FA Walks; Cancellation due to "ATC"

Old Oct 12, 2013, 4:38 pm
  #1  
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FA Walks; Cancellation due to "ATC"

Last night on my scheduled flight from IAD to BTV, the crew of two pilots and one FA boarded the RJ 145. Shortly before passenger boarding, the FA came off the plane and walked away. The gate agent then announced that boarding would be delayed because they were waiting for a flight attendant. She then told those of us at the gate (not via PA), that the flight attendant who left was "fatigued" and that their contract gave them the right not to work if they were fatigued and couldn't perform their duties in a safe manner, and that is why he had left (he hadn't timed out). About 50 minutes later the gate agent announced they couldn't find another FA and that the flight was cancelled.

By that time there was no way to get to BTV that night and everyone was stuck overnight. The gate agent then went ahead to rebook people but said that she couldn't give hotel and meal vouchers because the flight had been cancelled due to ATC. She said that she knew that wasn't true but that she would be disciplined if she went against what the "system" said. I called the 1K desk to get rebooked, and asked for a hotel voucher. The agent also said that she couldn't because that the flight had been cancelled due to ATC. However, she also told me that the flight timeline said that the flight had originally been cancelled due to "other" which she hadn't seen before, and that it had subsequently had been changed to ATC.

Has anyone else experienced this? Was the incorrect reason for the cancellation due to ATC an honest mistake, a single bad employee, or does United do this to screw people out of compensation?
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Old Oct 12, 2013, 4:48 pm
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Originally Posted by gsvt
Last night on my scheduled flight from IAD to BTV, the crew of two pilots and one FA boarded the RJ 145. Shortly before passenger boarding, the FA came off the plane and walked away. The gate agent then announced that boarding would be delayed because they were waiting for a flight attendant. She then told those of us at the gate (not via PA), that the flight attendant who left was "fatigued" and that their contract gave them the right not to work if they were fatigued and couldn't perform their duties in a safe manner, and that is why he had left (he hadn't timed out). About 50 minutes later the gate agent announced they couldn't find another FA and that the flight was cancelled.

By that time there was no way to get to BTV that night and everyone was stuck overnight. The gate agent then went ahead to rebook people but said that she couldn't give hotel and meal vouchers because the flight had been cancelled due to ATC. She said that she knew that wasn't true but that she would be disciplined if she went against what the "system" said. I called the 1K desk to get rebooked, and asked for a hotel voucher. The agent also said that she couldn't because that the flight had been cancelled due to ATC. However, she also told me that the flight timeline said that the flight had originally been cancelled due to "other" which she hadn't seen before, and that it had subsequently had been changed to ATC.

Has anyone else experienced this? Was the incorrect reason for the cancellation due to ATC an honest mistake, a single bad employee, or does United do this to screw people out of compensation?
This sounds like it is not an okay business practice.

Please file a DoT airline service complaint using the handy form at http://www.dot.gov/airconsumer/air-t...t-comment-form . The level of detail you have provided here is totally enough. By doing this you will ensure that there is a documented record of this event occurring; and if your complaint isn't totally bogus, you will also get attention from UA Corporate — expect a phone call within a week or so from corporate headquarters with an explanation of what happened and whether it was supposed to happen.

DoT complaints are a core metric of business health and UA watches them closely.

It's possible that the root cause for this problem could have been attributed to air traffic control problems — if ATC delays on a prior flight caused a crewmember to become unavailable, maybe there's a case for calling that ATC and handling it appropriately. But it sounds like no one ever told you anything like that and as far as you know, UA told you essentially "we typed the wrong code into our computer system and now the computer says we can't help you", which is not okay.
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Old Oct 12, 2013, 5:00 pm
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Wow.

Does that happen very often? (The FA walking off the flight. I know the dubious blaming of ATC is common.)

Will he face ANY ramifications?

Imagine the chaos if more FAs did this.
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Old Oct 12, 2013, 5:02 pm
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Just to focus the discussion a bit.
RJ flight -- so UX / ExpressJet, not mainline UA. Still does not excused the behavior or get UA off the hook.
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Old Oct 12, 2013, 5:11 pm
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In response to the replies so far (and thanks!):

First, good suggestion to file a complaint with the DOT. I just did that.

And does this happen very often? Apparently not. I fly a lot (enough to be 1K) and have never experienced it before. To get home, I was rerouted though ORD and asked the FA on that flight if it happened very often. She confirmed that their contract gives them that right to beg off due to fatigue, but she had never heard of anyone ever doing it.

As for it being a United Express flight that is correct, and it was ExpressJet, which in my experience is the most delay and cancellation prone. But when things go wrong, as this flight did, you deal with United, and they were the ones who were denying compensation.
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Old Oct 12, 2013, 5:16 pm
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Originally Posted by twtrvl
Wow.

Does that happen very often? (The FA walking off the flight. I know the dubious blaming of ATC is common.)

Will he face ANY ramifications?

Imagine the chaos if more FAs did this.
I don't have a problem with a crew member, whether FA or pilot, deciding that they are not capable of safely operating that flight (nor do I have a problem with the airline keeping an eye on that, and if it happens often, deciding that employee is not suitable for the position). But it is entirely unacceptable for the agents to misreport the cancellation in order to screw the passengers. Managing the crew, including contingencies (or not) for cases like this, just as they account for sick employees, is fully under their control.

Personally, I would:

- Send an itemized copy of my hotel and food bills, insisting on reimbursement.

- Follow up with my credit card company when that is refused; disputing those costs off of the original ticket. Yes, they may not agree also, but it can't hurt.

- Send a complaint to the DOT, stating the facts that a crew issue was miscoded as an ATC delay, with the airline failing to follow their policy to care for their passengers because of it.

- In the future be prepared to discreetly record such events. Yes, check local laws, yadda yadda...
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Old Oct 12, 2013, 5:17 pm
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And, yes, do report this to DOT and UA.
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Old Oct 12, 2013, 5:18 pm
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Originally Posted by gsvt
....
As for it being a United Express flight that is correct, and it was ExpressJet, which in my experience is the most delay and cancellation prone. But when things go wrong, as this flight did, you deal with United, and they were the ones who were denying compensation.
concerning the crew, ExpressJet contacts are different from mainline employee contacts. And the cause of the delay was probably entered in by an UX employee not UA. However all the UA employees could see was the UX entered reason.
Again,
Still does not excused the behavior or get UA off the hook.
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Old Oct 12, 2013, 5:27 pm
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I often see "bogus" delay reasons. I had a situation where the aircraft came in from Mexico so it was over at Terminal 5 in ORD...1 1/2 hours after arrival it still had not been towed to Terminal 1. At first it was listed as Awaiting Crew then once they arrived it was listed as ATC.

Or if there are ATC delays at EWR but there is also a minor MTC issue that is being taken care of the delay will be listed as ATC.
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Old Oct 12, 2013, 5:34 pm
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Originally Posted by nova08
I often see "bogus" delay reasons. I had a situation where the aircraft came in from Mexico so it was over at Terminal 5 in ORD...1 1/2 hours after arrival it still had not been towed to Terminal 1. At first it was listed as Awaiting Crew then once they arrived it was listed as ATC.

Or if there are ATC delays at EWR but there is also a minor MTC issue that is being taken care of the delay will be listed as ATC.

Another favorite tactic, is when there's a UA issue, say MX, and then once that is repaired, some WX happens, so UA blames the entire delay period on WX, when but for the MX, the flight would have already been at its destination by the time the weather happened.

This "mistake" coding needs to stop.

Edit: You're right: "bogus" is more accurate.
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Old Oct 12, 2013, 5:52 pm
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I Googled the ExpressJet contract, but only found an expired version. It did not explicitly address fatigue.

The Continental flight attendants (flying now) are covered by the AFA; ExpressJet is IAM. Here was a question/answer from the Continental AFA:
Rumor - Some FAs say that we are allowed to say to scheduling that we are fatigued and unable to work if we truly feel that way. Others have said that is a trigger word effective for pilots only. What is the truth?

Truth Pilots only. Some airlines do have fatigue language in their contracts for Flight Attendants. Unfortunately, to-date we have not been able to get the company to agree to such language for our Flight Attendants and FARs do not specifically give Flight Attendants that option like the pilots.
So there are two parts to this:

1. Unless the IAM contract has specific fatigue language in it, the flight attendant is not covered by a contract or by Federal Aviation Regulations. But that's going to be an internal discipline issue.

2. The bigger issue is the obvious lie about "ATC." The DOT does not usually audit airlines' reasons for delays, but they will investigate if they are presented with a reason. You have gate agent to back this up. United and ExpressJet could face criminal and civil penalties for lying about a delay.

Please, quote the exact language about the supervisor in your communication. This needs to go to United, ExpressJet, and the DOT. Quick emails should suffice.

We always suspect United of "bending the truth" about delays. This is one case where we can call them out on it. When you speak up, you're protecting all of us.
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Old Oct 12, 2013, 6:08 pm
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If there was a delay program in place at the time (I don't know if there was at IAD, but I think there were a few and one may have been at IAD) there are ways to make this true and UA has motivations other than screwing the pax for doing so.
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Old Oct 12, 2013, 6:10 pm
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This is definitely DOT worthy (as opposed to the many threads where people are pointed to complain to DOT for really mundane things).
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Old Oct 12, 2013, 6:19 pm
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I can't speak to what the ExpressJet contract actually says as I really don't know. However, the gate agent seemed to be knowledgable and she said that he did have that right. The FA that I spoke to on the ORD flight was United mainline, and she did say that it was in their contract, and she also seemed knowledgeable (and also very nice and not fatigued!). She also added that if you did leave a flight due to fatigue, you were subject to a medical review.

But it seems that what I experienced was (fortunately) a rare occurrence. It's how ExpressJet/United then denied responsibility that was the bad part. Out of curiosity though, has anyone else experienced a flight attendant, or pilot for that matter, leaving a flight due to "fatigue?"

It was raining at IAD, but there were no listed ATC delays other than to EWR (which is typical). The 10:10 flight that I took to ORD taxied out and took off with no delay and only two planes in front of us.

Last edited by iluv2fly; Oct 12, 2013 at 10:30 pm Reason: merge
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Old Oct 12, 2013, 6:26 pm
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FATIGUE is an FAA directive, in that crew members will not fly fatigued. That's not being "tired", but "too fatigued" to do your job safely. That's a GOOD thing, and if a pilot removes themselves for a fatigue call, then per FAA rules they're not punished. I'm assuming FA's are the same way although I don't know if they have an official program like the pilots do.

You can be fatigued without being close to running out of duty day. I flew a trip several months ago where the first day was 13 hours, finishing at 4am body clock time. Layover, then 3 legs and another 11 hours stopping at 2am body clock time. Another layover, then flew the red eye flying from 1am to 6am body clock time. Then a short 10:30 layover followed by another 4 hour leg that evening. By that last leg I was very close to calling fatigued, I was definitely tired. Any delay that evening would have been a fatigue call even though my duty day would have been legal for 14 hours. We never had trips like these before the merger.

Now as for what they call the flight delay, I know United plays loose with this but it's very hard for a passenger to know what the actual reason is. Was the flight delayed due to ATC delays (ie wheels up time?) so with that delay the FA said no more?

AD

Last edited by aluminumdriver; Oct 12, 2013 at 8:18 pm
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