Are Flight Attendants 'Too Old'?

Are you old enough to remember young flight attendants? During the so-called golden age of flying, many airlines required cabin crew members to be unmarried and no older than 32. Otherwise, they got the boot.

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Flight Attendants – Aging Population

Yes, flight attendants are aging, but we all will, if we’re lucky enough. In the case of airline employees though, the situation has been exacerbated by the effects of mergers and layoffs on a system that relies on seniority for advancement.

According to a population demographics report published three years ago, based on statistics from 1980 through 2007, flight attendants are significantly older than their counterparts from years past. Some key figures gleaned from the report:

Flight Attendants – 1980

Flight Attendants – 2007

Age 34 or younger: 78.4% Age 34 or younger: 20.7%
Age 45 and older: 6.1 % Age 45 and older: 49.6%
Age 55 and older: 2.7% Age 55 and older: 21.4%

 

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Why Veteran Flight Attendants are Important

One of the most important aspects of an aging flight attendant population is experience. This is not to say younger people, whether they’re flight attendants or performing any other job, aren’t capable because they are. But in a difficult, stressful situation, it’s nice to know you have employees on hand who’ve been there, done that. Three quick examples:

  • April 2012: A passenger gives birth to a baby on a Delta flight. Assisting was a flight attendant with 29 years on the job.
  • September 2011: An American Airlines pilot falls ill during a flight. A 61-year-old flight attendant with a pilot’s license steps in to help the co-pilot land the plane.
  • January 2009: Capt. “Sully” Sullenberger of US Airways guides the Miracle on the Hudson flight to a smooth landing, but it is the veteran flight attendants – aged 51, 57 and 58 – who get all the passengers safely evacuated.

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Flight Attendants and Pay Cuts

Anecdotally, many of us have heard complaints about the attitudes of older flight attendants. I have had no problems with any flight attendants myself so I can only speculate, but – maybe you too might have a bad attitude if you’d suffered some of the financial setbacks they have.

According to the previously mentioned demographics report, flight attendant wages have been slowly but steadily eroding over time:

“There has also been a dramatic shift in the earnings of flight attendants since 1980. After adjusting for inflation, the median hourly wages (in 2007 dollars) dropped by 26 percent between 1980 and 2007. In contrast, the median hourly wages of all U.S. workers rose by 13 percent during this period.” – The Changing Demography of U.S. Flight Attendants

By the way, I have heard some complaints from flight attendants – that passengers rarely look them in the eye, let alone, smile. Try it next time you board a plane, and let me know what happens.

More from Rick Seaney:

Do Older Flight Attendants Get a Bad Rap?

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Published: May 3, 2012