Passenger who demanded more nuts forced United flight to divert to Belfast

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Police say a dispute with a passenger who wanted more nuts led to a Chicago-bound United Airlines flight being forced to divert to Northern Ireland. | Getty Images

LONDON — Police say a dispute with a passenger who wanted more nuts led to a Chicago-bound United Airlines flight being forced to divert to Northern Ireland.

The flight from Rome, UA971, touched down on Saturday to “offload” the disruptive passenger. However, as the flight crew had exceeded the number of hours they were permitted to work, the 269 passengers and 14 crew members had to wait until Sunday to continue their journey.

Jeremiah Mathis Thede, a 42-year-old with dual Italian and American nationality, was charged with endangering the safety of an aircraft, disruptive behavior and common assault.

Police told Coleraine Magistrates’ Court on Monday that the trouble began soon after takeoff when Thede demanded “nuts or crackers.”

He was given some nuts but later asked for more, and the situation escalated until the pilot became concerned about Thede’s erratic behavior.

Thede’s lawyer said his client denies wrongdoing.

Many of the 282 passengers spent the night at Belfast airport before flying on to Chicago on Sunday because there was not enough hotel space available. The Belfast airport called in additional staff, distributed water and blankets and opened two rooms at the airport for the passengers, many of whom spent the night sleeping on the floor.

Airport officials described passengers as “remarkably calm and understanding.”

“We understand the inconvenience this causes our customers and will refund their Rome to Chicago flight as well as offer the choice of a travel certificate or miles for our MileagePlus loyalty program,” United said in a statement.

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