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American Eagle flight attendants' argument causes 4-hour delay at JFK

UPDATED: 4:30 p.m. ET: An American Eagle flight out of Kennedy Airport was delayed nearly four hours after two flight attendants got into a verbal altercation on the plane, forcing the cockpit crew to turn the plane around and head back to the gate, passengers tell NBC 4 New York

American Eagle Flight 3823 to Washington, D.C., was scheduled to leave New York City at 3:10 p.m. Wednesday. The plane started to roll away from the gate when two female flight attendants began to argue, witnesses said.

Read more on this story at NBCNewYork.com

It got so heated the cockpit crew was alerted, and they ultimately made the decision to turn the plane around and head back to the gate. 

"We were informed we were going back to the gate because the flight attendants couldn't work with each other," said Dan Alexander, a passenger.

"I find it hard to believe the flight attendants couldn't work with each other for an hour," he added, noting the approximate flight time from New York to Washington.

Passengers had to wait approximately four hours while the airline searched for a replacement flight crew. When they finally landed in D.C., passengers were still annoyed.

"It was incredible, totally unbelievable that there was such little professionalism between these women," said Marge Lopez. 

Karen Grantham said it was "ridiculous" that the flight attendants became upset.

"Doesn't anyone teach good customer service anymore?" she asked. "You have to be thick-skinned to be in customer service. It just happens, you can't let this get the best of you."

An airline spokesperson told NBC News that the two flight attendants would be meeting with their manager on Thursday to determine what will happen next.

A statement from the company, sent to NBC News, said: "There was a disagreement between two flight attendants Wednesday afternoon prior to the departure of American Eagle flight 3823 from New York JFK to Washington Reagan. The aircraft returned to the gate to switch flight attendant crews, and the flight departed a short while later. We're looking into the matter."

The airline has already been dealing with scheduling problems and delays. It said it was forced to cancel 300 flights this week because a high number of pilots were calling out sick and crews were filing more maintenance reports.

Travel writers are warning passengers to avoid American as the airline struggles with delays, and are now making plans to cut their scheduled flights by 1 to 2 percent through October. NBC's Tom Costello reports.

AMR Corp., which owns American Airlines and American Eagle, said Wednesday that it canceled the flights in advance to avoid inconveniencing passengers.

Earlier this week, American said it would cut its schedule through the end of October by up to 2 percent.

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The Wall Street Journal's veteran travel reporter, Scott McCartney, on Tuesday told travelers to avoid the carrier because "American's operation is in shambles."

McCartney said American Airlines is too unreliable because of trouble with the pilots union.

Denny Kelly, an aviation expert and former pilot, told NBC DFW he agreed that travelers should avoid the Fort Worth-based airline.

"If you're going to fly a trip from Dallas to someplace and you have a choice, and you have to be there on time or within a reasonable amount of time ... why take a chance on American?" he said. "Why take a chance on [if] a flight's going to be delayed or canceled? Go on somebody else that doesn't have that problem."

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