Fight or Flight? Spat Between American Airlines Flight Attendants Delays Plane Four Hours

At a time when it looks like AA is hitting financial turbulence, letting minor tiffs cause major delays just isn't going to fly

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Frank Polich / Reuters

As travelers, flight delays are something we simply must accept. But those minutes — or hours — of waiting are usually the result of inclement weather, mechanical problems, security scares or even airline glitches. But passengers heading from New York to D.C. earlier this week faced a four-hour delay not for the usual (and, generally, understandable) reasons. Instead, they found themselves waiting because of a tiff between two flight attendants.

American Airlines Flight 3823, set to leave New York’s JFK Airport at 3:10 p.m. on Sept. 19, had begun moving along the tarmac, passengers told NBC News, when the fight began. Apparently one flight attendant had been using her cell phone during the crew’s pre-departure routine, prompting her co-worker to request that everyone, “including the other flight attendant,” needed to turn off all electronic devices.

(MORE: Malfunctioning Toilets Lead to Nightmarish Two-Day Airline Delay)

The comment didn’t go over well, and soon, the cockpit crew caught wind of the altercation between the two women. The travelers were then told they’d be returning to the gate “because the flight attendants couldn’t work with each other,” one passenger told NBC News.

Back at the airport, the passengers had to wait nearly four hours while American Airlines tried finding another flight attendant crew. The original flight had a scheduled gate-to-gate time of one hour and 20 minutes. Travelers described the situation as “ridiculous” and said it was “totally unbelievable that there was such little professionalism.” And at a time when it looks like American Airlines is hitting financial turbulence, letting minor tiffs cause major delays just isn’t going to fly.

MORE: Frequent-Flier Mom Starts a Petition to Get Family Pre-Boarding Back on Airlines

53 comments
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lennah
lennah

AA has had many problems in the past including canceling flights and letting passenger hang for 3 days in a city they don't know (happened to me). It is outrageous that nobody would step in and tell the attendants to have the passenger's well-being in mind - as someone said below, it is the passenger that pays for their paycheck. AA has gone to the bottom of the heap. I think they should be much more competitive with Lufthansa, Virgin Australia or any other airline that doesn't quibble about fees per suitcase, fees per seat, food or not food. I, for one am fed up with all the fees, just set a price and let it be. If we can afford it, we'll fly - if not we won't. Disgusted and ashamed for an airline that call itself AMERICAN.

Fahd1
Fahd1

If the "chatting" flight attendant was using her cell phone in front of the passengers, then the other attendant was right in announcing her remark so that everyone can see that the "cell phone rule" is not just a silly rule that the flight attendants themselves don't comply with....

However, if the chatting flight attendant was talking on her phone in an area that was not visible to passengers, then the issue should have been raised internally without the need to announce it to the world....

adamrussell
adamrussell

Sounds to me like the one telling the other to turn it off was reasonable.  Why are people saying to fire her?  Its not her fault the other one went psycho on her.

LindaLuttrell
LindaLuttrell

Fire the one who refused to turn off her cell phone and reprimand the other.  As a flight attendant, she certainly knew the rules and refused to obey them.  No telling how many connector flights passengers missed because of her abject stupidity amp; rudeness!

Glo Giroux
Glo Giroux

SZorry, ldean50: I have given up on AA. I flew from Phoenix to CT for a special birthday weekend just a week ago, and the flights were horrid. We left Phx an hour late, made the connection in Dallas only because that flight was delayed, sat on the tarmac for an hour+ with that flight. Then, good old AA changed my return flight without notifying me, so there was some shock when I tried to print the boarding passes. After being on hold awhile, I connect with an agent and learned of the change. The new flight was much later, but I had them put me on an earlier flight, and the first leg had no first-class seats (I had saved to treat  myself to a 1st class flight). They refused to pro-rate any class change refund. So I flew coach to Chicago. Once there I had a 2+ hour wait for the next plane. However, I saw one boarding just as I arrived. There was one seat left: coach, row 24, middle seat. I had 5 seconds, literally, to decide if I trusted AA enough to wait for the other flight for 2 hours and PRAY it wasn't delayed, or spend a squished-in 3+ hours in coach. I chose coach because that plane was about to back away from the gate. I sure didn't trust AA at that point that my final scheduled flight would leave on time. Fly AA again? Nah: there are other airlines that are just as untrustworthy and possibly even better. This article about the flight attendants disgusts me. All those people inconvenienced because theses beeatches got into a girlie snit. They should be fired.

Joel
Joel

New York to DC should be served by high-speed rail only. 

Henry Miller
Henry Miller

Fire both of them.  Fire whoever their immediate boss was for not controlling the situation.  And fine all three of these people the probably millions of dollars in total wasted time of all the passengers.

f4xtrafn
f4xtrafn

Fire the idiot that refused to terminate her call and promote the one that made the announcement. How can they expect passengers to comply if attendants don't.

cnnhack
cnnhack

fire both of them and problem is solved

adamrussell
adamrussell

No not really.  The problem of psycho passengers, pilots, and attendants is far from solved.  Tell someone to turn off the phone and they start foaming at the mouth?  Why fire the one that was reasonable?

PoodleSheep
PoodleSheep

Not terribly surprising... horrible airline anyways.

ripperAZ
ripperAZ

I bet you it was a 55 year old matronly battle axe VS. a Gay guy like the one who "HAD ENOUGH" and pulled the slide.

They should identify which TOOL was on the phone, and HOMELAND SECURITY

should have escorted he/she/it from the plane.

Oh sorry that is only for BAD PASSENGERS

FORE

execuwhore
execuwhore

Uh - hello?? This was American Eagle. Totally seperate company from AA. Lower pay, lower hiring standards, etc. The great US airline deceit continues - just ask thosepoor folks who died in the Buffalo NY crash a few years ago a Colgan Air airplane. How come they all had credit cards  receipts that showed 'Continental Airlines' ? Wake up.

ldean50
ldean50

Please don't give up on American Airlines - from a retiree after 30 years. HSV DFW IAH BNA HDQ SAN ATL... The actions of these two are unforgivable, and they should be terminated (and I think will be). There are more than 100k+ employees at AA and we know where our paychecks and retirement (if it lasts) comes from - it's you. Most of us work for our customers and our co-workers. Please be patient with us - we're all looking for a light at the end of the tunnel, and I absolutely cannot tell you how horrific it makes me feel to read this article. I'm so so sad, and so very sorry. I'm confident other employees have read this article and will be trying their best to make up for it when they get to work tomorrow. Those two F/As are NOT who we are - Please, don't give up on us.

William Diaz
William Diaz

You are one of very few people (outside Southwest Airlines) that I've read that personally thanks its customers and gives an explanation for their actions. And I feel for you, and understand where you are coming from, after all I briefly worked for American Airlines summer of 2001. We know where that went shortly after. However, after myself as a traveler experiencing inept flight crew, multiple delays for flight attendants not showing up to work, not being able to work together, or pilots hitting their max flight time, and sitting on tarmacs, finally getting to my destination hours after I could have driven, I feel absolutely no sympathy for American Airlines or its staff anymore. For you, maybe, since it seems you left when the good times were coming to a close, but for many others who still work there or just retired, they are still part of the problem that goes on day in and day out and are undeserving of a retirement package, undeserving of customers, and undeserving of any recognition. One the world's largest airline, buying out TWA, Reno Air, and building the brand name AMERICAN, now it is one of the world's worst legacy carriers, and I am almost embarrassed to have it represent as one of the many flag carriers of our nation. At the same point in time, the US Airways deal is terrible as well. US Air has a habit of skimping in places American didnt. It also has a habit of using their less polished and less brand-loyal name when they merge. If there is anything that American is still worthy of, and just barely worthy I might add, is that American is symbolic to the American people, it has a shred of dignity and good feeling left to it, to say "I fly American" or "Something Special In The Air" or "We Are An Airline Proud To Bear The Name American!" - and that is loyalty for this merger. Hopefully things get better, but at this point, with this little spat being a little one but gaining large media attention and alienating customers, its not going to end lovely.

Slim_Sammy
Slim_Sammy

The attendant who made the announcement should receive a bonus.  I'm sick of poor work ethic being ignored.  The other worker needed to be called out and shamed into working harder.

jmaxedda
jmaxedda

Even if employees "will be trying their best to make up for it when they get to work tomorrow," TOMORROW doesn't help the travelers who were caught up in this particular delay and paid a great deal for their tickets--what an absurd statement. I would think if one of the flight attendants was misbehaving, it would behoove the attendant doing the pre-departure routine to report the misdeed to the captain, instead of announcing it to all the passengers. Wouldn't that be the proper chain of command? So unprofessional, and so low IQ.

uckermanf
uckermanf

Why should the attendant who told her nitwit coworker to get off the cellphone be fired? She was doing what she was supposed to do! It's the flight attendant who was on the cellphone that should be fired. How can you expect passengers to follow these rules if the flight attendants don't?

The flight attendant who made the announcement should get an award, frankly.

ldean50
ldean50

IMHO, it was more than inappropriate for the F/A making the announcement to specifically call out her co-worker and humiliate her; nevermind the fact that it made the passengers feel uncomfortable to see/hear it. The correct thing would have been to make the normal announcement (as taining and FAA requires), and then approach her co-worker in person and calmly and with humor if need be remind her to do the same.

adamrussell
adamrussell

It didnt sound to me like she humiliated anyone.  She made the announcement with humor.  They other one went psycho on her.

MarylandUSA
MarylandUSA

I completely agree, Idean50...and so does classical Judaism. Centuries ago, the Talmud ruled that shaming someone in public is tantamount to murdering him.

uckermanf
uckermanf

I don't agree. That flight attendant should not have needed to be told ANYTHING, nicely or otherwise. One of her job responsibilities is to make sure that passengers are abiding by the safety rules of the aircraft. If she isn't even following the rules she is supposed to make sure everyone else is following, then she is a danger to the flight, and needs to be called out on her insubordination. Why does her coworker have to coddle her? Also, you make several assumptions. You can't tell from the article that her comment wasn't made in a playful manner. I could easily imagine that being the case, and the other flight attendant taking it the wrong way. Were I her, I would have been mad as h*ll for my coworker to be behaving so irresponsibly, but perhaps she was actually playful about it and the other person took it the wrong way. It's not like she had much of a leg to stand on, so getting angry about it just compounds the stupidity of her actions! Also, you make a statement about the passengers being made uncomfortable by such an announcement, which is not stated anywhere in the article.

The bottom line is that she had no business doing what she was doing, and had no reason to expect that her behavior was going to be met with some kindly action on the part of her coworker. Had I been on that flight, quite frankly, I would have thanked that flight attendant for being so upfront, and making it clear to EVERYONE on board that this is SERIOUS business and NOBODY is above the rules, not even the flight crew. That's exactly how it should be. I'd probably write a letter to AA commending her for her actions. I get really irritated when I see airline passengers not following the rules--there is no way in H*LL we should be tolerating this happening among flight attendants.Now, the fact that it took so long for them to get another flight crew is a different story. That is an issue that AA and the other airlines need to figure out. 

ScottH222
ScottH222

 I am not sure the the person who made the announcement should get fired. Seems to me she was correct in asking her to get off the phone. She might have gotten in trouble for not doing anything, rules are rules.

ScottH222
ScottH222

I worked with a bunch of women, and I can see this happening. 

ripperAZ
ripperAZ

LOL

Like the gay guy who popped the slide.

Big assumption they were both women!

Have you not flown lately.

Bruce and Vance rule the cabins now.

With ALL THE ADDED DRAMA

FORE

Nancy
Nancy

4 hours to get a replacement attendant, give me a break. Airlines don't have any plans in place in case an attendant gets sick, is late, gets hurt, has an accident? Never mind that the hiring process needs to overhauled.

spoton101
spoton101

The flight attendants need to get fired. If 5 hours of my time were wasted I would need some heads to roll.  This is why I hate unions. You can't take any appropriate action. There is no accountability.

Margarita Gamero
Margarita Gamero

spoton101, you are in the generation that is having so many economical problems and has learn from those rich people that unions are nothing but money suckers. Those rich people that rather take your jobs overseas because in India, China and Vietnam they have the children and their parents slaved working for close to nothing for the rich American. Unions fights the rich American to bring YOUR job back to the United States of America; so you can have a job, health benefits, vacation benefits, pension benefits and most of all a decent salary to be able to provide a decent roof and food for your family.  Union vs. Slavery is decency. If you do not fight slavery expect to have your grandchildren at age 5 working 40+ hours a week for $2 a day.  

uckermanf
uckermanf

What does this have to do with unions? When where unions even mentioned in the article? This was an issue of one flight attendant DOING HER JOB and another flight attendant not following rules. That's it! It had nothing to do with unions. I am getting so sick of this hyper-political atmosphere where every single issue gets turned into some ridiculous g*d*amn political rant.

Only one of these flight attendants should be fired. That would be the one who was not following instructions. The other one should get a raise. 

spoton101
spoton101

Couldn't agree with you more!

Yes, you've laid out an actionable path forward. Investigate the issue, determine the causes and then take action. But you realize that the action CAN'T be taken; because of UNION CONTRACTS!

That's why I mentioned the word union. No other reason.

uckermanf
uckermanf

What on earth does this have to do with unions? The problem was one flight attendant was DOING HER JOB and the other was not following rules. The one not following rules got busted for it. She is the one who should get fired. The other agent didn't do anything wrong here, and there was no union involved in this. Please try to stick with the story and stop trying to interject some bass-ackwards politics into every  GD topic!

retphxfire
retphxfire

Oh, for crying our loud, blaming the unions?  You need to go back and take a fourth grade history class.  Find out what you have gained from unions; such as medical care/leave, safe working conditions, vacation, less than 60 hours work week, children not working in danger....today, they make sure there is no return to an abuse of power over workers. Even right to work states benefit from union activity.  Union members get fired, every day, they just don't get fired because the boss doesn't like them for dating his sister, because they took time off to be with their very sick child or spouse, both instances that have been in news lately.  You and your 'like friend...What a bunch of self-ignorant user and losers.

spoton101
spoton101

Staying on topic, I repeat those attendents need to be fired.

And this isn't the 1950's.

Look around you. There aren't many american workers left.  The unions make sure work keep going overseas.

Finally, some of us want to work 60 hours a week and get paid overtime.

retphxfire
retphxfire

nice how you ignored the most important aspects of the benefits you rec'd because of unions....safe working conditions, child labor, unfettered abuse, ability to be with sick family without being fired...You miss another point, big surprise, you want to work for overtime, GREAT.  What happened before unions, people were forced to work 6-7 days/wk, long, long hours, no overtime, no living wage.  You just confirmed my previous statements...self-imposed ignorance. BTW, didn't say they shouldn't be fired.

uckermanf
uckermanf

So, let me get this straight...you are upset with unions because YOU don't have a job which gives you benefits like overtime pay? What a ridiculously selfish argument! You are a seriously confused!

Unions aren't what's making jobs go overseas. You are guilty of trying to demonize one thing to create some clear boogeyman to blame things one. Unions were around LONG BEFORE American corporations started off-shoring jobs to the extent that have. Corporate greed and too much focus on lining the pockets of shareholders rather than creating a strong national economy, coupled with an increasingly poorly educated workforce (because Americans increasingly don't want to KNOW anything), coupled with people not wanting to pay a fair price for the goods and services they receive is what is leading to the loss of jobs.

Taffyoglen
Taffyoglen

 You wouldn't get overtime, you'd get paid straight time or time off in lieu if it wasn't for unions...

Do you really think these women would have been any more professional if they were non-unionized?

RM4213
RM4213

 yea.. the jobs are going overseas to slave labor markets.. so you want to keep our jobs here but pay 2 bucks an hour with no benefits, unsafe conditions and 80hours/week?  you are correct when you say that Unions are at fault for preventing those conditions in America...

Unions go too far but people forget what corporations did/do to people when given the chance... join the Koch Brothers..kill workers rights... bring those jobs back home... they will be filled by indentured servants and the middle class will wallow in poverty.

David1154
David1154

Sounds like unemployment filings next week will increase by at least 2.

Notadolt
Notadolt

Time to fire both attendants, but AA considers this type of conduct as being good and usual customer service. AA could benefit from training by SW Airlines...

armchrexpert
armchrexpert

SW has flight attendants?  I haven't seen one.  I usually just get some peanuts thrown at me from out of nowhere.

trueb0b
trueb0b

Flying waitresses.

ripperAZ
ripperAZ

named BRUCE

Like the "lady" who popped the slide.

I bet gay drama queens

I am fore gay rights

Not fore DRAMA QUEEN RIGHTS

FORE

Jukwa
Jukwa

As Rick James might have said, PMS is a hell of a condition.  lol

Tara Firma
Tara Firma

Yet, Btown Matrix that is *exactly* what you are doing.

David1154
David1154

Exactly. That's not a fight any man wants to be part of!

dgkdgk
dgkdgk

A man couldn't handle it,  We all know which is the weaker of the two sexes.