Skip to content

Should pilot retirement age be raised? JetBlue captain grounded after final flight with his son as first officer

Feb. 05, 2022
6 min read
Pilot Guy Howes and his son Ryann Howes. (Photo courtesy of Guy Howes)
Should pilot retirement age be raised? JetBlue captain grounded after final flight with his son as first officer
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

For JetBlue Captain Guy Howes, his last flight summed up everything that is good about the airline industry, as well as the thing that troubles him the most.

The last flight occurred on Dec. 30, 2021, two days before Howes’ 65th birthday. That’s when he had to retire.

JetBlue let Howes set it up with his son Ryan as first officer, his origin as Boston – he wanted a good, long transcon flight – and his destination as San Diego, near his home.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter

Guy Howes and his son Ryan Howes. (Photo courtesy of Guy Howes)

His family, an airline family, joined him. His wife, once a flight attendant for PSA, was a passenger. His older son, Ryan, 29, was the first officer. Younger son David, once a captain for the regional carrier PSA, could not join them. David died of a heart condition at 24.

“It was very emotional for me,” Howes said. “When you look over to the right seat and you see your son, he’s a man, but you also see the ten-year-old. And my wife, I met her in San Diego: We’ve been married 31 years, an absolute dream. (As for David,) when we flew over San Diego, I said to myself, David, I know you are there; if you’re watching us, I need you to help me do my best landing.”

Howes is based at LAX, but “I didn’t want to land in LA in a huge terminal where I didn’t know anybody. I wanted to finish in San Diego, walk away and drive home.” At SAN, Flight 619 ended at Terminal One, where Howe met his wife Linda in 1989.

The Boston-based pilots originally assigned to the flight agreed to ride in back so they could fly back to Boston the next day. But with the plane full, the captain gave up his seat for a passenger and spent the trip in the jump seat.

The flight was a little slow due to strong headwinds and a ceremony. The Airbus A321 departed Boston at 8:30 a.m. Headwinds meant the allocated block time was seven hours and 21 minutes, including about 15 minutes for the ceremony at the end.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

The problem for Howes, is this: He would like to still be flying today, but the Federal Aviation Administration requires commercial pilots to retire at age 65.

Howes — cheerful and healthy, with 40 years of commercial flying experience — has a lot of thoughts about that.

First of all, he said, “I understand there needs to be a retirement age. I totally get it. We could have guys at 80 faking their medical reports. So there should be some cognitive and physical abilities that define when you retire, just like in any job.

“But in this job, you get to a certain age and you’re done and you have to walk out,” he said. “That’s terrible. I hate to sound like a crybaby, to say it’s not fair. But I keep fit. I’m in good shape. I would just like to see some other criteria (than age).”

Howes is one of those pilots who loved everything about it.

“I loved ironing my shirt, starching it, putting it on in the morning and going to work,” he said. “Every flight made me feel like it was my first flight.”

Related: Teen pilot becomes youngest woman to fly the world solo

Born in Cape Town, South Africa, he wanted to fly and he wanted to do it in the United States. As a youth, he flew C-130 cargo aircraft for a South African cargo carrier.

In 1985, he flew to Tampa, hoping to find work as a pilot. Initially, he found a job cleaning dog kennels. After six weeks, he was hired by regional carrier Henson Airlines to fly Dash 7s. In 1987, he went to US Airways. Based in Pittsburgh, he flew DC-9s.

A big year was 1989, when Howes met his wife, became a U.S. citizen and moved to the San Diego area. US Airways had just was using a San Diego pilot base after taking over PSA. In 1990, Howes moved to Charlotte. In 2003, he went to JetBlue and made captain in two years. He moved back to the San Diego area in 2006 and was based in Long Beach for JetBlue.

Howes is not sure what he will do now. He wants to stay busy and work in aviation.

Today pilots are in short supply, but neither the airlines nor the pilot unions want to raise the retirement age for pilots.

Related: Facing pilot shortage, smaller airlines start giving big raises to pilots

John Mica, the retired former Florida congressman who spearheaded the 2007 expansion to age 65 from age 60, said, “It’s very sad when you have somebody who still wants to fly and is experienced and probably very capable, but is arbitrarily denied the opportunity to work.

“Right now, we have an arbitrary figure which I helped set,” Mica said. “At the time, it expanded the pool of available pilots. I felt that having the best people with the most experience in the cockpit was a big plus. Now people are living longer and are in better health, and we should look at revising it.”

Mica noted that JetBlue backed his effort to increase the age limit while “some of the airlines fought it.” As for pilot unions, Mica said, “Sometimes, junior pilots don’t want the old guys to stay around.”

Said Howes, “I feel fortunate that it went to 65 from 60. That was a gift. But it’s still an age when you’re done and you have to walk out, and it feels like I never quite finished.”

Featured image by Guy Howes, left, and his son Ryann Howes. (Photo courtesy of Guy Howes)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

TPG featured card

Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 3X points
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points60,000 points
For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

Annual Fee

$95

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent, Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $95
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent, Good

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases