As members of the luckiest generation, we baby boomers have little to complain about. It has been up to us to make our mark in the world and as a generation we’ve done a pretty good job of it. But there’s something standing in the way of some of us, something Marcia Barhydt writes about in an essay she calls, Mandatory Retirement at 30,000 Feet.
In Canada, where I live, the major airline is Air Canada, founded in 1936. It continues to be a force in the global industry, ranking today as the world’s ninth largest passenger airline. In 2006, 34-million people flew with Air Canada as it celebrated its 70th anniversary.
It must be doing something right. But not everything, because Air Canada is one of just a few airlines left in the world where pilots must retire at the age of 60. Is this good airline safety, or is it ageism? Would you be upset, knowing that your captain is 60-years-old? How about 70, or even 80??
Is there a bad fairy godmother with a wand of curses who makes a pilot incompetent on his or her 60th birthday with a cheery little “bipity, bopity, boo?” Are you any different here on the ground at your 60th birthday than you were when you were just 59? Of course, the answer to both of those questions is a resounding NO.
In the case of Air Canada and also a few carriers in the U.S., it’s a question, as always, of dollars; the more seniority a pilot has, the more money the pilot earns. Clearly, the airline has a greater profit if its payroll is reduced.
In Canada, this issue has gone to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, on its way to the Supreme Court. There is also a bill in Parliament that would repeal the section of the Canadian Human Rights Act that allows federally-regulated businesses to determine which employees have reached “the normal age of retirement” in their sector. This section will affect more than 800,000 employees in our Canadian Armed Forces, “Crown” corporations, and other federally-regulated sectors, including marine shipping.
In North America, as well as elsewhere, mandatory retirement is largely a thing of the past, a practice recognized as ageist. It’s no different from other businesses where older workers and younger workers have to learn a tolerance for each other.
Older workers bring wisdom and experience to the table; younger workers bring energy and fresh ideas. The general feeling of younger workers— that older workers staying in their job is decreasing the newbie’s opportunity— may be correct. But it’s a concept that newbies are learning to accept. It’s a rocky road from both ends and it will require tact, consideration, and flexibility from both ends of the age spectrum before it becomes accepted.
In an article from the Toronto Star in March, one Air Canada captain complaining about forced retirement says, “This has nothing to do with greed. We have a good pension. I could stay home and live quite comfortably. But I’m much too young to just play golf all day.”
He adds, “I was flying a perfect approach. I made a perfect landing. I’m the best I’ve ever been. I don’t look 60 and I certainly don’t feel it. I’m not going to just stay home and get old and do nothing.”
Let me ask you again, “Would you be unhappy — or happy — knowing that your Captain is 60 years old?”