Wednesday, April 02, 2008

United Sidelines Its 777s for Safety Inspections

If you're planning to fly long-haul on United Airlines today or even this week, check to make sure your airplane is in service and your flight is still scheduled.

United Airlines said today it pulled all 52 of its Boeing 777 aircraft out of service for "a functional check."

Remember that airlines are incapable of calling unpleasant things by their right names. So translate "functional check" as "safety inspection."

Here's the United statement on its sidelined 777s.

United had a total of 279 aircraft in its mainline fleet as of Dec. 31, down from 290 a year earlier. The 52 Boeing 777s are the workhorses of United's international networks, though some are flown on long-haul domestic routes.

There has been a recent spate of abrupt airline actions to take planes out of service to come into belated compliance with various F.A.A. air-safety directives that seem to have been treated cavalierly by the airlines in question.

United says its current action is not related to an F.A.A. directive, however.

The airlines and the FAA have for years had a very cozy relationship, with implications for passenger safety, and the scandal only now is coming to light.

You'll be hearing a lot more about that in days to come, assuming the media starts doing a more aggressive job covering and explaining the way-too-friendly relationship between the F.A.A. and the airlines.

The F.A.A., by the way, routinely refers to airlines as its "customers." What does that say about the relationship?

Don't think corporate travel managers aren't paying close attention to the current aircraft safety and maintenance issues.

They're thinking of three little words that can come up in lawsuits: Duty of care.


[Update: United issued this following update on its 777 operations as of 3.30 p.m. Central time. Note that more than half of the 777 international flights have already been canceled:]

"26 aircraft have been inspected.

There have been 38 flights canceled today.

Impact by city and international


5 cancels of 10 flights


2 cancels of 4 flights


6 cancels of 13 flights


0 cancels of 10 flights


3 cancels of 5 flights


0 cancels of 1 flight


20 cancels of 34 flights


2 cancels of 6 flights


United Issues Travel Waiver for Customers Affected by Today’s Delays and Cancellations

CHICAGO, April 2, 2008 – United customers who are traveling today and tomorrow on a United Boeing 777 aircraft may take advantage of its travel waiver and consider changing their travel plans, as certain change fees have been waived.

United flies its Boeing 777 aircraft on many international routes and some domestic routes between its hubs in Denver, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington Dulles. Customers may log on to, call United reservations at 1-800-UNITED-1 or a travel agency to determine what type of aircraft they are flying on and to make changes to their itineraries.

Customers with already canceled flights are eligible for a full refund.

We apologize for any inconvenience and ask customers to check their flight status on before leaving for the airport. United is currently working to provide additional aircraft where available and is accommodating customers on other flights and other airlines.

Earlier today, United Airlines informed customers traveling on April 2, 2008 on United's Boeing 777 aircraft that they will experience flight delays or cancellations as a result of a functional check being performed on the aircraft.

As part of a regular review of maintenance records, the company discovered that the functional test that checks the firing system on one of the five bottles in the cargo fire suppression system on the Boeing 777 was not performed, and this was voluntarily disclosed to the FAA. United is in the process of checking this part of the system. This system is regularly tested as part of the pre-flight safety checks.

These checks are related to compliance. United will not operate these aircraft until the tests are complete.

United will conduct the check on all 52 Boeing 777 aircraft in the company's fleet.


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