A week doesn't seem to go by without my getting an e-mail like this:
"I've sent out a million resumes for jobs I'm overqualified for, paying money that will barely cover my dog food bills and I don't get a nibble. Clearly I'm meant to be doing something else, but what?"
Perhaps we all need to consider a complete change. That's what 73-year-old Ian Bremner did 11 years ago when he retired from a career as a chemical engineer: "My boss said, 'If you don't sue us for age discrimination, we'll retire you with a pension.'" As a result, the British-born Houston resident found himself with a lot of time on his hands.
"My wife disputes this," he explains, "but as I recall it, she said, 'Are you planning on staying home and playing tennis all the time?" Meanwhile, Houston-based Continental Airlines needed flight attendants, so Ian applied.
It's not as unlikely as it sounds. Ian liked flying, logging enough Continental miles doing international business to qualify for Infinite Premium Elite status, which means he already knew the safety speech.
He had even briefly trained as a pilot in the English equivalent of the ROTC. Still, I'm astonished he could withstand the physical requirements. I'm 44 and my feet swell so much when I fly it's like I'm trying to stuff a block of cheddar in my shoes.
That said, Ian still needed to make some adjustments. In the first few years, he occasionally found himself waiting on people with whom he'd worked. He admits it felt like a drop in professional status, "but on the plane, I'm not a peon." And he controlled whether those former colleagues got extra pretzels.
Then there's the minority issue. Never mind his age -- roughly two thirds of flight attendants are women, and most of the men seem to belong to the same talent pool as florists, hair stylists and figure skaters. Since Ian is English, I ask if people mistake him for gay, what with the whole "Is he gay or just European" syndrome.
"No," he says, "they assume I'm the captain."
Ironically, Ian's too old to fly the plane, but as long as he can complete the annual training, he can work indefinitely. One "senior momma" at Continental still works at 76, and he's heard of flight attendants as old as 81. ("Coffee? Tea? Metamucil?")
Ian continues to prove himself in an emergency, as when a drunk was mistakenly allowed to board, or the time a woman had a heart attack, forcing an emergency landing,
Does he have any advice for fliers? "Don't put your feet on the bulkhead," he says. "This isn't your living room."
In the meantime, Ian continues to make a home in the sky. "No one ever wants to stop being a flight attendant," he says. "Everyone loves their job. Besides, it beats being a greeter at Wal-Mart."
And that, my friends, is The Upside.
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