United Turned a Flight Around Mid-Air Due to Lack of Ground Equipment

Last Tuesday United turned a Chicago O’Hare to Chattanooga, Tennessee around because they realized the plane was too big for their ground equipment.

  • United flight 5277 was supposed to be operated by a 50 seat CR2 regional jet.
  • However United Express carrier SkyWest made an aircraft swap for a larger 76 seat Embraer ERJ-175

The flight took off from O’Hare and made it about halfway when the pilot announced they’d be turning around returning to Chicago because the plane was too large.

More than halfway into the flight – Fallon figures they got to the Kentucky border from a map of the flight route a friend sent – when the pilot told passengers he had some bad news.

“We’re going to turn and and go back to O’Hare,” Fallon said, recalling the gist of the pilot’s message.

There was a collective grumble.

Fallon and passenger Jill Lohsen recall the pilot saying the plane, a 76-seat Embraer 175, was “too large” to land in Chattanooga.

Of course a 76 seat regional jet isn’t too large for Chattanooga. It’s just too large for the ground equipment United has in Chattanooga.

United CR7s and EMB-175s: Too Large for An Airport That Supports Routine Mainline Traffic

Once back at O’Hare passengers were given “Cheez-Its, pretzels and water” and placed on a new aircraft. Everyone received a refund of “the Chicago-Chattanooga leg of passengers’ flights” and a $300 travel voucher.

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 »

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  1. That is ridiculous. United figures this out after the plane takes off from Chicago? I fly 175’s into small airports like Fayetteville, AR all the time. Chattanooga needs to improve their airport if it can’t even handle a small jet like an E175. What a pathetic city. Even their legendary Choo Choo sucks.

  2. @Mark – United needs to improve its infrastructure there – the airport already sees A320s from Allegiant and MD-80s from DL.

  3. For those pax whose itinerary is AnotherAirport – ORD – CHA costing less than AnotherAirport – ORD, would United threaten to charge the difference?

  4. It was SkyWest (UAX) that changed the equipment, and then realized that at the destination they couldn’t handle the slightly larger plane.

    A pity for the pax who got a “massive” upgrade from a CRJ2 to an E175 and then back onto a CRJ2.

    Their $300 voucher was more than I got for a 24 hour delay at Shanghai 6 years ago. So in perspective the pax did rather well.

  5. It’s not necessarily the size of the plane, but the specific type. If the plane needs to be pushed back the tow bar is unique to each aircraft type. The ground crew likely did not have an E175/190 towbar. They would not have been able to push the plane back after it pulled up to the gate.

    The only other option would have been grad a few ground crew and push.

  6. This is the kind of “amateur hour” that you get with the regional airlines sometimes. It’s why I try my very best to avoid any branding with the words “express” or “connection” and four digit flight numbers that start with 3 or greater. Also a great reason to fly Southwest, because you know you’re getting a 737 and not a small RJ.

  7. What is more expensive refunding the passengers journey plus $300 credit each (plus wasted fuel and salary of flight crew)? Or paying to borrow another airline’s equipment for a E-175 for a couple of hours? Somebody must have done the calculation…

  8. Whoops!
    I got to remind Ops again that those regional guys in dispatch need additional training.

    $300 Travel Voucher, some Cheese-Its and flying to nowhere could put a dent in the bottom line this quarter too.

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