A first-class right
Several years ago, I flew business class from Chicago to Tokyo on an American airline. During the flight, I got up to use the lavatory when a flight attendant stopped me: "Young man, please give me a hand. Could you hold this plate for me?" (I was in my fifties then, hardly young anymore.)
To win my sympathy, she went on: "I'm sixty-five now (No wonder she thought I was a young man), and can't take long-haul flights very well anymore."
"Oh, that must be hard. Ever thought about retiring?"
"I'm not the oldest. We have flight attendants as old as 81 working in the first-class cabin," she explained, not wanting to drop the subject.
I learned later that older flight attendants working for US carriers usually work in the front section of the plane with the business- and first-class passengers, while younger ones work in the middle and rear sections.
Such practices contrast sharply with arrangements on airlines in the East. It might be awkward for older flight attendants to serve business-class or first-class passengers. With concerns over respect for older people, who will end up serving whom?
This practice also embodies cultural differences between the US and the East. In the US, you decide yourself when to retire, and no one can force you to quit.
Recently many people in the US have felt compelled to postpone their retirement for economic reasons. This means that more people are working to an older age, thus gaining in seniority, and enjoying their enhanced status.
This is why younger flight attendants usually work domestic flights, their middle-aged colleagues work in coach, their older peers work in the business-class section, and the oldest enjoy the right to work in first-class.
This article was originally published in Chinese in the United Daily News (29 August, 2014).
29 September, 2014