San Francisco

Passenger's Alleged Racist Tirade Causes SFO-Bound Plane to Be Diverted to Auckland

What exactly prompted his outburst wasn't made clear, but the American man will not be charged.

A passenger shot a video of what he describes as a “misogynistic, homophobic bigot” verbally harassing passengers and a United Airlines flight crew trying to fly from Sydney to San Francisco on New Year’s Day.

Passenger Neil Kay then posted several photos and videos of flight UA870, which was re-routed to Auckland, where the unnamed man was arrested Sunday, according to video he posted and United Airlines. "Once the flight attendants came over, he used homophobic slurs," Neil Kay said in an interview Monday evening in San Francisco.

NBC Bay Area learned late Monday that the man is American and will not be charged but would remain in custody until arrangements were made for his trip back to the U.S. Kay had posted another video showing a policeman in uniform standing over the formerly irate passenger as he collected his belongings and walking him off the plane.

United spokesperson Erin Benson said the flight was diverted to Auckland because of a passenger who failed to follow crew instructions.

What exactly prompted his outburst wasn't made clear.

From their living room couch, Neil Kay and his wife, Anjou Ahlborn Kay, described the incident as "frightening."

"Once the flight attendant came over, he turned to using gay slurs toward flight attendants," Anjou Kay said. "Every 15 minutes an incident for six hours. Everyone was concerned what's the next one gonna be. ... I felt tense; I had tears in my eyes because it was such a tense situation for so long."

Anjoy Kay said on her Facebook page that the man went into a "verbally abusive, racist rant when two other passengers described as being of Indian or Pakistani descent, seated on either side, talked over him."

The man also was heard on Neil Kay’s video telling a flight attendant: “If you guys treat people right on these things, you see two last names the same, don't put someone else in the middle of them. I'm not yelling ... you want to hear me f------ yelling."

The man said he was calm. But his tone was angry and sarcastic toward the flight attendant, who remained collected during the exchange. 

"Do you know how cool it would be to have the airplane turned around because of me?" he said. "You are going to do that? You do that? I'm being so impolite aren't I? Fat a--."

The Kays said they are grateful fellow passengers and the flight crew remained calm in a tense situation.

"The United crew, I've never had someone be so reassuring, keep it calm and cool," Anjou Kay said.

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