All too often people misbehave horribly on planes and get away with it. Here’s a case where someone is being held accountable, and even has to reimburse the airline for some of the expenses incurred because of his actions.
Why a United Airlines flight diverted to Anchorage
First let’s talk about what caused this incident. In February 2020, a 52 year old California man was flying United Airlines from Los Angeles to Tokyo.
According to reports, he started acting up shortly after takeoff, as a flight attendant observed him banging on the door of an airplane bathroom. When the flight attendant directed him to another bathroom, he attempted to shove the crew member, but failed.
The man returned to his seat but fell asleep. When he woke up, he ordered more alcoholic drinks, but was denied due to his earlier behavior. He then began swearing, and then struck the flight attendant in the face, before attempting to slam the flight attendant into the floor. At one point he even yelled “I will kill you.”
At this point the passenger was restrained, and the flight diverted to Anchorage, and was met by authorities. Because of the diversion, all passengers had to spend a night in Anchorage, as the crew would have “timed out,” meaning they couldn’t continue to the journey.
How this United Airlines passenger was sentenced
Last November during an arraignment the man had pleaded guilty to interfering with the flight crew, and then appeared in court earlier this week for his sentencing:
- He was sentenced to five years of probation
- He was ordered to reimburse United Airlines for expenses incurred during the diversion, including the cost of meals and lodging for the passengers and crew, which totaled $49,793
- The man’s attorney claimed that his client suffered from diabetes, and that this combined with alcohol, may have caused his behavior
- The judge stated that the man only avoided a prison sentence out of concern for his diabetes, which puts him at higher risk of COVID-19 infection
In the US we haven’t often seen passengers be asked to reimburse airlines for expenses incurred due to their behavior, so this sets an interesting precedent.
It’s worth noting that the ~$50,000 he’s paying is only a fraction of the costs United incurred because of this diversion, as it doesn’t factor in the return flight being canceled, additional aircraft, crew, and catering costs, etc. It simply covers the lodging and meals on the ground for everyone in Alaska.
In February 2020, a man caused a Tokyo-bound United Airlines flight to divert to Anchorage due to his behavior.
About a year later the man has been sentenced, and he’s looking at five years of probation plus having to reimburse United Airlines about $50,000 for some of the expenses incurred because of the diversion. He’s only avoiding a jail sentence due to coronavirus.
In the US we’re generally seeing less tolerance towards unruly behavior on planes, with the FAA even implementing a “zero tolerance” policy for misbehavior. I’ll be curious to see if this is the start of a trend whereby more passengers will foot at least part of the bill for diversions they cause.