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

Jan. 22, 2022
3 min read
United Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner New Livery Zach Griff - 1
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.