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While the collapse of airline pension plans has cost the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. billions of dollars, the impact of the failures on plan participants also has been huge.
Because of limitations on PBGC benefit guarantees imposed by federal law, many participants of failed airline pension plans, especially pilots, aren't receiving the full amount of benefits that the airlines once promised.
For example, United Airlines' plans, which had nearly 123,000 participants, had roughly $10.2 billion in unfunded benefits. The PBGC guaranteed about $7.1 billion of those unfunded promises, so participants saw more than $3 billion in earned benefits vanish.
For participants, recovering those losses will be a lot more difficult than in past years. With most airline pension plans either terminated or frozen, participants who move to another airline will not, as used to be the case, receive coverage and accrue new benefits in another's airline's pension plan.