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United Airlines Flight To Israel Diverts Due To Self-Upgraders

Date: January 21, 2022

By Ben Schlappig, One Mile At A Time

This incident involves United Airlines flight UA90 from Newark (EWR) to Tel Aviv (TLV) yesterday evening (Thursday, January 20, 2022), operated by a Boeing 787-10. The flight was scheduled to depart Newark at 11:05PM and arrive in Tel Aviv at 4:20PM today.

The flight departed from Newark as scheduled, but then problems arose after takeoff. According to reports, two passengers tried to self-upgrade to business class, thinking that because the cabin wasn’t full, they should be allowed to sit there. Of course, the crew told them that’s not how it works, but the passengers refused to comply and return to their original assigned seats. Witnesses onboard claim that these passengers then “rioted.”

At this point the plane was near the United States & Canada border, and the decision was made to return to Newark to offload these passengers. The plane ended up landing back at Newark shortly after 1:30AM, a bit over two hours after departure. Below is a map showing the flight’s path.

Police met the flight on arrival, and the passengers were allegedly arrested.

United’s flight status page suggests that the airline tried to reschedule the flight for 2:20AM, but I’m guessing the airline couldn’t find a crew to operate the flight (since the initial crew timed out). United’s flight status page states that the flight was “canceled because of airport conditions,” so I’m not sure what exactly that’s supposed to mean in this context.

What were these disruptive passengers thinking?

I just don’t understand what goes through peoples’ minds when they act like this? In these situations, I almost hope they are drunk or on some sort of drugs, because I’d like to think that nobody would act this way in a sober state.

How did these two passengers see this ending? When the crew told them that they couldn’t stay in business class seats, did they think that just standing their ground would work without consequences? And when the plane actually turned around to Newark, what went through these passengers’ minds?

A few more thoughts, which are similar to what I mentioned in my post yesterday about American’s mask related diversion:

  • This diversion easily cost tens of thousands of dollars (if not more), given the amount of fuel burned, the pay for the entire crew, along with the impact on the flight in the other direction that had to be canceled
  • I really hope the passengers who caused this diversion are sued by United for the costs incurred
  • It’s interesting how the solution for crews in these situations is almost always to just turn the plane around and inconvenience everyone; assuming these passengers just wanted their business class seats (and were just jerks, but not actually drunk or otherwise disruptive), how about instead saying “I just want you to know you’re violating federal regulations by not following crew member instructions, the police will meet the plane on arrival, you’ll never be able to fly United again, and you’ll be sent a bill for the full fare cost of these seats… enjoy the rest of your flight!”

I’m not suggesting that last point should be the solution in all cases, since I don’t know what happened on this particular flight. However, it seems like an approach like that is almost never taken, and I feel like it might work just as well, without inconveniencing hundreds of other people, and costing an airline a ton of money.

Bottom line:

Last night’s United Airlines flight from Newark to Tel Aviv ended up being an over two-hour journey to nowhere because of two disruptive passengers who decided to self-upgrade. Reportedly they just took business class seats after takeoff since they weren’t full and refused to return to their original seats.

The flight ended up being canceled, so presumably hundreds of people were stranded (since a flight in the other direction had to be canceled as well), and this cost United a pretty chunk of change.

Why are people such jerks?!


[Below is taken from the "Comments" Section of this article]

LarryInNYC Member

"It’s interesting how the solution for crews in these situations is almost always to just turn the plane around and inconvenience everyone; assuming these passengers just wanted their business class seats" There is no evidence to support this statement. We have no idea how many times there are unreported disruptive passenger problems that are resolved without a diversion. My guess is it's tens or hundreds of cases for every one that we hear about. Also, I very much doubt if they did continue that the Israeli authorities would have any interest in getting involved concerning a violation of American aviation statutes that occurred in American airspace. Post-facto charging of the business class fare is also unlikely. Therefore, if the aircraft had continued with these passengers in J then the most that is likely to have happened is banning from United in the future. The only other alternatives were diversion to someplace within a US jurisdiction, or a physical altercation on the plane.

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