Earlier I shared the story of the 13 United flight attendants who were fired for insubordination after refusing to operate a San Francisco to Hong Kong flight which had “BYE BYE” written on the tail cone.
I’m not some overly security conscious person, but I’d find it very strange as well. Now admittedly if someone had bad intentions they probably wouldn’t write a message on the tail of the plane, though it’s still concerning. What I’m most concerned about isn’t the message as such, but how/why someone would write a message on the tail of a plane in a post-9/11 world.
And for that matter, after 9/11 you really can’t make any security related jokes at airports or on airplanes, and at the very least this could be interpreted as one. That’s a standard passengers are consistently held to, and surely it should apply to airport staff as well.
In this case the flight attendants simply requested to have the passengers removed and plane searched, which seems like a perfectly reasonable safety precaution to me. After all, safety is the absolute top priority of airlines.
When I wrote the post earlier I asked what I was missing. Well, Kevin forwarded the case that the flight attendants’ attorney have filed with OSHA, and it’s a fascinating read if you have a few minutes.
If you don’t have the time to read the case, here’s a very brief summary (though there’s much more to it):
- 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
To me this is just insane. There’s no doubt you could argue the crew was paranoid, though I don’t think anyone would argue that they were trying to create problems. Best I can tell they were Hong Kong based, and I’m sure they wanted to go home as much as anyone else. They had no incentive to delay the flight, so it wasn’t labor action, a pissing match with management, etc.
I believe they were genuinely concerned, and if anything, I think the airlines are to blame for creating this paranoia.
It’s amazing to think how in the US flight attendants really can’t be fired for providing crap service, while when they genuinely express concern over safety, that’s ground for termination…
I hope they get their jobs back.
What do you think about this case, given the full filing with OSHA?