Veteran AA Flight Attendant Says She Can’t Afford To Retire

FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – American Airlines has always been in Judy Collins’ family’s blood. “My dad worked 39 and a half years for American before he retired.”

So after Collins graduated from college, she decided to become a flight attendant.

Her father, a flight engineer, was the first to pin on her wings back in February, 1973. “But there was no choice who I’d go to work for – it was going to be American Airlines. Because American raised me.”

Last month, Collins marked her 39th anniversary at American. “I wanted to retire at 60. And I turned 60 last October. It’s a biggie, cause you see when my dad retired at American Airlines, he had a cake, they had all the dignitaries come out, it was a big deal. Unfortunately, nowadays, it’s not.”

Collins says she prepared for her retirement, and a special way to celebrate. She says, “When my dad retired, he took my whole family on a really special trip, so when I decided I was going to do mine, I was going to take my family and I wanted them to go on a trip that I have worked all these years.”

She spent $4,000 to take them to Hawaii on her typical route from DFW.

But when American filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last November, she says she was too afraid to retire.

It was too late to cancel her trip. “We went on our trip anyway, and we had a good time.”

To emerge from bankruptcy, American wants to transfer its employees’ pensions to the government’s pension insurance program, make retirees pay for their own health insurance, and eliminate 2300 flight attendants.

In an effort to save those jobs, the flight attendants’ union asked American Airlines to offer veteran flight attendants like Judy Collins an early retirement incentive. The union says that could ultimately save the airline up to $24,000 per flight attendant, per year.”

But Bruce Hicks, American Airlines’ labor spokesman says, “We have carefully evaluated the unions’ early out proposals and as they’re currently structured, they would significantly increase our costs, and do not address the company’s need for sustainable cost savings.”

Judy Collins isn’t impressed. She says, “It’s wrong. I’m loyal. They made me a promise in 1973. They promised me if I worked hard, and I came to work, I did what I was supposed to do, that when I turned 60, I would be able to retire with a pension.”

Now, Collins says she’ll likely have to work another five years until she’s 65.

She says she and her husband need the health insurance. “No one’s said, you know, we’re messing up your life here, but we’re sorry, we really do care, we tried our best, I mean, I don’t know that I’d believe it, but it’d be nice if somebody would tell me that.”

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants says there are nine flight attendants who are still working who are over 75 years old.

The oldest is 80.

Collins believes her older colleagues can’t afford to retire either.

While she says she’s proud of her career, she feels trapped. “There’s a bumper sticker that says all my life I wanted to fly, but I never wanted to fly all my life. I’ve been kind of bitter about it, but I’m working on it.”

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  • Owl

    I’d be happy just to HAVE a freakin flight attendant job!!! Or ANY decent job, for that matter….

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  • Lou

    It’s because of people like her, her father, and millions of other Americans who expect retirement as part of employment compensation that the economy is in a shambles. Flying is not a an expensive luxury like it once was, so the airlines can’t pay retirement to everybody who ever served a drink and a meal to a passenger who earns less than the server.

    • Wayne

      Lou, apparently you do not understand compensation and retirement benefits at AA. Through the years of union contract negotiations, AA has always used the premise that what they offered could be divided up in any way the union chose. It is like a pie, it could have all been put into salary or it could be cut into different pieces, one piece being salary, one piece to health care, one piece to pension, etc. The flight attendants always wanted a a good chunk of their pie put into pension in lieu of salary. So you see, this is in fact “part of employment compensation” that is owed to the employees and earned by the employees. And, flight attendants “who ever served a drink and a meal” might just have to save your butt someday, so I would give them a bit more credit than your smart ass comment.

    • C Barrow

      Lou, apparently you never worked For a company where your wages and benefits were negotiated. Part of your compensation package is made up of health care and retirement. You take less in wages in exchange for those “money” items. If your company offers you work as an independent contractor, you will be offered higher wages since you will no longer be given retirement or health care in your employment package.
      Also, you might feel like the “sky waitress” might deserve that health care and retirement a little more if after they had served you that drink, they had just hauled your butt out of the burning airplane when it crashed or used their safety training to perform CPR and use the defibrillator on your aged, beloved mother and saved her life.

    • Chris

      First off, we do NOT just serve you a drink and a meal, we are trained EXTENSIVELY in EVERYTHING about that cabin, safety, emergencies, medical emergencies, first aid, CPR/AED training…etc. We work longer days than servers sometimes….and people counted on those pensions FOR their retirement. You shouldn’t make a comment like that when you don’t know what you are talking about, and also it really makes you sound ignorant! Just saying…

    • Jeff Hammonds

      no, it’s NOT because of “her, her father, and millions of other Americans who expect retirement as part of employment compensation that the economy is in a shambles.” Her EMPLOYER promised her and her father retirement for all their years of service to their company. There were many sacrifices they made as employees for 40 or more years of service in exchange for the promise that they would have a retirement they could count on. Their employer should live up to what THEY promised for DECADES to their valuable employees and nothing less.

  • steve

    Your union new about this situation for years and did nothing about it…That is the problem with union now days. Instead of helping fix the problem, they just exacerbate it and watch the ship sink. Maybe you all can go give the democrats about 45 million for re election and have the government give you a free loan. That is what the auto industry did! Every employee had to vote and give money to his re election campaign. Just so you know..I do not feel sorry for you..All unions guarantee benefits that the company cannot afford. Then us tax payers have to go bail you out. Even at 80% I bet you have a pension that is far greater than the average american. Go cry in your 3000sq ft home..I’m sorry you have to work till your sixty five. Boo Fu%%ing Who!!! I’m in construction and 67 years old and will work until the day I die or cannot work anymore.

    • Wayne

      Please see above comment to Lou. Everyone has a choice. If you chose to go into construction, that was your choice. And as for unions, no union guarantees benefits, they are negotiated with the employer. And in 2003 when other airlines were filing for bankruptcy, AA came to the unions and said they would also be filing for bankruptcy unless the unions helped them out. The flight attendant union and its members voted for a concessionary contract that cut pay and benefits over 30% to avoid filing. A 3000 sq. ft. home? WOW, don’t know many that have one of those!

      • Barbara

        Please don’t leave out the ground workers and pilots unions. They gave just as much if not more to prevent the bankruptcy in 2003. NONE of this money was ever returned. Instead many employees had to file bankruptcy, no 3000 sq ft home here either!

      • Wayne

        I agree Barbara, I just don’t know the details of the other unions like I know what the flight attendants did.

  • FedUpTxn

    So for over thirty years she was getting what we all know was a six figure income with free flights to anywhere in the world and now she wants to whine that she is afraid to retire? Did she ever hear of a savings account like the rest of us? No sympathy for these spoiled brats!

    • Colby Labrador

      six figures , who told you THAT lie?

    • C Barrow

      Whoa! You mean I was supposed to be getting a SIX figure income? ! I’ve been robbed all these years! What kind of airline do you know about paying that kind of wage? I really messed up flying for AA for 41 yrs!

    • Jim

      Where in there H did you come up with 6 figure’s, but you to are blind like the rest that have no clue what the job entails. If you are going to make a comment try and get it right. By the way what fast food place do you work at.

    • flygirl814

      What WHO knows is a six figure income?!!!!! Starting flight attendants qualify for welfare! I have been a flight attendant for 17 years and I have NEVER even come close to making 6 figures, and I fly at least two extra trips a month! As for the “free flights to anywhere in the world,” they are certainly not free! We pay a service charge and then, are taxed on the full value of the flight! All of that happens IF we can even get on a flight. I’ve waited 3 days at an airport, getting bumped from one flight to another. Also, yeah……we all have savings accounts. Unfortunately, they have had to be drained because our company has taken and taken and taken from us and we have mouths to feed and bills to pay, Don’t know where you’ve gotten your extremely misguided misinformation, but you should make sure (a simple google search would do it) you have your facts straight before you spout off a bunch of inaccurate rubbish on public forums.

  • Barbara

    Whoa there!! Ya really need to get your facts straight guys. First of all in 2003 all three unions of American Airlines gave VERY LARGE consessions to the company to keep them from filing bankruptcy. None of those employees have gotten one penny back, while the corporate biggies all got very handsome bonuses every year since. Flight attendants do not make that kind of money, it is in the 30000 to 50000 range and the ground workers make from 50000 to 75000 only the pilots can get over 100000. After retirement you only get one standby flight for employee and spouse per year. And we do pay a fee for that!
    Spoiled? I don’t think so!

    • El Jefe

      Also, any retiring AA/Eagle employee still gets there regular flight benefits. Employees get unlimited flights at the cost of the taxes and D2’s and D3’s get 24 round-trips.

      • Barbara

        NOT after retirement! The employee and spouse get one D3 round trip pass per year.

      • Jane

        Wrong again Mr El .24 one ways or 12 round trips only on a stand by status. That makes you 0 for 2 on getting comments right stop making a fool of yourself. Your fired!!!

      • Mary Jane

        If you worked for 25 yrs and retired, you get free domestic travel plus 24 one way trips that can be given to your selected others(family & friends). You also have no travel charges for yourself & your spouse if traveling in coach. I live with this and hope it doesn.t get taken away with the bankruptcy. It is a great benefit and I know what I’m talking about. Barbara -you are very wrong.

    • El Jefe

      Ummm, wrong Barbara. Good friends with a flight attendant that this lady probably worked with on that route and she was bringing home 80k a year in the 80s and 90s. Suck on that

      • Colby Labrador

        the only way an AA flight attendant could make 80k is by working over 140 hrs/month. that’s about 25 days in flight. not including any ground time. some one is lying to you , big time., or it’s just you.

      • Carla

        El Jefe, your friend forgot to mention that she was working almost a double schedule to make that kind of money. It’s possible to make that much and more if you can “get” the extra trips to fly each month. A normal schedule is about $40K a yr on International at AA. You just weren’t given all the information.

      • Jane

        WRONG El Jefe more like 40K, and I know Jefe, Chew on that, You have no clue.

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  • EX AAer

    Would you like some cheese to go with the whine!!!!!!

    • Barbara

      You are not an ex AA er or you would be agreeing with me!!!!

  • EX AAer

    I worked in Management for years at AA and we took big paycuts too not just the flight attendant and pilots so don’t cry about it. I got smart and left in 2005 because I knew after 9/11 the airline would never make it. You should have done the same!

    • Colby Labrador

      enough said, American air LIES management couldn’t tell the truth if their life depended on it.
      the most management lost in the 2003 restructuring was 17% and made up for it handsomely in 2005, 2006 and 2008. check the SEC filings for proof.

    • Jim

      Bet you left Mgt. because you did not get the promotion’s you thought you were going to get in the lower part of the Mgt. gene pool. How many years were you at AA? not many I bet

    • Barbara

      You should have stayed, the managers got the big bonuses!

  • Barbara

    One of the previous comments said that the employees are spoiled and I was explaining how much the employees have given up, you won’t find that kind of sacrifice in any other industry.

  • Suzette

    Thank you Jack Fink for doing this interview and helping to get the word out. I am sad to see the unsupportive comments. 60 years old and in her 40th year of service is to be congratulated. Being a F/A is a tough job and not easy for the 60 and 70 year old F/A’s.

  • Gail

    Are you crazy or have you no intelligence what this job pays and entails? Get some knowledge or stop making totally uninformed opinions on the Internet! She WORKED for forty years and deserves what had been promised, whether it was an airline or Enron, yes, she is entitled!

  • Philo Phool

    We are missing two major pieces of informaiton in this story. One: How much was this flight attendant making annually (an average for the past 30 years and her last year at work)?. What did she and her husband do with that money? Did they put any of it into investments? We are sure they were making more than $20,000 or $30,000 a year with a number of perks including free flights, medical benefits and who knows what else so there should have been plenty money left over for personal investments to supplement AA retirement. Unfortunately, no one realized the first time AA filed for bankruptsy there was a possiblity there would be a reduction in pension benefits, the empoyees just kept on asking for more and more wages and benefits until there was no money left to pay them. Now that the Union Members have gotten their revenge on the SUPER RICH COMPANY by forcing it to go broke, they should be happy with the results–no or much lower pension benefits they demanded and demanded through the years. This paralells the US Government, state, county, school district and city governments. They want more money than is available and when the money well runs dry, the don’t understand why.

    • Carla

      This is why we should all be terrified at election time. People like Philo have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about and form their opinions on literally no information, just their own preconceived ideas. If People like Philo actually read trade publications and took advantage of other ways to inform themselves (ie: WSJ, and national and local newspapers, etc.) they might find those preconceived ideas shaken. Business and aviation industry analysts have stated and explained how it has not been labor costs ( especially since labor agreed to 33% wage and compensation reductions in 2003 to help keep AA from the need to file bankruptcy) that is responsible for AA’s bankruptcy filing but poor management decisions. And AA management is determined to follow the same business plan as before. Like Dr. Phil says, ” And how’s that working out for you?”
      PS. Philo, the unions can ‘demand’ as much as they like but they can only ‘get’ what the company will grant, and in case you haven’t been following the news for a decade or more, unions have had little, or no power to get much of anything. So I think you can let that preconception go too.

  • Yvonne

    80 years old?!?!?! Is that even safe? Where is the FAA in all this? Personally I find it hard to believe these elderly flight attendants are still able to perform emergency evacuations or administer CPR. I’m sorry, but when it comes to the safety of the passenger, flight attendant should be required to retire after a certain age, ex: 60 years. .

  • tc32007

    I support AA labor – on the ground and in the air. People who blame unions are just jealous that they are not in one and follow whatever dummy Rush says. Management made poor decisions on revenue generation, spending, long term debt structuring, pricing strategy (“have to match Virgin!!!!), delaying modern aircraft purchases, and overall strategy. All in the name of one goal – quarterly reports to “The Street” and making their bonuses. And then what do they do? Point the finger at labor – the people who keep the planes in the sky and bring people safely up and down thousands of times per day. Shame on AA management. So all of you that think “de-regulation” and no government is the best answer, think again. How many airlines filed bankruptcy before the 1980s?

  • tc32007

    And if you must know, I’m ex-TWA who lived through all of this with Icahn and heard all about how if we “just gave a little” it would all work out. Heard the same from Carty and Arpey.

  • tc32007

    “Did they put any of it into investments?” You’re an idiot Philo………. what do you think a pension plan is? It varies by company but in most plans it is partially YOUR MONEY IN THE FORM OF DEFERRED COMPENSATION that the employer agrees to manage and distribute to you at a later date. I’m not sure what you do, but if your boss agreed to pay you $10 now, then $10 when you finished the job and then decided not to pay you the other $10, would you be angry?

  • Deseree

    I’ve been a flight attendant for AA for over 22 years. I make 35-38K a year and am the sole support for my family….I fly my full schedule every month. I don’t know how some of these people come up with their numbers! If I could retire today, I would bring in 1,100 a month…not a whole lot, but something. You cannot simply look at the “hourly wage” of a flight attendant since they are not paid for almost 50% of their working “on duty” day.

  • Brewer

    It’s a messed up situation, there’s no doubt about it.

    I’m not sure I understand why she can’t retire. I doubt her pension will be above what the government pension insurance will pay (more than $50,000 a year). The health insurance issue makes some sense, but isn’t she on Medicare as her primary insurance anyway? She’s over 65 so she has to be.

    The numbers aren’t adding up…

  • Wayne

    Maybe the numbers don’t add up, however it is not your place to judge or question Brewer.

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