Class of Retired Flight Attendants Can Sue American Airlines

CHICAGO (CN) — A federal judge will allow 16 retired flight attendants to pursue class action claims that they are continually booted from flights after American Airlines unjustifiably downgraded their travel benefits.

Cher Thompson et al. say American promised that flight attendants would have the same priority boarding status after retiring from the airline.

According to company policy contained in American’s Trip Book and published regulations, “a retiree continues to have the same classification of travel in retirement as the employee had immediately prior to retirement,” U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman wrote in her Wednesday Opinion and Order.

The retired flight attendants say American regularly approached employees to accept early retirement and separation packages in exchange for the same travel benefits they had while employed.

They say American also promised retirees that its 2013 merger with US Airways would not affect their post-retirement travel benefits.

But as a result of a 2014 downgrade in their lifetime boarding status after the merger, the class claims “they have been routinely and regularly been bumped from flights and have been unable to travel.”

They say American’s Trip Book is a valid and enforceable contract that assures them lifetime flight benefits, and that they relied on the company’s promises when accepting early retirement.

“The Trip Book contains clear enough language that employees and retirees meeting certain eligibility requirements would believe an offer has been made for them to receive specific travel benefits,” Coleman wrote.

She found American may have breached the retirees’ employment contracts by altering benefits after guaranteeing them for life in the Trip Book and in two letters sent in 2008 by the company’s vice president of employee relations to the Association of Professional Flight Attendants.

The letters contain language assuring employees who volunteer to retire early that their travel privileges would not change, according to the second amended complaint.

Coleman also gave the former flight attendants the green light to pursue allegations of negligent misrepresentation against American, based on claims that certain provisions in the Trip Book do not allow the company to modify their benefits or the meaning of “for life.”

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