Thursday, January 08, 2015

13 United flight attendants want their jobs back after refusing to fly on a plane defaced with a creepy message

Thirteen former United flight attendants are petitioning the federal government to be reinstated after the airline fired them for refusing to fly on a plane defaced with a threatening message.

On July 14, 2014, a United flight scheduled to carry more than 300 passengers from San Francisco to Hong Kong was delayed when the words “Bye Bye” along with drawings of two faces were found scrawled high up on the body of the plane.

Spooked by what they perceived as a threat, the flight attendants all refused to fly and later the airline fired them for “insubordination.”

No question 2014 was a scary year to be flying after three large passenger jets were lost — one disappeared mid flight and has not been found since, a second was shot down over Ukraine, and a third crashed in the Java Sea in December.

This particular scare occurred some months after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 inexplicably disappeared (and unbeknownst to the flight attendants at the time, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 would be shot down over Ukraine just days later). David Marshall, an attorney for the flight attendants, said current events did play into their hesitation to fly on the plane unless the airline conducted another thorough security check in light of the discovery.

“The flight attendants in coming to the conclusion that they would not fly on the flight, that decision was informed by many events and factors that included the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines flight several months prior,” Marshall said. “And just one week prior, the [Transportation Security Administration] had implemented new heightened security measures for international flights based on the concern that cellphones could be used as improvised explosive devices.”

“It’s common sense to conclude that what is written on the plane is some type of threatening message. Clearly that’s something that has to be taken seriously,” Marshall added.

The message was found high on the plane’s tail cone just before takeoff during one of the pilots’ final inspections of the plane. Flight attendants were initially told that there was a “security issue” causing the unexplained delay (passengers were told it was a “mechanical issue”).

“Don’t scare the other flight attendants,” a flight attendant recalled the pilot telling her, according to the complaint.

After the discovery was made, the flight attendants and the airline agree that the area where the graffiti was found was inspected again. But the flight attendants still didn’t feel comfortable flying unless a full security sweep of the airplane was conducted.

United maintains that it followed safety procedures and deemed the plane ready to fly after the graffiti was found.

“Our flight operations, safety and maintenance teams appropriately investigated and determined there was no credible security threat,” United spokeswoman Christen David said in a statement. “All of FAA’s and United’s own safety procedures were followed, including a comprehensive safety sweep prior to boarding, and the pilots, mechanics and safety leaders deemed the aircraft entirely safe to fly.”

“We cannot comment further on the details of this pending litigation, but we intend to defend against it vigorously,” she added.

The complaint was made with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the Department of Labor, which will determine whether the attendants can be reinstated and whether their claim for damages and legal fees will be granted.

The airline added that the plane was inspected before the discovery of the graffiti and additional security checks were conducted afterward. According to the airline, the pilots were willing to fly the plane.

The flight was eventually canceled after the flight attendants refused to work on the plane. None of the flight attendants have found work with other airlines.

Story, Photos and Comments:

(Katz, Marshall, & Banks)

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