim worked the same flight again. This time, they took in the sights of Vancouver by themselves.

After that, they took turns hopping flights so they could visit one another in Fort Lauderdale and Fort Washington.

They celebrated Thanksgiving 1997 with Jim's mother, Gracie Betts, here in Baltimore. They left the next day for Augusta to enjoy a belated holiday with Aquanetta's mother, Barbara Johnson Thurmond. They also visited with Aquanetta's father, Robert E. Johnson, who lives in Augusta as well.

At Christmas that year, the couple reversed the order of their visits, starting out in Augusta and ending up in Baltimore. It's a holiday tradition they plan to continue.

On June 17, 1998, on the very same Vancouver flight where they first met, Jim surprised Aquanetta with a marriage proposal. He asked her over the public-address system before the plane took off. Stunned, she answered yes.

The proposal and the reply were met with wild applause and cheers from the passengers, many of whom were on their way to celebrate their own wedding anniversaries with a commemorative cruise from Vancouver.

After the flight got under way, a still-surprised Aquanetta found herself parading through the cabin with her hand held high so the thrilled passengers could see her engagement ring.

On June 5, Aquanetta, 30, and Jim, 59, were married in a courtyard gazebo just yards from the beach at the Radisson Cable Beach Resort in Nassau, Bahamas. The 70 guests flew in from all around the United States.

Aquanetta's father walked her down the aisle. Her sister, Antoinette Thurmond Johnson, was her matron of honor. Memories of Jim's late father, Arthur F. Betts, completed the couple's joy.

Later this summer, the longtime pilot and the flight attendant who captured his heart will move to their new base -- a home they're having built in Owings Mills.

Pub Date: 06/27/99

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