By Ann Rubin
St. Louis, MO (KSDK) -- Good news for 800 furloughed American Airlines employees as the airline announced it's recalling them back to work. The reason: American Airlines is exploring new international flying and business opportunities, which requires staffing.
Many of the recalled employees are St. Louis-based, having worked for TWA before the merger. Those NewsChannel 5 contacted said they're ecstatic. Since 2001, they've been fighting for the chance to get their jobs back, and now many of them will.
Flight attendant Robert Applegate has been waiting for this day.
"This is the biggest shot in the arm for me, personally," Applegate said. "Unemployment benefits don't last forever."
And it's been a struggle. Applegate is one of hundreds of former TWA employees that lost their seniority during the merger with American Airlines. When furloughs started back in 2001, they were the first to go. And as time passed, their recall rights were set to expire.
"It was nerve-wracking for all of us, looking at the possibility of all of us rolling off the recall list, and all the prior TWA people not ever getting back to work," Applegate said.
But thanks to a strong grassroots effort and some help from Senator Claire McCaskill, that didn't happen.
And now American Airlines has announced it's recalling 545-flight attendants and 250 pilots, the majority of whom are former TWA employees.
The reason is a new alliance with British Airways and Iberia.
Roger Graham, a flight-attendant helped organize the grassroots effort.
"It took some time, it took hard work. And it just goes to show you, if you put your mind to something, you can achieve," Graham said.
Senator Claire McCaskill adds, "These people had been treated unfairly and they had not been given the consideration they were due. And we've been able to, through hard negotiations, to keep them in the running for their jobs. And I'm thrilled they're getting them back."
During the furlough, Applegate worked first as a truck driver, later as a musician. But his passion has always been in the skies.
His career as a flight attendant has already spanned more than 30 years and several continents.
He says he's ready to get back to it.
"I've had enough practice at retirement. I want to go back to work," Applegate said.
The first group of flight attendants will be recalled this month and the pilots will start heading back to work in mid-November, just in time for the holiday rush.