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Pilot Letter about UAL MGMT (get ready for a long read...), UAL 895..7/26/08

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Pilot Letter about UAL MGMT (get ready for a long read...), UAL 895..7/26/08

Old 5th Aug 2008, 03:09
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Pilot Letter about UAL MGMT (get ready for a long read...), UAL 895..7/26/08

Repost from another forum; disclaimer: I'm not the original author.



Captain *********
ORDFO *****

July 30, 2008

Captain Steve Wallach, Master Chairman, UAL MEC
Captain Keith Rimer, System Chief Pilot, United Airlines

Dear Captain ***** and Captain *****,

I am writing to you to share my concerns about a recent diversion experience and the related safety, operational, and people issues. Following my letter is a copy of a newspaper Op/Ed that I was handed when I got off of my flight from Saigon today. It was written by a respected Hong Kong businessman/publisher/bookseller who was onboard flight 895.

On July 26, 2008 I was in command of United flight 895 from Chicago to Hong Kong. We elected to abandon our approach in Hong Kong on July 27th, due to reported microburst activity on the field, two aircraft performing missed approaches, a Swiss Air jet ahead of us in a holding pattern, and three or four other aircraft in front of us waiting for an approach, as well as the fact that there were two or three more thunderstorm cells lined up immediately behind the first cell over the airport and rapidly approaching. As we turned toward Macao it became evident that a line of storms was rapidly approaching that airport. On downwind a level four or five storm was just outside the final approach fix and the Chinese controllers attempted to fly us into that storm. I actually had to raise my voice and tone with the controller to get him to turn us toward the airport. While we were still heading outbound on downwind, but in rapidly deteriorating visual conditions, and without any guidance in terms of a radar vector, the controller cleared us for the approach, leaving us to guide ourselves to the localizer – in short, it was a difficult, stressful, and “on your own” kind of situation. Despite strong turbulence and zero visibility in dark, heavy rain off to the left and in front of us, we could see the airport to the right and executed an immediate right turn onto the localizer keeping the airport in sight. We touched down with about 18,800 lbs of fuel and taxied to a hard stand.

Over the next several hours the Flight Operations Duty Managers, *******, and *******, as well as our Dispatchers: *******, *******, and*******, did an outstanding and supportive job, and I take no issue with any of their actions. It is clear to me that virtually the entire Flight Operations Management team at United Airlines today is the best I’ve seen in nearly twenty-four years. I wish I could I say the same for other departments.

You should understand that the flight from Chicago to Hong Kong was scheduled to be 15:25 block to block, and that we were scheduled to arrive Hong Kong at 16:45, or 03:45 Central Time. Due to turbulence the flying copilot and I were able to get very little sleep on our breaks. I believe that I napped for almost three hours and was groggy when I woke up. Thus we were operating on the back side of the clock, fatigued (as much as one normally would be on these flights) and were thrust into a stressful, difficult, and potentially dangerous situation. We knew that we didn’t have all that much time before our duty day became a problem but were hopeful to turn the aircraft quickly.

We parked at a hard stand away from the terminal and coordinated with dispatch and the local operations people (non-United) to fuel the aircraft for our return to Hong Kong. Within just a few minutes the storm that was approaching hit the airport and with heavy rain and lightning the airport and ramp were shut down. I ensured that the passengers and crew were fully advised and constantly informed of any and all information as we received it. We were told that the Macau ramp would be closed for at least an hour to an hour and a half due to the weather and lighting. In fact, the ramp ended up being closed for several hours.

After about an hour on the ground, tired, adrenalin pumped and dumped, and virtually up all night, we were told by our dispatcher that Operations Control (OPB) said that we would be out of duty time in about thirty minutes, at ten minutes after the next hour. It was obvious that we would not be able to turn the aircraft as we didn’t even have fuel and the ramp was still shut down.

At ten minutes after the next hour (still without fuel) I asked dispatch for a phone patch (through SATCOM) to Crew Scheduling (CM). You should know that the SATCOM was extremely unreliable and intermittent during the entire ordeal. We were continuously disconnected and had to call back numerous times each time we attempted contact, which added to the difficulties and frustations. I believe that I spoke with ***** at OPBCM, but I may have the name or scheduler wrong. I stated that we were told that we were out of duty time, or about to be out of duty time to which he replied, “No you’re not.” I explained what we were told. He repeated that we weren’t out of duty. I asked him when we’d be out of duty. He replied, “In three minutes.” The first officers and I looked at each other in astonishment. It was as if the crew scheduler was playing a game. For all intent and purpose when a 747 is sitting on the ground in Macau, with the airport shut down, no fuel, and no way to go anywhere for at least an hour, three minutes is a formality, a semantic, and ******* could have stated at the outset that we would be illegal in just a few minutes. For all practical purposes we were out of duty time and not in the mood to play games. But what we got from Antoinne was reminiscent of a discussion with an adolescent about bed a bed time. A cockpit crew that has been flying all night, is de-stressing from a hairy arrival and approach at an unfamiliar airport on the other side of the world with 300 passengers onboard, and who are working their butts off to take care of said passengers, do not need this kind of nonsense from a crew scheduler.

The conversation turned to the question of the crew waiving duty time to get the airplane to Hong Kong. Mr. Tilton has explained that employee morale is not his problem and has violated his promise of “shared sacrifice, shared reward,” thus leaving most pilots I know to feel demoralized, disconnected from the company, and feeling like there is little hope that United will survive in the long run or that the company cares about us at all. So once the operation falls outside of the contract most of us feel that it is not unreasonable to be compensated at a reasonable level commensurate with our responsibilities, roles, and obligations. ******* said that United would offer us each five hours of pay to waive our contract and fly the airplane to Hong Kong. I am personally not motivated by money. In my case my mother is suffering from lung cancer and my time off to care for her, to help her with various issues and needs, or just to be with her as much as I can is more important to me than five hours of pay. I explained to the crew that I would rather have my next trip dropped than to take money. The copilots agreed and we all decided that we would waive the contract for a paid trip drop. It seemed a no brainer to us because a reserve would be paid to sit around anyway whether they fly or not – so this was no cash out of the companies coffers.

I explained to ******** that as long as we were not too fatigued to fly by the time we got fuel that we would waive duty time if the crew desk would drop our next IDs and pay protect us. ******** said no, that the crew desk doesn’t make deals with pilots, and that they were offering five hours, take it or leave it. I explained that I didn’t understand how this was a smart decision on the company’s part as five hours of pay is cold, hard cash, and that a reserve flying our trip is going to get paid whether he flies or not, and that we would get paid if we flew our trips and so it would be cost neutral to the company. ******** said no. It seemed as if there was some kind of contest going on, a contest of wills, that rather than make a good and smart business decision, the crew desk was determined to stare us down seemingly believing that there was no way that we would refuse their deal. We were told numerous times that there were no hotel rooms in Macau available, and that the last ferry out of town was either booked or not operating – this information kept changing. But the overriding theme seemed to be, you guys have no choice but to accept our deal. I then asked the FODM, ********** for assistance. He said that it was out of his control but that he would bring it to the OPB manager. The OPB manager denied the request.

We were now out of duty time and committed to the airplane since we were not at a gate and there was no way off the airplane while the airport and ramp were shut down.

Over the next several hours we were informed by OPB (through dispatch) that:
· There was not a single hotel available on the island of Macau.
· There were no flights available from Macau to Hong Kong.
· All of the Ferry boats were booked and unavailable.

When requests for information about helicopter service (which is scheduled and regular) were requested the idea was dismissed by OPB and CM.

It was clear, based on information that we learned later about what our options really were, that United Operations wanted us to feel that we had no alternative but to fly the airplane out of Macau. We were rapidly approaching the point of no return in terms of fatigue.

We continued to share all of the information with our passengers that the company provided, including that they could not get off the airplane because it was no longer under Portuguese control, and was now under Chinese control. I wanted them to understand the situation. We did our best to keep them informed, comfortable, and safe. The flight attendants did a professional and excellent job. Despite this the passengers were getting frustrated, angry, belligerent, and furious with United Airlines. When I would bring this to the attention of OPB it seemed as if they didn’t care. It seemed as if they were happy to let us stew on the airplane with the passengers because we refused to waive the contract. We were being punished. Once again, after an hour, I requested (almost begged) OPB to accept our offer and suggestion to drop our trips and let us get the airplane and passengers to Hong Kong. The entire ordeal could have been over in another thirty minutes as the fueler was enroute. The response was an abrupt, “No!”

Meanwhile the fueler showed up and told us that he had no idea how to fuel a 747. First Officer****not only went out to supervise but actually did the fueling. Without the actions and knowledge of First Officer **** the aircraft would not have been fueled. I was handed a fuel slip and put it on the forward lower EICAS display along with other paper work for the next crew. The next day, in Hong Kong, we were asked if we had the fuel slip. I told operations that we left it on the airplane.

I advised OPB (through Dispatch) that the passengers were getting hostile and angry, and that there were belligerent individuals coming to the cockpit. Despite the fact that we kept the passengers informed, and that many of them were thanking us for the job we were doing, they were furious with United because the information I was giving them (from OPB) about hotels, and ferries was contrary to information that they were receiving from their cell phones and computers. I apologized but told them that I was merely passing along what I was being told. It was getting so bad that I told OPB and CM that I wanted to get off the airplane. We were ordered to remain on the airplane until further notice, this came from the OPB and CM managers. We were told that the company was now “mounting a rescue operation,” or a “recovery operation”, I don’t recall the exact terminology, and that they were going to bring pilots in from Hong Kong via ferry boat. I asked how long this would take. It was now approximately 7:00 PM in Macau (6:00 AM CT). The crew had been on duty for nearly twenty hours. They told us that they were anticipating a 22:45 (L) departure (10:45 AM CT) and that we would have to remain with the aircraft until then. This would have put us on duty and on the airplane for five minutes short of 24 hours.

Meanwhile a passenger came to the cockpit and advised us that he knew that there were rooms in Macau at the Venetian Hotel. We called CM again and asked for rooms. They told us that there were no rooms and that even if there were that they don’t book rooms and that we would have to work through HKG operations, despite the fact that we had no means to contact HKG operations.

CM continued to stare us down as if to see who would blink first, as if they thought that at some point we would give in and just fly the plane to HKG. What they didn’t realize was that at this point we were well beyond being able to fly safely due to fatigue.

I instructed First Officer ***** to borrow a cell phone from local operations and reserve four rooms for us at the Venetian. I called the FODM who authorized me to book the rooms and to be reimbursed. The hotel had only five rooms available which were all suites. I booked the rooms with my personal credit card.

We received information that the flight attendants were out of duty time and that they needed to call the Flight Attendant Crew Desk (OPBSK) and speak with *****. The flight attendants had been doing an outstanding job of representing United and taking care of our customers, and were making the most out of an intolerable situation. I am convinced that if it weren’t for their actions we would have had a mutiny on board. Numerous passengers came up to me and thanked me for the way that the crew was treating them despite the information (or lack of it) and support that we were getting from Headquarters.

The purser came to the cockpit and we attempted communications with OPBSK’s *****. At first ***** was very pleasant. And for the most part the tone of her voice remained that way through most dealings. She told the purser that they were out of duty time and requested that they waive their contract to fly back to HKG with the new pilots. The purser asked what was being offered as incentive to do this. ***** said that the company would offer 5 for 1, or 1 for 5 (I don’t recall now). The purser advised that she would talk to the crew. After discussion the crew decided that they wanted the time and also wanted to deadhead home from HKG on their scheduled flight as they were tired from the diversion ordeal. ***** told them that they would have to work their flight home and that it was either the credit time or nothing. The purser advised that the crew would thus not waive the contract and would like to be put up in Macau at a hotel for legal rest. ** ***** advised them that there were no hotels in Macau available and that they would have to deadhead to HKG. The purser advised that they were out of duty time and that they would waive their duty time to deadhead to HKG in exchange for the offered credit time. ***** now rescinded her offer of credit time in exchange for duty waiver because the flight attendants weren’t going to work. She said, “You can’t have the 5 for 1 since you’re not flying, and since there are no hotel rooms in Macau if you get off the airplane you’ll have no where to go, and so I’ll just show you deadheading to HKG to work your trip home.”

I sat in my seat shaking my head. ***** was certain that she had the flight attendants in a box. She resorted to vicious power playing to intimidate them into flying and accepting “her deal” or they would be forced to deadhead and defacto waive duty time by default because United would not provide for, or even attempt to provide for their needs in terms of a layover in Macau.

The purser told ***** that this was not acceptable and that the crew needed to layover in Macau. ******* said, “There are no rooms so we’re not offering you any deals.” The message was loud and clear; we’ve got you by the short hairs. Once again the company was showing no compassion, no respect, and no empathy or understanding to a crew that was going through a seriously fatiguing and physically demanding situation after twenty hours on duty. The passengers were beating up on them on one side and the company (through *******) was bashing them on the other side. At this very moment I felt more disconnected, more mistrustful, more embarrassed, and more disgusted about working for United Airlines than I have ever in my nearly twenty-four year career—because what was being demonstrated wasn’t a single individual being cruel, or lying, or harassing – it was virtually the whole operations department other than the Dispatchers and FODMs.

At this time First Officer ***** handed me a slip of paper that read that there were fifteen rooms at the airport hotel, The China Hotel, which he learned from a passenger. I advised the Purser who advised **. *****. ***** tone did change now. It went up a few notches in pitch. She said that the information was wrong and that there were no hotels. I took the microphone and advised her that she was wrong, that we had confirmed and reserved the rooms, and that the flight attendants needed vouchers. She said that there would be no vouchers and that the flight attendants would have to pay for the rooms and expense them. I told her that I would pay for the rooms on my credit card and that United Airlines would reimburse me.

I asked the Dispatcher to get the OPB manager on the line. When he answered I expressed my disgust with the entire manner in which we were all being treated, in the intimidation, and harassment, and that for the life of me I couldn’t understand how he could make a decision to strand three hundred people at Macau, destroy so much good will, discount the excellent work we did in landing there safely, all because he wouldn’t allow us to drop our trips which would have cost the company nothing. When one considers the cost/value equation for this disastrous fiasco, the good will lost to passengers and employees, the bad feelings created, etc. … well, I sure hope that someone will be accountable for the carnage.

After the aircraft was towed to a gate (towed because I was so fatigued after 23 hours of duty, as well as dealing with WHQ, that I felt it unwise to start engines and taxi the airplane under its own power), the passengers were let off, and we received clearance from the FODM to leave and go to our hotels before the next crew arrived.

At the hotel we requested that our IDs be updated before we went to bed so that we would know what was going to happen the next day and so that we could finally get some rest. This was not to be. I was forced to wake up early (after only five hours of sleep) and check my computer to see if an update was done because I had no idea what kind of rest requirements we needed and I could barely tell someone my age much less figure out a duty day and rest time. In checking the computer it had not been accomplished. I called OPBCM and requested this be done. It took about another four phone calls and five or six hours for ***** to accomplish this. Meanwhile he told us that we’d have to take a ferry boat from Macau to Hong Kong at 17:30 leaving the hotel at 16:30. I told him that until the ID was updated that I would not go anywhere because I didn’t know if I’d had legal rest. In conversations with me he was rude and continuously cut me off every time I tried to explain anything. It got to the point that I had to have First Officer ***** speak to ***** because I grew tired of his nasty attitude. Eventually, after ***** updated our IDs with the proper times, we learned that we didn’t have enough rest and couldn’t leave until 19:45. I had been dealing with this mess since about 10:00 AM until approximately 15:00 – so much for a restful layover.

After discussions with First Officer ***** I was concerned that we were being forced to ride on a public ferry boat that was neither inspected by ALPA, approved by ALPA, or had any type of security or screening for passengers. I spoke with **** (HKCS Manager), who apparently arranged the ferry boat ride, and she assured me in no uncertain terms that the boat was not for the public but rather for guests of the Venetian Hotel. I asked her specifically, “Are you saying that nobody can just buy a ticket on the ferry?” She said, “Yes.” I queried the hotel manager who told me that what ***** told me was not true. I called the FODM with my concerns and reservations. I told him that I was uncomfortable riding on a ferry in any case, and very concerned that United Airlines was forcing me to ride on public transportation with no security measures onboard. I told him that there were other options including a helicopter. The company has used this option many times in the past. I also told him, because I didn’t want to disrupt the operation anymore than it had been, that if he ordered me to go that I would, but that I wanted this reflected in my CALREC or ID. He said that he would do that and that we were ordered to go on the ferry.

It is clear to me that the company was using intimidation and the threat of having no where to stay to push the crew into flying the airplane. The outright hostility, punishment, and complete lack of cooperation and respect that was directed toward my entire crew, simply because we chose to respect our contract, a contract that the CEO has clearly informed us is ours and that we must live by for the foreseeable future, is intolerable. All of it could have been easily avoided if the OPB Manager had simply made a wise and cost effective business decision.

I have learned (from the article below) that the passengers finally made it back to Hong Kong at 2:30 AM, about 10 hours late.

Respectfully,
/s/
Captain *******
ryu2 is offline  
Old 5th Aug 2008, 12:56
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this should be called: HELL IN THE PACIFIC

The deal for a dropped trip is part of the gotcha.

Either you are too tired to fly or it is illegal to fly...but I feel for the pilots.

At one time, United would have done the right thing...take care of pax and crew...now its money and decisions are made by people in a nice comfortable office building thousands of miles from trouble.

Stories like this make me glad I didn't choose international flying. go to new york LGA, divert and you get stuck in EWR...at least EWR is part of the USA and you can take a cab.

YIKES
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Old 5th Aug 2008, 13:34
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Just walk.

ryu2,

The only thing to do is walk away. No pilot, no fly. That's what the passengers expect you to do. It works every time. Don't let the muppets get you down!

DB
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Old 5th Aug 2008, 14:36
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I was a passenger in that flight and can vouch that whatever the Captain said was true. The Captain was Garry Kravits. It was a complete mess by UAL and we reached Hong Kong at 2.30 AM on 28th and I reached home at 4 AM after being 33 hours on the road as I connected to UA - 895 after coming into ORD on a domestic leg.

It was ridiculous, the way in which the whole incident was handled.
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Old 5th Aug 2008, 14:49
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Without steps I suppose it would have been out the DV window into a dark, wet hotel-less night.
I worries me to see how bad it can get.
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Old 5th Aug 2008, 14:52
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This forum has publicised the many failings of 1-2-Go/Orient Thai and it's CEO Udom Tantiprasongchai.
It seems to me that the actions taken by United Airlines management are not dissimilar.
Udom is accused of pushing crews into accepting 'hours over the top'. What's the difference with what UAL attempted to do with their crew stranded at Macao?
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Old 5th Aug 2008, 14:57
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This is shameful actions from UAL management. The pilots did a great job under stressful conditions. I will avoid flying UAL in future if management want to cut corners.
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Old 5th Aug 2008, 18:33
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Thanks ryu2. Where was it originally posted? I'd love to see what pax had to say.


I applaud that entire crew for how they treated the situation. I hope UAL learns a lesson after putting pax and dedicated crew members through the ordeal.
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Old 5th Aug 2008, 18:47
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It does highlight how much has an aircraft commander's decision making responsibility been undermined, whilst at the same time he is faced with unnecessary grief from a department that is established to support the operation. Anyone out there who still remembers Tenerife?

The possibility that van Zanten was in a hurry to commence the delayed flight due to Dutch regulations on exceeding crew duty hours.
Easy for me to say sat in my comfortable armchair, but I would have walked after being treated like that.
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Old 5th Aug 2008, 19:49
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Link to the opinion piece by the passenger here:

The Standard - Hong Kong's First FREE English Newspaper

Incidentally, I first came across this letter to UAL mgmt while reading the blog of Joe Sharkey (the reporter travelling on the infamous Embraer Legacy in Brazil) and subsequently at Airliners.net. Only, both of those stories seem to have disappeared into thin air now. Wonder why?
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Old 5th Aug 2008, 20:23
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In reply to Finn47, I suspect the reason the posts on Sharkey's blog and Airliners.net were withdrawn, or removed, is that they printed the letter without redaction. A little judicious googling will probably locate both those posts in Google's cache; you'll find it fairly simple to locate Sharkey's post there. Oftenfly

Last edited by Oftenfly; 5th Aug 2008 at 20:26. Reason: Wrong reference!
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Old 5th Aug 2008, 20:45
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The deal for a dropped trip is part of the gotcha.

Either you are too tired to fly or it is illegal to fly...but I feel for the pilots.
...that for the life of me I couldn’t understand how he could make a decision to strand three hundred people at Macau, destroy so much good will, discount the excellent work we did in landing there safely, all because he wouldn’t allow us to drop our trips ...
The captain is whining that the company wouldn't buy his demand for a custom non-contractual trip drop, that kinda weakens the fatigue and safety argument in my mind. And the ferry boats weren't inspected by ALPA? A thousand violins...

This is legacy union mentality on a very legacy failing airline. We'll see how much longer it lasts.

I've flown on UA 895 in business class several times, the service is not red hot by international standards. The cabin crews are, shall we say, quite senior and have attitudes.

The Captain was Garry Kravits.
Hmmm, I know that name from somewhere...
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Old 5th Aug 2008, 21:06
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Hmm - Willing and able, ...

but not without a "special deal"

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Old 5th Aug 2008, 21:56
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I know quite a few UAL crew, they continue to be royally shafted, I don't blame then one bit for being angry and frustrated.
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Old 6th Aug 2008, 00:05
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UAL may not survive since they are currently in the Pan Am, TWA model in a world of oil company monopolies and two-fisted middle management.

Nobody on that airplane's going to come back to UAL unless they have to. I know I wouldn't. Why should a pax stand for being lied to about hotel room availability etc, and then made a prisoner in a metal tube while stegosauruses with an attitude refuse to serve them water and bitch at them like they're going to go to jail if they try to use the head? For nearly 24 hours? What if somebody has a medical condition? Arteriolar Thrombosis is no laughing matter. Deadly leg blood clots can kill you three days later.

While the pilots are perfect gentlemen imho and try to consider everybody's perspective (safety, pax, FA, workrules), I've witnessed this UAL middle management mexican standoff a few times and it reminded me of a bunch of lawyers all breaking out their ringed binders trying to decipher complex ambiguous contractual language....

Maybe UAL needs to go to the SWA model and sack about eight layers of middle management. Then let the people in the field make the common sense decisions, not some power-hungry turd in a sky-scrapper in Chicago...

Meanwhile give me Cathay, Singapore, EVA anyday.....
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Old 6th Aug 2008, 00:58
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I first saw the posting on Flyertalk. They seem to have taken it down as well, but the Google cached version is here:

Pilot Letter about UAL MGMT (get ready for a long read...), UAL 895..7/26/08 - FlyerTalk Forums

Let's hope PPRuNe has more fortitude to stand up and keep this post alive.
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Old 6th Aug 2008, 00:59
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Pretty simple, your illegal don't fly the airplane, don't taxi it. Find a hotel, and sleep, add the necessary time to the rest until your legal, then report for duty. If you had any issue who do you think is going to get hung out?
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Old 6th Aug 2008, 01:18
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I have to say that there is a lot of blame to go around here.

First, UAL management. A diversion from HKG to MFM is hardly an off the wall scenario. If you are going to carry 300+ passengers your first priority should be to take care of 300+ passengers. MBA degrees notwithstanding.

The Captain lost the high ground when he made moving the airplane part of a deal. You are legal or you are not. You are safe or you are not. Anything else comes the morning after with a call to your Chief Pilot.

But I do feel for the crew and passengers. Before I retire I would again like to ride on an international flight on an American airline where the management actually gives a d*** about running the airline.
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Old 6th Aug 2008, 02:15
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Typical UAL

I flew for UAL as a flight attendant based in London in the early to mid 90's. This is a typical reaction from the morons in Chicago. Completely out of touch with the operations side, esp. Internationally. Blatant disregard for Pilot/FA agreements. The customers were viewed as a problem, and only feedback from high yielding 100K plus customers was vaguely listened to (according to the useless masses at EXO). Friends who are still there say things have become 100's worse since chapter 11...

Unfortunatetly UAL have turned once loyal dedicated employees into extremely demoralised workers...wonder how long they will last...Someone give Tilton and his mob of incompetents their marching orders.
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Old 6th Aug 2008, 02:58
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SLF Here.

The issue IMHO is that 300+ PAX were stranded in the aircraft because the Captain and the UAL were unable to reach a deal.
UAL management actions are
I find the Captain actions questionable, he did use 300+ as bargain bin to get what he wanted, he did show why PAX are called SLFs. At the end he got his hotel room, while the PAX stayed on the a/c...
I am ready for the bashing, however IMHO he is as guilty as UAL management.

AN
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