Ex-TWA flight attendants try to return to the sky

Monday, July 2, 2007
Andrea Klein, a former Trans World Airline and American Airline flight attendant who had 34-years of service, was overtaken with emotion while holding her boyfriend Dan Walz after clearing terminal security for the last time at Lambert Field airport in St. Louis on July 1, 2003. Nearly four years later, about 2,100 former TWA flight attendants are still fighting for their chance to return to their jobs or get their recall rights extended. Hundreds already have lost their chance, falling off the furlough list. By this time next year, the last of them will lose their five-year rights to be rehired. (GABRIEL B. TAIT ~ St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

About 2,100 former TWA flight attendants are still fighting to return to their jobs.

ST. LOUIS -- Mary Pat Taylor is glad she found work.

The former TWA and American Airlines flight attendant -- laid off four years ago -- now manages a Chico's clothing store in Kansas City, Mo.

But, if American called her back -- she's No. 367 on the recall list -- she said she'd go back "in a minute."

"I loved my job. It's not even the money," Taylor said. "It's in your blood. It's who you are."

She had been a flight attendant for 27 years, a quarter-century with Trans World Airlines, formerly headquartered in St. Louis, and the last two with American, based in Fort Worth, Texas.

She is one of about 2,100 former TWA flight attendants who, years after layoffs, are still fighting for their chance to return to their jobs or get their recall rights extended. Hundreds already have lost their chance, falling off the furlough list, and this time next year, the last of them will lose their five-year rights to be rehired.

They've courted politicians and picketed their own union, which some accuse of doing little to help their cause.

American Airlines laid off more than 20,000 workers from 2001 through 2003, part of an industry trend that in six years saw almost 180,000 jobs vanish from the six "legacy" airlines.

Even as the industry has improved financially, airlines, especially American, are adding few workers.

The ex-TWA attendants are also older, making it more costly for American to rehire them. Almost half are at least 55, according to Roger Graham of St. Charles, Mo., a former flight attendant who's organizing their effort.

But they're the people who helped build the airline industry, said Bob Applegate, a laid-off attendant from Granite City, Ill. Now, he said, they're disregarded.

"It's been a huge loss for the worker," he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Barely half have found full-time work since the layoffs, Graham said. A third have burned through their savings.

Applegate considers himself lucky; he's got his health and, finally, a stable job as a truck driver.

He would have qualified for a pension with 11 more days working for the airlines. But he doesn't think he'll get called back unless the government intervenes.

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the union that absorbed TWA staffers when the two airlines merged in 2001, put TWA attendants at the bottom of the seniority list. So when layoffs hit, they all lost their jobs.

A five-year recall right is the industry standard, said Mark Burdette, American's vice president of employee relations, and while the airline would consider an extension, it would want something in return.

APFA officials did not return calls seeking comment.

Graham and other former TWA flight attendants have been meeting with lawmakers and union officials.

They've won the support of Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who plans to propose a bill that would require airlines that receive a federal bailout to extend recall rights to 10 years for employees laid off in the incident.

Over the years, American has recalled about 1,200 flight attendants to fill openings, and in May it finally dipped into the TWA ranks. The 103 most-senior TWA attendants on the list received recall notices. Of those, 83 took the offer.

They're in training now and will be back flying by late July. That's all American will commit to for now but said it may recall more in the fall.

Burdette, the American executive, said the airline hasn't grown much in recent years, and hasn't needed to do much hiring.

"It really is not a question of waiting anybody out," he said. "It's a matter of how many people do we need?"

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