United Airlines Pilot Told Passengers Midflight They Were Turning Around Because Plane Was 'Too Large'

A United Express flight from Chicago to Tennessee was diverted midflight earlier this month because the pilot found the plane was "too large" to land.

The October 16 journey on Flight 5277—managed by United Express partner SkyWest Airlines—took an unexpected turn after 50 passengers were informed by flight crew that their plane had to turn around and fly back to O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, USA Today reported.

Two passengers, identified as Vince Fallon and Jill Lohsen, told the newspaper that the pilot had said the plane—a 76-seat Embraer 175—was "too large" to land in Chattanooga.

According to Fallon, passengers had suffered a "last-minute aircraft swap" prior to initial takeoff that was blamed on a mechanical issue. FlightAware records show the plane took off at 2:45 p.m. and was due to land at Chattanooga's airport, known as Lovell Field, but was diverted.

It landed back in Chicago at 4:19 p.m. Following a short delay, passengers were told they would be transferred to a different plane. A text update gave customers more details of the incident.

"We're sorry for returning to Chicago," it read. "The airport in Chattanooga is unable to assist with ground operational requirements for your current aircraft type. We assigned your flight a new plane." Customers were put on a 50-seat CRJ 200, reportedly standard for the journey.

On the day, Lohsen tweeted:

Got all the way to CHA from ORD only to be told we had to turn around because the plane was too big to land. Now back in Chicago just waiting to fly all the way back to Chattanooga on a smaller plane. Never flown @united before and probably never will again.

— Jill Lohsen (@JLohsen) October 16, 2018

The airline responded:

Hi, Jill. We sincerely apologize for this occurrence. Our teams are currently working to find a new plane for your flight and we will monitor and notify you of any new updates we receive. ^DJ

— United Airlines (@united) October 16, 2018

United Airlines did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A spokeswoman for airline partner SkyWest, Marissa Snow, told USA Today the initial plane was "just a different aircraft than typical for ground personnel there [at Chattanooga]."

Snow told Newsweek, "SkyWest Flight 5277 operating as United Express from Chicago to Chattanooga, Tennessee, returned to Chicago to change aircraft."

The statement added: "The flight landed safely in Chicago, departed for Chattanooga on a different aircraft and landed safely in Chattanooga. We apologized to our passengers for the inconvenience and worked with our partner, United, to provide compensation."

According to FlightAware, the journey resumed at just after 6 p.m. and reached its destination at just after 8 p.m., over three hours late. According to USA Today, customers received refunds and were given the choice of a $300 flight voucher or air miles. The journey typically takes two hours.

O'Hare International Airport
An airport worker walks through the United Airlines terminal at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on April 12, 2017. JOSHUA LOTT/AFP/Getty Images