A United Airlines cross country flight from San Francisco to Boston had an unscheduled stop in Des Moines, Iowa, Thursday after a pilot decided to make an emergency landing after hearing a passenger's disparaging remark about "flyover country."
According to the co-pilot, the pilot heard a man in business class say to his traveling companion something to the effect of, "Thank God we were able to change to this direct flight. There's a reason it's called flyover country."
"I had gone to the bathroom when he overheard the remark but when I came back he was totally steaming," said the co-pilot. "He was muttering something about how he was sick and tired of coastal elitists looking down at salt of the earth folks. I didn't really pay attention to him, though -- I just nodded, because he was always getting agitated whenever he perceived someone dissing the Midwest or South."
The pilot, whose name has not been released, is a native Iowan and recent divorcee, according to sources.
According to shaken passengers, the plane began its descent an hour and a half before expected, with little comment from the cockpit other than a request to "fasten your seat belts and bring your seats to an upright position."
"The flight attendant didn't even have time to come by and collect my cup and pretzel bag, so I just stuffed it in the seat in front of me," said May Davis, 64. "When we landed the pilot said, 'Welcome to Des Moines, Iowa, where it's a beautiful 83 degrees.' We were all scratching our head and even the flight attendants looked really confused."
According to the co-pilot, the pilot started fiddling with the controls shortly before reaching Iowa and said that they might need to make an emergency landing, even though "from as far as I could tell everything was working fine. But when I tried to tell him that I didn't see anything wrong, he flipped out and questioned my credentials. I wasn't really sure what to do but I didn't want to start a physical altercation with him so I figured so long as we landed safely, everything would be okay."
The pilot has been suspended without pay pending further review of the alleged mechanical problems and is undergoing psychological testing. The plane's so-called "black box," which records all communications in the cockpit, has backed up the co-pilot's side of the story.