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UPDATE: United Airlines Untold Story of a COVID-19 Nightmare Continues

50 passengers that flew on a United Airlines flight 3742 from Chicago to Milwaukee, operated by Air Wisconsin, on Monday will be in suspense if they contracted COVID-19. This flight should have never been allowed to depart, and this was confirmed by a flight attendant and the captain as unsafe.

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Update

  • The FAA reached out to eTurboNews and admitted the issue.
  • The FAA told eTurboNews both Air Conditioning Systems broke and it was highly unusual for the aircraft to fly with passengers, but not illegal
  • FAAtold eTurboNews that a loopole may have been detected due to this story. What is ok in non pandemic times, may not be safe during a pandemic. Another update will be forthcoming

  • A United Airlines commuter flight where the air filtration was turned off due to a malfunction was allowed to fly.
  • This issue was known before takeoff and ignored.
  • United Airlines UA 3742 from Chicago to Milwaukee on October 4.
  • Scott Kirby, United Airlines CEO, said on July 2020: “We know the environment on an aircraft is safe, because the airflow is designed to minimize the transmission of disease, so the earlier we maximize airflow over our HEPA filtration system, the better for our crew and our customers. The quality of the air, combined with a strict mask policy and regularly disinfected surfaces, are the building blocks towards preventing the spread of COVID-19 on an airplane.” 

    It is disturbing to see that the very same airline ignored what its CEO praised as the only way to operate airlines safely during the pandemic.

    United Airlines maintenance in Chicago encouraged the captain flying UA 3742 to take off knowing the air filter system could not be used on this short flight to Milwaukee. The excuse: Air Wisconsin maintenance is in Milwaukee – never mind the passengers.

    UA 3742 was operated by Milwaukee-based commuter airline Air Wisconsin, using a CL 65, which appears to be a CRJ 200 aircraft. The Canadair CL 65 is a 50-seat aircraft that was built by Quebec, Canada-based Bombardier, between 1992 to 2006.

    When eTurboNews called Bombardier technical support, this publication was told the aircraft was too old to have current online support.

    Thanks to hospital-grade high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, the vast majority of particulates (including germs and viral respiratory droplets) are removed from modern airline cabin air at regular intervals as it’s cycled through and replaced with fresh air. This takes place on all aircraft larger than most 50-seat regional jets although some airlines are investing in HEPA filtration technology on those planes now, too.

    What is clear, if no air circulation at all takes place on a passenger flight, this will put such passengers and crew on board in danger to catch germs, such as COVID-19. eTurboNews reached out to aviation attorney Lee in New York, and VJ P, a former VP of Etihad Airways to confirm this.

    It is recommended to stay 6 feet away from the next passenger, which of course would be impossible on any commercial aircraft, specifically on a fully-booked commuter jet, such as UA 3742 on October 4.

    With no social distancing, proper air filtration may be the only thing that could stand between a passenger and the virus.

    On UA 3742 operating from Chicago O’Hare to Milwaukee on October 4, United Airlines ground staff announced in the boarding area, that it may get a little warm on the plane since the air conditioning was not adjusting. At no point was it explained that the entire ventilation system was out, and that it would put both passengers and crew vulnerable to catch the coronavirus or any other airborne illnesses.

    UA 3742 taxied to the runway in Chicago, and the temperature inside was already so hot, that most passengers started sweating, and some others started coughing.

    The air circulation system never came on, but ironically, the flight attendant proudly explained the new United Airlines cleaning regime.

    When privately asked, the same flight attendant told eTurboNews that she was scared to be on that flight and was promised on the previous flight the ventilation system would be dealt with in Chicago. She said that she reluctantly agreed to continue to Milwaukee, which was also her home, adding she would not return to work to fly on this aircraft again.

    eTurboNews repeatedly reached out to United Airlines and Air Wisconsin to get clarification as to whether such filters were used on this flight. There has been no response from either.

    Apparently in Chicago, a UA hub, United Airlines maintenance didn’t want to deal with the issue and suggested for the flight to Milwaukee to operate, so the aircraft could be repaired in Milwaukee, the Air Wisconsin home base.

    eTurboNews talked to the pilot after landing and asked if it was safe to operate a fully-booked flight with a malfunctioning ventilation system during a pandemic. The pilot admitted to eTurboNews it was not, and he apologized.

    Another passenger said that he was a retired captain and was upset that the Air Wisconsin captain operated this aircraft.

    eTurboNews reached out to United Airlines numerous times to find out if passengers on this flight could be traced, but again there has been no response.

    eTurboNews also reached out to United Airlines asking for an explanation. Media relations told eTurboNews, there was no incident logged for this flight.

    UA customer service said, this was no big deal since it was only a very short flight, but they would credit 5,000 frequent flyer miles for the “inconvenience.”

    A gentleman by the first name of “Chris” talked to eTurboNews publisher Juergen Steinmetz. He said, that he was the VP of Corporate Security for Air Wisconsin. He acknowledged the incident and apologized. He promised to get back to eTN with more details. It didn’t happen, but instead Air Wisconsin sent an email with no contact name or signature.

    Regarding your recent experience on flight 3742 with service from Chicago to Milwaukee. Safety is our number one priority at Air Wisconsin.

    The aircraft met FAA airworthiness criteria and our crew, in consultation with our maintenance experts, ensured the flight was safe to operate. We do apologize for any inconvenience you experienced on your flight and thank you for bringing this matter to our attention.

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    About the author

    Juergen T Steinmetz

    Juergen Thomas Steinmetz has continuously worked in the travel and tourism industry since he was a teenager in Germany (1977).
    He founded eTurboNews in 1999 as the first online newsletter for the global travel tourism industry.

    Leave a Comment

    2 Comments

    • Dear L.Lazuli
      Just to clarify your comment .
      United Airlines 1K customer service told me in a second follow up call that they compensated me 5K miles. I responded I was not after compensation but an explanation and wanted to see it UA was tracking passengers on board.
      The lady from 1 K customer in this recorded call said this is was only a short flight and no more compensation could be authorized completely ignoring my concern.

      I asked the media relations people for a response . After 5 follow up emails the only respond received was the one published and from air Wisconsin.

      I did speak to Chris VP of security from
      Air Wisconsin who was aware of the issue and promised to get back to me – he never did.

    • So much here to call BS on. A. Not a United aircraft or crew, it was a commuter airline. B. If maintenance warned the Captain why is there no written report on the broken system? C. I highly doubt anyone in United management would ever speak to the press saying this was “no big deal” since it was a short flight. There are two sides to every story and this one is full of holes.