Diverted flight accused ‘wanted extra snacks because I was hungry’

Jeremiah Mathis Thede arrives at Antrim Crown Court before giving evidence on Tuesday
Jeremiah Mathis Thede arrives at Antrim Crown Court before giving evidence on Tuesday

An American man accused of endangering an aircraft has said he asked for more crackers because he was hungry.

Jeremiah Mathis Thede, 42, denied behaving aggressively towards cabin crew during a United Airlines flight from Rome to Chicago last June and blamed them for acting evasively. The plane diverted to Belfast.

He was given one snack – two crackers and a small piece of cheese – which did not fill him, and he was refused when he approached flight attendant Lisa Hall to ask for a second portion.

He said: “I am a frequent flier, I have been flying my whole life, I am flying with frequent flier miles. In all my experience of flying I have not heard that policy before.

“Any time I requested snacks they asked me how many I wanted and they gave me as many as I wanted complimentary so I was questioning the policy she had just quoted.”

He said it was not a heated conversation and he did not point in the attendant’s face or swear at her.

The defendant, from Berkeley, California, claimed Ms Hall refused to give him her name and was “evasive”. He said she then left his area.

“She kind of left me sort of high and dry.”

He said he did not chase Ms Hall down the aisle and denied brandishing a pen and paper when asking for her name.

He said that because he was hungry and could not sleep he had used part of the flight to write up the contact details of acquaintances he had made on his travels. That entailed opening the overhead luggage bins to check through various pieces of baggage, he told Antrim Crown Court.

He was lightly dressed because it was hot in Rome and put on another layer when the cabin became relatively cold.

Senior cabin crew member Sheila Wire has said his actions escalated matters and claimed she was approached by concerned passengers.

She approached his seat with a man Thede assumed was an air marshal, although Ms Wire has denied this. She has said she was concerned by his lack of engagement with her.

The accused said: “I would characterise it as a warning, although I did not know what for. I would characterise it as sort of a chastisement.”

He said it seemed to be an issue of compliance.

“I had presented to her that I had an issue. Instead of making an inquiry about my issue she took the position that I was, by her estimation, not behaving appropriately. I did not want to exacerbate the situation so I did not comment.”

The plane had to dump thousands of litres of fuel before making the unscheduled stop in Northern Ireland.

As the crew would have exceeded their legal flying hours if the aircraft had resumed the journey straight away, the 264 passengers had to wait almost 24 hours before the plane could take off again, with many having to sleep on the terminal floor.

The hearing continues.