A United Airlines flight from Newark to Tel Aviv performed a 180-degree about turn while flying over the North Atlantic Ocean on Saturday night after a passenger allegedly got into a row with a flight attendant about the use of a dedicated crew seat.
The passenger, it has been reported, decided to sit down on the crew seat while waiting to use the lavatory and refused to get up when admonished by one of the flight attendants.
An argument ensued, and at one point, the man was allegedly warned that if he didn’t get up from the crew seat that the plane would return to Newark. Witnesses say the man believed the flight attendants were bluffing, so he stood his ground.
It turns out, however, that the flight crew weren’t making idle threats, and at around three hours into the flight, the Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner suddenly performed a U-turn and started flying back to Newark.
Onboard, many customers had no idea that a passenger had gotten into a dispute with the flight attendants and only realized that the plane was turning back from the moving map on their seatback screens.
Following a six-hour flight to nowhere and once on the ground, passengers captured the moment that the man was led off the aircraft by a member of United’s ground management.
All the other passengers were then deboarded from the plane into the airport terminal and made to stand in line so they could be booked into hotels for the night.
Surprisingly, the man who had caused the unscheduled diversion mingled with the crowd for several hours, pleading his case and arguing that the flight attendants and pilots had overreacted.
A spokesperson for United Airlines said flight UA90 on April 22 was forced to return to Newark due to a disruptive passenger. The flight was met by law enforcement but it does not appear that the man was arrested.
Amongst international flight attendants, Tel Aviv flights are notoriously difficult and not always for the faint-hearted. Passengers can come across as abrupt and perhaps even rude at times, while it sometimes seems as if customers aren’t listening or just refuse to comply with crew member instructions.
That being said, passengers on these services nearly always express their warm appreciation of the efforts made by flight crew at the end of the flight, and many genuinely appear to have enjoyed their time onboard.
It’s difficult to know exactly what happened in this situation, but it’s not uncommon for passengers to try and sit on dedicated crew seats – either while they are waiting to use the lavatory or because they want to ‘stretch their legs’ because they are cramped in an economy seat.
While the rules can vary from airline to airline, crew seats should remain available for an actual crew member at all times – for several reason, including in the case of a sudden loss of cabin pressure.
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.