The Real Failure With Last Night’s Unfit To Fly United Pilot…

Earlier I shared the story of a United captain who showed up to work an Austin to San Francisco flight, clearly not in a state to fly. She was wearing flip flops and jeans, which should have been the first clue. She then stood in front of the cabin and made a PA about how she’s going through a messy divorce, how both Hillary and Donald suck, made a comment about the interracial couple in first class, said that the co-pilot would fly since “he’s a man,” etc.

Obviously she’s in a very bad place, and I hope she gets the help she needs.

There’s something I didn’t notice the first time around, though, that makes this situation even worse. Earlier I hadn’t seen a video of what she had said, though some videos are emerging now. Here’s a video of the very tail end of what she said:

When I first read about the story, I figured that she showed up for the flight late, and hopefully one of her colleagues was at least skeptical of her behavior and working on reporting her and getting her removed from the plane.

Nope, the aircraft door was closed and doors were armed when passengers started requesting to get off the plane. In the video you can see a guy get up, and then the flight attendant announces “flight attendants, disarm doors.”

Airline crews are often quick to throw passengers off flights for relatively minor things. What is it with the sheep mentality some crews have when it comes to reporting their own, when they clearly need help?

I assume the crew had an overnight in Austin. According to reports, the captain showed up late and was wearing what you see above:

  • How on earth did the gate agent allow her to board the flight dressed like that, clearly in violation of the uniform policy?
  • How did the flight attendants and co-pilot not notice how she was acting, how she was dressed, etc.?

The fact that the door on this plane closed with a captain unfit to fly is a huge failure on the part of the crew. Clearly the captain wasn’t in a mental position where she could decide for herself whether she was fit to fly or not, and it’s sad that her crew failed her and the passengers in such a way.

Thank goodness the passengers didn’t have the same sheep mentality that the crew did, or else this could have potentially ended a lot worse…

About lucky

Ben Schlappig (aka Lucky) is a travel consultant, blogger, and avid points collector. He travels about 400,000 miles a year, primarily using miles and points to fund his first class experiences. He chronicles his adventures, along with industry news, here at One Mile At A Time.

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Comments

  1. Is it sheep mentality or a deference to workplace hierarchy? Are crews and ground staff subservient to pilots?

    UA might benefit from a “see something say something” campaign among their own employees, to prevent a repeat of this incident.

  2. The sheep mentality of american airlines crew just act if its a muslim and kick him out for the rest keep it cool.

  3. Everybody crew member that had a chance to stop her and didn’t should be fired. This could have been a another Germanwings or mh370.

  4. A mental illness can cause someone to fail their medical even if it’s due to a temporary life event… Basically you could be responsible for ending someone’s career for something counseling could help.

  5. That was one of the causes of the Asiana crash at SFO – one I’ll never forget as I was on a different flight taxiing at SFO later that day and saw the wreckage. The first officer knew the captain was flying too low and slow on approach but never said anything because “he’s the captain”

  6. This is a well known fact.
    In a disaster people freeze and wait for instructions. In a genocide, people wait for their turn to be slaughtered rather than fight back as a group.

    Humans are followers and easily malleable, that’s why taking out a few leaders makes the whole group helpless.

    And finally people follow the lead of idiots like themselves and vote for complete morons for no other reason than they look out talk like them. This why racism thrives.

  7. Everyone is entitled to a bad day, even at work, but in this case it went too far. The other crew members should have stopped her immediately. The questions to change or not to into her uniform was out of line already and thats where they should have stopped her. Th UA station manager or gate person should never have let this flight depart as soon as the first passengers started to disembark..

  8. I dunno all the background about what the crew knew and when. Just because she was not in uniform does not mean they should have automatically barred her from the plane. That being said there seemed to be much more to it and it almost sounds like the co-pilot took control of the plane from her and this is what caused her outburst. In any event it should have never gotten to the point where the doors were closed and if nobody stood up were they going to try to fly with this lunatic? I understand the captain is in command, but the co-pilot should always be able to relieve a pilot who is having some sort of episode and if the co-pilot refuses to do so and the crew has concerns they should have the ability to contact someone at airline management and voice their concern so that it can be investigated before the plane is in the air. Really there should be some sort of roll call where a manager at each airport or somebody interacts with a crew before boarding to make sure that nobody is drunk, high or having mental issues.

  9. Really the whole crew should be suspended without pay for 30 days and have to go through retraining for this! Unacceptable to ignore such a potential safety risk.

  10. Nothing will happen. .She just had a bad a moment of “LGBT, Black Lives Matter, Women’s Rights are now, Eat Shit and Die., etc.

  11. Lucky – to be rigorously honest you didn’t “share” this previously as you claimed, but rather “sensationalized” it with your all-caps INSANE title heading. You can’t have it both ways. Just saying …

  12. Hopefully the First Officer and/or Gate Agent(s) were busy phoning the Police to have her removed. In any event, she should have never made it on to the plane.

    I wonder how United will handle this matter.

  13. The airlines just can’t win with you guys. If they denied her from boarding just for showing up in flip flops then there would be cries of sexism or lack of compassion. I think they handled it exactly as they should have. If she was running late then it is conceivable that she planned to change in the lavatory. Once the crew and the passengers realized she was acting bizarrely, they took action. I don’t know what else you want from them. Good job United crew and passengers.

  14. You can see the door to the cockpit open while she’s talking! Was the co-pilot in there just listening to her rambling? She must have walked past or interacted with 6-10 fellow United employees before this point. This isn’t a good reflection on any of them.

  15. If they were on an overnight, she could have said she lost her uniform, maybe she even did, and then everyone decided to go with it instead of delaying the flight over a formality. Maybe she wasnt acting crazy until the door was already closed. Maybe there was bad behavior, acting rude to the crew or crackling stupid jokes, but it didn’t escalate into something questionable until later on. I think you have great points and ask some valid questions, but the truth is that no one on this forum knows what happened beyond what’s been reported, so we can’t judge.

  16. Corey – don’t let the facts get in the way of your story but in the Asiana SFO crash the Captain was actually under training doing a conversion from the Airbus fleet and the pilot occupying the FO’s seat was a Check & Training Captain. This pilot was much more senior than the Captain who was flying the aircraft so your post is quite baseless and not reflective of the true situation.

  17. Sheep mentality? Unless you were privy to the conversations between the crew and ground staff, you have no idea how they were working together to quickly remove the captain while she was on the P.A.

    It’s a good thing that flight crews have a condescending twit like you on board or else the pilots may not even know how to fly without your direction.

  18. A number of YouTube videos have shown up about this and each seem to approach the event from a different angle. Some call it a political rant, some call it a crazy lady, some call it PMS, some call it divorce troubles.

    It’s not hard to imagine how this captain made it to this situation. People don’t want to be bothered by other people’s problems and combining that with deference to position and general sense of urgency at an airport things would have to blow up like this in order for the situation to be recognized. Who would have the authority to yank a pilot or prevent a pilot from entering an aircraft ? Who does a gate agent call ?

  19. Lucky frankly your not being fair to the crew and other employees as there is much we don’t know. This could have been day three of a trip for this crew and for the preceding days she was perfectly fine and professional. There may have been events that happened during the overnight that unhinged her and I suspect she missed the normal van that morning. That happens and when it does the usual practice is for the rest of the crew to get to the airport and get the airplane ready to go so as to minimize any delay when the late crew member showed up. We don’t know whether or not the FO was taking action to stop the flight from going at the time she made her rant. The level at which this went bad seems to have been fairly rapid and I suspect at the same time pax were getting unhappy the rest of the crew was getting even more unhappy. With respect to her uniform she may have told fellow employees that something happened to it on the overnight.

    As an airline pilot at a US major I can tell we we take the safety of those entrusted to us very very seriously. Put yourself in the FO’s shoes for a min. You’ve been flying with this person and she has been perfectly competent and professional. When she shoes up dressed as she was. Is your immediate reaction going to be to to want to have her removed from the flight on that basis alone? Especially knowing that there aren’t reserve crews in Austin?

    This was certainly an ugly and newsworthy event. But I would hope that someone like yourself who is essentially an industry insider would cover it more professionally and with more balance than has been the case.

  20. Everyone is very quick to judge from their armchair. The reality is that neither the author of this or any if us know the full story. It could well be that the jetway was already pulked when the issue reared itself. If so you are required to keep the doors armed until the jetway is returned so oeopke can have a means if escape ( slide) until that time.

    None of the videos show the FOs actions, which were likely calling authorities and ops as well as securing the cockpit. Do not presume inaction from anyone merely because you can not SEE it.

  21. Wow, everyone is an expert on how the crew should’ve handled this. As always, blame the crew not the mgmt.
    As a flight attendant, let me tell you we usually change pilot crews on every leg (domestic & sometimes int’l). We rarely meet them as we’re all busy running to our gates because we all know that the min we walk on the plane, agents want to start boarding.
    The capt will usually brief the co-pilot or the lead flt attendant in regards to weather, routing, time, irregularities, etc.
    I agree the agent or co-pilot should’ve stopped her from coming
    on the plane but who knows what she told the agents (lost uniform?). Just saying there is a lot more to what we actually know.
    For your info, many flight attendants have lost their jobs for petty reasons such as disagreeing w pilots. We are the 1st ones to be blamed for policies that the co wants us to enforce (policing the alcohol, keep people seated during turbulence, etc).
    We all want to be safe. I personally hope she gets the help she needs but glad she was stopped.
    Don’t judge before you know what really goes on.

  22. Letting the ladies fly is misguided. We know how bad they are driving cars let alone something larger and more complex.

  23. UA is a mess. First they killed a dog and took no responsibility and now they almost fly with a very disturbed pilot. This is really upsetting. You better believe that I would have been up and heading out the door. Go ahead and arrest me, but I would have been alive. The doors should never have been closed and armed. No way! We can look at any angle, suppose anything, but it is clear that there were enough issues here that the doors should have remained open/disarmed and the situation further accessed by all involved. Everyone involved should be suspended and then retrained or fired. Period. There is no room for error when we hand our fates over to what are usually professional crews. Remember, in Germanwings the pilot seemed fine. The FO left him in the cockpit alone with disastrous and tragic results. Airline accidents are usually a series of events that reduce and ultimately eliminate the redundancies built into the software and hardware of an airliner. In this case the software went horribly wrong. To me, no uniform, no fly. Period. Begin a rant, no fly. Period. UA needs a full stop to clean up their airline. It is a total mess. Computers, people, etc.

  24. What is scary is that this pilot freaked out for all to see but what if she was the type of psycho who is silent. Nobody would know. Don’t these types of psychotic episodes happen over time rather than immediate? I’m no expert on this. I would hope that the airline have things in place to monitor pilots and their mental health. What if this was what had happened to malaysia air? A silent ticking time bomb.

  25. 100% no crew member should be allowed to board the plane not in uniform. To say anything else is just looney. (I am not even saying missing a tie/belt… full non-uniform with flip flops!) This one was too easy. The door should have never been shut. Crew and gate agent suspended 30 days without pay. Airlined fined $100,000. Mandatory retraining for all and new policies. Shame on the crew. Shame on United.

    The passengers that stood up and said ‘let me off’ should be commended. This could have turned deadly. Quickly.

  26. A couple of things I’m wondering:
    1) Why is the cockpit door still open?
    2) Why hasn’t the FO muted the PA? (Not sure which aircraft type this is, but on most of them the flight deck’s interphone will override the cabin’s)
    3) Why are passengers TWEETING United’s offshore customer service reps? I’d be calling the airport police faster than the deranged pilot can utter “Germanwings”, if not on with ATC.
    4) Why are the FAs letting her continue?

    I think the cockpit door should have been closed and locked, PA killed, at which point the deranged pilot would have probably gone apeshiat…then the FAs could have taken her down until authorities could reach the aircraft. Because this wasn’t done, it appeared like this pilot was the captain and indeed in control of the aircraft whilst staff weren’t doing anything about it, at least that’s the view from the cheap seats. Closing the door & silencing her would have shown the pax that the remaining crew had the situation under control.

    Re: Lack of uniform — the uniform is part of the job. There’s a whole chapter of the operations manual dedicated to appearance and professional behavior. Unless this is an emergency evacuation / medivac / other unusual situation, no uniform = not fit to fly. And that’s before addressing her behavior.

  27. People who say, “Hey, everyone has a bad day!,” wanting to exonerate this pilot, are leading with their hearts and not their heads, and have no idea what they are talking about, when it comes to aviation safety and the responsibility of piloting a plane with passengers. Yes, everyone has bad days. That is why major airlines offer sick days and numerous programs for their pilots to use when their personal lives are impacted negatively. For years now, these programs have been used; they have lost their original stigma and they are known about. Each pilot is charged with the responsibility of the safety of the crew and their passengers, first and foremost. This pilot should never have showed up to fly, her co-pilot should have urged her to call in sick at the first sign of her strange behavior, the cabin crew should have done the same. The gate agent should have done the same. That passengers did not leap from their seats for the exits is amazing to me. This woman has shut the door on her career as an airline pilot, I’m certain, and it should be that way. My sincere hope is that the woman will seek and get help. But to allow political correctness, muddled thinking, and the dumbing down of our society to have reached the point of compromising the safety of our cockpits, that is not an option. (Before recently retiring, I flew 30 years with the airlines and 10 years with the Navy.)

  28. There’s NO WAY that plane was going to move an inch after her PA rant. If you watch the video, you’ll see a flight attendant in the cockpit during the rant. The copilot was almost certainly calling operations telling them that the Captain would need to be replaced.

    I imagine it was a situation where the Captain was really late and the plan was for her to change into uniform before they pushed off the gate. The door was likely closed so the delay wouldn’t get charged to CS. There’s a lot of pressure to get a plane out on time but I have zero doubt that both the copilot and flight attendants were not going to allow the Captain to fly after that PA announcement.

    I just crewed a delayed flight the other day (I’m an FO) – I made sure to take care of all preflight items and had the plane ready to push while we waited for the Captain to arrive – he was flying in on another flight. Had he shown up out of uniform, I would expect him to change before the flight pushed. If he hopped on the PA system when I was expecting him to be changing clothes, I’d be calling operations as soon as I got over the shock of my fellow crewmember having a breakdown.

    That Captain has flown her last flight. She’ll never fly for United again. It’s unfortunate, but there’s no allowance for that type of thing.

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