A man’s allegedly racist ranting aboard a New Year’s Day United Airlines non-stop flight from Sydney to San Francisco led the captain to divert the plane to Auckland, where police boarded the aircraft and offloaded the man.
The official cause of the diversion was that a passenger failed to heed crew instructions, but the New Zealand Herald quoted a passenger seated three or four rows from the action saying the man had launched into a verbally abusive, “racist rant”.
“The rant progressed from cursing Indians to Asians to Muslims to non-whites in general and calling flight crew f****** and fat asses,” the unidentified passenger told the NZ Herald.
While the NZ Herald online blotted out the word beginning with f, San Francisco-based news outlet SFist.com was less coy and said the man referred to the flight crew as “faggots and fatasses” and called some passengers faggots.
The man then apparently began verbally abusing flight crew before the captain announced the diversion to Auckland.
Some reports said the dispute arose because the man was seated in a middle seat and passengers were talking across him.
FlightAware shows the flight’s scheduled flight path to San Francisco (dotted lines) and its actual path, turning south to divert to Auckland
The flight was UA870, operated with a B787-9 Dreamliner, the latest in carbon composite technology, a type of aircraft which usually makes passengers feel at ease, with pressure and humidity similar to those on land rather than in the sky.
The flight departed Sydney on time on Sunday afternoon and was near Tonga in the South Pacific when it turned south and diverted to Auckland.
United Airlines spokeswoman Erin Benson told Newstalk ZB in New Zealand that all 252 passengers were accommodated in Auckland hotels overnight. The crew of four pilots and 11 flight attendants had run out of hours by that time and the flight took off again the following day.
A New Zealand police spokeswoman said the man, “a 42-year-old foreign national” was arrested on arrival and referred to immigration. A passenger described the man as Caucasian (white) and SFist.com said he was an American.
Written by Peter Needham