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Family Says Flight Was Diverted After They Complained About a Violent Inflight Movie Shown to Their Children


"Had this been in a cinema or a restaurant, we would have simply left if the content were too violent, or too sexual, for a preschooler and a 2nd grader."

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Getty Images

A Baltimore family says their United Airlines flight was diverted and they were hauled in for questioning by law enforcement all because the parents didn't want their young sons to see the violent PG-13 movie being shown on the plane.

The family, who has not been named, told the Atlantic they were flying from Denver to Baltimore in February with their 4- and 8-year-old boys. During the flight, the crime thriller "Alex Cross" was shown on the drop-down screens. The family said they tried to get the flight attendants to turn off one of the monitors so their children would not see the graphic images, but were told that wasn't possible.

After some back-and-forth -- in which other passengers even agreed the film was inappropriate -- the parents relented and tried to engage their children in other activities to distract them from the movie. That's when the captain announced that due to "security concerns" the flight was being diverted to Chicago. To the family's surprise, once the plane landed, a police officer boarded and told them to gather their belongings and follow her.

"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," the family said.

They said they were met at the gate by Chicago police, two Border Protection officers, several airport managers and an FBI agent. The family was briefly interviewed, had their backgrounds and identities checked, and eventually booked on the next fight to Baltimore.

"Everyone involved: the FBI agent, the police officers, United employees, the passengers around us and (we were told) some of the crew, were incredulous, and explicit in their condemnation of [the captain's] actions," the family said. "However, even United's area supervisor, although cordial and helpful, was powerless to override the captain's decision that we be removed from the plane."

In a statement to Fox News, United Airlines said the flight was diverted after "a disturbance involving a passenger" was reported.

"United flight 638 from Denver to Baltimore diverted to Chicago O'Hare after the crew reported a disturbance involving a passenger," the airline told Fox. "The flight landed without incident and the customers were removed from the aircraft. We re-accommodated the customers on the next flight to Baltimore and have since conducted a full review of our inflight entertainment."

The family said they were concerned about "the abuse of power" shown by the captain.

"We understand that airline captains can and should have complete authority. However, when this authority is used for senseless, vindictive acts, it must be addressed," they said.

But the bigger issue, they said, is how United decides which films to screen passengers, who have no choice but to have the images played before them.

"Had this been in a cinema or a restaurant, we would have simply left if the content were too violent, or too sexual, for a preschooler and a 2nd grader. Cruising at 30,000 feet, leaving was not an option," the family said.

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