A Californian traveller who asked repeatedly for cheese and crackers on an international United Airlines flight has been acquitted by a jury of air rage charges and is reportedly considering suing the airline.
Jeremiah Mathis Thede, 42, was accused of acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft after cabin crew refused him more crackers, and possibly nuts, during a flight from Rome to Chicago last June. The captain dumped fuel and diverted the flight to Northern Ireland.
The incident was said at the time to have cost United Airlines a sum equivalent to AUD 646,000, with some 270 passengers delayed 24 hours and many ending up sleeping on the floor of Belfast Airport, to which the plane was diverted. (See: Cracker and nut case costs airline a fortune)
Jurors last week took about 30 minutes to find Thede innocent.
The case was very unusual. Other air rage cases have involved passengers assaulting cabin crew or their fellow passengers, trying to open aircraft doors in flight, going berserk, screaming abuse or urinating in public. Thede was accused of nothing remotely like that. He just wanted more crackers because he was hungry. He got up and down a few times to get possessions from the overhead lockers. The airline said his in-flight behaviour had been disruptive.
Thede’s solicitor Patrick Madden told the court the prosecution case and the decision to divert the flight “was all based on information which is inaccurate from the cabin crew, it was based on speculation, misunderstanding and misinterpretation.
“In fact there was simply no credible evidence in this case to suggest that Mr Thede had acted in any way to endanger this flight,” Irish news source BreakingNews.ie reported.
The Californian denied being aggressive towards flight attendants after being refused more crackers. Cabin crew claimed passengers concerned about Thede’s behaviour had approached them, but as BreakingNews.ie pointed out, none of the fellow travellers gave evidence.
Thede, who lives near San Francisco, told the court he was short of money following a long European trip and problems with a credit card, and had eaten only an apple during five hours waiting at Rome airport for the delayed flight home.
He was not disruptive, just very hungry, his legal team said. Thede’s barrister Aaron Thompson quipped that the whole trial “was a bit crackers”.
Before sending them away to consider their verdict, Judge Desmond Marrinan warned jurors (seven men and four women) against just taking the crew’s word for it, noting contradictions in their evidence. He counselled jurors to avoid rumour or speculation.
Thede was reported to be “delighted and relieved” at the verdict. His solicitor said his legal team would consider legal proceedings against the airline.
“United Airlines should reflect on this case. They should also consider how they handle complaints from passengers in future,” solicitor Madden said.
A spokesman for the airline said: “Although disappointed, we respect the decision of the jury in this matter.”
“The safety of our customers and employees is United’s highest priority.”
Written by Peter Needham