United Flight 5277 took off from Chicago's O'Hare International Airport at 2:45pm last Tuesday, heading to Chattanooga. More than halfway through the 71-minute flight, the pilot made an announcement: "We're going to turn and go back to O'Hare," one of the passengers recalls him saying to USA Today. Another passenger says the pilot explained that the 76-seat Embraer 175 aircraft was too big to land at Chattanooga, which didn't make sense to her since she'd taken Delta flights to the airport on the same type of plane. The regional flight, a United Express flight operated by SkyWest Airlines, is operated daily, but there had been a last-minute aircraft swap due to a mechanical issue. The Points Guy confirms Chattanooga can indeed handle that size aircraft. The real problem apparently involved ground crew equipment for that particular plane.
The 50 passengers aboard were back in Chicago at 4:29pm, and ultimately switched to a 50-seat Bombardier CRJ 200—the aircraft United typically uses for that flight. They ended up in Chattanooga more than three hours late; at some point after the plane had already turned around, they received a text alert from United saying that due to "unforeseen circumstances" and an "unusual situation," their flight would be delayed. A second text message explained that the Chattanooga airport was "unable to assist with ground operational requirements for your current aircraft type," and a SkyWest spokesperson says the Embraer was "just a different aircraft than typical for ground personnel there." Passengers were refunded and given a $300 voucher for a future flight, and perhaps more importantly, they were also given Cheez-Its upon landing back in Chicago. (The plane incident was far more disturbing.)