American Airlines retirees protest travel benefit changes

08/20/2014 10:30 AM

08/20/2014 6:04 PM

More than 100 American Airlines retirees gathered outside the airline’s Fort Worth headquarters Wednesday to protest upcoming changes to their travel benefits.

The protesters walked up and down Amon Carter Boulevard, chanting “AA, what do you say? Retirees are here to stay!” and holding signs that read “AA broken promises, restore retiree earned benefits.”

Retirees are upset that changes made to their travel benefits after the airline merged with US Airways will give them lower priority than active employees when it comes to getting available seats. They also complained about the issue at American’s annual shareholders meeting in June.

They now have equal status with active employees, and some, like Gail Dunham of North Carolina, used their travel benefits to get to Fort Worth for the rally.

“We worked to make the company great, and to treat the retirees like this?” Dunham said. “We want what we were promised when we retired.”

The policy change is set to take effect after Labor Day.

Marc Bowers of Arlington retired as a crew chief at American in 2012. His shirt read “Shame on American. I worked 44 1/2 years then they stripped me of my earned benefits.”

Bowers said it’s not fair for new hires to get empty seats on a flight before someone who worked for the company for decades.

“I think that we deserve all the benefits that were promised to us the day we were hired in,” Bowers said.

Management has been making changes to employee and retiree benefits as it integrates American with US Airways.

“We put a lot of thought into combining the travel privileges from American Airlines and US Airways, knowing that we had many different groups to consider and everyone would experience some change,” the company said in a statement. “With more than 700,000 active employees, retirees and their dependents eligible for free travel, we did our best to create a program that accommodated all stakeholder interests, and combined programs from both airlines.”

Retirees picketing outside the headquarters were offered free water from the company. Several passing cars honked in support of the retirees.

Sara Mills of Bedford, who worked for American in reservations from 1967 to 2012, said the new management team has broken promises to retirees. Mills said she has used her travel benefits to go to Europe, Asia, and Pennsylvania and Florida to visit family.

“I think we should be boarded with regular employees,” Mills said.

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