Passengers Claim United Flight Was Diverted After They Complained About In-Flight Movie

Parents say they weren't thrilled about the airplane showing "Alex Cross," but didn't make any threats.

Parents say they weren’t thrilled about the airplane showing “Alex Cross,” but didn’t make any threats.

UPDATE: United confirms to Consumerist that the flight was diverted and the family was removed from the plane. It also says it has conducted a review of its in-flight entertainment.


From the red-eye where my two choices of movie were the Jimmy Fallon/Queen Latifah vehicle “Taxi” or Halle Berry’s unique take on Catwoman, to my hungover experience of watching Meet Joe Black dubbed in Turkish, I’ve watched some horrible movies on planes. I’d never once thought to actually complain about it, and now I’m quite glad.

The Atlantic’s James Fallows has the story of a family (it’s the last section of the lengthy linked post) that claims that their complaints about the in-flight movie led to their flight being diverted and their being questioned by authorities at the airport.

The parents say they were flying from Denver to Baltimore on United in February when they noticed the movie being shown on the public screens was “Alex Cross,” better known as the movie where Tyler Perry doesn’t put on a dress.

Regardless, the parents felt the crime flick might be inappropriate for their 4- and 8-year-old sons, so they asked the crew if there was any way the drop-down monitors in front of them could be turned off or if another film could be put on in its place.

“The first flight attendant also claimed that the screen could not be folded up independently (which it clearly could) and that even if it could, she would still not authorize closing it because of the passengers sitting behind us,” they write to Fallows. “At this point, the passengers behind us spoke up and agreed the content was inappropriate for children and announced it would not bother them at all to switch it off. Both flight attendants, and later the purser, claimed that they have no authority or ability to change or turn off the movie. The purser did, however, agree with us, as did many more of the passengers around us, that it is patently inappropriate to expose children to such content.”

According to the parents, they asked if the captain had any authority to resolve the issue; they also asked for the captain’s name, but were told they would have to ask the captain directly when they deplaned.

“Throughout these interactions the atmosphere was collegial, no voices were raised and no threats, implicit or explicit, of any kind were made,” write the parents. “The flight continued without incident, while my wife and I engaged our children to divert their attention from the horrific scenes on the movie screens.”

But then they say that an hour later, the captain made an announcement that the flight was being diverted, for “security concerns” to Chicago’s O’Hare airport.

The family say they had no idea they were the security concerns until they had landed and police boarded the plane to escort them off the jet.

“The captain, apparently, felt that our complaint constituted grave danger to the aircraft, crew and the other passengers, and that this danger justified inconveniencing his crew, a few of whom ‘timed out’ during the diversion, and a full plane of your customers, causing dozens of them to miss their connections, wasting time, precious jet fuel, and adding to United’s carbon footprint,” write the understandably upset parents. N”ot to mention unnecessarily involving several of Chicago’s finest, two Border Protection officers and several United and ORD managers, and an FBI agent, who all met us at the gate.”

The interrogation, for want of a better word, lasted only five minutes, according to the passengers, but they were stuck waiting for hours until they were able to get on the next available flight to Baltimore.

They say that everyone at the airport — FBI, police, United staffers, basically everyone except the pilot — “were incredulous, and explicit in their condemnation of Captain [XX]’s actions.”

The parents say they have attempted to contact both United customer service and the CEO’s office, but have heard nothing back in response.

We have written to United’s press office to see if the company has a comment or wants to share its side of the story. If so, we’ll be sure to update.

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.