Outrageous: Man Whose Racist Rant Caused United Flight to Divert to Auckland Won’t Be Charged

The man who caused 252 United Airlines passengers to get stuck in Auckland for a day after his racist, homophobic rant on United’s New Year’s Day flight UA870 from Sydney to San Francisco led to a diversion will not face charges.

Here’s the man talking into his phone upon landing in Auckland, “Tell my dad to get his law firm ready because United Airlines just diverted the […] plane because I complained to some fat […] who got in my […] face.” (F expletives deleted.)

Apparently he was sitting between two passengers of South Asian descent and he… didn’t like that.

[T]he man became incensed that the two passengers on either side of him began talking over him. According to one passenger seated a few rows away, “The rant progressed from cursing Indians to Asians to Muslims to non-whites in general and calling flight crew faggots and fatasses. He was subdued after the pilot announced the diversion to Auckland.”

…”If you guys treat people right on these things, you see two last names the same don’t put someone else in the middle of them.”

The man was belligerent, it seems from about 40 minutes into the flight and it continued for hours while he “scribbl[ed] in a dog-eared copy of Catcher in the Rye.”

Here’s the man calling a flight attendant a ‘fat ass’ and declaring that it would be really cool for the plane to divert.

The pilot decided to divert more than four hours into the flight over an hour North of Auckland.

The flight diverted when it was near Tonga and reportedly had been denied permission to divert to American Samoa or Fiji.

Here’s the man being removed from the aircraft once it did.

Whether he was dealing with personal issues, drugs or alcohol, or being a jerk it clearly wasn’t the fault of United Airlines or fellow passengers. It’s a hard case that he shouldn’t somehow bear whatever responsibility that he can for the incident in my opinion.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. @Dan What you are saying is passengers and crew must tolerate any amount of offensive, racist crap for hours on end as long as the offender avoids making a clear and immediate threat to the safety of the flight. Correct?

    IMO flight safety is more than not crashing the plane. It includes maintaining an on board environment that is free from harassing and intimidating behavior ( as perceived by a reasonable person).

    If the only way of getting this lout – and he fits the definition perfectly – to stfu was to get his sorry ass off the plane, then well done United, very well done.

    P.S. always book with a card with good trip interruption coverage.

  2. No fly list . Not grown up enough for air travel . If you can’t be civil you can take the bus . Illegal behavior is not required for corporate sanctions . Passengers should not have to endure such vile behavior .
    Dan and others are trying to make excuses for this heathen . His actions are inexcusable .
    No fly list !

  3. You have to look at the bigger picture to assess this situation properly. A quick look at a short video, taken during one of his quieter interactions, doesn’t reflect the seriousness of the situation. Clearly there are some prepared to accept that freedom of speech can get ugly and that’s a reasonable price you have to pay for that freedom. Racial slurs are indeed protected under FOS; however, if it’s directed at someone in a derogatory manner or deemed to be threatening, then it can be a breach of the peace. And there are other people (I’m lookin’ at you Bill) with similar views who think this is OK because it fits their own ignorant worldview. But how many of you would do this, by yourself, on a flight? When have you ever seen a lone person standing face to face with someone hurling racial abuse where it didn’t escalate into a physical fight? It’s the sort of thing that angry mobs at Trump rallies do when they vastly outnumber the person being abused, or that anonymous trolls do; they wouldn’t, as individuals, physically go into somewhere where they were outnumbered and start racially abusing people around them; out of common sense and a realistic appreciation of the risks of the situation – even racists can figure that out.

    When someone does this, it’s clearly more than simple ignorant racism/bigotry, these are the actions of someone socially inept, mentally diminished, spinning out of control, who isn’t capable of properly assessing the risks or of conducting himself in a nonthreatening manner. He was a small guy, under 6′ and around 160 pounds. The article says he was 42, but he looked to be in his late 50’s. Of the 100 people within earshot of his racial slurs the chances of one of them reacting badly and knocking his teeth out were pretty high. But he was oblivious to that and kept up this highly risky behavior for several hours, flaring up again and again out of the blue or because he had been denied alcohol, and then quickly calming back down and even falling asleep occasionally. To anyone familiar with psychiatric conditions, it has several markers for sociopathy.

    Someone with so little self control being utterly aggressive for hours while trapped in a confined space posed too much of a safety threat to ignore. The flight crew tried maybe a dozen times to give him a way out – by simply sitting quietly for the remainder of the journey – but he refused and continued to act belligerently. When he locked himself away in the bathroom for half an hour people began to worry what he was up to. Would he emerge and try to open the cabin doors or something crazy? Would he manage to fashion some sort of weapon? In fact, he emerged crying and sat down quite calmly, perhaps finally realizing the trouble he was in after taking time to reflect. He didn’t flare up again until the plane had landed when he made a phone call demanding help. When it became apparent that the person on the other end wasn’t complying with his demands he started abusing that person and demanding to talk to someone else, and then got carried away again and started abusing the passengers around him again. Once the police started down the aisle he realized the show was over and started crying again, occasionally hurling a few more insults at people videoing the process.

    My guess is that he wasn’t charged in NZ because he never officially entered NZ. He spent a day or two locked up in preclearance. If they’d charged him then they’d have had to admit him and deal with him. If they could get him on a flight to the US with habeas corpus rules then it’s down to the US authorities to deal with him. He certainly committed at least one actionable crime by directly ignoring the captain’s very reasonable drink ban and grabbing at the cart and flight attendant trying to get one. United are certainly within their rights to ban him, and probably have an excellent case to sue for their loss (around $150,000). Other airlines would be foolish not to follow suit. As to whether he will be criminally charged, who knows?

    I’m sure lots of otherwise reasonable people have ‘lost their shit’ from time to time, in the heat of the moment. But there was nothing to cause his behavior (two guys who knew each other talking past him to borrow a pen to fill in the landing forms), and then to lose it for 5 hours abusing anyone who made eye contact – that doesn’t fall within the realms of reasonable behavior and is indicative of some serious underlying problem that made him very unpredictable and therefore an unknown but genuine threat. He may well have psychological issues or he may have been under the influence of drugs/drink; either way he is not fit to be allowed on commercial airlines.

  4. PS. I suspect the tears were crocodile tears, intended to manipulate people into a sympathetic reaction, either to get the flight crew not to have him arrested or to play the victim for the police. They looked fake. In fact, he displayed no real emotions other than anger and rage throughout – anything else seemed poorly acted.

  5. The Big large United Air waitress with glasses, pissed him off even more. First of all, she should have never said that he was shouting. He was not shouting, he was simply stating his
    disappointment about being seated in the middle of two traveling together.
    She should have diffused the situation, instead of getting all prissy on powertrip to threaten to call the authorities and get him even more pissed off.
    Her job is to remain calm and listen to customers and be an ambassador for an airline and she did a very pour job. In most cases all United Flight Attendants treat passengers poorly. United has one of the highest passenger complaint rate and United crews are known to be the nastiest meanest in the industry. Just google and you will see. No shock that his words were not chosen wisely and his behavior was due to his frustration. However the airline employees need to know how to handle these situations instead of acting out of their ego which United people do so often.

  6. Racism aside (because everyone is bias and cultural differences in what is acceptable is a real thing). Why didnt they have him trade seats with someone else? He probably was trying to read a book or watch a movie and could not concentrate as the people were talking loud enough to hear one another in a loud plane or possibly he was tired and needed sleep so was cranky and couldn’t sleep. Who wouldn’t honestly be annoyed by that? He probably let it build up inside and just blew up in anger. As Jedi’s say anger leads to hate. In fact the posters here let their anger lead to their own hate. Racism is a reflection of the natural psychological group process of “storming, forming, norming”

  7. @David agreed. Where we don’t have video concerning what happened before her statement that he was shouting at her in that moment was clearly not true at all. I was on an United flight where a man had his elderly mother in law move from the row behind him into the seat next to him. Problem was the seat next to him cost more than the seat behind him did. The FA came over and told him that she has to return to her original seat. This was totally proper because she didn’t pay the extra money for that seat. The guy got arrogant and mouthed off a bit to the FA. He did not curse, he did not shout, he did not stand up or make any gestures. In under 10 seconds the FA was threatening to go to the captain. FAs go on power trips like this and while she was in the right to have the woman move the threatening to go to the captain at the drop of a hat in the situation I observed was really absurd..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *