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United flight to Israel turned around after passengers try a "self-upgrade"

Jan. 22, 2022
3 min read
United flight to Israel turned around after passengers try a "self-upgrade"
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A lie-flat business class seat is a dream for many travelers on a long flight overseas. Unfortunately, a couple of passengers on a flight bound for Tel Aviv caused the flight to turn around as they tried to make that dream come true mid-flight.

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United Airlines Flight Turns Around An Hour After TakeOff

United Airlines Flight 90 started out like any other flight. It took off from Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) on time at 11:05 p.m. Thursday, January 20, bound for Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport (TLV). Normally it takes roughly 10 hours of travel time on a Boeing 787-10, but the flight only made it a bit more than an hour from New York before turning around.

Two passengers in the economy class cabin decided that their seats weren't comfortable enough for the 10-hour flight. While many folks would agree with them, what they did next ultimately led to the flight returning to Newark.

The two passengers reportedly moved up to two empty business class seats. When confronted by flight attendants, the pair refused to move back to their original seats. The matter escalated from there and witnesses reported the two passengers started causing a massive disruption on board the plane. Ultimately, the pilot made the decision to turn the flight around just as they were reaching the US-Canada border and return to Newark. FlightAware shows the plane barely reaching the border before turning home.

United Airlines provided the following comment when we reached out:

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"United Flight 90 from New York/Newark to Tel Aviv on 20 January 2022 returned to New York/Newark Airport due to disruptive passengers on board. Law enforcement officials met the aircraft upon landing. The flight was subsequently cancelled. 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."

While police did meet the flight and remove the disruptive passengers, initial reports are that there were no charges brought against them. Based on reports from other passengers and the decision to turn the flight around, it would seem appropriate that the two passengers who chose to upgrade themselves would face some sort of punishment. At a minimum, they'll likely need to find a different way to get themselves to Israel.

Considering that the flight landed back in Newark well after midnight, the passengers on board must have been pretty frustrated with the circumstances. Flight 90 on January 20 was reportedly less than half full. With the previous night's flight carrying such a light load, it's possible some of those passengers that were delayed may have ended up with a legitimate upgrade from economy to business class on their rebooked flight.

At TPG, we recommend plenty of methods for scoring a business class upgrade, including using your Mileage Plus miles or Plus Points. Even though the new Polaris seats are quite comfortable, we don't recommend risking jail time for an upgrade on your next flight.

Featured image by United proposes using a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner on its Washington Dulles-Cape Town route. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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    The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.

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  • Annual Fee

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  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
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Why We Chose It

It's hard to find a card that competes with the mile-long list of benefits that come with the Amex Business Platinum. While it's certainly not the card for the average consumer, a business owner with tons of expenses -- especially related to travel -- will find this card incredibly valuable. This card is similar to the consumer version that Amex offers, but with more business-oriented perks around statement credits and earning rates that are a better fit for business owners.

Pros

  • An up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every four to five years
  • Up to $400 annual credit for eligible U.S. Dell purchases (enrollment required)
  • Gold status at Marriott and Hilton hotels (enrollment required)
  • Access to the Fine Hotels & Resorts program and Hotel Collection
  • Extended warranty protection
  • International Airline Program and Cruise Privileges Program

Cons

  • Steep annual fee
  • Difficulty meeting $15,000 welcome offer for smaller businesses
  • Limited high-bonus categories outside of travel
  • The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Earn 1.5X points (that’s an extra half point per dollar) on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year.
  • Unlock over $1,000 in annual statement credits on a curation of business purchases, including select purchases made with Dell Technologies, Indeed, Adobe, and U.S. wireless service providers.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year for checked baggage fees, lounge day passes, and more at one selected airline.
  • $189 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $189 back per year on your CLEAR® membership. CLEAR® is available at more than 50 U.S. airports and stadiums.
  • The American Express Global Lounge Collection® can provide an escape at the airport. With more than 1,400 airport lounges across 140 countries and counting, you have more lounge location options than any other credit card on the market as of 9/2021.
  • $695 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.