With three flights diverted within a week due to issues that started with passenger disputes over reclining airplane seats, it raises a few questions: How necessary was it to land in an unplanned city to let off the feuding travelers? How much do these unplanned stops cost? What can you and the airlines do to avoid some diversions?
Patrick Smith, a pilot for a major airline and creator of the travel website Ask the Pilot, told TheBlaze his initial thought was that these diversions were "a bit of an overreaction," while acknowledging that he doesn't know exactly what was said that led to the ultimate decision to divert the flights.
It can cost an airline $6,000 an hour, plus airport landing fees, to divert a standard domestic jet, said Robert Mann, an independent airline analyst.
"These costs are among the reasons why airlines ought to be arbitrating these in-flight issues instead of diverting, not to mention the significant inconvenience to all customers and possible disruption of onward connections," Mann said.
Smith told TheBlaze that the cost goes up significantly if it is a flight for a larger international plane.
"It becomes a domino effect when these things happen," Smith said, explaining how planes don't just fly from point A to point B and back again. "They're part of a matrix … part of a very complicated picture that passengers don't always see."
Before the flight crew makes the decision to divert — something Smith said is a collaborative discussion between cabin crew, pilots and the airline — "common sense" measures, such as reseating a passenger, are generally enacted first.
"There’s not necessarily a strict step-by-step formula that crew members follow. You do your best to ensure that it doesn’t come down to a diversion," Smith said. "There are certain rules though, certain lines that once a passenger crosses … a threat, physical contact," it that increases the likelihood of calling for a diversion.
In the case of the recent incident involving a Knee Defender device — which prevents the seat in front of a passenger from reclining — on a United Airlines flight, the flight attendant did move the woman who complained, before the plane ultimately diverted to Chicago to remove the two passengers involved in the dispute.
United did not return TheBlaze's request for comment.
Watch WGN-TV's report about the incident:
When it comes to deciding to lean their seats back, Smith wrote on his blog Ask the Pilot, people should ask first.
"If a seat has a recline function, you are within your rights to use it. However, that does not preclude you from exercising basic courtesy and politeness," the pilot, who has more than two decades of professional experience, wrote. "If there’s nobody behind you, recline away. If there is somebody behind you, perhaps ask if he or she minds you coming back an inch or two. If that person is unusually large or tall, then be a good sport and keep your seat upright."
If you do choose to recline, Smith advised that passengers do so slowly "so that you don’t spill the person’s coffee, break his kneecaps, or crush his laptop." If you don't abide by this advice, Smith is apt to label you an "assault recliner," his term for passengers who "come hauling back at full speed with no warning, leaving you but a split-second to save your laptop from this deadly nutcracker."
While seat recline disputes might have prompted recent unplanned landings, most diversions, Smith told TheBlaze, are for medical reasons that can not necessarily be avoided.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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