Tyler Perry causes unscheduled stop by United flight from Denver? Sort of

The recent Tyler Perry movie Alex Cross was savaged by critics (it received a 30 percent score on Metacritic, while Rotten Tomatoes hit it with an ugly 12 percent ranking) and Box Office Mojo puts its worldwide receipts at just over $30 million -- ultra-mediocre by Perry's standards.

But unlike the typical flop, it's got a claim to fame: It may be the first movie to have caused a major airline flight -- a United jump from Denver to Baltimore -- to be diverted because of complaints about it by passengers.

The strange story first surfaced in The Atlantic as one of several reader responses to a James Fallows piece featuring gripes about United. Earlier this week, Fallows shared an unnamed couple's detailed description about what happened on February 2 on United flight 638 from Denver International Airport to BWI in Baltimore.

According to the account, the pair were traveling with their two sons, ages four and eight, when Alex Cross began screening. The flick earned a PG-13 rating for what IMDB describes as "violence including disturbing images, sexual content, language, drug references and nudity." The couple say that translated to a "T," for "Adult Themes," in United's in-flight magazine -- and when they saw the opening scenes on the flight's drop-down screens, they say they were "alarmed."

Like the vast majority of Americans, we haven't actually seen Alex Cross. But the narrative on the Wikipedia page describes a set-up in which Cross, a psychologist-police lieutenant character featured in a series of best-selling novels by James Patterson, is thinking about becoming an FBI profiler -- a gig that would bring in more money at a time when his wife is pregnant with their third child. That's followed by this:

A man called Picasso (Matthew Fox) participates in an underground ultimate fighting match, where he flirts with businesswoman Fan Yau (Stephanie Jacobsen). After brutally beating his opponent, Picasso is invited to Fan Yau's house. There, he sedates, tortures, and kills her. He cuts off all her fingers and steals her laptop.

In response, the couple write that they asked the flight attendants if their monitor could be turned off, but "both claimed it was not possible.

"The first flight attendant also claimed that the screen could not be folded up independently (which it clearly could) and that even if it could, she would still not authorize closing it because of the passengers sitting behind us," they add.

Those passengers are said to have had no objections to the screen being closed, and the couple maintain that others nearby, including a purser, agreed that the flick wasn't kid-appropriate. But the flight attendants took no action, prompting the couple to ask if the plane's captain could address the issue. When they received no response, they subsequently asked for his name and were told they'd have to ask him personally when they disembarked.

The captain's name was included in the original item, but Fallows excised it for publication.

The exchanges were conducted in a civil manner, the couple insist: "Throughout these interactions, the atmosphere was collegial, no voices were raised and no threats, implicit or explicit, of any kind were made. The flight continued without incident, while my wife and I engaged our children to divert their attention from the horrific scenes on the movie screens."

Then, over an hour later, the captain announced that the flight was being diverted to Chicago due to "security concerns." Little did the couple realize at the time that the security concerns in question were them.

Continue to read more about Alex Cross and the diverted United flight. After the plane landed in Chicago, the couple reveal that a Chicago police officer headed straight to them, then asked them to gather their belongings and follow her. They were subsequently quizzed by several members of the Chicago PD, plus "two Border Protection officers and several United and ORD managers, and an FBI agent, who all met us at the gate."

The conversations took under five minutes, by their estimate, after which they were booked onto the next flight to Baltimore. But they had to hang out for hours at the terminal with what they describe as "our exhausted and terrified little boys."

Why was the flight diverted? Their speculation: "The captain, apparently, felt that our complaint constituted grave danger to the aircraft, crew and the other passengers, and that this danger justified inconveniencing his crew...and a full plane of your customers, causing dozens of them to miss their connections, wasting time, precious jet fuel, and adding to United's carbon footprint."

To put it mildly, the couple see the captain's decision to turn them over to the cops rather than simply addressing their concerns about a violent movie as ridiculous, not to mention an "abuse of power" that United had not addressed at the time they wrote to Fallows.

The Consumerist website subsequently picked up the story and managed to shake a brief statement out of United. It reads in part:

The flight landed without incident and the passengers were removed from the aircraft. We re-accommodated the customers on the next flight to Baltimore and have since conducted a full review of our in-flight entertainment.

Does that mean a total ban on Tyler Perry movies in which he doesn't wear a dress? Hard to say -- but if so, that wouldn't address the real concerns of a couple whose expulsion from a plane adds to the weird flight stories that seem to be a Denver International Airport specialty.

More from our Strange But True archive: "Domestic violence episode (and arrest) on Southwest flight from Las Vegas to Denver."

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