"We do believe the company should have assisted these flight attendants legally, every step of the way," she says.

There's a bigger picture: "We don't want any litigation putting a chill on the communication between the cabin crew and the flight deck."

With the way US Airways has handled this one, that's nearly impossible. If flight attendants have to worry that challenging a pilot's judgment could cost them tens of thousands of dollars, of course they're going to be less likely to speak up. They're not stupid.

Paula Walker, Brian Shunick, and Sue Burris
Victor J. Palagano III
Paula Walker, Brian Shunick, and Sue Burris

And even if the airline initially wasn't sure whether to believe the flight attendants, it simply can't claim that in light of the judge's verdict. Gannon, Judge Araneta concludes, "acknowledges in his deposition that he saw frost on the wing and that the frost is a contaminant under the FAA regulation. [His] viewing of the frost was consistent with the defendants having seen what they thought was ice and reporting it."

Finally, Araneta adds, Gannon "admitted in his deposition that a flight attendant does not act recklessly if they see ice or contamination on an aircraft and report it."

Araneta's verdict makes it clear: The flight attendants didn't screw up.

So I called US Airways to find out whether the company plans to follow through on its contractual obligation to foot the bill.


First, I got a brief message from a spokeswoman saying she couldn't comment because the matter is in litigation. No, I responded patiently, the matter is not in litigation anymore. That's why I'd called. The case has been dismissed. The flight attendants won.

Here's the message I got back: "Sorry, we have no further comment."

Sorry is right.

There's one more issue here, and that's the conflicting claims of the pilot, Ed Gannon.

When Gannon sued the flight attendants in 2006, he didn't just argue that he'd been defamed. He also claimed that he'd been a victim of "intentional infliction of emotional distress."

As Gannon's lawyer argued in the initial complaint, the flight attendants' "making of false allegations jeopardizing Gannon's ability to work in his profession is, on its face, (1) intentional and reckless, (2) is extreme and outrageous, (3) was the direct cause of his having to undergo over three years of investigation and prosecution, and (4) his emotional distress could only be severe."

Obviously, we don't want an emotional wreck at the helm of a plane. Yet Gannon's lawyer was arguing that his distress "could only be" severe?

Like any commercial pilot, Gannon must take regular physical exams, then file paperwork with the FAA. The paperwork specifically asks if the pilot has suffered emotional distress: "Have you ever in your life had, or do you presently have . . . mental disorders of any sort: depression, anxiety, etc.?"

In the years following the flight attendants' statement to the FAA, Gannon answered "no" each time the question was asked.

So my question is this: Did Gannon file a frivolous claim in order to harass the flight attendants who dared to question him? Or did Gannon lie to the federal agency?

The answer has to be one of the above.

I'm hoping, for his sake, that Gannon merely lied in his legal claim. Because if he lied to the FAA, he faces potentially serious consequences.

In 2007, federal prosecutors criminally prosecuted nearly 45 pilots for falsifying their flight physicals in a sweep called "Operation Safe Pilot." The falsification came to light because the pilots were claiming on their FAA paperwork that they were fit to fly, even as they collected disability payments from the government.

There's another precedent that might be even closer to the issue at hand.

In the late '90s, a pilot named James Culliton filled out his FAA forms, per usual, and was asked, per usual, whether he'd had dizziness, vision trouble, or mental disorders. He answered no.

But during the period in question, court records show, Culliton had been suing a chair manufacturer for what he claimed was a defective product. His recliner had tipped over, he claimed, and he'd smacked his head on a credenza, causing decreased vision, dizziness, nausea, difficulty concentrating, and anxiety attacks.

Just the guy you'd want piloting your flight, right?

Federal prosecutors didn't see the humor. They charged Culliton with making false statements on his medical form. After a four-day trial, he was found guilty and fined $5,000.

I asked Ian Gregor, a spokesman at the FAA's regional Western-Pacific office, about the Culliton case and its applications. He cautioned that he's speaking generally, and not about any particular pilot.

"When someone knowingly puts down false information on an application for a medical certificate, the FAA will take action to revoke all of that person's airman certificates," he told me. "If a pilot makes a civil court claim that contradicts information that he or she made on their FAA medical application, that could trigger an FAA review of that airman."

Let's face it: Flying is serious business.

We shouldn't have emotionally disturbed people at the wheel of commercial airliners. Nor should we have frivolous lawsuits against flight attendants whose only motivation is ensuring the safety of their passengers.

I'm not sure what exactly was going on in this pilot's head. But either way, if I were US Airways management or part of the FAA, I'd be taking a closer look.

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My Voice Nation Help

The issue was improperly handled by airline supervisors. This did not necessitate a report to the FAA. Ultimately, the pilots did de-ice which was the right thing to do. Had the Chief Pilot been involved the entire issue could have been properly handled "in-house". The actions of the flight crew and supervisors not only put the company in a bad light, but results in the company backing the pilot -- no mystery there. That said, if the contract called for the company to cover the flight attendants' legal costs the company should fulfill the contract. The flight attendants need to file suit against the airline for breach of contract. However, they may as well say goodbye to their career progression. (just being real) Although it may seem big, the airline industry is actually small. Once your name is "mud" its nearly impossible to recover.

Gary Casperson
Gary Casperson

You mean this tool pilot alleged he was distressed yet continued to fly? The FAA should immediately investigate this moron and pull his license. Our profession needs less Gannons and more Sully's. This guy must be the most self-obsessed weasel in the whole world to do what he did. Good luck to the flight attendants and good work by their lawyers.

Chris Long
Chris Long

Hey, you don't think USAir is going to take the hit for a reckless pilot AND pay for the attendants to defend the suit, do you ?

That's the veritable lose-lose...

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