Flight 857 diverted to the nearest airport -- Anchorage -- when several lavatories were found to be inoperable about three hours after the flight's 2 p.m. Sunday departure from San Francisco, United spokesman Charles Hobart said.
Passengers told the Anchorage Daily News (http://is.gd/Pmi11V ) they waited in their seats until 8 p.m. before they were allowed to deplane.
The airline handed out hotel and meal vouchers, but with only a handful of employees to handle the task, it took several hours, the newspaper reported.
"It was 10 or 11 p.m. before we had the meal vouchers," said passenger Chen Chang of Fremont, Calif. "Everything was closed."
Passenger Camille Chen said hotels wanted credit cards for check-in, and a number of passengers traveling back to China didn't have those.
United brought in another plane Monday, and passengers boarded, but that plane also had problems. Passengers finally took off Tuesday afternoon on a third Boeing 777.
United will be "fully refunding everyone's tickets," Hobart said. The airline was talking with passengers about additional compensation, he added.
"If we'd known we'd be here this long, we might have done some sightseeing," said Tammy Harmon of Cupertino, Calif., taking a look at Anchorage's blue skies and snow-covered Chugach Mountains.