10 Questions I Know You’re Dying To Ask A United Airlines Flight Attendant

10 questions ask united flight attendant


One of the cool things about traveling and working at a major airport is I meet so many people from all around the world. One of my girlfriends who is a flight attendant has been following the United 3411 story and has agree to answer some questions for me from an employee perspective. 

1. How long have you been working as a flight attendant?
 12 years
2. Have you ever been called to go to work at the last minute?
 Of course! Either I was on “reserve” which means I’m knowingly on-call for a predetermined amount of time in case I need to replace another FA (got sick, family issues, flat tire, etc.) or they are all out of reserves and are now calling lineholders (those of us with set schedules) offering incentives for me to pick up a trip (which will be cancelled, if they can’t find someone to cover it).
3. Are there FA on call at every airport?
 No. Only in hub cities. And again, those cities can and do run out of on call FAs.
4. As a FA, what is the standard practice when someone won’t get out of their seat after you have asked them to de-plane?
  We reason with them, then another FA will try, then maybe a pilot will get involved. Customer service/gate agents are called, and then the GSO (ground service coordinator, generally a supervisor) and THEN law enforcement (unless the passenger has escalated, then law enforcement may be called more quickly).
5. Ok, let’s talk about the United flight 3411. If you had been on that flight as the FA, would you have been able to offer the passenger more money for the voucher?
 As an FA I don’t have any authority to offer a darn thing except some drinks, snacks, and a sympathetic ear. In-flight has separate responsibilities and capabilities than the ground personnel. But I don’t believe that any gate agent can just arbitrarily decide how much to offer, either.
I imagine  (and admit I don’t know for sure) that the amount offered for vouchers has something to do with the market; is it high season? Are there very limited flights to this destination? The more valuable the seat, the more they would offer for the vouchers. That said, it wouldn’t be a fiscally prudent business model to allow passengers to haggle for ever-increasing voucher limits. Where’s the cap?
6. Can you explain what it means to “Dead Head” and what “Must Ride” means?
 “Dead head” and “must ride” are very similar terms. They basically mean that the company is relocating on-duty crewmembers on a passenger flight. But I learned recently that a “must ride” is exactly how it sounds; this crewmember is *required* by the company to go on a certain flight.
So for example, when my company sends me to my annual recertification training, I’m a “must ride” and take precedence over other passengers. If the flight is full someone will be bumped to make space for me. On my way home from that training, I’m still “deadheading” but I’m not a “must ride”, so I’ll get a seat ahead of other standbys if there is space available, whether they be paying passengers or crew, but it’s at the company’s discretion whether to bump if the flight is full (because, although I’m still considered to be on-duty, it isn’t important to the airline that I get home. It was only important to them to get me to training so I didn’t dequalify).
7. When you have to get to work and the plane is full, what is the standard practice to get you on the flight?
  The standard practice is to solicit for volunteers to accept compensation in exchange for a later flight, and if no volunteers come forward after several increasing offers, then passengers are selected  according to when they checked in, and possibly when they purchased their ticket and how much they paid for it.  
if someone is involuntarily removed, they are bumped to the next available flight and still compensated.
If the next flight gets them to their destination within an hour of their original arrival time, they don’t get compensation. But assuming that they get to their destination later that evening or even the next day, yeah, they are entitled to compensation.
8. If you were scheduled to fly on Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville, could you have rented a car and driven?
 Could I have? Sure, the better question is whether it would be feasible or effective? No. I would not likely get there in time to prevent the cancellation of the flight that I was being repositioned for in the first place. And even if I could beat the clock, I would have superceded my on-duty time and would no longer be legal (read: safe) to work that next flight. So its going to be canceled anyway.
9. The crew on Flight 3411 had another flight they had to work. What would have happened if the crew hadn’t been able to get to work?
 That other flight would have been canceled and quite probably initiated a domino effect causing other flights to cancel, causing hundreds of other passengers inconvenience because no one volunteered and this ONE out of four passengers who were removed didn’t comply. And it isn’t like one pilot or one flight attendant could be left behind. The FAA requires a certain number of FAs per seats/passengers on a plane.


The airline needed that crew to move an aircraft from point A to point B. Point A is Louisville (which is not a hub for United and therefore doesn’t have crewmembers ready on-call), let’s say point B is Houston. So if the crew deadheading on #3411 can’t get to Louisville, then the Louisville-Houston flight cancels. Airline loses money. All 150-200 of those passengers will attempt to be accommodated on OTHER flights, which now makes those flights oversold (so it isn’t always about the airlines being “greedy” for profiting by accounting for expected/average no-shows and misconnects) and most of those passengers are likely also missing connecting flights as well because Houston is a hub. They’ll go on to cause oversold situations on other flights in other cities as well. 


10. Why couldn’t they just call other crew members or put them on another flight? 
There are not unlimited aircraft in the system just waiting like rental cars in a lot! So the aircraft and crew that didn’t make it from Louisville-Houston now are not in position to work Houston to Orlando the next morning! Say bye-bye to Disneyworld, kids, because no one volunteered and this one man refused to get up. All of those passengers are now pushed to later flights, causing them to be….say it with me now, oversold. And on and on it goes.


That one crew is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, between their pay, and the hotel stays for each of them, loss of company incentives for completed and on-time departures, vouchers and refunds due to a canceled flight(s), if that crew cannot be repositioned to where the airline needs them to be to work another flight. 

 So it is much more valuable to a company to get their crew where they need them to be than to appease a passenger or three. Cold, but it’s a fact.


Final thought: I truly am not here for the “But he was a doctor!” line of reasoning. That makes him more worthy of travel than the McDonald’s cashier going to a family reunion, or the lawyer who is on their way to a funeral, or the accountant who is headed on their honeymoon? Everyone, every passenger, has a story, and all of them can come up with valid reasons for why they *have* to make this flight.


 What do you think about what happened on Flight 3411? 




I’m Roni, The Travel Guru. 

Did you know I wrote a book on Paris

Did you know I sell Packing Cubes and Luxury Travel Kits

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  1. Soooo…Does that mean using force and hurting an innocent man? Insightful, and offers anothwr perspective, but also ignores the inhumane treatment. Shame on United!

  2. What about NOT overbooking flights? What about reserving two (or how ever many is necessary) seats on every single flight no matter what? These seats would be for company emergencies. I think this would be WAY better than selecting paying customers to get off the flight.

    Customers plan when they are going to fly. This means that many arrangements are made ahead of time, so to just ask someone to get off a flight is a BIG deal. I am going to Florida for only four days in June. My ticket has been purchased since January. Thankfully I am not flying United, but the point is that many plans have been made since January. For example:
    Five other sisters have requested days off from work
    We have paid in full for a beach house
    We have arranged for a family dinner on a specific day
    We have tickets to a show on a specific day
    We are going to a museum again, on a specific day because it’s cheaper that day
    We are also doing wedding planning because someone is getting married in February 2018…. etc.
    If I was forced off a flight, every thing that has been planned and lots of money would be wasted.

    For an airline to demand that a paying customer get off a flight is a big deal. For them to forcibly remove a customer the way United did is horrendous. Let’s see how United feels when people boycott them.

    1. I completely understand what you mean. However, what happens if there are mechanical issues and you can’t get out until the next day? Or weather? Things sometimes happen and you can’t get to your destination when you scheduled. Sometimes things are simply out of your hands.

      1. Yes, but weather and mechanical issues are totally understandable. Forcing customers off for company issues? Not so much.

  3. Utter bollocks. Oh the poor kids who couldn’t go to Disneyland? What a crock of shit. How about quit overbooking flights, better manage your flights and crew and treat your customers like the people they are — paying your salary. This “flight attendant” acts like she’s doing mankind a favor. I broke up with United years ago because they lie to customers to get out of having to compensate them. They told me once that my flight was canceled due to mechanical problems, I found out that it was because the pilots were drinking alcohol after the time when they’re not supposed to prior to their scheduled flights. They lied to me so that they wouldn’t have to compensate me for missing a wedding party for which that I traveled across the country. Thanks United for nothing.

  4. Also, no where in United’s Contract of Carriage does it say anything about taking a ticketed, and boarded passenger off a flight to accommodate either another passenger or United personnel during overbooking or anything else. Their contract clearly states that any involuntary bumping is done before boarding. They’re dead wrong on this one.

  5. To the same extent that the FA doesn’t care about the customers personal problems,why should a paying customer care about theirs? I keep noticing a recurring theme as various matters continue to pop up… experts seem to give lots of grace for the specifics for their own business practices,but have little regard for anyone else’s. it’s almost as if common courtesy & decency for individuals is dismissed. I have noticed so many ‘insiders’ for the airline industry who are caping for United & the way that they treated this passenger. It really seems as if the vocal persons in airline have a disdain for the folks who keep them employed. We cannot be so naive to insist that everything that we are required to uphold while in our professional lives is completely correct. We must all be truthful in acknowledging that sometimes the policies that we uphold just make no darn sense. This is one of those times.

  6. I think the “where’s the cap?” question is disingenuous. The cap is defined by law: 200% of your fare if you’re 1-2 hours late. 400% of fare if you’re more than that, up to a maximum of $1350. So that’s your cap. Yes, it’s very important for crews to get where they need to be. But United didn’t even get close to what it should’ve offered under the law. And it could’ve voluntarily offered even more. If the crew is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, then $800 seems pretty piddling by comparison.

  7. Every passenger’s journey has an intrinsic value to that passenger. The only way to fairly deal with this, shot of underbooking all flights “just in case”, is to force the airline to pay whatever it costs to empty a needed seat. Believe me, there is always someone in no particular hurry to get home who will spend the night in a hotel for $1,000 cash. From a PR standpoint, this is a much smarter solution. PR is extremely expensive. This is a cheap solution.

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