Women's Month: 40 Years Of Flight Centre with Shirley Ann Henry

This Women’s Day 2022, we’d like to introduce you to just some of the women who have been with us since the beginning. As we celebrate our 40th birthday this year, we also celebrate the incredible women that have walked this journey with Flight Centre South Africa since the beginning.

Celebrating 40 years of Flight Centre

1min read

Published 15 August 2022


This Women’s Day 2022, we’d like to introduce you to just some of the women who have been with us since the beginning. As we celebrate our 40th birthday this year, we also celebrate the incredible women that have walked this journey with Flight Centre South Africa since the beginning.

This Women’s Day 2022, we’d like to introduce you to just some of the women who have been with us since the beginning. As we celebrate our 40th birthday this year, we also celebrate the incredible women that have walked this journey with Flight Centre South Africa since the beginning. We salute you!


We thank you women of South Africa for your continued sacrifice to make a better world for all. Here are the stories from our Flight Centre women of Then & Now, as they share how the travel landscape, and the world has changed over the past 40 years. Meet Shirley Henry, Area Leader in the Western Cape.

“Wow, what a journey you have sent me on! Scratching through old photo albums in the garage looking for photos. A part of me is thankful we didn't have cell phones with cameras, Facebook or Insta back in those days!”

Shirley, what does Women's Day mean to you? Do you feel it still has significance?

On Women’s Day, I take the time to reflect on the significance influential woman in my life have played in shaping me. This will be women in my family, my social circles and within my workplace. Women’s Day is a day to reflect on the importance of being a woman. There is a spirit of ubuntu that women have that unites us no matter our background and we need to keep it alive. Women help to create positive and meaningful organizational cultures and a sense of community.

Tell us about the landscape of travel then and now.

I joined Flight Centre back when I was 28 years old as an "old" singleton. The average age back then in FCTG was 22 years old! I was attracted to the opportunities Flight Centre were talking about, and it looked like fun! I had a passion for travel and had just returned from a number of years travelling. Flight Centre was undergoing massive expansion, growing from three stores to six in the Western Cape and within a year added three more stores to the region.

Within a year of joining Flight Centre, I had the opportunity to open and lead a brand new store in Tygervalley Centre. I recall in the first few weeks that customers would enquire who we were and what we did. Customers were drawn in by the queue outside and the handwritten airfare boards in the windows!

The culture of Flight Centre has always been a strong drawcard and they made travel fun! Buzz nights, conferences, dinners, weekend aways, incentives and back in those days we could almost travel for free! We have done some crazy things over the years like walking on hot coals, walking tight ropes way up in the air, leaps of faith and crazy hikes as well as the privilege of hearing incredible motivational speakers and watching world class bands perform at conferences and balls that have been a constant in my Flight Centre career.

The core nature of travel hasn't changed. People still travel to discover new destinations, experience new cultures, foods and festivals, go on family holidays, unite with family and friends as well as celebrate milestone life events through travel. The mode of transport hasn't changed much, perhaps only been upgraded or revamped over the years.

Along came the internet revolution and the pessimists advocated that this would be the end of the travel agent. Many have learnt some lessons after trying to book complex travel on their own, making mistakes or with the travel interruptions that have come, wished they had booked with an agent and have come back to the agent! The value of a professional to plan complex travel is even more evident in our current travel environment. It could result in saving you money! The assurance that you can call and speak to a human in your own language when something has gone wrong, and a human to help fix it, is priceless in my opinion. People want to be able to speak to someone especially when things go wrong. In this post COVID world, people are looking for reassurance that the journey will be realised and those travel dreams will become a reality.

How has travel changed over the last 40 years?  

​When I started in travel, we had paper tickets and then moved over from handwritten tickets to printed tickets. Each coupon had to be accounted for and we had to check each ticket to ensure all the sectors were accounted for in the coupons. A missing coupon resulted in no travel for that sector.

We would get our tickets delivered each day via Docex (a courier system). All travel documents were delivered via Docex. Last minute travel meant you had to arrange a courier to collect the ticket from the ticket centre based at HQ and deliver it to the customer or to your office for the customer to collect.

A customer could not check-in for a flight unless they presented themselves at the check in desk with the paper tickets and travel documents. There was no such thing as online check-in back in those days. 

Seating back in those days was free of charge and all flights had full service onboard. Date changes were issued via a handwritten MCO (miscellaneous charge order). Revalidation stickers were placed on the coupon with the new date handwritten. Revalidation stickers were the "gold" of the industry! These revalidation stickers helped many a young traveller out of a pickle!

When I started in travel, tickets to London cost R3100 and airport taxes were R228. Over the years base fares haven't changed much, but taxes certainly have increased.

Then along came automation with the arrival of e-tickets and online check-ins, and not to forget, increased taxes!

How travel has changed! Today I can arrive at the airport and only need to go to the check-in counter if I have a bag to check-in. My boarding pass is on my phone and all I need to do is get to through security and to the boarding gate on time. On my recent trip to the USA, I experienced the future of travel. I had to scan, check myself in, bag and tag my own bag and drop it off for loading with zero human touch. I checked that baggage tag a few times to ensure my bags were going to the right airport! The future of travel is touchless. I see us scanning ourselves through check-in, customs and boarding. Planes are fast becoming shuttles especially on short hauls for point-to-point travel. The luxury of the premium cabins is back especially for long haul flights with the lie flat beds and private cubicles. Some airlines even have chauffeur drive to the airport. Travel is complex and can be booked online or offline with as much human intervention as you want.

I will be with FCTG 24 years in November this year and I can honestly say no other company would have given me the opportunities I have had. I have been fortunate enough to start in leisure travel in the front end of the business with no prior travel training other than my travel experience. I was given the opportunity of leadership within one year of being in travel and after seven successful years in retail, had the opportunity to join our finance teams. After a number of years as a management accountant, I had the opportunity to lead the audit and risk team for a number of years.

FCTG has afforded me the opportunities to study further completing a number of courses over the years. Five years ago, I had the opportunity to follow my passion, leading people in the heart of the FCTG in the leisure business taking on the Western Cape area as their regional leader. Nothing excites me more than working with people in an industry I love.

I cannot think of any other company that would have afforded me such a diversified background in all aspects of the business with no formal training before joining. I truly believe that I have grown up with FCTG and we have blossomed together over the years.

Flight Centre truly opens up the world for those who want to see and deliver amazing travel experiences in work and play!

I have worked alongside and had the influence of a number of remarkable women over the years. There is one thing we all have in common - it’s that spirit of ubuntu. Women bring a spirit of humanness, a pervasive spirit of caring and community, harmony and hospitality, respect and responsiveness that individuals and groups display for one another. Being a woman is the spirit of ubuntu!

What lessons have you learnt from the women in your life?

To get up and show up no matter what is going on. Straighten that crown and always put your best foot forward. 

What message do you want to share with women in the industry or women in South Africa in general?

We have a responsibility to create a brighter future for all. No matter the challenges we face, no matter the adversity, look after each other and create a community of women because together we CAN! Embrace that spirit of ubuntu!

Why is it exciting to be a woman in travel?

There is no glass ceiling in travel. You can create your own bright future and the world of travel affords women levels of flexibility. I firmly believe this is possible as the industry is dominated by women and the spirit of ubuntu lives in us all, allowing us the opportunity to blossom. Women are the heart of society. We can be afforded the opportunity to raise a family and have a career. We can have our "cake and eat it" and sometimes we can have that "cherry on top" too which is the incentive to travel!  Just like we give birth to humanity, we give birth to travel dreams and adventures too!

​Thank you, Shirley – keep on flying the flag high!

Flight Centre

© Flight Centre Travel Group (Pty) Ltd. Registration No. 1994/000253/07.

*Prices are in ZAR and subject to availability. Please refer to specific product’s terms and conditions.