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American Airlines flight attendants face 1,100 cuts

By Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 reporter

Dallas, TX – Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 reporter: As painful as 1,100 job cuts may sound, this announcement was simply not as devastating to flight attendants, given the recent history at American Airlines.

George Price, spokesperson, Association of Professional Flight Attendants: We've had to deal with this on numerous occasions since the fall of 2001. Shock or surprise isn't an element associated with these announcements anymore.

Zeeble: George Price is a spokesperson for American's flight attendants union, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants.

Price: It's a very difficult time for us. We're busy trying to focus on helping members and finding resources for those going to be laid off.

Zeeble: Price says this latest announcement of 1,100 cut backs is mild compared to the more than 2,100 flight attendants who've been laid off in the last year or so, and the 2,200 now on leave. Price also points out there's an important difference between a layoff and a leave of absence. He describes the leave.

Price: It's actually an attractive feature of our contract. They receive all benefits of active employment other than a paycheck.

Zeeble: That means, says Price, they keep seniority, vacation time, pension, and medical benefits. He says many flight attendants may want to stay home with children or pursue other careers, especially if they have spouses with good incomes. While he says he can't afford it, he believes 1,100 of the 21,000 working flight attendants may take the option. American Airlines spokesperson Todd Burke, who wouldn't talk on tape, says it would certainly be the company's hope that would happen - that would be a wonderful story. But if the numbers are not met, Burke says the company will lay off up to 400 flight attendants, hoping the rest will opt for the leave of absence. Unlike other struggling carriers, American can afford that option, says airline expert Daryl Jenkins. He heads the Aviation Institute at George Washington University.

Daryl Jenkins, director, Aviation Institute, George Washington University: They have probably another $5 billion in leverage-able assets. They're going to be with us a long time.

Zeeble: Jenkins also says the likelihood of an American Airlines bankruptcy is extremely remote, especially when compared to United Airlines, which is teetering on the brink of it.

Jenkins: United Airlines, really, for the last three to four years, has been flying out of control. American Airlines has been a very conservative manager since Bob Crandall, in its finances.

Zeeble: American says flight attendants who want a leave of absence must ask for it between December 11th and January 7th. If 1,100 don't opt for it, the company will start laying off those with the least seniority, which includes flight attendants in St Louis. For KERA 90.1, I'm Bill Zeeble.

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