Travel | January 21, 2022 3:34 pm

United Flight Turns Around After Passengers Opt to Self-Upgrade Their Seats

Can people just be normal on airplanes again, please?

United Flight Turns Around After Passengers Opt to Self-Upgrade Their Seats
Chris Leipelt

In the latest episode of People Doing Stupid Shit on Airplanes, a Tel Aviv-bound United flight from Newark was diverted on Thursday after passengers took it upon themselves to upgrade their seats to business class and then refused to return to their originally assigned seats when asked.

If you’re unclear what a self-upgrade involves, it’s when an opportunistic passenger — or, in this particular case, two — sees an open seat in business class and decides to trade their original seat assignment in for the more desirable one, all without the go-ahead from a member from the flight crew. Unfortunately, as most of us know, that’s generally not how things work — though, when the passengers in question were told as much, they “rioted,” according to One Mile at a Time.

Consequently, the flight — which departed from Newark at 11:00 PM and was scheduled to arrive at 4:20 PM on Friday and had just made it to the Canadian border — turned back around, landing back at Newark around 1:45 AM. The flight was ultimately canceled, and United released the following statement: “Our team at New York/Newark have provided our customers with meal vouchers and hotel accommodation and have made arrangements for customers to complete their journeys.”

There are very few scenarios, if any, wherein a diverted flight would solicit feelings of joy from me. But if I’m two hours into my 10+ hour flight to Tel Aviv and I’m told that we’re turning around because there are two people in business class who did not pay for seats in business class, refusing to leave business class only to then have my flight cancelled, my anger would be next-level.

Further, as Ben Schlappig pointed out, a diversion like that — given the amount of fuel burned, the pay for the flight crew and the subsequent impact on other flights — costs the airline tens of thousands of dollars. Do people really think there won’t be repercussions for having an entire flight of 123 passengers returned to its departure point? (The answer is: Apparently not, evidence by the fact that — per a new report from CNN — it’s the second U.S. flight in two days that has returned to its departure point as a result of unruly passengers.)

Of course, upon landing back in Newark, the passengers were met by police and arrested. As a reminder, the FAA has civil authority to propose fines up to $37,000 per violation for unruly passenger cases. A business class ticket on a United flight to Tel Aviv would’ve cost 10 percent of that, tops.