American Airlines

Retired flight attendants sue American over travel benefits

More than two dozen retired American Airlines flight attendants are suing their former employer over who gets to fly in empty seats.

A change made Wednesday in American’s employee travel benefits puts retirees behind current workers and their dependents for claims to vacant spots. The previous policy gave the same priority to current and former employees. American also reduced the number of free one-way “buddy passes” given to retirees each year, from two dozen to eight; current workers receive 16.

The travel changes have enraged American’s former attendants, who protested at the airline’s Fort Worth headquarters last month, upbraided CEO Doug Parker in June at the shareholders meeting and barraged executives with e-mailed appeals to reverse the policy.

Employees absorbed from the former US Airways have likewise been displeased that the merged airline eliminated seniority in boarding priority for workers, adopting American’s policy of first-come, first-seated.

The change places the retirees “behind at least 500,000 people, including current employees and their spouses/domestic companions and eligible children,” according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in a state court in Chicago. And the retirees behind the lawsuit say money alone can’t compensate for stingier travel perks, instead arguing that free flights “are unique and have no monetary equivalent” (although the plaintiffs are still seeking monetary damages, too). The suit, which accuses American of breach of contract and deceptive business practices, seeks class-action certification to cover an estimated 20,000 retired flight attendants.

American declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The new American, formed in December, has about 700,000 people who fly for free as part of its “nonrevenue travel” program. That group includes about 110,000 employees and more than 500,000 spouses, dependents, relatives and friends. Even foreign-exchange students living with an American employee can take advantage of free flights.

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