The underside of a 747 jumbo jet's tail was coated in oil residue, and in it, someone had written the words "BYE BYE" and drawn two faces—one smiling, one with more of a "devilish" look. If you'd be reluctant to board that plane, well, you're not alone. Thirteen United Airlines flight attendants—each with a minimum of 18 years with the company—refused to fly on a July 14 flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong after the co-pilot spotted the images some 30 feet above the ground during his external walk-around, the Wall Street Journal reports. They were fired as a result. This week, they've filed a complaint (referencing the "menacing images"; see photo here) with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration over their dismissal, the Chicago Tribune reports. The flight attendants, who feared a potential bomb on board, say they wanted the more than 300 passengers removed from the plane and the aircraft then inspected.
Per their complaint, "In the interest of maintaining its flight schedule at all costs, United first tried to bully the flight attendants into flying, and, when they refused to accede to company threats, accused them of 'insubordination' and fired them all." United maintains that it followed internal and FAA safety procedures and that a security sweep occurred in advance of boarding. The Journal reports the co-pilot shared photos he took of the tail with the crew, but that the pilot determined they were "good to go." The flight attendants' refusal to do so led to the flight being canceled; the plane was grounded for two days. In their complaint, the flight attendants cite the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century, a law that safeguards airline-industry whistleblowers. They want their jobs back, along with back pay and damages.