Not a miracle, just years of experience

3199405401_40c5b5b79fThe view of aging as decline—physically, mentally, and every other way—is firmly embedded in our culture.

In the realm of work, there’s a perception that people over sixty (or fifty or even forty) have had their day. They need to make way for younger people, bursting with energy.

So we tend to be oblivious of the obvious: along with the gray hair and many years on the job comes experience, invaluable experience.

We witnessed a stunning example of this reality on January 15, 2009, when Captain Chesley Sullenberger, days away from his 58th birthday, safely landed an Airbus A320 airplane in the Hudson River.

We all know the story:  the bird strike just after takeoff, disabling both engines; the rapid loss of altitude; the decision to land in the water; the flawless ditching which left the airplane intact; and the survival of all on board.

New York Governor David Paterson–no doubt caught up in the emotion of the event–pronounced it a “Miracle on the Hudson.” It seems to me, though, that we need not invoke divine intervention to explain what happened that afternoon.

Let’s give credit where credit is due! And the credit goes to Captain Sullenberger, with over 40 years of experience as a pilot; First Officer Jeff Skiles; and the flight attendants on Flight 1549.

It’s interesting to note that it’s been only about 18 months since the mandatory retirement age for pilots was raised from 60 to 65. For years the “Age 60 Rule” had been defended on the grounds of the physical and mental decline presumed to commence on or shortly after a pilot reached his or her 60th birthday.

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  • Madeleine Kolb 03/04/2011, 12:58 pm

    Clar, I absolutely agree. Many people over 50 or 55 have been laid off (sometimes to be replaced by younger people willing to work for less money). Some of them are desperate to find work but can’t because of the poor economy and age discrimination. Some give up and are forced to collect Social Security at 62 which means getting smaller payments for the rest of one’s life.

    Fortunately for some workers, experience trumps age. As my boy-friend says, “If you need coronary artery bypass surgery, would you prefer two 34-year-old surgeons with limited experience or one 65-year-old with decades of experience?” I know who I’d pick.

  • Clar 03/04/2011, 12:13 pm

    Yes, I agree the experience counts. It’s a shame that in this economy with the job market as bad as it is that there is age prejudice. But it’s true. There are so few jobs that in order to get one you must not be near retirement age. There are so many oldsters that got pushed out and they are the largest number of unemployed. They are the one’s that now get social security early and thank god for early social security and early retirement even if these people didn’t want to retire and are forced to.
    Clar recently posted..A Non Book Review or Non Synopsis of “Holes”My Profile

  • Madeleine Kolb 04/11/2010, 11:17 am

    Jenny, Thank you for your comment. Recently on a long airplane ride, I was talking to the man next to me when the topic of the landing on the Hudson came up. I asked the man how old he thought Captain Sullenberger was, and he said, “Oh, I guess in his forties.” He was really surprised when I told him that Sully had 40 years of experience as a pilot and was nearly 58 when he landed on the Hudson.

    Your Dad is definitely in good company. In the Washington Post this morning, there was a story about Angela Lansbury, nearly 85, who is currently starring in the revival of “A Little Night Music.”

  • Jenny Hones 04/10/2010, 7:33 pm

    Hi Madeleine,
    I have been surfing your blog and couldn’t agree more with this one. My dad used to be very happy that President Reagan was older than him. He used to say, “Hey, if the most important job in the U.S. is the President’s job and he’s older than me, then there is no reason for me to retire!” My Dad “retired” at 79!