United Airlines fired 13 flight attendants for refusing to board a flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong after seeing ominous graffiti on the back of the airplane. The crew members have filed a complaint, saying that the sign posed a security concern.
On July 14, workers spotted the words “BYE BYE” and two faces drawn into the oily slick on the tail of the plane. The complaint to the Labor Department called one face “devilish.” While the workers saw it as a threat, United spokeswoman Christen David said, "Our flight operations, safety and maintenance teams appropriately investigated and determined there was no credible security threat.”
The flight attendants demanded that all passengers exit the plane to allow for a thorough search. However, it is unclear whether the graffiti was even drawn in San Francisco, as it could have been drawn at its previous destination in Seoul, South Korea.
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The flight was canceled after the crew refused to fly. United Airlines fired the workers for insubordination, saying that the plane was “entirely safe to fly.” In response, flight attendant Grace Lam said the workers “were not willing to bow to United's pressure to ignore an unresolved security threat even though the company made clear that we risked losing our jobs."
The crew’s lawyer David Marshall claims that tensions were higher due to recent events such as the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and a warning about passenger electronics. The workers have a combined 299 years of experience and Marshall says that they should be protected as whistle-blowers for reporting security threats.
The complaint was filed with U.S. Department of Labor and demands reinstatement, back pay and compensatory damages for the thirteen attendants. Christen David of United Airlines said, “We cannot comment further on the details of this pending litigation, but we intend to defend against it vigorously."