Man Forced To Pay United Airlines $50K For Diversion

Filed Under: United

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.

Bottom line

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.

Comments
  1. But what about this man freedom of expression? Airlines are becoming socialists enterprises!

    Just kidding šŸ˜›

  2. Let’s hope this sets a trend. One person can’t affect 200+ people’s lives without consequences.

  3. Did the judge ask for proof of the diabetes?

    Not that diabetes per se causes this sort of behaviour.

    Nor should it exempt someone from prision. Sentence could have been deferred until a later date.

  4. “cargocult says:
    February 18, 2021 at 8:50 am

    @Mauricio Matos

    What do you have to say about governors who force businesses to close?”

    State Governors can be censured by their state legislatures.

    They can be overruled by their legislatures and courts.

    They can be tossed out at the next election by the electors.

    In some states they can be subject to recall procedures.

  5. Diabetes + alcohol don’t mix well. My last time serving on a jury we convicted a diabetic man for running over and dragging a man 5 miles while he was heavily intoxicated. As I recall, the general guidelines for diabetics and alcohol are no more than two drinks of alcohol in a one-day period if you are a man, or one drink if you are a woman and to drink only with food.

  6. @Alan That’s what elections are for. The free will of the people elected the Governor. If the people didn’t check the Governor out and consider whether the Governor was going to act more in their best interests vs the other candidates, that’s down to them.

    And if the people who don’t like what the Governor is doing are in the minority come the next election, they either have to accept it, move state/country, put up / support a different candidate that puts them in the majority, consider if the majority has a different view whether they may be right, or try to become Governor themselves

  7. Hey should be held accountable and there should be consequences. But not lifetime consequences as some have suggested. People should have an opportunity to redeem themselves.

  8. The passengers who were delayed will never be made whole for their financial losses that were directly caused by this loser. No mention of a United BFL and frankly probation seems like a nothing sentence for assaulting a FA. And of course, the diabetes + alcohol defense was ridiculous. Sure, let all drunken diabetics off the next time they assault or worse, kill someone.

  9. A good first step. But, he got off way too easy.

    Throw him in jail, “diabetes” or not. Maximum sentence. Make him pay for every dime and yen of the actual costs, then add the maximum fine possible on top. A lifetime bad from United and every other airline – he goes on the no-fly list as a terrorist. Flight attendant and any other crew members and passengers who he assaulted should also sue him. Find out where he lives, go burn down his house. Have a mob beat him up when he’s finally released from jail.

  10. @Brian,

    Criminal defense lawyer here. If he doesn’t pay the restitution to United, the Financial Litigation Unit at the Anchorage U.S. Attorney’s Office will start garnishing his wages, seizing his assets, etc. The government doesn’t just ask nicely when it comes to enforcing criminal fines and restitution.

  11. How would locking this guy up in a cage at huge taxpayer expense make any sense? The carceral mindset on display from a few commenters is really stupid and destructive.

  12. @cargocult

    I’m not in the U.S. and I don’t like to mix stupid people with politics. Like someone said above, politicians can be elected (in democracies anyway) but I can’t choose who I fly with.

  13. He should have been thrown in jail. I’d bet any amount of money his diabetes is self induced from being grossly overweight. Could this clown could file for personal bankruptcy and have this debt absolved?

  14. Now that he has been found guilty, whats stopping the other passengers from suing him for personal loss in their individual capacity.

  15. “it’s not my fault, the alcohol I drank didn’t play well with my diabetes” is not a defense… They still chose to overindulge in alcohol and became unruly, I’m pretty sure they knew they had diabetes prior to boarding, they didn’t find out when they were already 5 beers in.

    They should be forced to pay 100% of United’s costs, not just $50k, including damages to the two FAs they attacked. Then be out on the no-fly list.

  16. Just curious if the passengers received any compensation, or if all money went to United. This had to be very hard on the passengers.

  17. Should have been actual damages. That could have approached $1M for the airline alone, not counting the pax.

    But criminals seldom pay their true debt to society.

  18. @Mauricio Matos

    Stupid people run for office and stupid people vote. Why should anyone be subjected to the (poor) decisions of others under force of violence?

    To the others who claim the democratic process works to protect people against incompetent or even evil public officials, tell that to the business owner whose lifetime work is destroyed before a governor can be recalled or voted out of office. (Democratic) politicians can learn from George McGovern’s post-Senate experiences.

    https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052970203406404578070543545022704

  19. I do agree that he should have to reimburse airline for his behavior. Just wondering if some day they will also make passengers reimburse for let’s say a medical emergency where the plane had to be diverted.

  20. @cargocult

    You’re right! In a real Democracy they would have taken a vote among the passengers about whether they wanted this guy to act up and divert and delay the flight. Then if he did it anyway, hang him for treason.. Simple.

    Long live mob rule, er, democracy!

    I’ll let you get back to making your airplane icon.

  21. Finally!!! A good start but not nearly enough for this man. He should be in the slammer AND pay each person anything they desire..Up to and including their own personal reasons to be payed.. I could go in and on for reasons to pay each passenger and crew member

  22. Business is closed because of COVID which poses a concern for other peopleā€™s health. We live in a SOCIETY folks.

    Diabetes is no excuse in this scenario. Alcoholism may be to a certain degree. Where was the mandatory rehab in his case?

    He was a danger to society because of the alcohol. Needs monitoring not prison which is in many cases a waste of tax dollars and ruins lives forever.

  23. I debated if I should say something here. And only going by what the article says. All of your comments about the diabetic man makes perfect since if, you’re not a diabetic. I am Type 1 and have been for almost 40 years. When your blood sugar is low, (hypoglycemic) you cannot control your mind or behavior. And I am talking deathly low. Sometimes you appear to be drunk and out of it. He may not have been sleeping, could have gone unconscious. I have been there. Always wear a medical ID bracelet in order to receive help. Point being to consider medical conditions. Apparently the judge did.

  24. Glad they fined him, but I think with his physical assault of the crew member, he shouldā€™ve been convicted of that too. Thereā€™s no place where hitting a worker should be tolerated.

    If he knows heā€™s diabetic and knows how he could be, why didnā€™t he just avoid the alcohol?

  25. Yes! Finally someone being held responsible for causing problems that effect everyone else who conducted themselves in a responsible manner. Restitution is in most states is required. if not paid then the active portion of the sentence can be imposed, some are reverted to civil judgments then any tax return or financial gains are garnished. So irresponsible behavior can hurt your wallet I love it. Dont drink and fly.

  26. Did this verdict open the door for passengers to sue this guy for damages they might suffer because of the delay?

  27. I support the fine and all, however he should sen United an email saying “Your money will be returned in 8-23 billing cycles. Please call 1-800-BITE-ME if you have questions.”

    Why??
    Because turnabout is fair play.

  28. It’s about time, good for United. Set an example, endangering other peoples lives is totally NOT except able. He should not be able to fly again!!!

  29. Don’t think that united is without fault. I’m not saying that this man shouldn’t be sanctioned but united doesn’t deserve a dime.

    I’ve flown them a number of times. I pay for business class but several times they have given my reserved seat away. Then they tell me that I have no choice but to fly to their little seats or do without.

    As a rule, they are rude and ignorant. I am a disabled Veteran and I have issues with my legs which is why I pay over $6,000 for round trip fare to Asia.

    I report them to the company and they say that they will look into it. Months later they say no steward or clerk remembers me although I furnish a sworn statement with names, dates and times. I even send them a picture of person I have dealt with.

    The only thing that happens is that they reimburse me for the difference in fares for the leg that they cheated me on.

    If anyone needs to be held accountable it’s the airline. When they quit cheating customers then, and only then do they have the right hold customers accountable.

    I was taking 3 or 4 international flights a year until I got tired of being cheated by the airlines. No sympathy for the airlines.

  30. Where are the assault charges? Terroristic or criminal threats? Kept reading thinking those had to be included for sure but I guess not.

  31. Looking at all comments made along side the incident and , not to disregard the seriousness of this or any other incident on a passenger airliner , but a mildly active imagination can come up with some comical hypos. Imagine such things as a small holding cell down in the cargo area for the unruly . FA’s giving breathalyzers to those who could become unruly, a kangaroo court held on the spot and a sequestered jury not being able to disembark until a verdict was reached (don’t ask about appeals !), etc etc
    Respect to the airlines and the crews on board as they should have importance levels higher than the passengers.
    Remember when that little Dr.. was dragged out of his seat and off the plane in NY ?That was the worse abuse of power I had ever seen. One has no need to know where the fault belonged there after United settled out of court within a very short period of time after the incident . It seemed extremely more accelerated than the normal course of action.
    The pecking order of Airlines employees whether on the clock or off should very similar to the overall pecking order that the FAA may or should have already n place , regarding incidences. A passengers 4 Kings beats FA’s 4 Queens or Air Employees 4 Aces beats any passenger issue. Intoxication, animals, special needs, ….its a circus ! There are no simple answers. Perhaps a move back to the basics. Ah , it sees house next door to the basic family looks good. Let’s call it
    The House of Common Sense !
    Sounds Great. But in the fine print , to CYA, we’ll have to state that the welfare of this house and inhabitants therein is subject to crime that may or not be occurring in the surrounding neighborhood !
    Thanks for the 1st Amd opportuntity.
    Take care all – S.T.

  32. Funny the airlines are never held accountable for anything like changing your flights and costing you tons more money or ruining your luggage nothing they do wrong is ever made up.

  33. Well, ~$50,000 in annual spend should qualify him for Global Services, right?

    Hey all, go easy on the guy – he was simply… misunderstood.

  34. His diseases or medicine mixing with alcohol is no excuse and at least he was held accountable for his actions.

  35. 50K is a lot for a bum living off the Gov’t. Tax payer money will be his payment. It’s TRUE blood sugar overdose from alcohol causes more drunkenness but not evilness. United should have had a trained air marshall on board to capture him. My brother flies overseas for United and doubles for security. I was a pilot and police officer years ago but United hiring competition was too big to get on.

  36. Let’s hope this plan takes off and is adopted by several airlines.

    This adds a day or two lost for the rest of the passengers that have to overnight in the diverted city. It also is the same for friend and/or family waiting for the delayed passenger.

    Something severe in regard to the fine or punishment i.e. lifetime ban on flying on this carrier or all airlines. Fines for additional costs associated with the delay.

  37. I know how about this idea. Ban airlines from serving alcohol on flights. They are culpable to what transpired on this particular flight.

  38. It’s about time to make people accountable for their actions. In this country people are abusing the 1st Amendment. They don’t care about respecting each other: they forget consequences follow actions. This guy should join the No-Fly list for at least a good 5 years. Being diabetic is not the problem the alcohol is. Too many people in this country act stupidly immature. Can you just imagine the disturbance to the other passengers, etc. Who had the freedom of assaulting others. Think about others for once. Stop this me, myself and mine…

  39. Interesting that Lucky gives us zero input on the assaulted crewmember. Are they ok? Did they get hurt? Shoddy reporting or lack of interest? Not much concern from posters here either. That’s typical of what we read on this blog sometimes.

    Instead we now know more about alcohol and diabetes than what actually happened to the crewmember. It’s a sad insight into the minds of many travelers today. Either they just don’t care and look away, or they think its part of the job to be assaulted.

    For those who hijacked this story to list their phony airline grievances you really need to get a life. Your selfishness leaps off the screen. Most of us are sick and tired of these nutbags who tend to gravitate to airports for some reason.

    Lastly, if you hate United Airlines that much why not just pay the guys $50,000 fine? He’s your hero, right?

    Keepin’ it real,
    Jimmy Mack

  40. @ Jimmy Mack — I provide zero “input” on that because I don’t know. More information hasn’t been released about the crew member, best I can tell.

  41. Just curious. Assuming the FA was not seriously injured (requiring Medical attention) and the purp was restrained, why not finish the flight to NRT rather than inconveniencing everyone? Also, what about an assault charge? We have an extradition agreement with Japan to get him back if needed.

    Last, I have high blood sugar controlled with meds. I can have a couple of drinks per my Doctor with no issues. This escapade was not a couple of drinks!! The guy was sloshed and wanted more.

  42. @Lucky

    My guess is you or me will never know what happened to the assaulted crew member. I donā€™t think anybody is interested in finding out. Airlines have a long history of burying these stories of attacks on their personnel. Itā€™s bad for appearances. Negative publicity. An unseemly aspect of the industry theyā€™d rather not discuss openly.

    But itā€™s happening with more frequency.

    I personally know of a crew member who had her jaw broken by a punch from a passenger on his way off the airplane. Never saw it coming. One nasty punch, and he simply stepped off the airplane and disappeared into the airport. She had to pursue it in Civil Court (by luck she caught his name on his bag tag and wrote it down).

    Not one representative of her airline appeared in court on her behalf.
    The jury awarded her only $7500. for missed pay. The assailant claimed he was ā€œoff his medsā€ that day. They felt more sorry for him. Amazing.

    $7500.

    I donā€™t know why she went back to work for them. They just laid her off due to Covid. Yet another assault.

    Keepinā€™ it real,
    Jimmy Mack

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