Massive delay caused by skimpy snack service and one irate passenger might end up costing United Airlines big money.
When United Airlines Flight 971 turned around over the Atlantic and landed at Belfast International Airport (BFS) to remove a disruptive flyer Saturday, the passengers onboard the flight from Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport (FCO) to O’Hare International Airport (ORD) were in for a long night. The 269 passengers spent the night sleeping on the airport floor after the airline announced that hotel rooms could not be found and regulations prohibited the crew from flying until after a mandated rest period.
It turns out the entire incident was over an extra packet of crackers. Authorities say the out-of control passenger, now identified as California resident Jeremiah Mathis Thede, 42, became agitated and stood up demanding a snack before the pilot had turned off the “fasten seatbelt” sign. In an attempt to calm the hungry flyer, flight attendants obliged his request, but when Thede allegedly demanded a second packet of crackers, the crew decided that he would have to wait for seconds until the other passengers were served.
Belfast Airport Police say Thede became incensed by the delay in his second helping. According to police, the outraged passenger announced, “I can have as much nuts and crackers as I f****** want.” Eyewitnesses say Thede became visibly distraught at this point and began walking around the cabin.
According to reports, the pilot at first asked other passengers to keep an eye on the unbalanced flyer, but when Thede refused to remain in his seat, the captain eventually made the decision to divert to BFS.
That extra snack will cost the airline several hundred thousand dollars. Belfast authorities told a Coleraine Magistrate Court that the cost of the diversion to remove Thede from the flight could top $550,000. The figure includes the cost of reimbursing passengers, potential fines assessed because of the delay and hundreds of gallons of jet fuel that had to be dumped to allow the plane to make the unscheduled stop.
For his part, Thede denied any wrongdoing and told police that “people were picking on him.” Thede’s lawyer echoed his client’s sentiment, telling reporters: “His position is he’s done nothing wrong and effectively this is an overreaction by staff in the plane, those in charge.”
[Photos: iStock; United Airlines]