A United Airlines flight en route from Houston to Amsterdam had to be redirected to Chicago due to the disruption caused by an unruly passenger in the business class section.
It has been reported that the disruption was due to the passenger’s dissatisfaction with the unavailability of his preferred meal option.
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The flight departed from Houston at 4:20 pm local time on Sunday and reached the airspace of Chicago two hours into the journey. According to Flightradar24, a flight tracking website, the aircraft circled around O’Hare Airport in Chicago to burn fuel. It is a process known as fuel dumping to reduce the airplane’s weight before landing. This was necessary to ensure a safe landing, as the plane would have been too heavy otherwise.
On the same day, XJonNYC, an aviation insider, shared a photo on Twitter revealing United Airlines’ internal communications displaying a “threat level 1” situation on the flight. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, this threat level signifies the lowest level of disruptive behavior that is considered ‘suspicious’ or ‘threatening’ during a flight. XJonNYC further mentioned in subsequent posts that the passenger, who was seated in business class, became extremely upset because his first meal preference was unavailable. It was also reported that the passenger appeared to be intoxicated.
On Monday, the flight ultimately landed in Amsterdam approximately three hours later than scheduled, around 12:30 pm local time. The usual duration for this trip is nine hours and 30 minutes.
Although the specific meal that upset the unruly passenger is unknown, United Airlines typically offers business class passengers a complete three-course meal, along with more food options throughout the flight.
The airline announced last year that it would be upgrading its business class fare. According to the travel review website Live and Let’s Fly, business class passengers traveling from Newark to Amsterdam were presented with a choice between seared beef short rib, seared lemongrass salmon, or ricotta salata and wild honey manicotti as their main meal. A one-way business class ticket on the Houston to Amsterdam United flight typically costs $6,927.
United Airlines had earlier faced criticism regarding the quality of its in-flight meals, with some passengers expressing disappointment that the meals did not meet pre-pandemic standards.
According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), there has been a significant increase in unruly passenger incidents. In 2022, such incidents rose by 47% compared to the previous year, resulting in an average occurrence of one incident per 568 flights.
In cases of unruly behavior, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has the authority to levy fines on passengers, with each violation potentially amounting to up to $37,000 in fines. It is important to note that a single incident can lead to multiple violations. Passengers can also face criminal charges and be prosecuted for their actions.