Long-haul flights at US airlines are typically serviced by the most senior flight attendants who tend to be older. Without devolving the conversation into ageism, can we just speak honestly and openly about older flight attendants?
As a young person, I have been the subject of ageism before. Many times I fly, business suits and gate agents will ask me to step out of the boarding lane, because “We are only boarding group one right now, we will call you up in a moment.” Except I am in group one. There’s a thin line between righteous indignation and throwing a tantrum, I try to stay on the righteous side of that line when possible.
I understand how it feels to be judged because of my age and it’s not nice. However, that’s not to say that there aren’t statistics and experiences that support stereotypes. To say that most Tracphone users are older and not as technologically adept as their younger counterparts is logically supported (I can only assume based on anecdotal information and their ads). That doesn’t mean that young people can’t use a Tracphone (in fact, it’s perfect for teens) nor that older people can’t use technologically advanced products. But it doesn’t change the fact that Tracphone customers fit that profile.
Age of the crew is not the only deciding factor on the quality of a flight. However, there is merit in saying that those with the longest tenure at the US carriers get the routes of their choosing and many choose long-haul flights.
The purpose of this post is to address the fact that older flight crews are different from younger flight crews and that depending on your route, your exposure to one or the other group is likely to weigh on your impression. In my experience, older FAs have some benefits and some drawbacks.
Some of the Kindest Flight Attendants Are Older
Some of the kindest flight attendants we have encountered are older. Just last week, a pair of older FAs on separate flights were fawning over our daughter, Lucy, sneaking her snacks and poorly resisting pinching her cheeks. They were enamored and that was fine by us.
Those who stayed in the business because they love their job and the people they serve are truly the salt of the earth.
The Best Ones Still Remember the Golden Age of Travel
Some of the best service I’ve ever received was upstairs on a United 747 from a flight attendant that remembered coming through the aisles slicing meat to the customer’s preference. Flying was different 30, 40, 50 years ago and those that are still in the industry but can remember what flying used to be, have a different approach than other flight attendants who never flew during the Golden Age of Travel.
They Own Long-Haul Routes
Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al-Baker famously offended every US airline union when speaking to guests at a Gala in Dublin,
“So there is no need for you to travel on these crap American carriers,” Al Baker said. “You know you’re always being served by grandmothers on American carriers.”
While Delta’s In-Flight Service VP commented with her own terse words,
“We won’t let anyone demean our workforce with rude, misogynistic comments.”
The issue, however, is that when speaking of long-haul routes Al Baker isn’t wrong and his words aren’t demeaning or misogynistic (though the intent of his message was). I commented last week that all but two crew members on our American Airlines A330-200 were older and likely over the age of 59.
Older flight attendants tend to have seniority which allows them to hold the best service lines which are considered to be those with long flight times and exciting international destinations. While Al-Baker’s words might not be something that flight attendants and their unions want to hear, unfortunately, his description of flight attendants that serve routes competing with Qatar is accurate. Higher seniority staff are older, some really are grandparents.
The exception to this rule is those that have specific language skills as I often find on flights to Asia where younger flight attendants have an opportunity to jump to the front of the line due to their language abilities.
The Passion Is Gone
For some older FAs, let’s be honest, the passion is gone. Last week we had a US Airways flight crew (still wearing US Airways uniforms) on our American flight that was just as old as the previous flight. The purser was borderline unprofessional. He picked up my wife’s food before she was done, responded in grunts as opposed to words. Prior to departure, staff was clearly inconvenienced by hanging up our coats. That could be a bad crew of any age, but my experience tends to suggest that this is a common thread with those in the business the longest.
My notes are anecdotal, granted – there are certainly FAs that do not fall into this category. But that’s not what I (and other international long-haul flyers I know) experience. Some older FAs have bragged to me about how few days per month they work. It’s not the fun, exciting, eye-opening experience anymore like with any job. However, this is a customer-facing job specializing in service and a pleasant, positive demeanor and a passion for service are critical.
For some passengers, that trip could be the most exciting thing they have ever done and represented years of savings. In our case, we spent 10 years accumulating Business Extra points on American to take this business class trip. It represented more than $54,000 in spending over a decade that was hard to achieve for a small business.
Young Flight Attendants Not A Perfect Solution
If I describe a flight attendant as despondent and texting while ignoring a call light, how old would you picture that person to be? Bad service is bad service, good service is good service. Many of the younger flight attendants don’t have the experience to deal with all of the challenges that arise on long-haul flights. They need the guidance and experience of those who have been in the business longer.
However, I find that younger flight attendants are more likely to ask someone else a question if your information counters theirs. They (in my experience) tend to still be excited for layovers in desirable destinations.
This post is really for our readers, I want to know what you think. Comment (politely) about your experiences with older or younger flight crews. Does age matter at all?