Last January I wrote about the story of 13 United flight attendants who were fired for insubordination. They were working United flight 869 from San Francisco to Hong Kong on July 14, 2014, and noticed the words “BYE BYE” and two faces drawn in oily residue near the plane’s tail:
The flight attendants refused to fly unless all the passengers were taken off and the plane was screened for explosives. The flight ended up being canceled due to lack of crew, and 13 flight attendants got fired due to “insubordination.”
I wrote a follow-up post with their case against United, which showed a fascinating chain of events. To summarize it very briefly:
- The “BYE BYE” message was discovered when the first officer did a walk around of the plane, at which point he shared it with the other pilots, but not with the flight attendants (though he mentioned to one that there was a “disturbing image” on the tail)
- The captain called supervisors and maintenance teams to look at the situation, while telling passengers they were dealing with a mechanical problem, and telling the purser that they were dealing with a “security concern”
- Eventually all flight attendants learned about what was going on, and expressed concern about the situation, using words in line with their CRM protocol, including “concerned,” “uncomfortable,” and “safe” — the cockpit crew initially echoed the concerns
- Maintenance crews inspected the tail cone and determined everything was fine, at which point the captain briefed the crew in groups, informing them that it was probably a “cute joke,” and that he was comfortable flying the plane, even though he didn’t know how/when the “joke” happened
- The flight attendants requested that a full security sweep be done of the aircraft, though they were told that would take too long
- At this point the base manager issued them a direct order to operate the flight, which is an order flight attendants must comply with unless they think it would endanger their safety
- After they refused, the flight ended up being canceled, and after an investigation the flight attendants were terminated for “engaging in an act of insubordination” over “perceived and imagined” security concerns
It sure seems like the flight attendants weren’t out of line and were genuinely scared, perhaps only worsened by the poor communication throughout the situation.
Over a year later, there’s finally an update to this story. United and the terminated flight attendants have reached a resolution, as all 13 flight attendants have been rehired, and the complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been withdrawn:
United Airlines and 13 flight attendants that the company relieved of their duties in October 2014 announced on March 8, 2016, that they have reached a resolution to their disagreement.
The flight attendants filed a complaint with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) under AIR 21. As part of the settlement, United will reinstate the flight attendants to their duties and the flight attendants will withdraw their OSHA filing. The remaining terms of the resolution reached between the parties are confidential.
“The safety of our employees and customers is paramount. We respect the right of our employees to raise concerns in good faith about the safety or security of our operations, and encourage them to do so,” said Sam Risoli, United’s senior vice president of inflight services. “We welcome these flight attendants back to our team.”
I’m happy to see that these flight attendants got their jobs back. They had genuine safety concerns which were only made worse by the poor communication between the pilots, flight attendants, and base managers. Of all the things to fire flight attendants at a US airline over, this one seemed rather absurd.
What do you make of this resolution between United and the flight attendants?
(Tip of the hat to Kevin)