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269 United Passengers Forced to Sleep on Airport Floor, Suffer 21-Hour Delay Thanks to One Unruly Flyer

269 United Passengers Forced to Sleep on Airport Floor, Suffer 21-Hour Delay Thanks to One Unruly Flyer
Jeff Edwards

United Passengers Sleeping at BFS (Photo: @MTRafferty Twitter)

Passengers on a recent United flight were left sleeping on the airport floor after their flight was diverted due to one unruly traveler.

Well-behaved passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 971, bound from Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport (FCO) to O’Hare International Airport (ORD), spent the night at Belfast International Airport (BFS) Saturday thanks to an out-of-control passenger who prompted a flight diversion. Unfortunately for the 269 passengers who were not being disruptive on the Boeing 777, by the time the offloading of the unruly passenger was complete, the flight crew had exceeded their maximum hours without rest and could not take off until the following day.

The Chicago Tribune reports that due to a shortage in available hotel space, passengers were forced to spend the night in BFS. Airport authorities called in additional staff and opened two rooms for the displaced travelers, providing them with blankets and water. Although the situation was less than ideal for those involved, most of whom were left sleeping on the floor, BFS officials say the passengers were “remarkably calm and understanding.”

United Passengers Sleeping at BFS (Photo: Chicago Tribune via WGN-TV)

Even though it was a single unruly passenger — an unnamed 42-year-old man with dual American and Italian citizenship — who was ultimately responsible for the incident, United taken responsibility for the unorthodox delay.

“We understand the inconvenience this causes our customers and will refund their Rome to Chicago flight as well as offer the choice of a travel certificate or miles for our MileagePlus loyalty program,” United said in a statement.

After a 21-hour delay, UA971 resumed its journey to ORD Sunday morning with a well-rested crew. The unruly passenger who caused the whole mess, however, was not onboard. He instead spent a little more time in Northern Ireland, in custody, awaiting his Monday appearance at the Coleraine Magistrates Court.

[Photos: Twitter via @MTRafferty; Chicago Tribune via WGN-TV]

View Comments (9)


  1. DirtyDan


    June 22, 2015 at 11:36 pm

    Dang! We’re getting to the point where we all need to carry duct tape in our carry-ons.

  2. UncleDude

    June 23, 2015 at 3:25 am

    Guess it would have been too easy to route to Heathrow where not only does United have access to Spare Crew, but there are thousands of hotels rooms and dozens of Transatlantic flights.

  3. weero


    June 23, 2015 at 8:50 am

    I hope UA gets bitten hard for violation of the EC 261 regulation here. Airlines cannot just pull the “no hotels available” stunt every time they have someone to blame in mind.

    Hope the pax file compensation claims en masse.

  4. JTCz

    June 23, 2015 at 1:36 pm

    I smell massive BS here, Belfast has 30+ hotels, and the majority are midmarket formats of 100+ rooms like the ibis, HIExpress or Ramada Encore. I might have missed a major event in Belfast, but otherwise I find it hard to believe they couldn’t find room for 296 people, some of whom were probably couples/families and happy to share. It was just easier to tell the passengers and airport to deal with it.

  5. JTCz

    June 23, 2015 at 1:45 pm

    PS. IKEA made a killing on those beddings – I have those sets as emergency at home myself :D

  6. cestmoi123

    June 23, 2015 at 1:55 pm

    “Airlines cannot just pull the “no hotels available” stunt every time they have someone to blame in mind”

    So, you believe there actually were a couple hundred hotel rooms available close to Belfast airport on essentially zero notice, but United just said “nah, screw it, we’ll take the PR hit of having people sleep in the airport”?

    UA is already refunding the passengers’ flights. As to whether EC 261 compensation (would be E600 in this case) is owed, that would depend on whether needing to deboard the passenger constitutes “extraordinary circumstances.”

    If passengers did find hotel rooms in Belfast, they’d have good grounds to get UA to cover the cost.

    I have no idea why they decided to land in Belfast, rather than at LHR. Likely that, when the security issue was declared, Belfast was the closest airport.

  7. karelkoeshiranjgarbhmissierparagh

    June 24, 2015 at 1:59 am

    Terrible! In my point of view United Airlines had to do much more to get a fresh crew ready. Also a crew of an other airliner could have heel hired or leased fast. Karel Koes Hiranjgarbh Missier Paragh

  8. Sabai

    June 25, 2015 at 11:31 pm

    Apparently no Canadian Air Force barracks were available.

  9. drvannostren

    June 26, 2015 at 7:27 am

    Yea, so, shitty for these folks and the ones who got stuck in Newfoundland or Labrador or whatever a couple weeks ago… I find it had to believe in Belfast they couldn’t get hotels. But I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

    I’ll say this, if I’m flying FCO-ORD (since I don’t live in ORD)-YVR and I have to spent 1 night on a floor in BFS (was leaving optional or was customs not available?) and in exchange you’re gonna give me a travel gift cert/miles AND refund that flight (I would hope they’d refund the connection as well, and rebook of course)? DEAL! I’m the kind of person who will almost always take a VDB in the first place. Honestly even if I have to be at work the next day, there’s a chance I take a really good VDB and just call in sick. I never take any sick days otherwise. Not only that but I USUALLY build in 24-48 hours of buffer zone before I go back to work, unless it’s a really short trip. For this exact kind of situation.

    Frankly, being a single guy, who would’ve been travelling solo…this would’ve been a funny story and a good business proposition for me.

    Not only that, but yea, I’m sure if leaving the airport was an option, I would’ve explored BFS a bit, had a few pints and enjoyed myself. Plus I’ve got cheap travel insurance that would’ve re-imbursed a hotel in this situation even if United said there wasn’t enough…guaranteed there’s a few.

    Some people are just totally incapable of being self sufficient. These people aren’t broke refugees. If the airline says there’s no hotels, I’d believe them too, but take a look around and see the reason they’re saying that. Obviously the airline doesn’t wanna provide 100 rooms and have 150 people standing there still. Better to piss them all off than trying to explain “well we got hotels for the first class customers”. But by that same token, you’re likely free to leave and try to find a room yourself, which shouldn’t be that hard. With any level of travel insurance this would be covered…mine is $8 a YEAR added on to roughly a $175 travel health policy. Lots of credit cards travel insurance would cover this too. And that’s all on the assumption that United wouldn’t cover it if you sent them the bill later. I’m not 100% sure on all the ins and outs of each travel policy, but get a room at a reasonable price, keep the receipt and you should be fine….come on folks. Sometimes people have to help themselves just a little.

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