Thirteen flight attendants filed a whistle-blower complaint against United Airlines on Wednesday, alleging that they were fired in retaliation for refusing to fly after discovering drawings on the aircraft's tail that they found menacing.
On July 14, 2014, United crews departing from San Francisco International Airport bound for Hong Kong found the words "BYE BYE" in six-inch high letters alongside two faces, one smiling and the other one also smiling, but with eye brows drawn in a more sinister expression. The writing was traced in an oil slick from the auxiliary engine in the Boeing 747-4000 aircraft's tail cone.
In the 26-page complaint, the flight attendants said that the markings constituted a"credible and specific threat to the safety of the aircraft." The flight attendants informed United officials they were uncomfortable flying unless extra security measures were taken. They asked for deplaning the 300-plus passengers and a safety sweep to ensure that no explosive devices were planted on the plane.
According to the complaint, United refused to comply with their request.
In a statement released Wednesday, United spokeswoman Christen David said that three divisions thoroughly investigated the drawings, including conducting additional security checks, before determining there was no 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," David said in a written statement.
The crew said they were already on heightened alert after the disappearance of Malaysian Flight 370 and a warning issued a week earlier from the Transportation Security Administration about possible phone and laptop bombs.
"Given the gravity of the risk involved -- the lives of passengers and crew alike -- we 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," Grace Lam, a veteran flight attendant, said in a press statement.
The airline accused the flight attendants of insubordination and fired them.
The complaint was filed with the U.S Department of Labor, which adjudicates airline whistle blower complaints.