FORT WORTH, Texas -- The American Airlines flight attendants' strike that stalled travel plans for thousands of passengers has also left 29 flight attendants stranded a continent away.
The crews worked flights from Miami and New York City to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, early last week but chose to go on strike Thursday morning rather than work on the return flights.
But because they did not arrive as visa-carrying tourists and American no longer will claim them as active flight crew members, the strikers are stranded in a legal limbo.
Without documentation from American, the flight attendants say, they cannot even buy tickets home on another airline. And because they have no visas, the Brazilian federal police have suggested that they are now undocumented aliens.
"We must have the letter from American Airlines, or we cannot leave the country," said the group's spokesman and negotiator, Austin Provins, in a telephone interview from their hotel in Rio. "At this time, they are holding us hostage."
Asked about the situation, a spokesman for American Airlines denied that the company is out to harm the strikers.
"We're not doing anything to them," said Al Comeaux. He said the crew members "left us when we needed them. They are, in essence, off the payroll. All the benefits of employment have ceased."
Mr. Comeaux later withdrew his comments, saying the company's position is "that we can't give them these passes at dTC this time."
"There are all kinds of diplomatic complications that even I don't understand," he said. "We're studying the matter and we're trying to work out all the details. It is a complicated thing."
Ivan Rivera, a Miami spokesman for the flight attendants' union, said an American Airlines captain who was about to fly back to Miami late Thursday night had pleaded with the corporation to let the flight attendants ride as passengers.
He and the flight attendants in Rio said the captain was forbidden to carry the flight attendants on the eight-hour flight.