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FORT WORTH Former American Airlines employees gathered outside the company's headquarters in Fort Worth Wednesday to protest what retired flight attendant Debbie Prizzi called 'broken promises.'

She and the other picketers who spent their careers at the carrier feel that an important perk is becoming nothing more than pie in the sky.

Former flight attendant Jackie Phillips says, 'They have asked for givebacks in compensation; they have asked for givebacks in retiree benefits; they have frozen our pension,' said former flight attendant Jackie Phillips. 'We had one last small benefit that had remained untouched.'

Traditionally, retirees and active employees at American have had the same priority to fly for free when there are empty seats available.

'We've worked all these years, and we were promised this from Day One,' Prizzi said.

But now, retired AA workers are being bumped. Current employees will get first dibs for free trips.

Phillips says that just doesn't fly. 'We don't want to get into the lawsuit venues,' she said. 'We'd really like to work this out with American Airlines.'

American wouldn't go on camera, but spokesman Casey Norton offered this written explanation of the policy shift:

'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. 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.

'Under the updated program, our retirees will enjoy vacation passes, buddy passes and no-fee travel for their eligible dependents. In addition, the parents and registered companions of retirees will also enjoy expanded travel privileges, as their tickets previously counted toward retirees' buddy pass banks. Our retirees still board ahead of more than half of the people who are eligible to travel free of charge or on a discounted ticket.'

But with planes flying as full as they are these days, 'You can't get on an airplane now,' Prizzi complained, saying American Airlines retirees are being forced to wait further back in line for precious few open seats.

That means retired employees will more often be grounded when they try to take advantage of the free travel program that some of them thought would be an integral part of an active retirement.

E-mail jwheeler@wfaa.com

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