Kevin Cokely, NBC 5 News
Retired American Airlines pilot Bill Collins feels lucky and fortunate that he took a lump-sum pension payout months before the airline filed for bankruptcy.
Hundreds of pilots retired from American Airlines just before the company filed for bankruptcy. Most consider themselves lucky to leave with a big pension, especially those who took a lump-sum payout.
A record 129 pilots who retired in before American filed for bankruptcy averages lump-sum pension payouts of between $1.5 million and $2 million.
Bill Collins flew for American Airlines 32 years. He retired from American in September, two months before the company filed for bankruptcy.
"I was just lucky and fortunate, and I kind of looked at the numbers and looked at what was going on in the industry, and I didn't want to gamble," he said.
Eight months after hanging up his uniform, Collins often thinks about others still flying for American, their future pensions now reduced and frozen with no more lump-sum payouts even possible.
"I have sympathy for them, and it's just a situation of being in the right place at the right time," Collins said. "I'm sure there are some who wish they had pulled the trigger."
He said he knew the time to retire was right when bankruptcy began to loom on the horizon.
"I think most of them are going to have to stay until age 65 just to make ends meet, because with the current negotiations that are going on, they're going to lose probably 50 percent of their retirement," Collins said.
Retired at the age of 60, the former Air Force pilot climbs into a World War II T-6 trainer for the occasional joy ride.
"It's the most fun you can have with your clothes on," Collins said.
He also plays golf two or three times per week.
"God only gave us so many good days to play golf, so I'm trying to take advantage of that right now," Collins said.
Collins said he would have enjoyed flying for American a little longer.
"I don't miss flying for American Airlines, but I do certainly miss the people," he said. "That's what I miss."
Collins said he's not sure he would recommend becoming a commercial pilot right now.
"It's real sad," he said. "The whole airline industry is just upside down right now and to the point I'm not sure that I would recommend it to anyone coming up young age right now."