US Airways Pilots: Airline Tried to Intimidate Pilot into Flying Malfunctioning Plane

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​The union representing pilots for Tempe-based US Airways says the airline tried to intimidate a pilot into flying a malfunctioning plane last month. When she refused, the US Airways Pilots Association says, she was forced off the plane and "met by [the airline's] corporate security and escorted out of the airport."

In fact, the union claims, a total of six pilots refused to fly the plane before the airline agreed to make the necessary repairs.

This, according to the union, is just one incident representative of a "safety culture" based on "intimidation and disrespect" -- a culture the union exposed in a full-page ad in USA Today on Friday.

US Airways did not immediately return our call this afternoon. However, the airline has been in bitter contract negotiations with its union since 2005, and in an e-mail to employees Friday, Chief Operating Officer Robert Isom called the union's accusations a "smear campaign that in reality is all about contract negotiations, not safety." He adds that the plane in question "flew that day and performed flawlessly."


The pilots' union says, on June 16, Captain Valerie Wells, who has over 30 years of experience, thousands of hours of flight time, and a degree in aviation safety, was about to embark on a 3,000-mile, trans-Atlantic overnight flight from Philadelphia to Rome.

As the plane was pushing back from the gate, the union says, the auxiliary power unit, a backup source of electrical power, and the Hot Battery Bus, a critical source of primary electrical power,  failed. This left the plane with no electrical power and no radio communication.

The union says Wells was forced to open a window to yell down to the ground crew to alert them to the malfunction.

According to the union, "US Airways maintenance was able to restart the power unit, but offered no explanation as to why it failed or any reasonable assurance that it wouldn't fail again."

Wells, not wanting the plane to lose power in the middle of the night as she and the 300-plus on board were thousands of feet above the Atlantic Ocean, the union says, refused to fly the aircraft and forced a maintenance crew to address the malfunction.

Meanwhile, the passengers were growing antsy. The fact that the air-conditioning needed to be turned off as mechanics worked on the plane certainly didn't help things.

Wells, the union says, was forced to "make sure the temperature wasn't unsafe -- for passengers of any age or health condition -- and balance those concerns against the goals of Customer Service agents who are frequently resistant to deplaning the passengers because of the pressure to be on time."

US Airways officials then "embarked on a plan to intimidate the Captain and her crew to try to get them to fly the airplane without fixing it. Not only did mechanics try to convince her to disregard the problem, but her supervisor called her repeatedly and put tremendous pressure on her, specifically asking if she was 'refusing to fly.' At US Airways, pilots who refuse direct orders are putting their jobs at risk," the union says.

Another flight crew was called in to fly the plane and experienced the same problems as Wells -- not once but twice. It was only then that the plane finally was removed from service and repaired.

The flight finally left Philadelphia 11 hours late, with a third flight crew.

Check back for updates.


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19 comments
MIKE
MIKE

Captains authority is ALWAYS the final word on anything to do with the operation and or safety of the flight...end of story. This capt did the right thing staying in the cockpit where her authority cannot be challenged while I'm sure she made every effort to get maintenance to resolve the problems. MEL's are in place for a reason...lack of power for critical systems is very much one of the items on that list. Regardless of what CS, maintenance, Flight Ops, Crew Desk, and Management (including even the base or company chief pilot) have to say) bottom line responsibility and the decision lefts with the body in that left seat. I am more than fed up with management and cs trying to intimidate cockpit crews just to make a revenue number or an ontime departure...I've been doing this for 32 years and its not just US Air that is guilty....This lady had a double whammy...not only management pressure but she was also flying an airbus....and just in case you'd forgotten are notorious for strange problems...and she was just about to go across the pond. RIGHT PROCESS/RIGHT DECISION/RIGHT OUTCOME.....GOOD JOB !!!  (and who knows how many lives she saved probably including her own)  KEEP THIS INCIDENT IN MIND NEXT TIME YOU THINK ABOUT FLYING ON USAIR....AND ABOUT THOSE IN THE COCKPIT WHO STAND UP FOR ALL OF YOU AGAINST ONE OF THE WORST MANAGMENT TEAMS IN THE BUSINESS

WMW
WMW

Union vs management is becoming more polarized, so that they stop listening to each other.  It sounds like management will assume from the start that every pilot safety concern is actually a negotiating tactic, not a valid safety concern. That management prejudice worries and scares me - it increases the likelihood of an incident if valuable input is deprecated.  If, God forbid, there is a safety incident, will management say that it was a union negotiation tactic, too?

Mcdougal123
Mcdougal123

I work for US Air and the airline puts great pressure on the Agents to get the plane out on time. The later you are the more "suits" show up to try and speed things up. It takes a lot of "balls" to stand up to these people. US Air hates its line employees, it gets comical at times. They hire all these kids for management who know nothing about how to run an airline.

Florida Golfer
Florida Golfer

The union published a completely dishonest, misleading advertisement.  No, I don't work for US Airways but my wife does and I know how unethical the pilots' union is on these matters.  On an important trip to London for me a few years ago, the pilots deliberately timed-out the flight.  So Blackfalcon, I hope you are not one of the unethical ones, but plenty of your colleagues are.

ZachHenry
ZachHenry

I think anyone who has ever flown US Airways knows that they are the very worst major airline. I used to work for Mesa Airlines, doing US Airways Express, and they are even worse.  If you have a choice choose something else.

Jetsetter767
Jetsetter767

Clearly there are two-sides to every story and it is frightening to me that every poster before me believes everything they read. And as for the pilot poster... Apparently the airline isn't the only one who is "money driven". Pathetic. 

Blackfalcon
Blackfalcon

I'm a US Airways pilot, I don't recommend flying US Airways.  I wish I could quit but I would have to start all over at a new airline and I can't afford to take a 70% pay cut and start as a first officer on reserve duty.  Money drives everything that an airline does, they don't care about their customers.

Bensonbroilers
Bensonbroilers

FUCK THAT! Im gonna switch all my business flight for the rest of the year to Southwest. Holy fuck. Imagine wht the headilnes ALMOST read! Later days US Airways. Hope you guys rot in hell.

Jason
Jason

I usually fly Delta but whenever I can get the hell out of Arizona for vacation, I take the flight that is cheapest and quickest.

However, after reading this story, I think I'll be a bit more hesitant to fly U.S. Airways.

ZachHenry
ZachHenry

exactly right. they are a bunch of bean counters focused on paying the least amount possible to their employees and doing the least amount of maintenance to their planes.  they create situations where it's impossible to get planes out safely on time and pass the blame onto rampers making less than 8 an hour. they more than deserve all their bad press.

Tmsmither
Tmsmither

I work for U S Airways also. The morale is the lowest I have seen in 27 years . This company cares nothing about its workers or customers, only what's in it for management. We should be thinking in terms of life vests and life boats at this point.  We know... we have been here twice before.  If they will lie to your face, there is no hope.

B744crew
B744crew

The reason that the crew timed-out may have been caused by the fact, that airlines these days plan everything up to the maximum allowable limits, without leaving any contingency for even minor disruptions.

Flight Crews, being on the front lines, are then expected to tap into legal provisions, that have been created for the sole purpose of exceptional circumstances. The problem is that tapping into these exceptions has become the new norm in today's Airline industry. Industry insiders refer to it as "Normalization of Deviance". It is driven by bean-counters with their overly excessive utilitarian approach to cost-benefit analysis.

It is an irresponsible way to run an Airline and very dangerous. Unless proper regulations are instituted, it will cost lives, like Colgan Air a few months ago..

My respect goes to Valerie for showing great Airmanship and leadership.

This comes from a veteran B747 pilot.

B744crew
B744crew

The reason that the crew timed-out may have been caused by the fact, that airlines these days plan everything up to the maximum allowable limits, without leaving any contingency for even minor disruptions.

Flight Crews, being on the front lines, are then expected to tap into legal provisions, that have been created for the sole purpose of exceptional circumstances. The problem is that tapping into these exceptions has become the new norm in today's Airline industry. Industry insiders refer to it as "Normalization of Deviance". It is driven by bean-counters with their overly excessive utilitarian approach to cost-benefit analysis.

It is an irresponsible way to run an Airline and very dangerous. Unless proper regulations are instituted, it will cost lives, like Colgan Air a few months ago..

My respect goes to Valerie for showing great Airmanship and leadership.

This comes from a veteran B747 pilot.

TheNicisdead
TheNicisdead

Pal ~ as a pilot for USAirways' YOU have NO IDEA what you are talking about!  Flight Crews "time out" occasionally when there are weather and maintenance delays that we have no control over.

Dimod8
Dimod8

ive been a major airline pilot for 25 years for another airline. taking an airliner over the pond with a malfunctioning apu is just plain stupid. capt wells is to be commended for her judgement. being over water 3 hours from any airport with a short in the hot battery bus would be deadly. not all decisions are about money.

Thenicisdead
Thenicisdead

As a pilot for USAirways' and knowing the pilots involved, I can FIRMLY tell you that there AREN'T two sides to this story!

who cares
who cares

Oh is that only at the airlines, or is that America?

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