Cathay Pacific Raises Flight Attendant Retirement Age To 60

Filed Under: Cathay Pacific

There’s no denying that over time the role of flight attendants has changed around the world. Going back a few decades, even US airlines only hired young, attractive, and typically female flight attendants.

Over time that has changed, and most definitely in the US being a flight attendant can now be a life-long career, with no US airline having a mandatory retirement age for flight attendants.

In different countries flight attendants are viewed differently. For example, at Singapore Airlines the “Singapore girl” is still objectified in some way. It’s not as extreme as it used to be and there are other airlines that are worse in that regard, but it’s definitely still a thing.

On that note, for airlines that have retirement ages, it’s only logical that those get raised over time, as life expectancy continues to increase. Within the past few days Cathay Pacific has announced that they’re raising their retirement age for flight attendants from 55 to 60.

But this new deal maybe isn’t quite as straightforward as it sounds, as not all flight attendants will be eligible to work until the age of 60. The new policy kicks in as of January 1, 2019, and with this flight attendants will have to apply if they want to work beyond 55, and no more than 75% of applicants will be allowed to stay on. They will open up applications for an extension every six months.

Furthermore, those who choose to stay on beyond the age of 55 will receive a pay cut of 3-9%. The logic here is that the airline isn’t doing well financially and senior staff are expensive, so if they allow people to stay on they at least don’t want it to be super costly.

What’s also interesting is that flight attendants voted on this new policy, and the raised retirement age only narrowly passed. That’s presumably because junior flight attendants were concerned that they’d see fewer promotions with more senior staff staying on rather than retiring.

The South China Morning Post draws an interesting comparison to retirement ages at other airlines in Asia:

Cabin crew at subsidiary Cathay Dragon, as well as rivals Hong Kong Airlines and its sister carrier Hong Kong Express, must retire at 45. Many other Asian airlines, however, allow cabin crew to continue working at the age of 60 or above.

For example, China Airlines, All Nippon Airways and Philippine Airlines have a retirement age of 65 for their flight attendants. The age limit for Japan Airlines, Korean Air, Malaysia Airlines and Thai Airways is 60, and for Singapore Airlines, it is 62.

Bottom line

I’m happy to see Cathay Pacific giving flight attendants the option to stay with the company past the age of 55. At first I was rubbed the wrong way by them getting pay cuts for their last five years, but it makes sense.

The airline is trying to cut costs across the board amid losses, and senior flight attendants are expensive, since they’re at the top of the pay scale. The airline says that this solution makes it sustainable for them, so that’s great.

Now here’s to hoping that other Hong Kong-based airlines raise the retirement age above 45, which is ridiculously low.

  1. Yep very big win for service industry.
    You get more experience in serving customers but also more eager to get home than providing service.

    Jet lag will have less impact when you are 25 but you know all the pills to take to mitigate that by the time you are 60.

    Most of them have all the incentive to retire at 60 with a small chance of not making it, rather than you have to up your game to try to get a new contract.

    Even with pay cut, at 60 you are very likely to make much more than when you are 25 but much less productive than when you are 25.

    And the list goes on.

    Flight Attendant is a career choice, there is no shortage. Until airlines can’t recruit flight attendant at 20, none of things like this should be considered. They should know beforehand the risk of this career path and accept it.

  2. Eskimo, I’d like to think that I’m more productive now as I near 60 than I was at 25. Productivity is not endurance, it’s the ability to get something done efficiently.

    I am going to get sarcastic about ageism in my response. Since I’m not 25, I don’t have to stare at my phone every 2 minutes and I have an attention span longer than a flea. I do not need to be constantly near an electronic screen for reassurance and am able to speak, read and write entire sentences without inserting the word ‘like’ or using text speak. I am more attentive and can handle different circumstances because I’ve seen them before.

    I’ve also yet to find a flight attendant below 35 that can make a decent Bloody Mary.

    The best CX flight attendant I ever had was a wonderful older lady nearing retirement who was delightful and provided excellent service while the young attendant flitted around and forgot to finish going down the J aisle with the drink cart leaving me without a cocktail for a long period of time.

  3. Now that I am 76, a 55 to 60 year old female FA generally looks good to me, but it’s really about the service and attention received.

  4. There are definitely many flight attendants younger than 55 who can offer excellent, polished customer service as well.

    This increase in retirement age is a net negative IMO (for passengers). The higher cost per senior flight attendant naturally means a lower crew-to-pax ratio (which affects quality of service greatly), and anyone who reads CX Secret with any frequency knows crew morale is already pretty bad with the lack of advancement opportunities right now.

    This is not going to help.

  5. In HK this has been part of other companies policies as well, one I worked with had 50, then 55, and since last 8 years or so 60, and also extends yearly after 60 to a number of colleagues that feel fit and want to stay on. In HK many service industry companies don’t put most of the money in the basic pay scale itself, but there are levels of MPF (pension fund) that increases over time as well as sometimes a gratuity after 30 years or so that will be the larger payroll impact compared to having younger colleagues, especially in “older companies” where the benefits were set in a different time.

  6. As long as they’re easy on the eye I don’t care how old they are. I’d rather feast my eyes on a stunning 60 year old than a 25 year old heifer.

  7. I know this is slightly off topic…but it appears that Cathay is again restricting close in award space. For the last few weeks I have been checking flights from LAX, SFO and YVR with little to no awards open in either business or first. Any sense of if this is another glitch from the summer or something more permanent? Hoping it isn’t the latter!

  8. I would agree with Mark F. The older crew member in my CI flight in business class would noticed more minor things in details than the younger counterparts. Although, she probably was the cabin manager, she was much more careful to know her surroundings. Many of her younger team members would keep passing me and not noticed that I did not have a pre-departure drink yet. When she came, she realized it and rectified it immediately by having someone on her team to quickly ask for my preferred drink. Not about age, but more about work attitude.

  9. //For example, China Airlines, All Nippon Airways and Philippine Airlines have a retirement age of 65 for their flight attendants.//

    No, this is not true. Philippine Airlines’ retirement age for female cabin crew is 55 while for male it’s 60. A practice which have been called by their cabin crew union as ‘discriminatory.’ The Court of Appeals reversed an earlier decision by a local court and upheld the policy of PAL. Note that the ruling of the court was of ‘low quality’ and failed to explain the specific physical differences between men and women which may affect safety.

  10. On my last trip, on a flight from Chicago to Frankfurt with United one of the FAs was at least 70 years. Late 70’s. Kudos to her though. She was very nice (surprisingly) and energetic for her age.

  11. Everyone’s talking about looks and service… but what about safety? A wider question than this article… as we all get older, how confident can an airline (and indeed its passengers) be that a crew member has the physical and mental capacity to respond quickly and effectively in an emergency? I’m not suggesting that senior staff at airlines retiring at 65 will not be able to deal with an emergency, but the level of training, support and running of scenario exercises provided by each airline varies vastly. Should we just be confident that all the airlines have it in hand or should we just “wait and see” when it is actually required?

  12. Of course executives and other management will also be asked to take a 3-9% pay cut when they turn 55.


  13. This would never happen in a workforce dominated by men. This is sexist and discriminatory. After reading some of the comments above I am extremely disappointed. I thought we had moved more forward, unfortunately not. I hope the public in the future gives more respect to your daughters as they proceed through life and their careers.

  14. And in the mean time, the retirement age for VietJet flight attendants is probably 25, and for Cebu Pacific couldn’t be over 30 lol.

    On a more serious note, there’s no point denying at higher ages the body does decline physically, while low physically intense tasks can be done better at older age, strenuous tasks are going to be more difficult. Sure older FAs are fine when there’s no issue but when there is an emergency, you better hope there are some young fit FAs who can endure and handle the situation. There’s a reason that you must be fit to sit in an exit row.

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