The packed United Airlines flight from Rome to Chicago – with 282 passengers on board – was already over the Atlantic when the pilot decided to turn back and make an emergency landing at Belfast Airport because of fears over the man’s disruptive behaviour.
The incident is estimated to have cost the airline up to £350,000. Meanwhile passengers had to wait almost 24 hours before taking off again, and almost all had to sleep on the floor of the terminal.
Jeremiah Mathis Thede, from California, appeared on Monday at Coleraine Magistrates’ Court, where he denied charges of endangering the safety of the aircraft, disruptive behaviour on board, and common assault against a stewardess. He was remanded in custody and a psychiatric examination was ordered.
According to the Daily Telegraph, a policeman told the court that the trouble began when Thede stood up 15 minutes after take-off – with the seat belt lights still on – and demanded “nuts or crackers”. He eventually sat back down when he was given some nuts, but 10 minutes later he stood up again and demanded more.
When told he would only get another snack if there were packets left over when other passengers had been served, he replied: “I can have as much nuts and crackers as I f*****g want.”
Fellow passengers also claimed that he kept getting up and down from his seat, repeatedly opened overhead lockers, blocked the aisles, and kept making trips to the toilet. The pilot eventually asked a group of men to sit around Thede in case he became violent, but the court heard that “no one was struck” during the incident.
Thede’s solicitor said: “His position is he’s done nothing wrong and effectively this is an overreaction by staff in the plane.”
It’s not the first time a flight has been disrupted by a dispute over in-flight snacks. Former Korean Air executive Heather Cho found herself behind bars last December when she ordered a flight back to the terminal at JFK in a row over the way she had been served a pre-flight snack of macadamia nuts. She was released from prison last month.