Airline Balks At Footing FAs Legal Bills Because Of 'White
Three former America West (now US
Airways) flight attendants are facing a costly court battle on
their own, stemming from a 2003 flight from Calgary to Phoenix that
has sparked controversy and a defamation suit filed by the First
Officer against the FAs.
The Phoenix New Times reports Paula Walker, Sue Burris and Brian
Shunick were the FAs working aboard America West Flight 851 on that
cold wintry morning in 2003. Walker had mentioned de-icing the
frosty airplane to FO Ed Gannon, who dismissed the FA's concerns.
Walker's further appeal to the captain was also fruitless.
"We had to think of something fast," Walker said. All three FAs
were experienced, averaging 20 years of service apiece. "I've been
with this company 20-something years," Shunick says. "I see ice on
the wings, I know what it is."
The FAs weren't the only ones who noticed the icy plane and
sensed something out of the ordinary. De-icer crewman Arnie Getz
said, "At about 6:15 [am], my de-icing partner... approached a
member of the flight crew, asking if they were going to require a
de-icer. They said no, that they were fine. We were both surprised,
because we could see the frost on the wings and the fuselage."
Alarmed that the pilots had pushed back and chosen to depart
without de-icing the frosty airplane, the trio stretched the truth
-- calling the cockpit with a fabricated story, stating that
passengers had become concerned about ice on the wings.
Walker said the FO then took another look at the frost-covered
wings and begrudgingly relented, grumbling, "Now we have to de-ice
to cover our ass." America West Flight 851 departed Calgary
de-iced, and arrived in Phoenix safely and on time. Walker and her
fellow flight attendants may well have saved Flight 851 from
The incident was so disturbing to the FAs that, immediately upon
landing at Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport, the three filed a
complaint at the airline's on-site offices. "I'd never in my
then-18 years written up anybody for anything," Walker said. Burris
said she'd never before filed a complaint, either. "But this was a
potential catastrophe. To fly with contamination . . . You just
don't do that."
Shortly after Walker, Barris and Schunik filed their report of
the incident with the Federal Aviation Administration, FO Gannon
filed a $2 million suit against the three -- alleging
According to their union contract, legal expenses for lawsuits
against FAs for actions taken while on official duty are to be
provided for by the airline, but so far US Airways has refused to
pay a penny for the FAs' defense.
The loophole? If determined to be guilty of "willful
misconduct," the employee is on their own. This raises the moral
question of defining "misconduct" - is it wrong to make up a story
to save lives that one believes are in imminent danger?
The case is expected go to trial soon, possibly pushing the FAs'
legal bills into six figures. The three have set up a website to
appeal for donations to offset legal expenses, which have been paid
for so far by refinancing their homes and paying out-of-pocket.
Attorney Michael Pearson, representing the flight attendants,
said, "When I got involved in this case and they said the company
wasn't covering their defense, I was very surprised. They should be
treated as heroes, not ostracized."
FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said, "We did not take any action
against the pilot in the case... I cannot comment on the
allegations, other than to say that we were unable to substantiate
them. Please note that this does not necessarily mean that we
doubted the word of the flight attendants. It simply means that we
were unable to prove the allegations."