Fistfight on United Airlines Flight to Ghana Leads to F-16 Escort

by Chris Anderson Subscribe to Chris Anderson's posts Posted Jun 1st 2011 01:20 AM



We've all been there. The cramped confines of a plane can cause tension, and it sometimes boils over past politeness and things get said. This time, more than harsh words flew down the aisles.

According to the Washington Post, the fight started with a slap to the head and was followed by "peacemakers diving about the cabin to intervene and a pair of Air Force F-16 fighter jets scrambling into the night skies over Washington."

In an MSNBC report of the fight, spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander William Lewis said of the F-16 fighters scrambling, "They were just following typical procedures when you have disturbances. It's pretty commonplace whenever there's an airspace violation."

Commonplace or not, the United Airlines Ghana bound Boeing 767 dumped most of its fuel because the plane would have been too heavy to land, and returned to Dulles airport where the cranky brawlers were met by Dulles Police Force officers.

This isn't the first time a reclined seat has caused in-flight fisticuffs. In November 2010 a man on an American Airlines flight got so upset about a reclined seat that he pulled another man's ear so strongly that his glasses came off.

For that schoolyard style tuff back in November, Tomislav Zelenovic was charged with one count of "assault by striking, beating, or wounding on an aircraft," and faced up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.

So what does somebody get for throwing punches and causing a 767 to dump most of 16,700 gallons of fuel?

Apparently nothing.

In what could only be described as a first, at least without going back through 20 years of airline incident news reports, Rob Yingling, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority told the Washington Post that "Officers determined that the incident didn't warrant pressing charges."

Maybe airlines in the U.S. could discourage future in-flight fights on planes by following the lead of Hong Kong Airlines and start training flight attendants in Kung Fu.

Below is an audio recording of the pilot of the United flight and the control tower.

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Why didnt airlines train attendants kung fu after 911?

Will it take another incident for that to finally happen?

July 09 2011 at 6:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

i have flown many times and every flight i have been on, everyone that i can see, reclines when the captain says we can...never a problem...I have been on 16 hr flights and i'm sure as hell not going to remain upright for that long.

July 01 2011 at 2:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to phillip's comment

These are the situations that get very annoying. I am 6 ft. 4 inches tall, and if I don't get a bulkhead, or emergency row seat, then my knees are already in the back of the seat in front of me. Not a problem when no-one is sitting next to me because I can, kind of, open my legs. But even in that case, then I have somebody leaning back slighltly between my legs. And if I can't open my legs and they put the seat back, then, they are complaining because me knees are in the back of their seat. But, they don't care about anybody else's comfort, just their own.

July 16 2011 at 3:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Laura Woods

Unless some major design change has taken place recently on 767s, fuel cannot be dumped from this aircraft. It is/was perfectly capable of landing "heavy". Check the facts with Boeing.

June 03 2011 at 2:53 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Laura Woods's comment

Yes you can dump fuel on a 767. And Yes you can dump fuel in an extreme emergency. But dumping fuel would save it from an overweight landing and thus a follow up maintence check. Get your facts straight!

June 18 2011 at 2:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

fuel jettison is from center tank from two pumps for a jettison capacity of 2600 pounds per minute

there are center, left wing and right wing tanks
left/right wing tanks 6010 gallons each or 40,300 pounds each
center tank 11,900 gallons or 79,300 pounds

July 09 2011 at 6:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

geeknorth +1

June 02 2011 at 12:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Anyone who reclines their seat to any degree on a crowded airplane is an ignorant person to be sure.
The airlines should NOT be so innocent on this issue. Since when should an airline passenger have to endure someone else's greasy head some four to six inches from their nose on a long flight?

The airlines are at fault here on three counts - one for moving the seats so close together, and secondly, for allowing the seats to recline so much...and thirdly, probably for taking a so called "neutral" stance when someone complains about a seat in their face.

I refuse to recline my seat and do that to someone...and others should follow suit. It is very inconsiderate.

Yes, there should have been charges laid in this case...against United Airlines.

June 01 2011 at 6:01 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

are you kidding? So where was the Air force on 9/11? Give me a break.

June 01 2011 at 4:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

In the 1960's and most of the pre-2000 era, flying was a pleasure, most people were clean, neatly dressed and polite. The airlines could not do enough for the passengers, meals, drinks, snacks, re-routing flights when necessary, no body cavity searches. Now, I don't fly unless it is absolutely necessary, I would rather drive 5 days across country than get on a commercial airplane. A large percentage of airline passengers look, smell and act as if they were bred in and just crawled out of a swamp. The airlines generally treat passengers like cattle. I will give credit to the cabin attendants, a lot of them try to do a good job in spite of obnoxious passengers.

June 01 2011 at 2:13 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Would be curious as to the official position of the airlines on this if the complaint of reclining seat went to the stewardess. Would they tell front guy to raise seat or rear guy to shut up?

June 01 2011 at 2:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Better yet....why don't airlines just reconfigurethe seating arrangements and make more room between the seats???

June 01 2011 at 1:49 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mtall1's comment
Big Daddy Mark

WHAT....and lose money!!! LOL! ;-)

June 01 2011 at 2:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Being a septuagenarian and an occasional flyer I have had a chance to observe the behavior of others through the years. We have become an angrier society worldwide and especially here in the U.S. When I am out in public I keep a low profile. As to this incident I have flown to Ghana four times and will make my fifth trip come this fall. These trips have been with British Airways, KLM, and Lufthansa with Lufthansa being my airline of choice. Seating on any plane, in coach, is tight. This necessitates patience on the part of the passengers. My procedure is to book early, get an aisle seat, respect the passenger sitting next to me, and pray daily I sit next to someone with common sense. It's a hell of a life and no one gets out alive.

June 01 2011 at 1:27 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply