United plane diverted when parents complain about inappropriate in-flight movie

Should airlines be allowed to screen movies with adult-oriented content? (Getty)

Last month an unnamed family of four was onboard United flight 638 from Denver to Baltimore when an in-flight movie with graphic violence and sexually explicit content was projected onto a drop-down screen falling right above their seats. The parents decided that the PG-13 movie “Alex Cross” was inappropriate for their boys ages 4 and 8, but they couldn’t stop their boys from watching the movie because the screen was directly in front of them.

The parents asked a flight attendant if the monitor could be turned off. They were told this wasn’t possible.

The parents, who shared their anecdote in a letter to the The Atlantic Magazine, continued to protest and asked if the monitor could be pushed up. A flight attendant told them that this wasn’t possible, but in their letter to The Atlantic, the parents say it was clearly possible. The flight attendant also said it wouldn’t be fair to push up the screen because the passengers sitting behind the family might be watching the movie, although the parents say that all the people sitting around them were in agreement that the content of the movie was inapprorpriate.

The parents went on to ask if the captain could be consulted on the matter, but they didn’t receive a response. They then asked for the captain’s name.

One of the parents writes in the letter to The Atlantic:

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.

An hour later, the captain came over the PA and said he was diverting the plane due to security reasons. The plane landed in Chicago where a police officer boarded the plane and asked the family, much to their disbelief, to collect their belongings and disembark.

The letter to The Atlantic reads:

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.

The parents reached out to United after the incident but never heard back.

ABC News contacted United and received the following statement:

United flight 638 from Denver to Baltimore diverted to Chicago O’Hare after the crew reported a disturbance involving a passenger. The flight landed without incident and the passengers were removed from the aircraft. We reaccommodated the customers on the next flight to Baltimore and have since conducted a full review of our inflight entertainment.

I don’t even know what to think about this situation. The plane never should have been diverted. An entire plane full of people shouldn’t have been inconvenienced—unless the parents aren’t telling the truth in their account and they were complaining in a scary, abusive way and seemed like a threat to others on the plane. (We’ve only heard one side of the argument, so it’s hard to make a judgement call.)

I can understand the parents concerns around inapprorpriate content in in-flight movies. I remember distracting my 3-year-old son from a death scene during a plane flight. I remember wishing that the airline picked tamer films to show on flights but I didn’t feel like it was my place to complain. My son was one of a handful of kids on the plane and why should the rest of the plane be barred from seeing the film because it had a few difficult, emotional scenes? It was easy enough to distract him with books and games and to just tell him not to look at the movie. Plus, I knew that airlines usually stay away from the most graphic R-rated material and often edit films, removing extremely inapprorpriate content.

Yes, I think airlines should probably stay away from certain movies. Why show Zero Dark Thirty on a plane? Those torture scenes are horrific and not everyone, even adults, wants to seem them. And yes, it would be easier for parents if planes screened The Muppets and Phineas and Ferb on shared screens because then we could just kick back and read our books or take a nap. But can we really expect airlines to bend over backward for their pint-size passengers?

Parents should consider bringing along their own little DVD player and a slew of family-friendly movies or, better yet, read your kid a book. Another idea: Look for an airline with individual screens on seat backs and then your kids can watch Nickelodeon throughout the flight.

Categories: Travel

4 Responses

  1. Aw, this was a really nice post. In idea I wish to put in writing like this additionally – taking time and precise effort to make an excellent article… however what can I say… I procrastinate alot and by no means seem to get one thing done.

  2. Huh? says:

    Friendly skies my a$$! Unless there was a ruckus on that plane… And people’s safety was in jeopardy, there was no reason to have that family pulled of the plane. Parents shouldn’t be villanized for wanting to protect their children from violence and inappropriate viewing material. Perhaps if more parents were protective of what young children are exposed to, we would have more regard for human life and less violence. Shame on the captain for wasting the time and money of every single person on that plane who missed a connecting flight or was otherwise inconvenienced by this event. Had I been on that plane and missed my connecting flight I would have been pissed.

  3. Really? says:

    I can’t believe the writer is sticking up for the airline! This is just another example of the abuse of power these airline employees and TSA agents feel they are entitled to. Also, another example of how parents are not allowed to decide what their children are exposed to…society gets to tell us what’s best. Wake up Americans! This could happen to YOU at any time. Keep quiet, though, and continue to be cowed by the system, says this writer!

  4. lck says:

    Sometimes you just need to shut your mouth, how inappropriate can a PG-13 movie be? I’m glad they got diverted and removed.