Bizarre: United Airlines Diapergate

Bizarre: United Airlines Diapergate

36

This is one of the most shocking airline stories I’ve seen in a long time.

Flight attendant attacks mother over diaper

A Seattle-based doctor took to social media to share a horrific experience she had on a four hour flight in first class on United Express last week — the flight attendant allegedly treated her horribly during the flight, and then harassed her with a phone call afterwards. The flight was operated by Mesa Airlines, which is one of United Airlines’ regional carriers.

Here’s how the incident is described:

It was a white male flight attendant in first class. I had to change baby’s poop diaper in the back bathroom and I disposed of it in a scented diaper disposal bag inside the bathroom trash. When I came to the front, the flight attendant berated me for throwing away a poop diaper on the plane. He said it was a “biohazard” and that I should retrieve it if I can. So there I am, fishing her poop diaper out of the back bathroom. I asked the other flight attendant in the back if he could give me an extra garbage bag to put this in so I could keep it with me to throw away after the flight. This flight attendant told me that throwing the diaper away in the bathroom is what we’re supposed to do, so when I confronted the initial flight attendant about this, he yelled at me again and said he didn’t want to deal with me.

Fast forward 3 hours, and he’s calling me on my cell from a United Airlines 1-800 number and saying I’ve been placed on the no fly list because of a biohazard incident. And he cursed out me and my family. And said “YOU people bring your families everywhere. You should stop flying and just drive. I can hear your obnoxious baby in the background right now..”

And in defense of my toddler, she slept for 2 of the 4 hours of the flight and was really well-behaved for most of the rest of the flight. Sigh.

I’ve gotten hold of United via Twitter and they did call me. I am also planning on filing a non-emergent police report. Thank you all for your support and advice. If anybody has a connection higher up in United, let me know so I can keep sending emails.

United Airlines has allegedly reached out to the customer and Mesa Airlines to “get a better understanding of what occurred.”

For anyone curious about why the rear lavatory was used while she was flying in first class, keep in mind that not all lavatories (especially on regional jets) are the same size and have diaper changing tables, so I would guess that’s the most likely explanation for why the rear lavatory was used.

Regional jets tend to have really small lavatories

What the heck?!?

We have no reason to believe this story is made up — I can’t imagine a doctor would risk her reputation to concoct a story like this. If the flight attendant’s behavior was as described, then he absolutely needs a new career that doesn’t involve interacting with people. At the same time, suffice to say that this story sounds so outlandish that I can’t help but have questions.

For one, how exactly did this all escalate? Why was the flight attendant so concerned about what the woman was doing in the bathroom, and why did he assume she was changing the baby’s diapers and disposed of them (even though both of those are totally fine things to do)? Not that it excuses the behavior one way or another, but was there a confrontation leading up to this and he was out to get her, or did this just come out of left field?

Next, admittedly I’m not a parent, but if you’re not supposed to dispose of diapers in the trash, what are you supposed to do with them? Put them in the seatback? Stuff them in a glass after you’ve had something to drink?

The biggest point I can’t follow, though, is the claim that the flight attendant called the doctor after the flight from a United 800-number, making racist comments and claiming she was placed on the “no fly list.” The way I view it:

  • Yes, it’s possible that the flight attendant somehow accessed the doctor’s reservation details to get her phone number, even though that’s a serious privacy violation given the motive
  • However, even if the flight attendant were able to access the passenger’s phone number, I can’t make sense of how he’d be able to call from an 800-number? Maybe someone with more operational knowledge can chime in, but I can’t think of any way that could be done?
  • If a flight attendant is going to go on a power trip and threaten to place someone on the “no fly list” (which they don’t have the authority to do), is it really going to be over the disposal of a diaper in a trash bin?
This incident happened on a United Express flight

Bottom line

A flight attendant allegedly harassed a doctor on a United Express flight, after she changed her baby’s diaper in the lavatory, and disposed of the diaper in the trash. Not only did he claim it was a biohazard, but he called her hours after the flight to claim she was placed on the “no fly list” over her behavior.

If the doctor’s version of the story is true and complete, then this flight attendant needs a serious talking to, to put it mildly.

What do you make of this diaper incident?

(Tip of the hat to Paddle Your Own Kanoo)

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  1. Robert

    The truth is the call afterwards WAS A PRANK CALL.

  2. DougF

    Let me start off by saying I’ve been a flight attendant for almost 40 years. Recently retired. I worked for one of the largest regional airlines in the United States flying the same type of aircraft on behalf of United Airlines.

    There is really no excuse for this kind of behavior. But let me change the mindset and give you some of my thoughts on why this may have happened.

    Most parents traveling with children...

    Let me start off by saying I’ve been a flight attendant for almost 40 years. Recently retired. I worked for one of the largest regional airlines in the United States flying the same type of aircraft on behalf of United Airlines.

    There is really no excuse for this kind of behavior. But let me change the mindset and give you some of my thoughts on why this may have happened.

    Most parents traveling with children are wonderful. However there is enough people flying with children that have no regard for their surroundings that tends to create a reputation for all traveling with children. The Cheerios are all over the floor everything in the seat back pocket has been ripped up and thrown on the floor and generally left quite messy. This in itself is not really the problem. The problem is that most regional airlines require the flight attendants to clean the aircraft between flights. With very short ground times and not to mention the fact that they’re not getting paid while on the ground does tend to create a sense of resentment towards those who trash the aircraft cabin.

    As far as diapers are concerned that’s a whole Nother level. I have had people actually set a dirty diaper on top of the beverage cart as I pushed it through the cabin. Flight Attendant’s want to touch your dirty diaper especially when they were in the middle of serving others. In many cases fly to tenants are required to change out lavatory trash receptacles in between flights. Frequently on the ground to see if you’ll do a pews are not running, so there’s no water to wash your hands. Gloves are not always available. When I was flying and saw parents with children I often would offer a trash bag to them to put everything in during the flight. Then I would ask them just to leave it tied up on the floor under the seat. Trying to be proactive.

    Once again This situation of the diaper is completely unacceptable and could’ve been handled so many other ways. Just thought I’d throw in some thoughts as to why the flight attendant might’ve reacted the way he did.

  3. Kevin

    I bet I know who the flight attendant was. About 4 years ago I was verbally attacked by a young male Mesa flight attendant. As people were loading the overhead music was blaring and I asked the attendant if it could be turned down. He let loose on a verbal rampage literally screaming at me. Other passangers stopped me after leaving the plane offering their information should I decide to carry it further. All I...

    I bet I know who the flight attendant was. About 4 years ago I was verbally attacked by a young male Mesa flight attendant. As people were loading the overhead music was blaring and I asked the attendant if it could be turned down. He let loose on a verbal rampage literally screaming at me. Other passangers stopped me after leaving the plane offering their information should I decide to carry it further. All I got from Mesa is that they try to teach their people better. Seems the young man is still flying or its the corporate culture that allows this to happen.

  4. Anna Desi

    I believe it was a Mesa Airlines flight, contracted with United.

  5. Tom Smith

    In theory, a FA (or anyone) can spoof a phone number to make it appear as if it is coming from a UA 800 number. (Think of all the 'car warrantee calls you get from a local number.) However, I doubt a FA would have the tech knowledge to do it.

    If true, the FA should be fired and banned from flying. That is pretty psyho. Again, if true.

  6. Robert D

    I make business calls all the time on my personal cell phone. The calls come through on the other end as coming from my company’s main number. You see folks, there are these things called apps nowadays…..

  7. Matthew

    How awful. I am so sorry for this customer, and as a parent myself of a toddler, I know how hard it can be to fly with one (especially) when they have had it. Wow, I hope United does something here to compensate the passenger in a big way.

  8. Curious

    “It was a white male flight attendant in first class.”

    Who knows what happened, but at this point when the first sentence of your account states these two completely irrelevant things (how does the doctor know it was a male), it makes me skeptical of what follows. The doctor could be completely accurate, but why lead with that?

  9. RobASFO

    Hey, let's not try to paint this as another United blunder: Mesa Airlines is NOT United airlines: they have an agreement to provide service under contract as a United Express carrier. United personnel and Mesa personnel (FA's pilots) are NOT the same and likely do not receive the same training. Ultimately, because United contracts out these services and puts their name on their planes, the blame always falls on the bigger carrier. Unfortunately by putting...

    Hey, let's not try to paint this as another United blunder: Mesa Airlines is NOT United airlines: they have an agreement to provide service under contract as a United Express carrier. United personnel and Mesa personnel (FA's pilots) are NOT the same and likely do not receive the same training. Ultimately, because United contracts out these services and puts their name on their planes, the blame always falls on the bigger carrier. Unfortunately by putting your company on a plane and product that clearly is not yours, you inherit the blame. Regardless, the FA's actions are indefensible.

  10. No one has time for this

    Flight Attendants DO not have access to anyone's phone numbers. That is absurd. Especially Mesa Flight attendants. They don't even have the technology to even attempt this. I'm a mainline flight attendant and we are equipped with company issued Apple products to pull up reservations and literally all it tells us is if you what seat you are in on the flight you are currently on that we are working and what your status is....

    Flight Attendants DO not have access to anyone's phone numbers. That is absurd. Especially Mesa Flight attendants. They don't even have the technology to even attempt this. I'm a mainline flight attendant and we are equipped with company issued Apple products to pull up reservations and literally all it tells us is if you what seat you are in on the flight you are currently on that we are working and what your status is. Sometimes we can get your connection for you. Mesa flight attendant don't have these tablets because United doesn't pay for them and Mesa can't afford them. Once again you are giving United Express way too much power than they deserve and is humanly possible. This is ridiculous. And NO the phone from flight attendant domiciles "bases" don't even have the ability to dial out. Are you even serious right now? Do you think we can just steal a phone on a locked line and dial "9" to get out? I can't even call the podium from the jet bridge half the time because the phones are only meant to dial certain numbers. This is like some Qanon conspiracy stuff you got going on here.

  11. Matt howard

    Why does this person’s post begin with the race of the flight attendant. It seems that the issue has nothing to do with race, but that’s the first sentence.

  12. Eskimo

    "horrific experience she had on a **four hour flight** in first class on **United Express** last week "

    That alone is already a horrific experience.

  13. Icarus

    So many of these stories involve US airline crew. Whilst there are good and bad everywhere, I think it’s often a specific issue in the US where staff often go on power trips because of a face mask or, in this case, a diaper. Any crew member who might have called a customer and responded as they did should be seriously disciplined. Crew can often access booking records on their iPads however depends whether they were equipped to do so, or asked another department.

  14. John

    So this passes for journalism? 4 hour flight on an RJ, no flight number or city pair, and an anonymous doctor who plays the race card. Shoddy at best, sleazy at worst.

  15. MessyMesa

    This entire story does not make sense. Disposing of a diaper is only permitted in the lavatory garbage bin. We always treat lav garbage as if it’s biohazardous. It would be a different story if they changed the baby’s diaper in the cabin, and tried to give the diaper to the FA during their regular after service garbage collections. But as per her side of the story, that isn’t what happened. Also I haven’t a...

    This entire story does not make sense. Disposing of a diaper is only permitted in the lavatory garbage bin. We always treat lav garbage as if it’s biohazardous. It would be a different story if they changed the baby’s diaper in the cabin, and tried to give the diaper to the FA during their regular after service garbage collections. But as per her side of the story, that isn’t what happened. Also I haven’t a clue how a flight attendant would get access to a 1-800 number. I also cannot imagine anybody being that dumb to say those things on a company number where calls are recorded. Something seems fishy to me

  16. Ric

    What a shitty situation.

    Sucks even more when these stories involve contracted feeder express flights using the United name. It’s not really United- it’s Mesa Airlines on behalf of United and United gets the blame.

    This article should indicate MESA AIRLINES on behalf of United Express… Let’s call a spade a spade

    1. Pete

      This is fully United’s fault. They made the decision to subcontract the flight out to an express carrier so they get to deal with the results of that decision. As a customer/passenger it’s not my concern how United chooses to operate its network all I care about is that I purchased my ticket from United and that’s who I consider responsible for delivering what I paid for.

  17. FA

    The garbage can is the ONLY place to put it.

    Do NOT hand it to the flight attendants, don’t try to flush it. I recommend you wrap it in a seatback barf bag before you trash it so it doesn’t stink up the lav, but this mom did absolutely nothing wrong (at least as far as this story is written.)

    As an FA, I know passengers will make up stories for clout, but I also know my coworkers are more than capable of this type of lunacy.

  18. stogieguy7

    Ummm, the garbage can is EXACTLY where the diaper is supposed to go! Idiots sometimes try to flush them down the toilet, which can cause significant issues and which perhaps might elicit such a reaction from a FA. But, based on the story here, there doesn't seem to be any reason for the FA to get so prissy with the mother over a diaper. That's ridiculous and the FA should be investigated - and fired...

    Ummm, the garbage can is EXACTLY where the diaper is supposed to go! Idiots sometimes try to flush them down the toilet, which can cause significant issues and which perhaps might elicit such a reaction from a FA. But, based on the story here, there doesn't seem to be any reason for the FA to get so prissy with the mother over a diaper. That's ridiculous and the FA should be investigated - and fired - IF this story turns out to be true (the IF is big because you can't always believe everything).

    1. ma_am

      It's because solid human waste is NOT to be disposed of in the trash--ALL disposable diaper labels say as much. The "correct" method is to empty the diaper into the toilet and dispose of the emptied diaper in the trash. LOL, nobody does this, but it explains why some people try to flush the whole thing down. You can't win with disposables--I had my kids in cloth diapers.

  19. AT

    The fact that she's a doctor- something repeated several times in the story- is largely irrelevant. Except perhaps to add gravity to her side of the story -- i.e., a doctor would not risk their reputation with a fake story.

    The other key piece is the phone call placed after the fact. That should be easily verifiable through phone records, so there is no "she said - he said"

  20. Insider

    The United 800 number showed up because the FA probably called from a United location, like a domicile (FA base) and those numbers is often registered to UA and will display on caller ID with the main 800 number and United name. So if the FA truly called the passenger using UA property (eg the phone and the phone line), they’re really creating liability for United. Wow.

  21. Jo

    I’ve had gate agents call me on my cell for boarding if I’m checked in but late to the gate, it comes through on an 800 United number. So I think that’s actually pretty common (and logical).

    Not quite sure what the racist comments you mention were? I re-read what the woman wrote and I took “you people” to mean parents of young children, but perhaps there was other intent.

    1. Luke

      Based on the twitter post, looks to be someone of south asian/Indian descent. So the flight attendent may be directing "you people" at a certain ethnicity and had it been someone else of his own race or someone else perhaps wouldnt have reacted this way!

  22. Bao

    Sadly, this doesn't surprised me one bit. There are many flight attendants with preconceived prejudice against children. When my children were younger, I have seen many flight attendants rolling their eyes as we board the plane.
    One time, I went to the back to ask for water to mix formula, the flight attendant yell at me that "I needed to back to my seat and wait for my turn and just because I have children, it doesn't mean I get special treatment".

    1. Chris

      *Mesa Airlines Diaper Gate

      Fixed the headline for you. While yes it was a United Express flight it was operated by Meda Airlines. United can't be faulted except for the fact they paid Mesa to opertae their flight. While UA isn't perfect this isn't on them.

    2. Eskimo

      @Chris

      How many people associate Dr. David Dao with Republic and not United.

      As I recalled, United was at fault and admit it. It's pretty much on them.

    3. Chris

      Didn't mean for this to be a reply to you. My apologies, meant for it to be a general comment.

  23. Ethan

    I recall a flight just pre-covid. The bathroom garbage was full and the flight attendant wouldn't let me throw a dirty diaper into their garbage. Luckily it was just a #1 diaper so no big deal.. Also why I always carried around dog poo bags...great for wrapping dirty diapers.

  24. YY

    I was once told by a friendly Southwest flight attendant that trash in the lavatories does not get emptied after each flight (maybe even for a few days), so we are supposed to ask for a trash bag from flight attendant to put poop diaper and put it in their "dispose after each flight" trash bin (wherever that is). That does not justify the UA flight attendant's behavior by any means but just some facts about diaper that I learned.

    1. Imelda

      That may be a true statement on Southwest Airlines, but not on any major carrier

    2. Bandmeeting

      I’ve never changed a diaper anywhere at all, much less on an airplane, but I have flown quite a bit. You are describing what I’d call a diaper protocol and that protocol is nowhere to be seen as far as I know. You can’t follow rules that are not stated.

  25. DenB

    Number spoofing is easy. There's an app for it. As for the story, it's just another "people acting crazy on airplanes in 2021".

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Insider

The United 800 number showed up because the FA probably called from a United location, like a domicile (FA base) and those numbers is often registered to UA and will display on caller ID with the main 800 number and United name. So if the FA truly called the passenger using UA property (eg the phone and the phone line), they’re really creating liability for United. Wow.

Bao

Sadly, this doesn't surprised me one bit. There are many flight attendants with preconceived prejudice against children. When my children were younger, I have seen many flight attendants rolling their eyes as we board the plane. One time, I went to the back to ask for water to mix formula, the flight attendant yell at me that "I needed to back to my seat and wait for my turn and just because I have children, it doesn't mean I get special treatment".

Pete

This is fully United’s fault. They made the decision to subcontract the flight out to an express carrier so they get to deal with the results of that decision. As a customer/passenger it’s not my concern how United chooses to operate its network all I care about is that I purchased my ticket from United and that’s who I consider responsible for delivering what I paid for.

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