A young passenger on a United Airlines flight was seriously burned when scolding hot coffee was spilt from the pot after flight attendants turned their backs on the beverage cart according to a final accident report recently published by the National Transport Safety Board (NTSB). The serious accident happened back in 2016 but investigators have only now got round to releasing their findings, concluding the accident was most probably caused by the lidless coffee pot’s improper placement on the beverage cart.
United Airlines flight UA430 from New Orleans to Chicago O’Hare was forced to declare a medical emergency and divert to Little Rock Arkansas during the June 26, 2016 incident so that the injured child could receive medical attention. Thankfully, off-duty medical personnel were also onboard the plane at the time and helped render immediate First Aid.
In testimony to the NTSB, the four flight attendants working the flight said they couldn’t find the safe-pour lids that are meant to be fitted to United’s metal coffee pots so instead, they had simply placed a plastic cup in the opening of the pot. In contravention of United’s in-flight service standards, the crew didn’t place the pot in a cart pull out tray but placed it straight on the top of the cart in the center.
The flight attendants had got to row seven in their in-flight service when one had to return to the galley. The other flight attendant turned their back on the cart for one moment but suddenly heard screaming. It’s still not known whether the coffee pot tipped over or was grabbed by the child who was quickly attended to by a doctor who happened to be on the flight.
United, possibly aware of the risk of scalding hot coffee in an enclosed aircraft cabin, warned in its flight attendant manuals to always use a safe-pour lid anytime the coffee pot is taken into the aisle. Although, on this occasion, it appears that the safety lids weren’t actually loaded on the plane in the first place.
In a statement, United declined to say whether specific action had been taken to prevent a similar accident occurring in the future or whether the flight attendants involved in this incident had faced disciplinary action.
However, a spokesperson for the Chicago-headquartered airline told us that the airline “thanks the NTSB for their continued commitment to aviation safety”. The statement continued: “Because the safety of our customers and employees is our highest priority, we regularly review and update our inflight service policies and training.”
Last year, a young passenger won a court case against the Austrian airline Lauda after suffering serious burn injuries from scalding hot coffee. In the 2015 incident, a flight attendant placed a cup of coffee on the tray table but it then tipped over and burned the then 6-year-old child.
Administrators working on behalf of the now-defunct airline argued in court that they weren’t liable under the Montreal Convention because an accident would need to be caused by a typical aviation hazard like turbulence. The judges at the European Court of Justice, however, disagreed ruling that an airline could be liable for damages for any accident where an “object used when serving passengers has caused bodily injury to a passenger”.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.