Airlines have faced an unprecedented amount of in-flight incidents over the pandemic. Given how contentious the mask issue is, I suppose that’s not a surprise.
Last year I wrote a PSA about how not to get kicked off your flight. The gist of it is to ensure that you go beyond the letter of the law during the boarding process. Flight attendants are watching like hawks to identify passengers that may cause issues in the air as it’s a whole lot easier to deboard passengers on the ground than after takeoff. To be safe, feed your kids before you board and don’t eat or give them snacks until the flight takes off.
But airlines are proving that they are willing to divert flights after takeoff as well.
Last night United flight 90, operated on a Boeing 787-10, departed Newark on time at 11pm, scheduled to arrive into Tel Aviv at 4:20pm. That’s candle-lighting time in Jerusalem, so presumably there were no Sabbath observant Jews on the flight.
Israel’s onerous entry restrictions and the timing of the flight also meant there was a very light load. The 787-10 can accommodate 318 passengers, but only 123 passengers and 11 crewmembers were onboard flight 90.
As often happens with flight diversions to and from Tel Aviv, DDF was on the case immediately. DDF member @Matovu noticed the flight had turned around over Canada early this morning and asked what was happening. And DDF member @no_clue tuned into air traffic control and heard them say that law enforcement are on standby.
United.com said the plane returned to Newark to “address an urgent customer service issue.” It wound up flying over 2 hours to nowhere.
I reached out to United last night for comment and they responded that,
“United flight 90 from New York/Newark to Tel Aviv on 20 January 2022 returned to New York/Newark Airport due to disruptive passengers on board. Law enforcement officials met the aircraft upon landing. The flight was subsequently cancelled. Our team at New York/Newark have provided our customers with meal vouchers and hotel accommodation and have made arrangements for customers to complete their journeys.”
They say that 2 Israeli passengers decided to self-upgrade themselves to business class. that’s a big no-no, but that’s not typically enough to cause a flight to divert. Passengers doing that will be sent back to coach and will face charges and/or a flight ban upon arrival. However a passenger on the flight said that these 2 people began to “riot” after they were questioned by flight attendants, which led to the flight returning to Newark. Port Authority Police met the flight upon its return and removed the disruptive passengers.
United tried getting the flight out again, but the crew timed out and United wasn’t able to put together another crew in middle of the night, so the flight was cancelled. That also meant that United was forced to cancel tonight’s flight 91 from Tel Aviv to Newark.
If you have the miles and want to sit in business class without squatting, booking a United Plan B award ticket is ideal for empty flights like this!
United wasn’t the only airline to divert this week over a passenger issue.
American flight 38, operated on their flagship Boeing 777-300ER from Miami to London on Wednesday also had to return to the gate, also flying 2 hours to nowhere. The 77W can accommodate 304 passengers, but only 129 passengers and 14 crewmembers were onboard flight 38.
A woman on the flight refused to wear a mask and American says that the flight was diverted due to “a disruptive customer refusing to comply with the federal mask requirement.” The passenger was escorted off the plane in Miami and the flight was cancelled.
That also meant that American was forced to cancel last night’s flight 57 from London to Miami.
Flight attendants are on edge with all of these incidents and many aren’t exactly known for deescalating situations. After all, the massive cost to divert and cancel a flight isn’t coming out of their paycheck and they’re simply not properly trained to deescalate.
If you do find yourself in a situation like this, just comply with the request, even if you are following the rules. There are certainly many situations where passengers are completely in the wrong, but there are also flight attendants who are on a power trip, in which case you will want to record what’s happening. Sticking a phone camera in their face will likely escalate the situation further, but even just holding the phone down low to record the audio and potentially some video will be helpful to your cause.
Somehow, I’ve been on countless flights around the globe, but have yet to be diverted. Have you been on any flight diversions? What was at fault?