Never Too Old To Fly
Ron Akana, who is 83, made it to the front page of the New York Times because he is the oldest flight attendant for United Airlines. He has been flying for 60 years, clocking some 20 million miles along the way. But he is not the oldest who are still giving safety demonstrations and serving drinks. That distinction belongs to 87-year-old Robert Reardon of Delta Airlines. But he took to the skies a couple of years after Akana joined United.
In truth, 50+ flight attendants are more the rule nowadays than the exception. The New York Times reports “More than 40 percent of the roughly 110,000 flight attendants in the United States are 50 or older… Less than 18 percent are 34 or younger.
"While the overall American work force has grown older, the ranks of flight attendants have aged faster as they have held on to their jobs. That’s because seniority pays. The longest-serving ones get first dibs on flying schedules, and typically choose long-haul routes that fill up their required hours each month much faster than short hops. With a battered airline industry instituting furloughs and pay cuts, many workers have delayed their retirement plans."
It is a long way since “stews” had to be young, thin and single. Akana is married and has a daughter who has been a flight attendant who is a 22-year-veteran at United. Akana always gets the schedule he wants, which usually means three three-day trips a month from Denver to Kauai or Maui. He spends one night on the island, squeezing in lunch with old friends or perhaps a golf game before heading back home to Boulder, Colo.
He is beginning to think about retirement and had knee replacement surgery last year. During a trip he often has to help passengers in wheel chairs. And, yes, he is older than most of them.