United pilot turns airplane around midflight for bizarre reason

A United Express airplane on its way to Chattanooga, Tenn., on Oct. 16 made a U-turn in midair and returned to its origin, O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, a representative for Skywest Airlines (United Airlines’ partner company) confirmed to Yahoo Lifestyle.

The aircraft had been en route for about an hour when the about-face was ordered, said Marissa Snow, the Skywest spokeswoman. Initially, the 50-person plane the passengers were supposed to board was unavailable, so they were upgraded to a larger ERJ-175 aircraft. The flight departed at 2:45 p.m. local time, just a few minutes behind schedule, according to USA Today, and was proceeding without any issues when the crew made an announcement from the pilot that the plane would be turning around.

A United Airlines plane (Getty Images)
A United Airlines plane (Getty Images)

A passenger, Vince Fallon, told USA Today that passengers on the airplane began to grumble upon hearing the news. “The pilot, nor the flight attendants, did not have any information for us and just kept saying they would figure it out when we land,” another passenger, Jill Lohsen, was quoted as saying.

But when the airplane did return to O’Hare, the passengers finally received a text alert that read, “Your 2:13 p.m. United flight to Chattanooga is delayed because of unforeseen circumstances. This is an unusual situation and we’re working hard to solve it. We value your time and we’re sorry for the inconvenience.”

The unforeseen circumstances? The jet was too big to land safely in Chattanooga. “We didn’t have the ground equipment there to handle that aircraft,” Snow told Yahoo Lifestyle, also sharing the following statement:

On October 16, SkyWest flight 5277 operating as United Express from Chicago to Chattanooga, Tennessee returned to Chicago to change aircraft. The flight landed safely in Chicago, departed for Chattanooga on a different aircraft and landed safely in Chattanooga. We apologized to our passengers for the inconvenience and worked with our partner, United, to provide compensation.”

When the flight landed safely in Chicago at 4:27 p.m., passengers were provided with Cheez-Its, pretzels, and water, then assigned a new flight on a 50-seat Bombardier CRJ 200 that was scheduled to leave within the hour. Each passenger was also given a $300 flight voucher for a future trip. Their do-over flight wound up landing in Chattanooga at 8:30 p.m., three hours later than originally scheduled.

Though midflight turnarounds are very uncommon for airplanes, they do happen. In addition to the aircraft being too big for the runway, other weird reasons range from birds hitting the windshield to passengers getting sick, according to Travel + Leisure.

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