United fliers spend night on airport floor after unruly flier sparks diversion
Nearly 270 United Airlines passengers spent Saturday night sleeping on an airport floor in Northern Ireland thanks to a diversion caused by an unruly flier.
United Flight 971 departed Rome for Chicago on Saturday but diverted to Northern Ireland's capital of Belfast when a passenger became disruptive. Authorities have not detailed the behavior of the man, who is said to have both American and Italian citizenship, according to the Chicago Tribune.
But Flight 971 passenger Debbie Boyce tells WLS TV of Chicago: "I think he was being aggressive towards other passengers, and towards the flight attendants."
The BBC says the man was arrested and now faces also been charges of "disruptive behavior on board an aircraft" an21d common assault.
Regardless, the Boeing 777 operating Flight 971 landed in Belfast on Saturday evening. The flight was unable to continue on to Chicago because the crew had reached its mandated work-time limit. Passengers had to spend the night in the airport because hotels in the city had little room to accommodate the flight's 269 passengers.
PHOTOS: via the Belfast Telegraph
Passengers ultimately spent more than 21 hours on the ground before resuming their trip to Chicago.
United tells WLS TV it will refund the passengers' tickets after the long diversion. And – unlike a United diversion to Newfoundland last week – most passengers did not appear to fault United's handling of the unexpected stop.
"Everyone at United was really generous with at least telling us what was going on and they were really concerned with safety, so I thought that was important," passenger Boyce says to WLS.
"I've got nothing against United, they did their best. It's just kind of a bad situation to be in," Tucker Eenigenburg, another passenger, says to WLS.
Still, another passenger disagreed, telling NBC News that United "should have done more."
"We understand the inconvenience this causes our customers and will refund their Rome to Chicago flight as well as offer the choice of a travel certificate or miles for our MileagePlus loyalty program," United said in a statement.
Still, the incident made for a long trip.
The Belfast Telegraph says the diverted flight landed in Belfast around 7 p.m. local time and that passengers were not able to deplane until about midnight.
Airport officials apparently spent some of that time calling hotels in the region looking for rooms.
A spokeswoman for the Dunadry Hotel – located about 5 miles from the airport – confirmed to the Telegraph that they had been contacted, but said the hotel had no availability Saturday night.
"We have been very busy for over a week," the spokeswoman said. "All the other hotels in the area are the same. We have tour groups arriving, groups of up to 40 people arriving on a bus. We have 80 rooms."
The airport did its best to help, calling in extra staff and passing out water and blankets. The Associated Press says airport officials also opened two extra rooms at the airport to make room for the passengers.
Despite the long diversion, passengers were "remarkably calm and understanding," Rod Haskins, Belfast's Airport Operations and Security Manager, say in a statement.