Have you heard about this story that was first reported at The Atlantic? United flight 638 from Denver (DEN) – Batimore (BWI) was diverted after a father complained to the cabin crew that the overhead movie, Alex Cross, was too violent for his two young sons. The family complains that the crew were unresponsive to their concerns and that out of nowhere the captain then decided to divert the plane to Chicago (ORD) due to “security concerns”.

On February 2, 2013 we travelled with our two young boys (4 and 8 years old) aboard United 638 from Denver to Baltimore’s BWI airport. The inflight entertainment was the movie Alex Cross, which United’s own inflight magazine rated as ‘T’, or, “Adult Themes”. It includes extreme, graphic violence and sexually explicit content. On our plane, an A320, the movie was projected on drop-down screens above the seats, such that we could not shield our young children from this inappropriate content. Alarmed by the opening scenes, we asked two flight attendants if they could turn off the monitor; both claimed it was not possible. The first flight attendant also claimed that the screen could not be folded up independently (which it clearly could) and that even if it could, she would still not authorize closing it because of the passengers sitting behind us. At this point, the passengers behind us spoke up and agreed the content was inappropriate for children and announced it would not bother them at all to switch it off. Both flight attendants, and later the purser, claimed that they have no authority or ability to change or turn off the movie. The purser did, however, agree with us, as did many more of the passengers around us, that it is patently inappropriate to expose children to such content. We asked if the captain has the authority to address this issue, but received no response. A few minutes later we asked for the captain’s name (I failed to make note when he welcomed us on the PA system), and was told, by the purser, that we will have to ask him ourselves when we disembark. Throughout these interactions the atmosphere was collegial, no voices were raised and no threats, implicit or explicit, of any kind were made. The flight continued without incident, while my wife and I engaged our children to divert their attention from the horrific scenes on the movie screens. More than an hour later the captain, [name withheld for now], announced that due to “security concerns”, our flight was being diverted to Chicago’s ORD. Although this sounded ominous, all passengers, us included, were calm. After landing a Chicago police officer boarded the plane and, to our disbelief, approached us and asked that we collect our belongings, and follow her to disembark. The captain, apparently, felt that our complaint constituted grave danger to the aircraft, crew and the other passengers, and that this danger justified inconveniencing his crew, a few of whom “timed out” during the diversion, and a full plane of your customers, causing dozens of them to miss their connections, wasting time, precious jet fuel, and adding to United’s carbon footprint. Not to mention unnecessarily involving several of Chicago’s finest, two Border Protection officers and several United and ORD managers, and an FBI agent, who all met us at the gate. After we were interviewed (for less than 5 minutes), our identities and backgrounds checked, we were booked on the next flight to BWI, and had to linger in the terminal for hours with our exhausted and terrified little boys. Everyone involved: The FBI agent, the police officers, United employees, the passengers around us and (we were told) some of the crew, were incredulous, and explicit in their condemnation of Captain [XX]’s actions. However, even United’s Area Supervisor, although cordial and helpful, was powerless to override the Captain’s decision that we be removed from the plane. To us, this incident raises two grave issues. First, the abuse of power by Captain [XX]. We understand that airline captains can and should have complete authority. However, when this authority is used for senseless, vindictive acts, it must be addressed. Second, and of even greater concern is United’s decision to inflict upon minors grossly inappropriate cinematic content, without parents or guardians having the ability to opt out. Had this been in a cinema or a restaurant, we would have simply left if the content were too violent, or too sexual, for a preschooler and a 2nd grader. Cruising at 30,000 feet, leaving was not an option.To this date, our appeals to United to address these issues remain unanswered. We wrote to their Customer Service, and directly to their CEO, but received no responses.
Now, I haven’t seen the movie to comment on its content, but it certainly seems like both parties may have overreacted. We also only have the passenger’s story and don’t know what the captain was told. As they are described above, I wouldn’t exactly consider the family’s actions as posing a security threat that should have resulted in a costly and timely diversion to ORD. Though, it’s also interesting that the family couldn’t simply find other ways to occupy their boys (iPads, games, etc.) to keep them from viewing the movie, while allowing other passengers to continue watching.

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Jetstream007 April 5, 2013 - 11:03 am

Only in the US… of course there seems to be (based on this info, being just one side of the story) an overreaction. However, nobody knows what the captain was told and how the cabincrew felt about it….if they felt uncomfortable, that might be enough reason for a diversion. Hard to judge in hindsight.

De April 5, 2013 - 11:49 am

Sounds to me like the parents and the children were clearly on a practice run for trying to take the plane under the guise of not conforming to the group entertainment selection made by united.

“Security concerns”. What a load of sh*t. Just wait until 2.35″ blades are allowed in the cabin.

De April 5, 2013 - 11:50 am


Scottrick April 5, 2013 - 12:44 pm

It’s also interesting that United couldn’t simply screen its films better. I don’t mind what they put on IFEs (to a limit), but clearly stuff on the main overhead screen should be filtered more carefully.

The synposis from IMDB reads: “A homicide detective is pushed to the brink of his moral and physical limits as he tangles with a ferociously skilled serial killer who specializes in torture and pain.”

Yeah. Sounds like great entertainment for a general audience. I don’t even want to watch that, and I have no problem with other stuff like Game of Thrones.

Jason April 5, 2013 - 1:20 pm

“it’s also interesting that the family couldn’t simply find other ways to occupy their boys (iPads, games, etc.) to keep them from viewing the movie”

Yeah…you don’t have a 7 year old boy, do ya? TVs have an incredibly attractive response for kids, kind of like a porch light to moths. Add some gun shots or fast action, and there’s not much you can do other than turn it off.

BO April 5, 2013 - 2:21 pm

Captain exercises full control over the aircraft and has the authority to take any action deemed necessary during flight. Even UA’s CEO cannot override a captain’s decision to have passengers removed from the plane. It is, however, unnecessary for the captain involved to make such a decision in this case. I would say that UA should take some actions followup with the passengers. Realistically there is nothing UA employees at ORD could do.

alan April 5, 2013 - 4:09 pm

1) Overhead movies…. What year are we in and no personal IFE? Get on the program united.

2) Clearly an over reaction.

3) However, to the parents… What did they -expect-? Granted UA overreacted and I don’t think anyone would have forseen this, but what did the parents want? Did they think it was appropriate to stop the movie!? There was no reason to complain or make a scene at all since. (Sure, complain later but no reason to do it on the flight).

4) Someone sympathetic… Even on Personal IFE, sometimes I’m watching a movie that gets a little racy. I’m always glancing around and feel guilty that someone nearby may be offended.

Matt April 5, 2013 - 4:17 pm

Perhaps this is the new reality, sadly.
Two sides to every story but this truly reminds me to be a quiet passenger at all times. I wonder how other countries/cultures would deal with this issue?

Mike April 5, 2013 - 4:19 pm

If I missed my connection cause a captin thought they were a risk I would be extremely pissed. Everyone on that flight should complain to united about the stupidity of what occurred. All the captain had to do was come out of his cabin make the family aware they are the first people ever to be upset about this thank you very much and we will like united visual team aware of violent movies WoW that was too difficult for a captain to do maybe he should get a new job

Jay B April 5, 2013 - 5:17 pm

People who missed flights or had other losses should take legal action against United and the Captain.

Drag the Captain’s @$$ to court and let the truth come out.

Kris Ziel April 5, 2013 - 7:20 pm

Any ethical lawyer wouldn’t take this case because there is no chance of it going anywhere.

Eduardo April 5, 2013 - 6:11 pm

Just cover the screen with a piece of paper and tape (and put a bird on it).

Drew April 5, 2013 - 6:12 pm

It seems a bit extreme to remove them from the aircraft, but I side with the captain.

Jay B April 5, 2013 - 6:23 pm

I’m unable to understand his decision. Can you let us know why you side with him ?

Arms April 8, 2013 - 12:50 am

as follows : Steve Williams says:
April 6, 2013 at 9:28 am
I personally know one of the flight attendants on this flight and what the parent conveniently left out of his letter was the fact that his wife attempted to push/shove the monitor back up into the ceiling. It was these actions that caused the crew to take the steps they did. and as a crew there are certain rules pax will have to abide by strictly and are taught to crew members that pax are not to tamper/alter anything on board and they then assess/report/re-assess and make decisions

Kris Ziel April 5, 2013 - 6:25 pm

Seems a bit extreme to throw a fit because you don’t like what is on the IFE.
Seems a bit extreme to divert the flight for safety concerns (although we only have one side of the story).
Seems more than a bit extreme to sue the captain/airline, that will go nowhere fast. And FYI, it was a flight to BWI, so if there were any connecting passengers, it would be just a few.

William Tell April 5, 2013 - 7:07 pm

Fire that idiot pilot.

Stephen April 5, 2013 - 8:16 pm

@Adam @Scottrick have any of the Boarding Area bloggers reached out to United via their connections to see if they can get a response on this situation or start dialogue between the two parties?

RJ Brown April 5, 2013 - 8:28 pm

And this is important because?

And reading this gets me 500 bonus points where?

Tale April 5, 2013 - 8:55 pm

Didn’t the family got what they wanted, to be taken off the plane as they could not have walked out at 30k feet?

In todays age of Ipads, Iphones, books, games etc possibilities for distraction are endless.
Is it really that difficult to tell to your children that you don’t want them to watch the content presented. (remember that the audio is fully under self control.

Carl April 6, 2013 - 12:29 am

The writing style of the passenger sounds like he was being rather insistent and causing a disruption

Carl April 6, 2013 - 12:31 am

Oh, and there are no onward connections at BWI. Not that would have been ticketed on UA.

HikerT April 6, 2013 - 1:06 am

Due to “security concerns”? What a crock! Sadly, more than a decade after 911 and the terrorists continue to win. 🙁 People need to stop being tools and defending this nonsense.

Alex April 6, 2013 - 3:54 am

If it was such a big deal why couldn’t the flight attendants have just stopped the movie throughout the cabin? Surely that would have been less of an inconvenience than a diversion.

Jeff April 6, 2013 - 8:36 am

I agree with Edwardo — as long as the other passengers had no objection…..then put a piece of paper with some tape on the screen and shut up. Also….speaking of shutting up…….so what if that one movie might have been a bit inappropriate for kids……the world does not revolve around your kids….ever heard of grin and shut up! a couple of hours of a movie your kids did not even understand would not have harmed them in the least.

DFW Steve April 6, 2013 - 8:58 am

People wring their hands incessantly over Newtown. Then turn right around and see nothing wrong in exposing young children to the same kind of violence.

There is a word for people like that. Hypocrite.

Mikey April 6, 2013 - 9:13 am

seems like a juvenile response by the pilot to an easily resolved problem.

Steve Williams April 6, 2013 - 9:28 am

I personally know one of the flight attendants on this flight and what the parent conveniently left out of his letter was the fact that his wife attempted to push/shove the monitor back up into the ceiling. It was these actions that caused the crew to take the steps they did.

Jason H April 6, 2013 - 12:58 pm

Yeah, touching a monitor is a reason to divert a flight. The crew and pilot demonstrated they are bullies.

Arms April 8, 2013 - 12:43 am

I had to offload a pax during boarding in BNE as he was mishandled at check in dispute regarding excess baggage fees which I found out later but he was slamming the overhead bins and kicking his way into his allocated seat which made me and the pax sitting next to him feel uncomfortable… after ignoring my attention to assisting him further with stowing his handluggage I had to report him immediately to my Senior who then tried to focus her “charms” on him only to be met with a disgruntled attitude so we had to let him go… so the Captain was informed and he was met with Security pre-pushback and we had a pleasant flight all the way back home… so there is another side to the story

Brian April 6, 2013 - 6:16 pm

The movie is PG-13 AND it’s Tyler Perry — noted religious director of the Madea comedy movies. How bad could it have been?

Kenneth D. McClintock September 5, 2013 - 12:22 pm

This is part of what I call the dictatorship of security. No matter what the rest of the story may be, the Captain overreacted and abused his power.


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