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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