20 Years After The Merger, TWA Pilots Lose Lawsuit Against American Airlines (And Their Own Union)

American Airlines acquired TWA in 2001. And since then former TWA employees have felt like they’ve gotten the short end of the stick. The most recent case involves ex-TWA pilots suing both American Airlines and its pilots union arguing that they conspired to strip these pilots of their senior in the airline’s 2011 bankruptcy. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit threw out the suit, John Krakowski et al. v. Allied Pilots Association et al.

The three-judge panel ruled that two New York federal courts — the district court and the bankruptcy court — were correct to toss litigation accusing American and the Allied Pilots Association of conspiring to cost a group of former Trans World Airlines pilots their seniority perks during an arbitration stemming from American’s bankruptcy.

“We affirm the dismissals of the [pilots’] claims against APA and American Airlines for substantially the reasons stated by the bankruptcy court [and district court],” the panel wrote in its summary order affirming the dismissal. “We have considered the [pilots’] remaining arguments and conclude that they are without merit.”

TWA pilots, coming from an airline which had entered into bankruptcy as part of its acquisition by American lost their seniority when they became American Airlines pilots. However they received ‘special job opportunities’ at the ex-TWA St. Louis base, but those were foreclosed as part of its bankruptcy (and the St. Louis hub itself was later closed). They lost the commitments they’d received a decade earlier, and took their case to arbitration which they thought would restore their seniority and they expected the union to fight for this.

That was never realistic, since the TWA pilots were a minority of union members and doing so would have disadvantaged other more senior pilots in the union. When employees join a union, it’s often not employees versus the company but some employees sacrificing for the benefit of other employees. American’s flight attendants certainly learned this when their union negotiated that the most junior employees would work early in the pandemic while senior employees would sit home and get paid.

There were 162 ex-TWA pilots based in St. Louis, half captains and half first officers, out of 900 ex-TWA pilots in total at American when the 2013 deal happened. The captains faced a downgrade to first officer, though they were offered captain slots on legacy US Airways Embraer E-190s as part of the merging of pilot seniority across the two airlines, though this would mean moving or commuting. Other pilots were expected to drop to reserve status.

There were complicated contractual language disagreements at issue, whether the protections TWA pilots had received a decade earlier were guaranteed until one named pilot would have reached the level of captain in the airline’s regular system meant doing so on legacy American Airlines aircraft or whether those US Airways Embraer E-190 jets counted.

The ex-TWA pilots wanted a court to rule that their union had failed to honor its duty to represent them, and American was part of the suit because the airline, the pilots argued, was part of collusion to undermine them.

However the second circuit rejected arguments that had already been rejected in New York bankruptcy court “in 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018” for insufficient evidence of collusion and by a federal district court in 2019.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I am still saddened by the demise of TWA. Definitely has a storied legacy in American aviation history.

  2. Same as above. A great airline. The first time I flew business class was on a TWA 747 upstairs and it really knocked my socks off.

  3. The former TWA,pilots were not treated fairly by American . Not assimilated properly after merger. It’real shame that union colluded to unfairly do their members wrong. They were given unfair rulings by the Courts as well.

  4. I am an ex twa employee.. God love are pilots. The best airline ever. I am proud of all the great employees. We will be coming back.

  5. As a flight attendant for TWA it was an honor. Then came AA and our home town feeling disappeared. I8 years later I still have dreams about it. Miss the job and the great people

  6. What a real low blow disgusting OUTCOME FOR these two pilots. Go ahead and say “You don’t matter pilots AND neither does your LIVHOOD/ job ,. Sue them 4anything you can and ruin the reputation of American ! Goodbye to your reputation AA.
    Union TWA ALPA? You suck

  7. Maybe go work for a non-US airline that does not treat their passengers and their employees like human garbage? At least airlines in most other countries do not operate outside labor laws and still give a damn about their passengers that pay their bills.

  8. As some one who works for u.s airline and before that a u.k airline I would work for u.s airline u.k airline treated us like garbage. To whoever posted u.k airlines treat their employees well you have NO clue!!!!!!!!

  9. My father worked for TWA as a flight engineer. Started flying on the constellation 880. Thankfully he retired in 1986 before the demise of the only great airline there ever was. The state of aviation today in the United States is like a greyhound with wings. No disrespect to Greyhound. American airlines and United airlines are two of the worst airlines in the United States. unfortunately they have merged with other airlines to make the whole United States aviation business a joke. And I know what I’m talking about I was 1K guy on United.

  10. I’m hurt and disgusted to read about the unfair treatment of the former TWA Pilots. It was already sad enough to lose a pioneer in US aviation, but to pull the rug out from under those Pilots who have years of serving in the cockpit with Pride and Dedication is unimaginable.

  11. Unions are going to do what is in the interest of the union. Expecting a different outcome is not reasonable.

  12. I’m confused as to why people think the TWA legacy pilots should have continued to get better routes and shifts than the AA pilots? They got a bump for many years and knew from the beginning that it would not be forever. I just don’t understand why they feel devalued in this situation.

  13. @Charles Measel :

    TWA did not merge with AA. TWA was in bankruptcy. AA acquired its assets in bankruptcy.

    Had AA not done so, TWA would have simply ceased to exist and the pilots would have been out of work.

    AA was under no obligation to hire the TWA pilots, but they did. Frankly, legally speaking, the TWA pilots were lucky to have continuing jobs at all. They were new-hires at AA and were placed at the bottom of the seniority list.

    I miss TWA and I REALLY miss Pan Am.

  14. Two Great Airlines, one great future- never happen! TWA became an American Company operated separately for 5 years the. after 7 – 10 year furlough we only really work there 7 years out of the 20 years~ so there wasn’t any inclusion with all number juggling. The only different was the Name on the paycheck change til USAirways- then we were dumped on the bottom once again. Now a Double Stapled – When Ass ocation speaks of Fair and Equal with seniority-
    it is SELECTIVE seniority.

  15. To 1K Brad, I used the term merge but I knew they were aquired by AA. That’s still no reason to put them at the bottom of a seniority list. Someone was too lazy to work them in better. TWA employees got screwed. Union didn’t help them one bit. It’s very sad. I feel for each one of them.

  16. I worked for TWA for 30 years and enjoyed my time immensely ! Unfortunately, for me, I was extended in the military for 1 year after requesting my resignation. TWA, United and Delta offered me a job, I chose the “AIRLINE OF THE STARS”! My “number” at the time was around 4100 and Twa’s hiring was up to 4900 pilots at the time. I was told I would be Captain in 5 years.This was 1966 and spelled the end of TWA’S expansion as they diversified by adding hotel chains, cheese factories, car rental companys etc—anything but airline expansion. Nearly 20 years later my number was down to around 2000 and the left seat had not opened. TWA purchased Ozark and their Captains, though junior, were given priority over more senior TWA pilots. I’m not complaining, I was proud when completing a very tough upgrading to Captain program that lost many along the way. After several huge pay cuts, to “save TWA” we finally succumbed to the inevitable, bankrupcy! We were done, nada, no more! I don’t understand the problem American was very good to us. Basically we were all broke, with out a job, and in our industry little to offer. I was now retired at age 60 but American gave other TWA pilots a paycheck when they basically owed them nothing. They also gave us passes and more or less equality to their own employees….THANK YOU AMERICAN!

    upgraded to a very tough

  17. Just because TWA was acquired by AA should not change things. It should be Industry wide that your DOH or seniority is the way to integrate within the merged group period. But AA pilots did their brothers and sisters wrong. Greedy American Way! And at the time the only aircraft not in common was the 717 .The 767 ,757 and MD80s all had commonality type ratings so that would have eased $$$ for training. But instead all TWA employee’s were treated like rubbish if they even had a job at all!

  18. Wow….I can not believe that AA has done this for all ex TWA pilots……with all that money AA got from the government and over 5.5 billion dollars borrow from the u.s treasure department AA management and the union couldn’t reach an agreement to merge the seniority….really ashamed

  19. To David Housewright, you’ve got your fathers aircraft mixed up. Did he start with the props or the jets? The plane you mentioned is a combination of 2 totally different ones. If he started with the props it was the LOCKHEED CONSTELLATION if he started with the jets it was the CONVAIR 880! You didn’t fly both at the same time. (Son of a 21 year TWA Passenger Relations Rep.).

  20. I believe that TWA unions did exactly the same thing to Ozark employees during their merger back in the eighties. What goes around comes around.

  21. What the article failed to mention was, when it was reveled how appalling the merger of seniority was to ALL TWA employee, Missouri Senators Kit Bond and Claire McCaskell created the infamous Bond- McCaskell law which dictated that all “FUTURE” Seniority list mergers of Airline employees would be either negotiated by the airline employee unions, or governed by Date of Hire from the original hire date of the employee at their original airline. What the law did not do, was apply the DOH rule to the former TWA employees retroactively, or force the APA to recognize the pilots TWA DOH (except for pay longevity purposes) when AA and USAir/AmericaWest merged seniority lists in the 2014 AA Bankruptcy… Again the TWA employees, who are now considered AA employees with date of hire given during the AA “merger” with TWA, got screwed by the very law that was enacted to protect them from further harm. The law which was passed because of the “outrage over the seniority merger actions” in 2001 is worthless to the former TWA employees and used to club them over the head again by the USAir/AmericaWest employees in 2015. No other airline merger (Delta/Northwest, Continental/United) was as harmful to the careers of their pilots as the AA/TWA seniority merger because those seniority mergers happened under the Bond-McCaskell law.

  22. @Charles Measel:

    You don’t get it. In a merger, such seniority is negotiated between the unions.

    This was not a merger. TWA was in bankruptcy and AA bought the assets they wanted and left those they didn’t.

    Frankly, the TWA pilots were lucky to get a job at all. Why would the AA pilots give up seniority to those pilots from TWA.

  23. The Ozark pilots were great airmen, dedicated to flying professionally! TWA gave them more than a fair shake, placing their Captains in the left seat rather than upgrading TWA co-pilots who were many years/numbers senior. Understand, it was a dollar game for TWA and it cost me 3 more years in the right seat after the acquisition of Ozark, but training is expensive andTWA was already in financial trouble…

  24. As a pilot who went through a merger, there is no way to merge seniority right. Someone will always feel cheated.
    If done correctly, all will feel equally cheated.
    As for as comments that airlines operate outside labor laws, that is totally incorrect. The Railway Labor Act applies along with multitudes of other labor laws.

  25. @warren trout:

    Exactly right.

    For those who don’t know, generally speaking, flight attendants are simply integrated by date of hire.

    Pilots are different. They are supposed to be integrated at the same relative level at which they were.

    For example, if one is a narrow-body first officer holding a line flying domestic legs with TWeTh off, you are supposed be put at a location in the seniority list where those factors remain the same. Supposed to be. It never works out quite that nicely, hence Warren’s comment.

  26. Paul- I was a GSA ticket agent for TWA. All said above has many complicated feelings concerning the merger, acquisition or how ever you see the two carriers became AA. There will always be disagreements and disappointments to any changes that may come to a company or ones career. At this point TWA is an “Iconic Airline “
    Im sure those who knew TWA must really miss such an amazing carrier and remember the airline for its gratifying service. This is somewhat, we no longer see among U.S. airlines. Let’s all remember the best of the best of airlines and maybe one day this iconic brand may be back in the skies flying “ Up & Up and Away, TWA.

  27. SteveSEA is full of it.
    Let’s set the record straight. Carl Icahn wanted the OZ routes and not the pilots. Our MEC insisted that the OZ pilots come to TWA with THEIR DATE OF HIRE. I can prove this, so SteveSEA
    Should check facts before he shoots his mouth off. Unfortunately, that is extremely rare these days.

    Captain TWA/AA
    President AICA

  28. To set the record straight:

    (1) The TWA pilots won their case against the Air Line Pilots Association for DFR. That AFL-CIO affiliated union was negotiating with the American Airlines pilots behind the backs of its own membership to bring American’s pilots on board at the time of the merger.
    (2) Ozark pilots were given date of hire in the Ozark-TWA merger. In the long run, date of hire is always the fairest method of integration because it preserves 100% of the value of your prior service and experience.
    (3) TWA was not a bankrupt airline at the time of the American Airlines merger. They were hiring new pilots, and taking delivery of new Boeing 717 aircraft. It was a planned bankruptcy to facilitate the merger and discharge Carl Ichan’s ticket sales interest in the operation.

    In the end, the rise and fall of TWA (and Pan American) reflect in some small way the rise and fall of the country that gave birth to them. They rose from a strong enterprenurial spirit led by people like Howard Hughes and Juan Trippe to become the world’s premier brands only to succumb to the financialization and overbureaucratization of their host nation.

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