An international flight was forced to turn around in mid-air after two passengers reportedly tried to sneak into business class.
The United Airlines flight from Newark to Tel Aviv was rerouted because of the unruly passengers after staff asked them to show proof that they were sitting in their assigned seats, N12, an Israeli outlet, reported.
The altercation prompted the crew to turn around the plane back from its location at the time – the border between the US and Canada – to Newark Liberty International Airport.
United Airlines said in a statement that flight 90 was turned around “due to disruptive passengers on board”. Police met the plane as it arrived back at the airport and the flight was later cancelled. The airline said they “provided our customers with meal vouchers and hotel accommodation and have made arrangements for customers to complete their journeys”.
The Jerusalem Post reported one witness saying that two crew members approached the passengers around 90 minutes after takeoff and requested that they show their seat allocation, prompting the “disruptive” behavior.
The Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) told CNN that “no charges by PAPD were issued” and that no injuries were reported.
Passenger Roi Eitan told N12 that the argument started after the two passengers moved to the business class section of the half-empty flight.
Police officers entered the plane to arrest the Israeli passengers after landing.
In a similar episode, a transatlantic flight to London returned to Miami earlier this week after about an hour in the air because a first-class passenger refused to comply with masking rules, American Airlines said.
According to people sitting near the woman, she had been drinking and refused to comply with cabin crew requests to wear a facemask during the flight.
Passenger Steve Freeman, who was sitting nearby, told WPLG: “There was a lot of drinking involved and I was nervous. She sat behind us in first class, she was a first-class passenger and was extremely abusive to the stewards.”
He added that the woman had been offered masks by the cabin crew, but refused to comply with the rules and was rude to stay – something Mr Freeman said contributed to the plane being turned around.
“We almost felt something was going to happen. I could see the writing on the wall, they gave her a lot of warnings, so we were kind of ready for it. It wasn’t just about the mask. It was the abusive behavior,” he said.
Police officers waited for the flight to arrive back at Miami International Airport after the Boeing 777 had flown its 129 passengers and 14 crew members for about 500 miles out of its 4,400-mile trip when it turned around off the North Carolina coast, according to flight trackers. The plane landed an hour and 48 minutes after taking off.
“American Airlines flight 38 with service from Miami (MIA) to London (LHR) returned to MIA due to a disruptive customer refusing to comply with the federal mask requirement,” the airline said in a statement.
The company added that the plane “landed safely” at the Miami airport “where local law enforcement met the aircraft”.
“We thank our crew for their professionalism and apologize to our customers for the inconvenience,” they said.
Authorities said the person refusing to comply with the mask mandate was a woman in her 40s who was escorted off the plane by law enforcement. The airline put the woman on its “internal refuse list” while an investigation is being conducted.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recorded 151 instances of “unruly passengers” so far this year as of 18 January – 92 of which have been “related to facemasks”.
According to the agency, 32 investigations have been started this year, which have resulted in four enforcement actions being initiated so far.
In 2021, the FAA recorded 5,981 reports of unruly passengers, with 4,290 of them being related to facemasks.
The agency said in January of last year that they were putting in place a “zero tolerance” policy, which skips warnings or counseling and moves immediately on to penalizing rule-breakers, which could lead to large fines and possibly jail time.
Between 1995 and 2020, there were an average of 182 investigations started each year, but in 2021, that figure skyrocketed to 1,081 investigations initiated by the FAA.