He spoke to the United flight crew at the gate in Los Angeles and they told him the plane had made the maneuver to avoid another aircraft in its flight path, a US Airways flight.
"They were really candid," he said.
After he got home safely, Townsend began calling the airlines and the FAA to find out how it was possible that two planes could come so close to crashing.
He said that the companies and agencies were forthright and spent more than an hour on the phone with him talking about the close call, explaining how rare it is, and going over the ways that data is collected to avoid future incidents.
"I gained an understanding of how traffic collision avoidance works," he said, though he came away from the conversations believing that the regulatory agencies could do a better job of collecting data and analyzing it to prevent future incidents.
Townsend said he is still comfortable with the idea of flying but hesitant.
"I think I have a keener awareness of what flying means. I think you have to accept there are risks to it," he said.