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A bizarre incident occurred last week where a United flight turned back while en route to its destination due to the plane being “too large”. At least this was the reason given from the flight deck that I’m sure left many passengers on-board scratching their heads. Why? The aircraft was an Embraer E175, a regional jet. You’d never expect this to be an issue for a plane so small.

An Embraer E175 is “too big”

While it may be on the larger end of the regional jet spectrum, I’ve never thought of an E175 as “too big” for anything. Honestly, it’s just the right size, and actually one of my favorite aircraft to fly (SEE: 3 reasons why the ERJ-175 is my favorite non-wide-body jet). That it is too large, at least from the perspective of being able to land at Chattanooga airport, is blatantly untrue. The passenger quoted in the USA Today article picked up on that fact immediately.

The plane headed back to O’Hare to the dismay of all on board. Finally, the reason for the U-turn was made at least marginally more clear to passengers once they were back on the ground in Chicago: Chattanooga doesn’t have the proper staff to handle the operational requirements of the E175.

That explanation sot of helps. I’m honestly still not sure what the specifics are for these “operational requirements”. Our tiny airport turns both SkyWest CRJ-200s and E175s with a pretty bare bones ground crew. We also have all of one gate and a staircase for boarding and unloading passengers. Maybe in 50 years we’ll get our first jet bridge.

Chattanooga does have jet bridges, and probably more ground staff than we do. The issue must either be that the staff are not trained to handle E175s, or there is some other operational issue underlying all of this. All the SkyWest spokesperson had to say was that the E175 is “just a different aircraft type” for Chattanooga ground staff.

United comes through

Passengers on the affected flight were eventually flown to their destination on a CRJ-200, the original equipment scheduled to operate the flight. However, they arrived around 8:30 p.m., approximately 3 hours late. This is par for the course with United, although it doesn’t typically include such a bizarre situation (SEE: United’s problem is…everything).

At least there was a bright side to the story for inconvenienced passengers. They were provided with a refund for their flight plus a $300 United travel voucher. I’d say the friendly skies covered themselves well on this one.

I’m still left scratching my head. Unless the equipment at Chattanooga Airport makes it impossible to deplane and board passengers (extremely unlikely), or the ground staff are not properly trained to handle the aircraft (possible, I guess?), why not operate the flight with whatever operational hiccup this might cause on the turn back to Chicago? What am I missing?

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