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United Airlines flight to Washington forced to turn back to Beijing after passenger clashes with flight attendant

Cabin crew sends emergency alert after passenger who appeared to have been drinking became ‘physically abusive’

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 November, 2017, 2:02pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 November, 2017, 7:53pm

A United Airlines flight bound for Washington was forced to return to its departure airport in Beijing after a passenger became involved in an altercation with a member of the cabin crew.

Flight UA808 left Beijing Capital International Airport at around 7pm on Friday carrying 212 passengers, but it sent out an emergency code around two hours later.

News reports suggested that the passenger in question had been involved in a dispute with someone sitting in a neighbouring seat and then turned on a flight attendant who tried to calm the situation.

Flight radar images indicate that the Boeing 787 turned around close to the border with Russia while flying over Heilongjiang province. It landed in Beijing at around 10.30pm.

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The flight log posted on the website said the passenger in question was sitting in seat 18J in economy-plus class.

It said the crew had issued an alert at threat level two – sent in cases of physically abusive behaviour – after attempts to alleviate the situation failed.

“Flight 808 from Beijing to Washington Dulles returned to Beijing after a customer initiated an altercation with a member of the flight crew, causing a safety concern,” Frank Benenati, director of corporate communications of United Airlines, told the South China Morning Post in an email statement.

“Law enforcement met the aircraft at the gate and the customer voluntarily deplaned without incident,” Benenati said, refusing to identify the passenger involved.

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The Post was unable to contact the passenger to confirm the details.

According to The Beijing News, the incident began when two passengers became involved in an argument.

One of them was described as a foreign passenger whose body movements suggested they had been drinking alcohol.

The incident escalated when a flight attendant tried to intervene and the passenger refused to calm down. The crew then issued an alert and contacted police in Beijing, the report said, citing police.

It was not known whether the passenger had been questioned or detained by police.

United Airlines said the remaining passengers had been given hotel accommodation and meal vouchers, and had been rebooked on a flight scheduled to depart on Saturday.