I consider Cathay Pacific to have some of the best flight attendants out there, perhaps because it’ll always have that “hometown touch” for me. I have always found the service to be warm and genuine, striking a good balance between by-the-book professionalism and over-the-top friendliness.
I don’t really recall seeing many Cathay Pacific flight attendants older than say, middle-age, but there is a reason for that. There is a mandatory retirement age of 55 for Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific flight attendants. Meanwhile, the age for UK-based Cathay Pacific flight attendants is 65, while US-based crew have no mandatory retirement age.
Well, the Cathay Pacific Flight Attendant Union, which represents ~80% of flight attendants, is petitioning to have the retirement age raised from 55 to 65. Union leaders posit that the current retirement age policies are discriminatory, and cited other airlines as being more lenient in their policies.
Cathay Pacific said that their “retirement age policies are consistent with the laws of Hong Kong,” and said that it’s a complicated issue that require “numerous factors to be considered, including opportunities for career progression for those crew who joined Cathay Pacific in recent times.” Less than 10 years ago, in 2008, Cathay Pacific raised the mandatory retirement age from 45 to 55.
There is somewhat of a problem for the retirement age being 55 regarding finances post-retirement. This is because the Mandatory Provident Fund, a compulsory pension fund for Hong Kong residents, cannot be withdrawn until age 65. This means that after flight attendants retire, they have to wait at least 10 years (or 5, if they qualify for special circumstances) before their retirement funds become available. Some flight attendants have to quit their jobs long before they reach 55, in order to start a second career that can last until 65.
Of course, Cathay Pacific’s policy for Hong Kong-based flight attendants is in huge contrast to the policy with many US airlines. For example, American Airlines flight attendant Bette Nash is over 80, and still flying for the airline as of May this year. Flight attendant Bob Reardon flew for Delta until his 90th birthday, and passed away earlier this year. Ron Akana at United was perhaps one of the longest-serving flight attendants, flying for over 63 years before he retired at age 83.
It’s worth noting that there is a mandatory retirement age for pilots, which is currently set as 65 (up from 60 in 20o7). The Federal Court stated back in 2014 that the mandatory retirement age does not constitute age discrimination.
Regardless of what the retirement age is, flight attendants have to be routinely certified, and they have to be able to operate the safety features of an aircraft. Though for all the “your safety is our primary duty” announcements you hear on US airlines, there is no denying that the majority of flight attendants’ customer-facing moments in-flight involve onboard services. I am not at all implying that service standards will decrease as a flight attendant gets older; in fact, my experience is quite the contrary on American Airlines. Though, to be completely fair, I have also had an older flight attendant on United spill boiling water on my lap from a kettle during the (now discontinued) transpacific mid-flight noodle service, because her hands were shaking so badly.
Do you think there should be a mandatory retirement age for flight attendants? IF so, what should that be?
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