ST. LOUIS — One year after nearly 1,200 former TWA flight attendants had their recall rights preserved, none has been called back to work, and time is running out.
Last December, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., brokered an agreement between American Airlines and its flight attendants' union to preserve recall rights for nearly 1,200 former TWA flight attendants.
The flight attendants lost their jobs after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks crippled the industry. Their recall rights were set to expire between January and July of this year before McCaskill intervened.
Since the extension, no one from that group has been recalled, said Roger Graham, a former TWA flight attendant who led the push to extend the recall rights.
Karen Marshall of Jackson, Mo., was furloughed in April 2003 after 18 years on the job. "The majority of us want to come back and continue working," she told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "The ones who want to come back love this job."
But this year brought challenges to the industry. The Fort Worth, Texas-based airline cut its flight schedule to combat soaring fuel costs. And, the nation's recession eroded demand for air travel.
American's parent company, AMR Corp., purchased Trans World Airlines out of bankruptcy in 2001 and agreed to absorb its employees. But the TWA flight attendants — who were represented by the International Association of Machinists — were placed on the bottom of the seniority list covering the combined work force.
That meant they were the first to go during the post-Sept. 11 cuts.
About 1,180 former TWA flight attendants are still in line to be rehired, said Graham of Cape Girardeau, but time is running out. Many have struggled to begin new careers while in their 40s or 50s. Graham works for an online brokerage.
Their right to their old jobs originally expired five years after they were laid off. McCaskill persuaded the airline and the Association of Professional Flight Attendants to extend that by two years.
In exchange, the union agreed to withdraw some long-standing grievances filed by former TWA flight attendants.
Graham, who was a TWA flight attendant for 18 years, said the "anxiety level is quickly rising" for those hoping to get back on the job. The first group is expected to lose its recall rights in October.
Graham said the furloughed ex-TWA workers could be helped by another extension to the recall rights.
Even flight attendants who were recalled before the extension face their own uncertainties with American.
Former TWA flight attendant Mary Pat Taylor of Kansas City was recalled in August 2007 — but a year later received a letter warning that her job again was in jeopardy as the airline moved to trim hundreds of flight attendant positions.
She was spared when some flight attendants took voluntary leaves of absence or retirement. Now, she wonders if she will survive future cutbacks, possibly as early as next year.
The airline slashed its domestic flight schedule by more than 12 percent last year, and those cuts will carry over until 2009, said American spokesman Tim Smith. In the meantime, he added, American will "continue to monitor the recessionary economy."
Through it all, Graham, Marshall and other former TWA flight attendants hope they can return to the skies.
"It's in my blood," said Marshall, whose father was a TWA mechanic. "All my friends are there. I want to go back."