Mandatory Retirement Flies Out The Window

We boomers are lucky in so many ways. We’ve had people blaze paths ahead of us. We’ve been the beneficiaries. And it’s still happening, as BoomerCafé contributor Marcia Barhydt writes in Mandatory Retirement Flies Out The Window.

In 2011, I wrote an article for BoomerCafé called “Mandatory Retirement at 30,000 Feet.” I live in Canada and it was about Air Canada pilots who were required— as all American commercial pilots used to be— to retire when they turned 60.

Marcia Barhydt

Marcia Barhydt

That was then, this is now: on Dec. 15, 2012, changes with the Canadian Human Rights Act went into effect. They prohibit “mandatory” retirement for the 800,000 workers in federally regulated jurisdictions like banking, telecommunication, the armed forces … and transportation. Victory!

Well, almost victory. The Catch-22 is that this new ruling, allowing pilots to fly past the age of 60, is not retroactive. So the 200 pilots who were forced to retire while the issue was being debated cannot be rehired. They are fighting back at the Supreme Court of Canada, seeking damages and reinstatement.

Mandatory retirement needs to go the way of the do-do bird. The concept is extinct. There are good pilots and bad pilots up to a point, anyway — and that point is well beyond 60 — and their age has nothing to do with how smoothly they can land an aircraft. More importantly, a 67-year-old pilot is as good at reacting quickly to airborne challenges as is a 37-year-old pilot — with a whole lot more wisdom about what actions to take.

Pilots continue to undergo medical physicals every six months after age 40, as well as simulator testing every eight months. Under international aviation regulations, there must be at least one pilot under 60 in the cockpit at all times anyway, and pilots over 65 cannot hold the Captain position.

Air-Canada-Express-pilotI must say, that last regulation makes me wonder how a change from Captain to First Officer might go down with senior captains. Pilots are a proud bunch and it seems to me that swapping the position of control in the flight deck for the position of support might be a hard transition. It could easily separate the men from the boys, so to speak. If a pilot were sincere about flying past the age of 60, then left seat or right seat wouldn’t matter; being an active pilot in the flight deck would.

When I was hired as a flight attendant, I had to sign a document that I wouldn’t fly more than ten years from my hire date. For most new hires, that meant somewhere between 30 and 35 was the final landing for us. Of course the first flight attendant who reached her ten-year maximum and fought for her right to keep flying won a victory for all of us. This regulation had more to do with the image of Air Canada’s flight attendants than their competence.

Flight attendants were expected to be young, pretty, and sexy; pilots were expected to be young, clear-eyed, and ready for the thrill of flight. Thanks to the trailblazers before me, I flew until I was 55 and I promise you that I wasn’t pretty or sexy by then (well, maybe a little); the same was true of older pilots too. But we knew our jobs. The airline industry still flaunts attractiveness and capability for pilots — an airplane’s crew has your life in their hands, so they better be good at what they do.

And that’s the point. Pilots being good at what they do has nothing to do with their age, and everything to do with their experience.

So buckle up your seatbelt and relax; you’re about to have a fantastic flight.

©Marcia Barhydt 2013

Follow Marcia online … click here.


1 Comment

  1. Can’t argue with the logic until the reflexes just aren’t up to it anymore. Decisions should be based on ability, not stereotypes and generalizations. This should apply to not only airline pilots and flight attendants, but to all professionals and occupations.

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