Since When Is Discrimination Against Older People Acceptable?

Whenever I write an article pertaining to discrimination — such as religion, politics, race or gender as only four of what seems to be an endless array of topics — invariably someone is usually offended and posts a comment voicing opposition to what was written in that article; while someone else takes the opposing point of view of the offended reader.

Since When Is Discrimination Against Older People Acceptable?

In addition to the aforementioned four topics, discussion among readers of The Gate tend to be vociferous pertaining to the subjects of emotional support animals, people with allergies, the travails of being a larger or obese person while traveling, tips and gratuities, people with disabilities, and the class system in general as to who can afford what when traveling — as well as myriad other topics. When people are directly affected by a policy or regulation or occurrence which directly affects the demographic to which they identify, they usually speak out — often with strong opinions — as they should. In fact, lively debates are encouraged in order to discuss the perceived imbalance of the topics at hand — as long as they are constructive, civil and respectful — in order to arrive at solutions which are not only as mutually beneficial as possible for as many people as possible; but also from which we can all learn and possibly apply elsewhere.

Although genders increasingly can be changed, not everybody can be male or female or transgender or other genders. Not everyone can be black or white or Hispanic or Asian. Not everyone can be Jewish or Catholic or Hindu or Presbyterian or Muslim. Not everyone can be tall or short or obese or thin…

…but mostly everyone will be older at some point in their lives — including you and I — and yet, ageism seems to be widely prevalent in general.

Flight attendant training

Flight attendants are in the process of being trained at the world headquarters of Delta Air Lines. The training takes weeks to complete. Photograph ©2009 by Brian Cohen.

“What has led to so many older American flight attendants?” asked Brenda Bertram, who wrote this article for FlyerTalk which cites statistics as to why members of flight crews of commercial airlines based in the United States are older on average than in other areas of the world. “Like so many things in life, there isn’t a single answer.”

The article concluded with the following questions: “…what happens if there is an emergency? At what age is there the potential for flight attendants to become more of a hindrance than anything else — to forgot a procedure, or to move too slowly?”

If the comments section is of any indication, the majority of readers were offended by that article. FlyerTalk member Dr.Ells commented with the following statement, which is presented in its entirety…

We FlyerTalk readers are offended by (at least) 2 of this “author’s” statements.

If you haven’t got a degree, though, and you want to change careers in your 40s or 50s, your options are probably limited.”

That is NOT true. NOBODY’s options are limited except by failing to dream them — and when such dreams and ideas are mocked by authors such as above.

Maybe it’s the potential to have a lot of spare time (and preferential If you haven’t got a degree, though, and you want to change careers in your 40s or 50s, your options are probably limited. Hospitality, retail, and other service industries generally pay less than a flight attendant gig, so despite your disapproval, you’re likely to keep showing up to work. Even pay disparities resulting from ongoing mergers and low morale don’t seem to drive the aging workforce to retire.

“Maybe it’s the potential to have a lot of spare time (and preferential routes) once seniority is attained, plus the extended holidays and cheap travel, that will keep those boomers hanging on as long as possible. routes) once seniority is attained, plus the extended holidays and cheap travel, that will keep those boomers hanging on as long as possible.”

The “author” is RUDE and ageist.

…and also presented in its entirety is this comment by FlyerTalk member atm6170:

What an incredibly offensive article. Why does no one say this about CEOs or lawyers or politicians? For your information in the 50s and 60s flight attendants did not retire at 35, they were FORCED to retire. Flight attendants have been at the forefront of the wars on age and sex discrimination, We really don’t need the strides they made to be destroyed by silly, pointless articles like this.

It’s a seniority based industry so longevity carries privileges. It’s also possible that people stay because our pensions have all been wiped out. We might also enjoy the job.

And I assure you, far more dangerous than the age of the flight attendants, is passengers inattention and failure to heed basic safety procedures. You’re going to be injured because someone stopped to get their bag during an evacuation, not because the over 50 flight attendant couldn’t get you out of the plane.

Older People are Not Going Away. In Fact, That Demographic is Growing.

All “baby boomers” — that is, people who were born between 1946 and 1964 in general — will be older than 65 years of age by the year 2030; and the size of the older population in the United States is expected to be at the point at which 20 percent of the population will be older than 65 years old.

“The aging of baby boomers means that within just a couple decades, older people are projected to outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history,” said Jonathan Vespa, who is a demographer with the Census Bureau of the United States and was quoted in this article. “By 2034 (previously 2035), there will be 77.0 million (previously 78.0) people 65 years and older compared to 76.5 million (previously 76.7 million) under the age of 18.”

The reason why some of the statistics are in parentheses is because the article was revised on Tuesday, October 8, 2019 with updated statistics since the article was originally written on Tuesday, March 13, 2018.

Other statistics cited in that article pertaining to the aging population in the United States include:

  • As the population ages, the ratio of older adults to adults of working age — which is also known as the old-age dependency ratio — is projected to rise. By 2020, there will be about 3.5 adults of working age for every person of retirement age. By 2060, that ratio will fall to just 2.5 adults of working age adults for every person of retirement age.
  • The median age of the population in the United States is expected to grow from age 38 today to age 43 by 2060.


Replace older people in the aforementioned article with black people, transgender people, Muslim people, Republican people, women, people with allergies, disabled people, poor people, or people with psychological issues. Choose any other demographic you like. Would that article still be acceptable? What constructive purpose did that article actually serve?!?

I can almost guarantee that if that article referred to virtually any other demographic, it would not have been approved and “published.”

As with any other demographic, older people have enough problems which they face without having to endure discrimination — but unlike most other demographics, they have earned their place in society. They have worked hard over the decades. They typically have their vast experiences over the years to offer. They are usually bastions of knowledge. Their expertise and skills are often unsurpassed. Many are even physically more fit than people half their ages…

…and yet, a lack of respect seems to prevail towards people who are older in society. They are the butts of jokes. They are often overlooked or denied opportunities. Many of them are forced to retire from their occupations which they enjoyed for no reason other than their ages. A number of them have to choose between food and medication because they cannot afford to live due to a meager income.

I particularly liked this comment by FlyerTalk member lorenberg: “As one that hired and managed literally thousands of people over the years, I can attest to the fact that there are some people that are old at 45 and others that are young at 60.”

People should be viewed based on their capabilities. If a member of a flight crew can perform all of the requirements of the job at the age of 80, then what is the problem?

Conversely, if a member of a flight crew cannot perform all of the requirements of the job for whatever reason at the age of 30, that that person should seek employment elsewhere, as the primary purpose of being a flight attendant is to ensure the safety of passengers aboard the airplane at all times — especially in emergency situations.

For articles such as the aforementioned one written by Brenda Bertram to even be deemed as acceptable for publication is a minor but important reflection on the view society seems to have in general to the growing aging population in the world — and if that is the case, that perception needs to change.

After all, you and I will get old some day — assuming that nothing prevents that from happening — even if only in terms of age…

…and in fact, unfair discrimination of any kind needs to be eliminated. Period. End of story.

All photographs ©2009 by Brian Cohen.

10 thoughts on “Since When Is Discrimination Against Older People Acceptable?”

  1. Ron says:

    Nicely said. That said, if FAs are going to claim they can’t be bothered with basic customer service because they’re there for our ‘safety’, then the public needs assurance the FAs are physically capable of doing their jobs. Can’t have it both ways. I was on a United flight in so-called upgraded Polaris Biz and had the misfortune of getting same FA on both legs SFO-AKL. One bad experience I can understand, but two 18 days apart from the same FA is ridiculous – even other FAs would avoid her – just a miserable person, yet thanks to senority, still had a job.

  2. Ken Adams says:

    Social warriors are trying to right everything single wrong in the world. For the average person, who gets wronged several times a day, this becomes tiresome and the compassion wears thin.

    The world would be much better served if people learned to deal with being wronged or discriminated against. It is like world peace. Yes, it would be nice. It is also not realistic.
    I think travel blogs should write about travel, not social justice. That is so tiring.
    The silent majority, however, does not call for a boycott of your blog or demand exposure to their thoughts, ideas and beliefs. They simply stop reading this blog.

  3. Michael says:

    Are you suggesting that United shouldn’t be allowed to offer a 10% discount to customers aged 18-22?

  4. Yeah no says:

    Ok boome

  5. Michael says:

    Thankyou for at least writing about a subject that seems to be forgotten because everyone else has to be recognized. I was raised to respect all people especially the elderly. Thanks

  6. Joey says:

    I don’t mind older flight attendants as I’ve seen rude FA’s who were in their 20s and 30s too.
    I do think, however, if there are incentives or a way to provide different jobs with higher pay within the airline (i.e. training, supervisor/manager roles) that are based the ground with the same flight benefits that they’re used to I can see some older FA’s opt for those roles.

  7. Jackson Robertson says:

    Flight attendants are older in the U.S. because anti discrimination laws and unions mandate the worst of the worst get hired and continue in the jobs. In Europe most of the receptionists at hotels are the most attractive people. Sure racial demographics play a role in the case of Europe but it really is the most attractive and youngest, both men and women are hired to be front people. Speaking to a 25 year old Argentinian girl about it she said “of course hotels are going to put the best people upfront for their image.”

    In Europe most of the flight attendants are young and attractive. By 35 the men and women move on to other careers more suited for having and raising a family with the exception being the pursuer or lead first class flight attendant or a bachelor in his 40s. But I saw a grey haired 65+ year old woman serving as a flight attendant in business class on a 772 AA long haul international flight. That just is not acceptable for so many reasons. Traveling (even in business) can be stressful. It should be young and attractive men and women who diffuse situations as cabin crew and who brighten the day for everyone traveling. Same with entering the lobby every morning and being greeted by attractive people at reception. But in the U.S., more times than not it is slop. Why this is and the demographics that causes this, you be the judge.

  8. B. Bauer says:

    Ageism is definitely acceptable and common on the internet. Vilifying the boomer generation is big business among (generally millennial) writers. Some of the criticism is warranted, but our reluctance to give up our jobs early just so they can have them probably isn’t.

    We should at least be honest about that physical and cognitive abilities do typically decline with age. I’m sixty and I feel it, and I hear it from people I work with who have to look up things they used to just remember. It wasn’t in either article, but it would be interesting to know how (or if) they validate that flight attendants can accomplish their safety-related duties. I can’t imagine doing that when I’m 90!

  9. mbh says:

    Is Mr. Robertson for real? That’s such a backwards, 1950 view that it sounds like a SNL parody. I’m just going to assume he was trying to be funny, because if he really believes that discriminating on the basis of attractiveness and age is a GOOD thing, he needs to go back into his cave.

    As for Mr. Adams, I’m so sorry we’ve exhausted you with human respect and decency. Maybe there is room for you in Mr. Robertson’s cave. You can offend each other to your respective hearts’ content.

    Geez. I AM a Boomer and want to say “OK Boomer” to these guys.

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