Coming of age comes of age

Boston's Logan Airport, December 1988. A DC-9, just arrived from Indianapolis, noses up close to the terminal and its twin jet turbines power down.

From a window at Gate 24, I watch the captain - my father - toggle a few cockpit switches and pop the latch on his shoulder belt.

I'm here to help mark an occasion: On the brink of his seventh decade, dad has just shot his last "final approach" as a pilot for a major commercial airline.

This is one job that comes with an expiration date: birthday No. 60. After that, the Federal Aviation Administration says, the plane's yoke is better held in a younger man's (or woman's) hands.

Some pilots dump out their flight bags and walk away happy. Many have mixed feelings.

Others protest. They point to the rigorous, semiannual physicals required of them; the support of other crew members on the flight deck; the advantage of experience when it comes to, say, landing in a 30-knot crosswind.

Discussion about what senior workers and retirees should be allowed to do - and what they're capable of doing - keeps building.

One reason: The first of the baby boomers are about to start playing the title roles. Another: Many active seniors reject the limitations some associate with age.

Already the Supreme Court is handling more age-bias suits; books are emerging with titles like "Age Power"; and older consumers are demanding phone lines with more data-carrying bandwidth.

My father still flies his own plane. A small charter airline even asked him about coming aboard. He says he's too footloose now for a new job. But like many seniors, he feels worthy of being asked.

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(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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