Thursday, February 19, 2009

USAirways Pilot Demands New Times' Notes; Latest in suit Against Whistleblowing Flight Attendants

US Airways Pilot Demands New Times' Notes; Latest in Suit Against Whistleblowing Flight Attendants
By Sarah Fenske in NewsTuesday, Feb. 17 2009 @ 4:05PM

Victor J. Palagano III
These three Phoenix-based crew members face a lawsuit from a US Airways pilot.
Two weeks ago, we told you the shocking story of three local flight attendants facing a lawsuit from a US Airways pilot. Their crime? Daring to report their safety concerns to federal regulators.

Now New Times is getting sucked into the litigation. Henry Stein, the Mesa-based attorney representing First Officer Ed Gannon, filed a subpoena last week demanding that we turn over all our notes, as well as any documents provided to us by the flight attendants. He's also, apparently, attempting to subpoena information about people who've posted messages on the Web site erected by the flight attendants to raise money for their defense. Doesn't this guy have anything better to do?

A little background: As America West Flight 851 was about to leave Calgary, Alberta in 2003, all three flight attendants on board grew alarmed by the presence of some frosty contamination on the wings -- and the pilots' insistence that there was no reason to de-ice them before takeoff. Ice on the wings can be a huge deal; just look at some of the coverage of the Contintental flight that crashed in Buffalo, New York, last week, and you'll get the picture.

Finally, thanks to the flight attendants' persistence, the first officer on Flight 851, Gannon, finally agreed to de-ice. But upon landing in Phoenix, the flight attendants were alarmed enough to report the incident to the FAA.

To them, this was a question of safety. And though the FAA ultimately closed its investigation without taking action, and even agreed to foot the bill for some of First Officer Ed Gannon's attorney's fees, we think it's pretty clear the flight attendants did the right thing by reporting their concerns.

But Gannon didn't take the incident as a teachable moment. Instead, he filed suit against flight attendants Paula Walker, Brian Shunick, and Sue Burris in Maricopa County Superior Court, alleging defamation.

The suit appears to be the very definition of frivolous.

"Flight attendants are not only acting from a moral oligation when they report problems like this, but there's also a statutory rule requiring them to do so," says Daniel S. Riley, an attorney at Curry, Pearson & Wooten representing the flight attendants. And, in Arizona, statements made in reports to agencies like the FAA, the police, the State Bar, or even the Better Business Bureau, are also "immune" from defamation claims, Riley says. The flight attendants were clearly within their rights.

But Judge Christopher Whitten initially resisted dismissing Gannon's claims on summary judgement. (He tossed out some of Gannon's arguments, including "infliction of emotional distress," but kept alive the defamation claim.) As the suit drags on, the flight attendants have been forced to pay tens of thousands of dollars for their defense -- bizarrely, US Airways refuses to cover them.

Now you can add New Times to the list of people being forced to pay lawyers so Gannon can work out his issues in the courtroom. Sigh.

But there is one way we might get off the hook. Last week, the new judge on the case, Judge Louis Araneta, heard the flight attendants' lawyers argue that he should toss the entire case out of court. If the judge does so, and does it soon, we'll be off the hook.

You can bet we're hoping for a good quick verdict on this one. Times are hard enough; who's got money for lawyers?


The Fly by Wife said...

First of all this suit should never have been allowed in court in the first place. It's exactly this sort of nonsense that fills up the court dockets taking time away from more relavant issues.

The US Air FO is clearly an idiot at best for not appreciating the additional sets of eyes helping him conduct a safe flight. Bet that Colgan Air Q 400 FO wishes she'd had an FA with the good sense to say something.

Instead, this guy's shorts are in a big bunch up his obviously too tight back end for him to see that he's really just making an even bigger ass of himself.

If he was that traumatized by the entire series of events, let's hope US Air has at least some intelligence and has stopped this lunatic from flying. But I'm betting that hasn't happened.

And while we're at it, isn't there some rule with the FAA about pilots being grounded if they're being treated for mental problems? Hmmmm, makes me wonder how Gannon's kept his stripes. Did he falsefy his medical? Or is he lying in his lawsuit?

As for the FA's who DID THEIR JOB; AWESOME PERFOMANCE FOLKS ... keep up the good work and keep your chins up. Karma really does exist!

poohkie said...

Several years ago I was on a flight from Russia returning to the United States. I had my seat assignment over the wing so I could make sure that there would be no ice on the wing before take off. When the de-icer was finished I saw that there were still patches of ice on the wing and I reported it to the flight attendant. She spoke with the pilot and returned to me saying that he thought it would be okay and was I comfortable with that. I said that I could not understand how he thought he could reasonably access the situation from the cockpit and "no" I was not okay. She returned to tell the pilot and he followed her back to my seat. After looking out the window he said he still thought it was okay and was I comforatble now, to which I again stated "NO". He returned to the cockpit and made an announcement that the flight was going to be delayed because a passenger had a concern about ice on the wing and that he was trying to reach the "tower" so they could have the de-icer sent back out to clean the wings again. After the de-icer again attempted to remove the ice it did not reappear. The pilot once again made an announcement that the solution in the de-icing machine was very low and would only go down to 5 degrees below zero and should effectively be at least 30 degress below zero. The entire time I had been trying to reach my father a US AIRLINES CAPTAIN to find out how much ice was too much ice. His answer was "any ice" is too much ice and will effect the lift of the plane. I did the exact same thing those three flight attendants did and I saved an entire plane full of passengers as well as the Captain and his crew. Any Judge sitting on those flights would have be grateful to our persistance in having all ice removed....wouldn't you? "Safety First" in the Fire Fighters Moto and should have been the moto of that Pilot's as well. What is deframation of character? The only people worth claining any character are the Flight Attendants. Right on Girls....and I am sure you would do the same thing in their position. They should be receiving Bonusus not Legal Bills!!!!