Well, it was just a matter of time. Every other major, U.S. airline had taken a trip through bankruptcy court in the last 10 years, and now American Airlines, via its parent AMR Corp., has gone in. AMR cites two, big causes: fuel costs and labor costs. Ignore the former; it's all about the latter. AMR will use 1113 to reject the current collective bargaining agreements, 1114 to severely curtail retirement benefits, and 29 USC 1341 to do a distress termination of the pension plans and foist them on the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (i.e. we taxpayers). No word about a pre-pack plan, but you can bet there has been a bunch of negotiating going on. Watch the first-day motions to see who is pulling the levers. You can be sure it isn't the unions, who haven't even been invited to a side table.
It's easy to feel sorry for retirees losing pensions, but these tended to be real Rolls Royce models, while the rest of us muddle along with Yugos (Actually, mine is more of a skateboard.), so it isn't hard to see how companies can't keep funding them. There are two things that gripe me, though. First, it's apparently OK for a multinational corporation to walk away from obligations like these, but morally reprehensible for poor schlubs to bail on economically absurd mortgages. Sorry, that's hypocritical horse hockey. Second, AMR entered into these contracts with its eyes wide open and led by the managerial geniuses who will be running the reorganization and who are unlikely to take any kind of meaningful haircut for putting the airline in this position. If you want to talk about rewarding failure, start right there.