What US Airways is Doing for The Passengers of Flight 1549

Accidents/Incidents, US Airways

It’s somewhat surprising, but you rarely hear about how people and their families are treated after an accident. What actually happens? US Airways is opening up the kimono a bit here to show us how they’re dealing with it this week. So far, they’re getting praise from passengers on flight 1549, but we’ll see how long that lasts.

A spokesperson sent me a copy of the letter they sent to every passenger on that flight. This letter was accompanied by a check for $5,000 to cover the cost of replacing belongings (above the legal requirement, I believe) and another check reimbursing the cost of the ticket.

Here’s the full text of the letter. Then come back for a little more discussion at the end.

On behalf of all of us at US Airways, we hope that you have returned home and are resting and recovering following the evacuation of Flight 1549 on January 15, 2009. We are extremely grateful that our crew used their combined experience and training to safely land and evacuate all of the passengers onboard this flight. We also thank you, as many of you also played a role in ensuring a quick and safe exit.

We know you have many questions, and that one of your immediate needs is to obtain the items that you had on the aircraft. The purpose of this letter is to tell you what happens next with those items, and also to provide some immediate assistance so that you can begin replacing them. Throughout this experience, you have our commitment that we will do our absolute best to explain all we can about what is happening and why, and with that, we want you to know the status of your belongings and next steps.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has now begun their investigation of this accident, and we are offering our full participation and cooperation. Investigatory protocol requires that the aircraft and all of its contents must be examined and weighed prior to releasing any items onboard in order to verify the weight and balance on the aircraft. This is an important part of their work to understand the reason for the emergency water landing. Unfortunately, this includes all of the personal effects that were in the aircraft’s cabin and cargo hold. The process is to weigh all items in their current state, dry them for eight weeks, and then weigh them again. This means we cannot return your items to you until the NTSB recovers and releases them, a process that will likely take several months. It is also possible that some items may be unrecoverable.

We anticipate that the delay the investigation causes may present an inconvenience and expense for you. We want to do our best to ensure that you do not incur personal expense or hardship while the investigation continues. To assist you with your immediate needs, we have enclosed a check for $5,000. In addition, we are also including a separate check to reimburse you for the cost of your ticket. This is an obvious reimbursement that we wanted to make quickly to each of you.

US Airways is committed to working with you to address any needs you have as a result of this experience. In the initial period following the accident, our employees worked to contact and support you on the ground in New York as well as from our Family Support Center in our Tempe, Arizona headquarters. Your Family Support Center representative will remain engaged with you, and we’ll make every effort to do that in a way that best suits your individual needs. Please let us know if your needs are not being met in any way.

I am truly sorry for what you experienced on Flight 1549. We were all amazed by the actions of our crew, the first responders, and our customers, and we were humbled by the grace displayed by all in the time that followed. Please do not hesitate to let me know how my colleagues at US Airways and I can continue to assist you.


Kerry F. Hester

If there’s one thing US Airways deserves credit for here, it’s acting very quickly. The answers may be anything BUT what a passenger would want to hear, but at least they’re not mincing words and promising things that won’t happen. (How many friggin’ weeks does the bag have to dry?!?) So far, people seem to be happy with what they’re hearing.

Barry Leonard, a guy who actually cracked his sternum in the accident, said the airline has “bent over backwards” so far. That certainly puts a nice extra warm fuzzy feeling on what so far has been a great story.

I’m sure that once the final reports are in, some people will try to sue for more money after having gone through the experience. Depending upon what the report says, they may even have a case, but we know that doesn’t matter. The sleezy ambulance chasers are circling like sharks, and they’ll convince some people to sue no matter what. But these early measures by US Airways can only help, and it certainly is proving to be welcome by the passengers onboard.

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20 comments on “What US Airways is Doing for The Passengers of Flight 1549

  1. Some attorneys will even sue before anything is even known. Not as dramatic, but last month here in Denver a Continental jet slid off the runway on takeoff. Thanks to the speedy crew, pilots’ help, and luck, everyone escaped before the plane caught fire.

    Now Jason Gibson, a lawyer in Houston, has signed up two girls to not only sue Continental, but also sue the pilots PERSONALLY. (Which means going after their own finances.) I believe pilots’ unions would prevent this from occuring – but just the thought of it disgusts me.Without any aviation knowledge the lawyer is insisting some sort of Continental coverup, and the ridiculous notion that the pilots “negligently aborted” the takeoff and should continued the takeoff. (They’d be well served to recall Concorde flt 4590.)

    The lawyer also brings up wind shear, and completely butchers his understanding of it. (Turns out this lawyer is also expert on cases of falling merchandise, dietary supplements, and rare coins.) The girls also claim they are not being fairly compensated for their skis and fine jewelry, so perhaps the selection of Jason Gibson was based on that loss rather their being forced to run into an open field from a smoldering airplane.

    I collected more details and articles here – http://www.futuregringo.com/index.php/2009/01/13/continental-1404-lawsuits/

    How can you have basis for a lawsuit without a complete and comprehensive knowledge of the actual event? Its despicable. Hopefully the US Airways passengers will be a bit more grateful than these two girls. – and this case will be shelved until the NTSB reports are complete.

  2. It’s very fortunate that we can make jokes about a near tragedy… so here it goes: are those passengers who paid extra for choice seats going to get a refund for those?

  3. I’d also like some lifetime Gold status to go along with the $5250, please….

    At least I would had I been one of those onboard. Is that unreasonable? I’d be one of those consistent “Silver on the cusp of Gold and occasionally making it over the hump” flyers otherwise.

    Back on topic, great move by US to act quickly. Smart business and PR move, as well as appropriate given the circumstances.

  4. The more I learn about this incident, the more I think that there is almost nothing we can learn from it from a safety standpoint. The combination of lucky circumstances they experienced is so freakish it will probably never be repeated. They were at exactly the right altitude when struck, low enough that they were still going slowly but high enough to have some energy to work with. They never lost control, and they had available a long, straight, unobstructed body of calm water, moving the same direction they were, that just happened to be frequented by large capacity ferry boats, that had decks low enough to allow hoisting people quickly and directly off the wings, and that could take them immediately to a dock where an ambulance could be waiting, with any number of top hospitals within a few minutes’ ride from there. You can’t replicate any of that with training or procedures.

  5. Don’t hate all the lawyers. Hate the fact that compensation it’s statutorily limited because of airline lobbying.

    It’s one thing to try to reduce frivolous lawsuits. But, it’s entirely another thing for a company not to pay the replacement cost of someone’s personal belongings after they were nearly killed by that company’s service.

  6. So far, I don’t see how anyone can do anything but applaud US Airways for how they’ve handled this. If I had been one of the passengers on that plane, their actions would have made me feel very positive toward the airline. The $5,000 checks were generous, and refunding the tickets was an especially nice touch since, according to my understanding, they also took care of getting most of the passengers either to their homes or the destinations they chose without any expense to the passenger.

    I totally disagree that there is “almost nothing we can learn from it from a safety standpoint.” (See John M.’s comments above.) There is ALWAYS something to be learned from an aircraft accident. The NTSB was established for this very purpose and has become one of the best resources in the world for information on how to improve aircraft safety because of what they learn from situations like this one.

  7. Well, for all the US employees, that constantly bash what Tempe does, I hope they realize that the old pre-merger USAirways would never be this proactive.

    US is trying to turn the tide and get the culture back to a positive one for employees, time for east and west to become one and realize that there is good management out there and they are trying.

  8. I’m not a frequent flyer, but I remember reading in the T&C of my ticket a while back that accident insurance was included in the cost of the ticket but void in a terrorist incident. Wouldn’t that cover the costs of reimbursing the pax?

    While I’m all for tort reform and am not in support of ambulance chasers, shouldn’t there be additional compensation without having to sue for it? I think the refund and free transportation to final destination is a given, the $5,000 reasonable for lost effects, but what about compensation for the fact that they were in a traumatizing event… some people may be too afraid to fly again, may have nightmares, etc. If there were more serious injuries like decapitations or death, what compensation would they automatically give out?

    I guess to counter my own argument, my AMEX Corporate card insurance details compensation at $200,000 max for death, $10,000 for loss of one hand at the wrist, $5,000 for two digits, etc or something like that, but nothing for psychological damage.

  9. I wonder if cashing the cheque would in any way invalidate any future claims you could make against the airline?

    While it was an impressive landing, and certainly US Air does seem to be acting very well to the passengers at this point, I still think it is too early to praise them too much. My understanding is that airline accidents can rarely be attributed to a single cause, and that as the NTSB investigates, we may find that faults or mistakes with the airplane, airline or crew contributed to the accident.

  10. I like that US Airways is at least being proactive.

    I think if you said you were traumatized, they’d more than happily pay for counseling etc. The approach here is: This is the least we can do, let us know specifically what else you need.

    I’m sure if you went to them and said you had more than $5k of items onboard they’d probably accommodate a reasonable request.

    But, I’d be interested to see how this comes out and if they get sued. I think many instances of companies getting sued is because people feel wronged.

  11. Joe – I didn’t see anything in the current contract of carriage, but if it was in there, it would certainly apply. For baggage, the standard compensation is $3,300 per person (regardless of how many bags were checked), so they did bump it up another $1,700 but I’m not sure why.

    As for additional compensation, I imagine that there will be. The reason I like what they’ve already done is they did it very quickly. Paying out for the delayed return of baggage and the cost of the ticket is a concrete number that gives immediate relief to those who have to replace things stuck in their bags. Other things like medical bills and the like will take longer to sort out. So my guess is that there will be negotiations down the line for things that apply on an individual basis.

    Greg Wesson – Well, my understanding is that the letter was sent with two checks and nothing else. If that’s the case, then it wouldn’t appear that they would have to waive any right to future claims by cashing the checks. I don’t think US Airways would be that stupid. If they pulled that stunt, there would have been a lot of angry people and we’d probably see it in the media quickly.

    I’m not trying to praise them too much. In fact my earlier post asked for a little restraint. I’m just saying that what they’ve done so far has been done well in the public’s eye. That doesn’t mean that I won’t turn on them if they try something shady tomorrow.

  12. Joe, not to be to snarky about this, but what are we going to learn? Always fly over rivers? Don’t hit birds? Only depart from cities with ferry service?

    I like the NTSB fine, no knock on them, and I’m sure they’ll come up with a couple of little ideas like changes in the breifing or making life seat cusions easier to get out.

    But I think we need to get away from the idea that the NTSB can make changes that will “insure this never happens again” as some people say.

    We had the crash of Comair 5191 out my way, and they came up with a few things about runway lighting and controller workload, but their main conclusion was that the pilots were jawboning instead of looking for the right runway.

    So what’s the recommendation? Pay attention while taxiing. Train your pilots to pay attention while taxiing. But we already do that. So remind them again. Great. So what did we learn from that accident? No matter how well trained, pilots will sometimes randomly screw up. There’s nothing you can do to prevent it.

  13. John M – I think the best thing we can learn is how to effectively ditch an airplane. Yes, there was a nice big piece of calm water for them to put down, but the pilots did something right here and it should be studied. It could help in future ditchings.

  14. I think the Canadian Geese should be sued… or at least the Government of Canada, perhaps, for allowing the Geese to evolve in Canada without proper aircraft evasion skills.

    Oh, and US Airways should be applauded. Take some responsibility, people, if you choose to do something like fly on an airplane, that’s your choice and nobody owes you compensation for things like counseling if an accident happens during your free-will choice to defy gravity.

  15. Require TCAS in all foul flying within 5 nm of a terminal control area?? lol

    Bravo to Dougie and friends for being ahead of the curve on this and building on the competence of the crew. This is a rare case where an accident may help an airline’s public image.

  16. Brian January 21st, 2009 at 3:05 pm, nearly killed by that “company’s service”……. I think it was the evil birds that almost killed those people on that plane, you know how mad all the birds can get about us people flying in the sky!!
    Maybe we should sue the National Audubon Society for supporting the birds.

  17. They didn’t try and slip in a “cashing this check will signify you agreement that this payment is in full and final settlement of any and all claims that may arise out of this incident”?

  18. The girls also claim they are not being fairly compensated for their skis and fine jewelry, so perhaps the selection of Jason Gibson was based on that loss rather their being forced to run into an open field from a smouldering airplane.

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