SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – More than a dozen former flight attendants have filed a lawsuit against United Airlines after they werer fired for refusing to work on a flight out of San Francisco International Airport last year following discovery of threatening writing on the plane's fuselage.
On July 14th, the flight attendants on United Flight 869 refused to fly after someone scrawled the words "bye-bye" and two faces, one smiling, one sinister, onto an oil slick on the back of the jet. The flight was bound from San Francisco to Hong Kong.
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"I was scared. I was frightened. I have flown as a flight attendant for a total of 24 years and I have never seen anything like this," said Grace Lam, one of the flight attendants suing United.
The details of what happened that day are spelled out in a 26-page whistleblower complaint. On that day, the Boeing 747 landed at SFO from Seoul, South Korea around 11:00 a.m. The jet was scheduled to take off at 2 p.m., until someone noticed the message, 30 feet off the ground.
"You cannot reach it without any help of equipment," Lam said.
That led the flight attendants to believe no one did a security check of the plane in the U.S. or in South Korea.
The flight attendants began asking questions. As the takeoff delay wore on, passengers were told it was a "mechanical issue."
"The flight attendants realized as common sense would dictate and as FAA regulations dictate that in the face of this kind of threat an airline is required to actually deplane the passengers, get them off the plane and do a security sweep of the plane. They didn't do that," said attorney David Marshall, who represents the flight attendants.
In fact, United management ordered the flight attendants to take the flight. They refused, and Flight 869 was cancelled. The flight attendants were later terminated for insubordination.
"I have no regrets at all. If this happens again today, I would have done the same thing," Lam said. "Any flight attendant would have done. This is our job. This is what anyone would have done and the general public would have expected us to do."
In a statement, United told CBS News, "Our flight operations, safety and maintenance teams appropriately investigated and determined there was no credible security threat. All of FAA's and United's own safety procedures were followed, including a comprehensive safety sweep prior to boarding, and the pilots, mechanics and safety leaders deemed the aircraft entirely safe to fly."
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