United Airlines Flight Attendant Incident is Disturbing on So Many Levels

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New York, USA - April 30, 2012: Bombardier Canadair Regional Jet - CRJ-200 United Express takes off from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, USA on April 30, 2012. The CRJ-200 is a regional airliner manufactured by Bombardier. It is identical to the CRJ-100 except for its engines. CRJ-200 is among the quietest jets in their class, both inside and out.

(iStock.com/rypson)

The news Rene reported first on Boarding Area last week about a United Express flight attendant being arrested for intoxication stirs up several emotions.

Anger. Pity. And WTH, United?!

(To recap: an Air Wisconsin flight attendant was arrested after an O’Hare to South Bend flight. The woman allegedly “(had) slurred speech, was bumping into things” and passengers “had to fasten her seatbelt for her.” The trip was marketed as a United Express flight.)

Anger

It’s angering a flight attendant — whose primary job is ensuring the safety of passengers and helping them in the event something goes wrong — was allegedly so drunk that she passed out during a flight. Yet, she somehow was able allowed to board the aircraft.

That flight, by the way, didn’t receive a safety briefing because the flight attendant was purportedly too impaired.

“We didnt [sic] get any safety instructions or introduction,” passenger Yvette McDowell told KCBS radio.

What if someone on the flight required medical attention? What if the plane needed to make an emergency landing? Worst-case scenarios? Yes. But they do happen.

The flight attendant’s blood alcohol content obtained at the jail was .204% — and that was after the flight. (That’s well over twice many states’ legal driving limit — and five times the limit for flight attendants).

Obviously, her BAC was higher before the flight. The trip during which she was “drunk and barely able to stand or speak,” as officials noted in a report. Police said they also detected an odor of alcohol coming from her.

So why didn’t anyone landside or airside — gate agents, TSA, or her own flight’s pilots — sense something was wrong? Or did they — and were just protecting her?

Did she appear stone-cold sober in the airport? Not smell at all of booze?

I’m also curious if only two “shooters” (“airline size” single-servings of alcohol) shot her BAC up to such high levels. Maybe she had the two shooters before the flight — and a bunch of other drinks a few hours before?

Of course, it’s also possible she used cold syrup while rinsing with mouthwash after partaking on a ketone diet. Call me crazy but I have my doubts.

What About the Captain?

A flight’s captain is the one ultimately responsible for the hop. I have a hard time believing the captain — or at least the first officer— didn’t interact at all with the flight’s sole attendant at any time before pushback.

Passenger “Dan” told the New York Post, the “whole plane … noticed something was wrong.” The flight attendant’s phone rang “multiple times without her answering” it.

“[That] to me was the most concerning part because the pilot wasn’t able to communicate with the lone flight attendant and took off anyway,” he said.

That’s scary. The passengers noticed the flight attendant was allegedly blitzed but this went undetected by everyone else — including the person in charge of the flight. How was the captain sure the flight attendant wasn’t incapacitated by a passenger — or group of passengers — who had more sinister intentions?

Is that a far fetched possibility? Probably.

But so was the hijacking of four planes and crashing them into two World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon, and a field in rural Pennsylvania (which likely wasn’t the terrorists’ intended target).

This incident happened on the captain’s watch. He or she should be held accountable, as well.

Pity

I (potentially) feel sorry for the flight attendant who apparently admitted to drinking before the flight. Is she an alcoholic? Could she not help herself but have some drinks?

ABC News notes she was a 49-year-old “new hire” who was on probationary status with Air Wisconsin. Was she fulfilling a life dream — but derailed by addiction? Was this “just a job”? Her life is now potentially ruined. But on the same token, she put many more at risk.

United’s Lack of Accountability

After the infamous Dr.-David-Dao-Being-Dragged-Off-the-Airplane incident of 2017, United eventually issued a statement that pretty much put the blame squarely on them (though it took them a while):

“Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way.

I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right.” — Oscar Munoz, United Airlines CEO

Very much worth noting: the Dao incident was aboard a Republic Airways flight doing business as United Express. Not United mainline. Like the O’Hare to South Bend incident of August 2.

Frankfurt, Germany - July 17, 2014: United Airlines aircraft logo at an aircraft in Frankfurt. United Airlines is headquartered in Chicago, Illinois.

(Photo: ©iStock.com/Meinzahn)

Yet, here’s how United handled this new problem:

“We expect our regional carriers to take appropriate action as required when issues like these happen with their employees. Legally and with regards to regulatory agencies this is an Air Wisconsin issue.”

— United Airlines spokesperson via ABC News

Run along! Nothing to see here!

But this is isn’t United’s fault? Despite the facts:

  • the flight was sold by United
  • the flight did business as United Express
  • the plane was painted — with United’s blessing — to resemble United livery

People have said sole blame should lay with Air Wisconsin. Yes, they are responsible. But so is United. After all, their contract of carriage lumps United Express flights under the United umbrella.

One would think Oscar and United would’ve learned the first three-ish times they tried apologizing for Dr. Dao.

But apparently not.

We’re Good. Right?

Passenger Aaron Schreb told Fox News, a rep for United contacted him and offered a $500 voucher or 25,000 miles for the trouble — plus a refund for that segment of his trip. He said he has yet to accept the offer.

“Given that the safety and well-being of all 50 passengers on that flight was jeopardized,” he said, “I find United’s response to be insufficient, especially since United had just given a $1200 voucher to a would-be passenger on [the same flight] as we were about to board because the flight was oversold.”

Was that enough for the perilous position he — and the other several dozen passengers — were put in?

What Do You Think?

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this incident and United’s response. Please share your reactions in the Comments section below! — Chris

4 comments

  1. It’s good to know that the passengers interacted with the flight attendant in such a manner as to determine she wasn’t having a stroke. If that had been the case it would have been a challenge getting word to the cockpit. Lesson learned, maybe the FAA should require two FAs on CRJ 200s (even though there are just 50 seats for passengers).
    As to the flight attendant’s life being ruined, if terminated by Air Wisconsin she could get a job with Riser Air.

  2. Can anyone report the current salary structure for pilots, second officers, and FA’s on these “regional airlines” with mainline paint jobs? The numbers that I saw many years ago were a bit frightening even after discounting for the fact that the employees’ work for low pay in the hope of someday getting jobs at a major carrier. I can’t help wondering if the majors using regionals to cut wage expenses, combined with “on time” pressure, played some role in the lack of professionalism exhibited by all three crew members. Flying regionals remains statistically safer and much quicker than driving ourselves but I think it’s inevitable that the above factors will eventually cause an incident much worse than this.

  3. Not sure the FA’s life is ruined, pretty easy to get a job at about min wage; I am also sure she was not with Wisconsin air too long as nobody makes a career work for a regional carrier.

  4. @yasmas: Mentally, she may find it hard to recover. And people may not want to hire the flight attendant known for being drunk on a flight.

    True, I doubt many people — if anyone — wants to spend their entire careers at a regional. But it’s often a stepping stone to working for a major carrier.

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