With so many people cooped up in a tiny cabin 10,000m in the air, it's inevitable that at least one flight experience in your life is going to be less-than-stellar. But some experiences are much, much worse than others. So while you're travelling home this holiday season and that baby next to you won't stop screaming, just be glad you weren't on any of these flights. And if you were, we are so, so sorry.
Put Your Seat in an Upright Position or Else
In 2011, a passenger on a Ghana-bound flight from Washington DC exchanged some "heated words" with the man seated in front of her, who had apparently taken a very inopportune time to lean back. The heated words were, of course, just the amuse-bouche to the "smack in the head" that was the main event. Another passenger stepped in, a flight attendant intervened, and the pilot turned that plane around and headed right on back to Dulles.
The problem was, the plane hadn't gotten very far and still had about 63,000 litres of fuel left — or 52 tonnes. That's a lot of fuel, far too much to land with at least. So what's a pilot with a heavy-arse plane full of potentially violent, unruly passengers to do? Fly around for half an hour until some of that excess weight gets burned off, of course. Which, for some reason, prompted the US Air Force to to jump into the mix by sending two F-16 fighter jets to hang out about 300m above them.
When the plane eventually landed, the Dulles police were waiting, the passengers were eventually deemed free to go, and everyone spent the night in a hotel until the rescheduled flight the next morning. And while we have no direct accounts, it's safe to presume that, on the return flight home, there was no need for the flight attendants to ask that seats be returned to their upright positions.
At Least There's No Line for the Bathroom
If you're going to complain about the state of an aeroplane's bathroom, you better hope no one from this particular Continental flight from Amsterdam to Newark is in earshot. Because, buddy, you ain't got shit (I'm sorry, I had to) on them.
After takeoff, the flight crew noticed that the toilets didn't quite seem to be, well, working, so they made a short pitstop in Dublin which turned into an overnight stay. But hey, at least they weren't going to be stuck crossing their legs on a transcontinental flight, right? Not quite. On the second takeoff attempt, the crew once again noticed something might be wrong with the toilets, the sewage flowing down the aisles of the plane being their main clue.
Gross, but at least we can all laugh about it, right? "I've never felt so offended in all my life. I felt like I had been physically abused and neglected. I was forced to sit next to human excrement for seven hours," said Colin Brock, a passenger who took photographs of his excremental seat-mate. OK, so its more of a subtle laughter. Maybe try a cruise next time, Colin.
Keep Your Fingertips to Yourself
Unsurprisingly, sewage seems to be a recurring theme amongst flights from hell, but this one doesn't have so much to do with botched repair jobs as it does with botched humans. United, not wanting to lose its title as America's most despised airline, decided to play a round of where's-the-toilet-paper with its passengers. Hint: not on the plane.
It seems someone forgot to restock the plane with toilet paper, so instead, the flight crew decided to turn this into an arts and crafts opportunity. They created the above box, stuffed in a bunch of cocktail napkins, and somehow managed to overlook the irony of "Fly By The Tips Of Your Fingers" slogan they put face up. Apparently, the crew was concerned that the flight would have been more delayed had they stopped to restock the basic tenet of human hygiene. Equally concerning, someone seems to have had a bit of trouble spelling "toilet" correctly on the first try.
Talk About Getting the Cold Shoulder
Chatty seat-neighbours can be a nightmare, but be careful what you wish for — the alternative could be even worse. At least, that's what a Swedish Woman flying Kenya Airways found out once upon a 10-hour flight. As soon as Lena Pettersson, a journalist with Radio Sweden, sat down in her chair, she decided that the man directly across the aisle from her wasn't looking so hot — which is understandable considering he was excessively sweating and having seizures. According to Pettersson, "Air hostesses were there all along, but the plane took off anyway." Right.
Eventually, a passenger with medical experience started attempting cardiac massage, but the attempts to revive the passenger were unsuccessful, and just hours into the very, very long flight, he was deemed to have passed away. Although it was a crowded flight, the people sitting directly next to the man were moved away. Pettersson, however, was stuck. Not sure what to do, the plane crew wrapped the man in a blanket and laid him out across three seats. As Pettersson mentioned on the radio, though, the man was tall, and his legs were splayed out across the aisle, no more than a few inches from her.
What did Kenya Airways do for the poor women forced to look death in the face in the most literal sense possible for 10 hours? Refunded half her ticket price. Hopefully, this meager attempt at an apology was due to the fact that the rest of the funds were being allocated to compensate whatever family this man (who should clearly have been immediately taken to a hospital) might have had. And on the bright side, someone probably got an extra bag of peanuts.
The Team That Flies Together...
At least when the problem does involve bowel movements and/or sewage disposal, that's the only thing that goes wrong. We don't even want to imagine what might have happened had the toilets been overflowing on this Qantas light from Chile to Sydney Australia. Why? Because when 26 passengers start uncontrollably vomiting, you better pray the toilets don't decide to follow suit.
The 26 afflicted were part of a group of Australian students accompanied by their teachers. The teens apparently came down with a 48-hour bug that, unfortunately for them and every single person on the plane, hit just as the plane was taking off. Once the plane finally landed, the paramedics greeted the gang of vomiting, defecating teens as the plane was sent away to be disinfected, which we can only hope is code for "set ablaze". Three of the kids were in such bad condition, they had to be carried away in stretchers. Millennials and their drama.
As torturous as a even a typical delay might seem, it's infinitely worse if you've already landed safely at your destination. And they won't let you get off the plane for eight goddamn hours.
But that's what happened to one British Airways flight that managed to land at JFK in the midst of Snowpocalypse 2010. The impromptu freestyle interpretation of Con Air occurred without any explanation for the British Airways staff, although Matthew Bishop, the Economist's NY Bureau Chief, speculated that their temporary imprisonment was due to the fact that immigration officials had already gone home for the evening.
Seatbelts Are a Privilege
No two seats on an aeroplane are created equal. Sure, aisle seats are usually preferred ideal, but they lose status when that aisle seat is next to a pile of screaming babies and/or a gaggle of vomiting teenagers. Even that, though, is better than no seat at all, as Arthur Berkowitz can surely attest to. This 57-year-old man was forced to stand for the entire seven-hour duration of a US Airways Flight because his (extremely apologetic) 180kg seat-mate required a bit more than one seat could offer.
Sheer discomfort aside, this presents a host of safety risks, not the least of which was the fact that Berkowitz was unsecured during both takeoff and landing. US Airways apologised for the "regrettable incident" and admitted that they made a mistake by allowing the man to only purchase one seat. But apparently it wasn't that regrettable, because the airline's compensation was a meagre one-fourth of the ticket price. Guess they figured the free glute workout made up for the rest.
The Proselytising Pilot
Thanks to Hollywood's predilection for making the most spectacularly horrifying aeroplane crash scenes imaginable, people tend to get a little nervous during plane flights, and that's when everything's going fine. Throw in a bit of turbulence and things really start to take off — or, you know, a proselytising pilot works too.
Back in 2004 (just three short years after 9/11), an American Airlines pilot decided to take the opportunity to ask every Christian on the plane to raise his or her hand, going on to say "If you are not, you're crazy." And he should know.
Understandably, no one seemed too eager to raise their hands, although the pilot still suggested everyone look around for the pious amongst them and "use the flight wisely". American Airlines profusely apologized for the incident, saying that apparently the pilot had just come back from a mission trip that, presumably, went well. Because that guy was on a roll.
Whitney Houston, Still Alive in Our Hearts
Although some horror stories are just that — horrifying — others kind of seem worth it, at least from afar. That's the case with American Airlines' Whitney Houston impersonator from 10,000m up. Apparently very shaken by the death of the pop icon, one woman was deemed an "unruly passenger" when she refused to stop belting out Whitney Houston tracks.
She must not have been doing the songstress justice, though, because the flight had to be diverted to Kansas on its trek to JFK from Los Angeles. Even as the woman was being escorted off the plane, she continued to
scream sing "I Will Always Love You" in homage to the departed Houston. Judging by the video, we're pretty sure Whitney got the message. Along with everyone else in a five-mile radius.
But It's Duty-Free
Unfortunately, not all potentially unstable passengers are of the fun variety. This man on an Icelandair flight is a prime example. That duty-free alcohol is hard to resist, and after downing an entire bottle of it, the man allegedly began accosting and hitting passengers (yes, plural), going so far as to attempt to choke the person next to him, which probably would have been fine had this been the same flight as our deceased friend from earlier. His seatmate, however, was very much alive. Oh, and he kept screaming about how the plane was going to crash — what a jokester.
The solution to this problem, just like with everything else in life, turned out to be none other than duct tape. The passengers rallied together and taped the man's feat, torso, and mouth tightly against his seat, effectively incapacitating him/causing him to instantly regret downing that entire bottle. 375mL is a lot to hold in.