Whether it's snakes on a plane or joining the mile-high club, people are just as crazy on the ground as they are in the air. These folks share their craziest experiences while flying.
This Is A Sound You Don’t Want To Hear While On A Flight
“Chant this out loud with me:
BRACE. BRACE. HEAD DOWN. STAY DOWN.
BRACE. BRACE. HEAD DOWN. STAY DOWN.
BRACE. BRACE. HEAD DOWN. STAY DOWN.
BRACE. BRACE. HEAD DOWN. STAY DOWN.
Repeat until the words begin running together. Repeat until anxiety speeds up the chant into about three or four total syllables, taking only a couple of seconds to say.
Two years or so ago, as a flight my wife and I were on approached the airport to land, we could hear some strange grinding and high-pitched whirring going on beneath the plane. Very repetitive grinding and whirring. Not a good sound for any mechanical device to make. But whatever. That sort of thing happens. No big deal, right?
The grinding and whirring finally stopped, but our aircraft had made its way away from the airport and seemed to be circling. An announcement came over the P.A. system, and the pilot informed us that we had no functional landing gear. He thought. But they couldn’t be sure, because the computer system responsible for reporting on the landing gear was not working. And we had all heard that weird grinding and whirring. He also said something about the tower having an inability to visually determine whether our landing gear was up or down, due to low clouds and so forth. Moreover, the landing gear might be down, but it might not be locked into position. Or it just might be stuck halfway. There was no way of knowing.
BUT, the pilot assured us, these passenger jets are designed to be able to land on their bellies with only some jostling and sliding. No big whoop. The plane would be out of commission for a while, but we’d all be fine. As long as everyone was buckled in, all the loose baggage and objects in the cabin were secured, and everyone braced properly, we should hopefully all be fine.
So that’s what we set out to do. Land without landing gear. Maybe. On the belly of the plane. Maybe.
The flight attendants wanted us all to put our heads as low in our laps as they could go, with our arms bracing our heads, and chant with them: ‘BRACE. BRACE. HEAD DOWN. STAY DOWN.’
So we chanted. And braced. And at one point, I unbraced for a moment to look out the window and see a lineup of fire trucks and ambulances, lights flashing, just off the runway. Dozens of them, all waiting for our disaster to play out. A surreal vision.
The flight attendants began the chant stoically and authoritatively, but as we got closer, their voices began cracking and speeding up and slurring.
It was a bit exciting. And mostly terrifying. We would finally get/have to use those emergency doors and inflatable slides they always talk about in the safety brochures and demonstrations. Hopefully, we wouldn’t have a fire or smoke to contend with. No explosions. No random debris dislodging and flying across the cabin. Hopefully, people in the emergency rows knew what they were doing. Do I grab my backpack despite instructions not to? There are important work files on my computer, and the exit row is only two rows away.
So we descended into the airport space, bracing and chanting and praying. And I was mentally preparing for the evacuation. Visualizing how things would go.
Down we went. Down. Down.
We descended to our doom.
And landed without incident. Completely without incident.
It was the softest landing I’ve ever felt. It was like our plane was a down feather from a duckling being dropped gently onto an enormous marshmallow from about an inch away.
The landing gear was just fine. The computer just had malfunctioned. The grinding and whirring we heard: apparently irrelevant. Everyone burst into a spontaneous round of cheers and hoots and whoops and sighs and applause.
A totally normal flight in just about every way. We ended up only about 10 or 15 minutes late, and everything was completely fine in the end, yet that chant will forever be seared into my memory. The stress of that sort of moment cannot be un-experienced.
Indeed, sometimes in stressful situations, I’ll just blurt out ‘BRACE. BRACE. HEAD DOWN! STAY DOWN’ and sort of laugh to myself. It’s a way of telling myself and/or my wife that everything will be just fine. Which it usually is.”
Back When Airports Were Fun
“I have to tell you about the Bear Costume. It’s a real story…even if my wife wishes it were not.
This happened in the years before deregulation and the TSA…when flying was fun. My wife was flying into Chicago’s O’Hare Airport from a business trip, and I decided to meet her at the gate (which was allowed in those years) when she arrived.
We had pet names for each other. I called her ‘Girl’ and she referred to me as ‘Bear.’ Don’t ask. So to amuse and surprise her I decided to show up at the airport wearing a bear costume. Everyone has thought of doing that sometime in their life, right?
Now, this was not a Party City Halloween costume. I had gone to a Chicago costume rental shop that supplied costumes for theatrical performances. Remember the disguise shop that Inspector Clouseau goes to in The Curse of the Pink Panther, the one run by Professor Auguste Balls, the Great Balls? It was exactly like that. With that costume, I could have gotten a job at Brookfield Zoo, or in a Russian circus. Of course, I would have to develop a liking for raw fish.
I had gotten into the costume, with the exception of the bear’s head, before leaving the house. The head was on the passenger seat of the convertible. Just before I entered the parking garage I reached over and put the head on. The old guy in the booth who gave me my parking sticker did not bat an eyelash. If you work in Chicago long enough you get like that.
I walked through the airport in my bear costume, glancing at the Incoming Flights board to find the right gate, getting attention only from small children. The adults, including the airport employees, paid no attention at all. Chicagoans are noted for their tolerance. At least for bears. Not saying how they regard weasels.
I was a bit early for my wife’s flight and sat down in the waiting area next to the jetway door reading my copy of the Manchester Guardian. No one seemed to care that there was a bear reading a foreign newspaper waiting for a United flight from Denver. Today someone would go hysterical and call the cops…probably not because of the bear costume but because of the foreign newspaper.
I had gotten to the back pages of the Guardian where they had gardening notes and cricket scores when I was interrupted by a small child addressing me as ‘Mr. Bear.’ He told me that he had never had an opportunity to talk to a bear before so his parents had allowed him to talk to me. He asked if I REALLY was a bear. I assured him that I was. I told him that the storybooks were misleading and that bears, at least in Chicago, lived in apartments, liked fine restaurants, and favored Mercedes convertibles over bicycles. He thought about this and, after conferring with his parents, offered me some lifesavers which he helpfully placed one by one in the bear’s mouth, my paws not being well adapted to small objects.
Standing near the gate, across from me, were half a dozen airline stewardesses who were waiting for flights. They were all young and very pretty, very stylish. Well, this was before deregulation. At that time all airline stewardesses looked like that. Really. They were looking at the bear. After a while, one of the stewardesses came over to me and politely but with evident curiosity asked me why I was wearing a bear costume. I explained that I was waiting to pick up my wife who was flying in from a business trip.
‘In a bear costume?’ she asked.
‘Yes, of course,’ I replied.
‘How long have you been married?’
I told her. She looked puzzled but went back to the others. They were now all staring at me. A few minutes later she came back.
‘Would you tell us what your wife looks like?’
I told her: 5’2, red hair, green eyes, stylishly dressed, carrying a leather briefcase, invariably wearing a silk scarf around her neck.
‘Why?’ I inquire.
‘Well, we are taking bets on what your wife will do when she gets off the jetway and sees a bear. I am betting that she will pretend she does not know you.’
Plane lands. My wife is one of the last to exit. She stops at the end of the jetway, looks around, without hesitating or batting an eyelash she walks directly over to me and says, ‘Hi Bear,’ as if it were perfectly normal to be greeted in an airport by some lunatic wearing a bear costume. She took my hand…well, paw…and we walked out of the airport.
Things were different prior to airline deregulation and the TSA. They were a lot more fun.”
The Longest Flight Of His Life
“In 2003 I was on a flight from Denver to Burbank. I saw a young, heavy, hulking chatterbox about 20 people ahead of me in line….
Please don’t sit him next to me…please don’t sit him next to me…He’s getting more animated as everyone around him tries not to make eye contact. He seems to be an odd mix of offensive and extroverted – though I can’t hear what he’s saying. People are shying away like he’s spewing hot mess…which I come to find out wasn’t so far from reality.
I board the plane and continue my mantra…Please don’t let him sit next to me…
In fate’s effort to prove there is no justice in the world, or that I’m a terrible human, I sit down next to him. I get up to confirm the flight is completely full and I’m told that I’m not allowed to spend the flight in the poorly vented lavatory, though minute by minute I’m contemplating the benefits of spending a relatively uneventful few hours in proximity to the calming, sterile blue, aluminum water feature located to the aft. I open a book indicating my lack of interest in the conversation. He shoves his paw in my face. ‘Hi, I’m Mike. Nice to meet you. I’m from Hills Home.’
Hills home? What the heck is that? I have to bite…
‘Nice to meet you. I’m Greg, What is Hills home?’
‘It’s a school for kids who have trouble behaving.’
‘And what, may I ask, did you do to find yourself there?’
Trauma is a funny thing. I’m told it heightens recall. I guess that’s why I so clearly remember his next words…’I have uncontrollable aggression. Will you read this catalog to me?’
I’m not here to pass judgment…but seriously? Uncontrolled aggression? What if this overgrown toddler decides to go into a hulk-like rage and rip my arm off and beat me with it?
So I start to read the catalog. Big Mike talks the whole time about his school, how he can’t read (he’s 16), how much he likes gardening, except when he doesn’t. Occasionally when gardening he doesn’t listen and the zookeepers at Hills Home have to restrain this unruly ape with something that I imagine to be a cattle prod, based on the scars all over his arms which he shows me to put a bow on his soliloquy on gardening and corporal punishment.
And then he starts talking about his family. And he starts to get angry. It seems his grandmother won’t buy him a Lamborghini, and this is not acceptable to Mike. According to Mike, this injustice can not be tolerated. His nostrils flare. Pupils dilate. Uncontrolled rage swoons. I continue to read the catalog. We’re in the sword section, which he likes. I ask a question about Xbox, which reduces his boiling rage to a dull simmer…until…
The girl in the row ahead of us turns around and tells him to be quiet, that she’s a nervous flier. That his blabbering is making her uncomfortable.
Mike looks at me. Mike looks confused. I look back. I am terrified – for me, for her, for the people around us…but I casually shrug, smile, nod like that’s the right thing to do. I open my book.
By some miracle, Mike and his never-ending well of hulk-like-rage takes the catalog back from me, and continues to looks at the pictures.
Then we take off. Pause for a sec…all this happened before takeoff.
There is an announcement at 10,000 feet. Big Mike snaps out of his ‘reading; like this is permission to start annoying me and those around us. He starts talking again. About movies, video games…dang it – he’s talking about his family again. His nostrils flare again. I assume this is the end for me. Mike-will-certainly-rip-my-arm-off-and-beat-me-to-death-with-it-any-second.
And the flight attendant stops by with drinks. This provides a slight reprieve from the latest bout of Mike’s boiling rage. It continues like this. No open seats. Constant trips to the bathroom. For every action, there’s a reaction – and in this case, the action is Mike’s rage and the reaction is the contemplation of my impending demise.
I read catalogs to Mike for the rest of the flight. I survive. Mike and I deplane. He assumes we’re best friends. We swap information (mine fake of course) like two lovers struck by serendipity at a bistro in Paris while studying classics. Saying goodbye is going to be pure torture, but somehow I manage to find the words amidst the anticipation of our lifelong friendship. He sees his brother at baggage claim. Why he has his brother by the shirt collar, I will never know. The brother starts counting to this uncaged primate like a mother to her child…’1…2…3…’ and I slip away.
Quite a flight. Longest two hours of my life.”
WOW! This Woman Is PSYCHOTIC!
“We’ve all had in-air experiences with crying babies, fat people, strange odors, and broken amenities, but those are pretty much par for the course when you fly. Heck, I’m not sure I’d feel like I got my money’s worth if I didn’t disembark with a stiff neck and a troubling numbness in my legs. Still, my worst in-flight experience didn’t come as the result of any such expected inconvenience, but rather at the hands of someone trying to be nice.
I was about 8-years-old, and although I can’t recall what destination my family had chosen, I doubt if I’ll ever forget the time that I spent on that flight. Due to some issue or another with our tickets, the four of us – myself, my younger brother, my mother, and my father – had been seated in seemingly random spots throughout the airplane… and none of us were next to each other. This would have been fine if it hadn’t been for the fact that my neighbor was an incredibly attractive young woman who seemed to be entirely oblivious to every rule that governed polite society.
Or, at least, every rule as they were understood by an 8-year-old.
Within moments of sitting down next to the girl, she’d done her best to engage me in conversation. I knew that I wasn’t supposed to speak to strangers, and thus her friendly small-talk made me very uncomfortable… not, as you might think, because I was wary of dialogue with her, but because I knew that my parents might walk by and catch me.
Her next transgression was taking out and turning on her Walkman while the plane was in the process of taking off. (For those of you who may not recall, a Walkman was like an iPod, except that it could only hold about two dozen songs and it had a tendency to transform them into spaghetti.) I can remember scrambling to grab the safety pamphlet from the seat in front of me, then frantically pointing at the section that warned about electronic devices being inactive during takeoff. The girl just smiled reassuringly and kept right on with her forbidden activity, causing me to grip my armrest in terror.
If that had been the end of things, I might have escaped without the psychological scarring that I still carry… but unfortunately, the young woman was far from finished. About midway through the flight, she dug through her purse and pulled out a small package of something, which she opened with a nonchalant smile.
‘Max,’ she said to me, ‘would you like a cherry cough drop?’
Alarm bells rang in my head like they never had before. My mother had always told me that any stranger who offered me medicine was gearing up to do some very nasty things to me. She had never specified what those nasty things were, but I knew that they had to be truly abhorrent. Maybe, though, just maybe, the girl didn’t realize that cough drops were medicine, and was simply one of those people who ate them for their flavor. I’d heard legends of folks like that, and if it happened that my seat-mate was one of them, maybe this was an opportunity for education.
‘Oh, no, no thank you,’ I replied. ‘I’m not sick or anything.’
‘Okay!’ the girl said brightly.
‘… Are you sick?’ I asked, hoping to prod the conversation forward. (In the face of this new potential threat, I’d all but forgotten about not talking to strangers.)
The young woman shook her head. ‘Nope!’
I felt the panic in my chest start to subside. ‘Then why are you eating cough drops? They’re medicine, you know.’
‘Oh, I know!’ the girl said with a laugh. ‘But they taste wonderful, and they help me relax.’
The klaxons in my head started blaring with renewed vigor. Not only was this stranger talking to me, but she was also one of those people who ate medicine for fun… and she was trying to offer me some! I’d been warned about all three of those things, but never in my life had I expected to meet such a threatening trifecta of terror.
I spent the rest of the flight in complete silence, all the while ready to scream if the petite 17-year-old next to me showed any signs of attempting a kidnapping. Pretty much this woman tried to sedate me after attempting to sabotage the plane’s takeoff.”
Definitely The Worst Time In History To Be Flying
I’m flying from Cedar Rapids, IA to Cleveland, OH. Just as we are about to board the plane someone in line says something like ‘a Cessna just crashed into the World Trade Center.’ Though a bit troubling most people were just focused on getting on the plane and didn’t pay it much mind.
Taxi to the runway and take off like normal. I have my head buried in a book so I’m not really paying much attention to what is going on, though I did notice we didn’t get to altitude which I thought was weird. I think we stayed at maybe 10,000 ft rather than going up to 30,000. My flight was direct into CLE. We cruised along at 10,000 ft. for 20-30 minutes. The pilot came over the intercom and said ‘The FAA has closed all US airspace, we’re landing at Chicago O’Hare.’
Well now everyone on the plane is getting nervous. I really had no idea what the heck was going on. Maybe there was a big accident or maybe a plane was in the air hijacked? We land at O’Hare and looking out the window all I could see was chaos. Planes were everywhere. Stacked up at the gates, on the access runways leading to the takeoff runway. I’d never seen so many planes on the ground before.
People started getting on their phones and slowly information started spreading through the plane that we were under some sort of attack. We thought this meant that someone had launched a military attack of some sort, like jet fighters, missiles, etc. I’m totally confused as to what the heck is going on. Of course, my cell phone was dead, but it probably wouldn’t have mattered if it was changed because people were having a difficult time getting through on their phones.
After about an hour of waiting, we were able to get off the plane at the gate. The scene inside was just total panic. I remember seeing national guard soldiers there with their weapons, dogs, etc. Over the intercom, they were repeating ‘Please leave Chicago O’Hare airport as soon as possible.’
I overheard people saying that the attack was coming to Chicago.
I have two small kids at home and a wife. I’m stuck at O’Hare with what I thought at the time was an imminent attack. I left my luggage behind and got out to the front of the airport. I managed to stop a guy driving a rental car shuttle bus and asked if he knew if there were any cars available. He said, ‘Buddy nothing is available, but hop on I’ll take you with me so you’re not stuck here.’
On the ride to the rental car facility, I’m racking my brain to try to figure out how to get the heck out of Chicago. No rental cars available, flights are shut down, I was sure trains wouldn’t be an option either. Then it hit me…I knew what to do. I asked the rental car driver for some directions on where I needed to go and started walking.
I walked for about 20-30 minutes or so and found what I was looking for. U-Haul. I rented a U-Haul truck and drove that SOB all the way back to Ohio.
And that’s my worst airline travel story.”
“But Then The Gracious Gods Decided To Spit On My Plans.”
“This is a very recent one, which happened this month.
I was flying out of Atlanta. Because my trip began at 4 am (Atlanta wasn’t my first flight of the day), I’d pulled an all-nighter and had been up for well over 24 hours by the time I’m on this plane. I was looking forward to getting some shut-eye on board.
But then the gracious gods decided to spit on my plans.
Approaching the jetway, my boarding pass scanner beeps once instead of twice…and a slip of paper comes out of the scanner. I have a new seat assignment, cool!
(No, this would turn out to be very not cool.)
I get to my seat…and there’s barely any space left in the overhead. Can’t fit my carry-on up there. An attendant comes up and informs me that my bag will have to be left behind in Atlanta, and be shipped to me later on.
Then a gentleman a seat back speaks up and points out space in another overhead. My bag fits. Day saved.
I sit down. In a few minutes or so, the plane begins to back away from the jetway…
And at this precise moment, the guy across the aisle from me vomits explosively. Three times.
It hits him, the two people on either side of him, and the row in front of him, for good measure.
Everyone around freaks and starts spamming the ‘call attendant’ buttons. They shout back that since the airplane has now begun to taxi, nothing can be done until we’re reached cruising altitude. The spamming continues, and finally one of the attendants decides to see what everyone is flipping out about.
She walks back, gets one look, and utters, ‘Oh my god.’
Across the aisle from this, myself (window seat) and the guy next to me (aisle seat), just had our noses buried in the collars of our coats, trying not to throw up as at this point the smell has wafted throughout the cabin, and we can hear a chorus of other people beginning to retch and heave in response.
There’s nothing for it, though – the unfortunate puke brigade can’t get out of their seats until we reach cruising, so the flight attendant, backed up by a second, try to do what they can until that point.
Finally, once we reach cruising, all of them flee to the bathrooms, and the cleanup begins.
Except at first, they can’t find an air spray…so the attendant begins spraying vanilla-scented perfume everywhere in an attempt to mask the vomit smell.
This did not improve matters.
Attendant 2 finds some Fabreeze and sprays what had to be half the can around the affected seats. People rapidly start complaining of headaches, and my seatmate and I are now completely unable to breathe.
Attendant 1 has started biohazard cleanup at this point, sprinkling puke-dust everywhere to contain the mess since it can’t be cleaned up fully in mid-air. During this, attendant 2 catches on that the Fabreeze is killing everyone, so he goes and gets a bag of coffee grounds, which finally remedies the situation.
Until someone complains about the smell of coffee, and they bring the Fabreeze back out and seatmate and I die again.
We never saw the people who got puked on again, but we saw the puker once more when he came back up to get something out of his bag. Apparently, he didn’t have a change of clothes, so the attendants had just tied a paper napkin over his chest to the amusement of no one.
Beverage service saw the purchase of a metric ton of spirits, and attendant 1 was later joking about burning her uniform. The Great Pukening was all anyone could talk about for the whole flight and deplaning – as soon as we landed, phones came out so everyone could complain about it to their friends and relatives.
No sleep was had, those two hours.”
“There Was A Huge Boom And The Whole Plane Shuttered.”
“I was taking a flight from one island to another in Hawaii. Shortly after takeoff, the Captain got on the intercom and informed us that there was something wrong with the landing gear. They weren’t sure it could lockdown. He went on to say that they wouldn’t be sure how it was until they put it down. Even if it seemed good after they put it back down, the fire trucks and emergency crews would be waiting for us at the runway. Don’t be alarmed he said.
One of the flight attendants was absolutely gorgeous, I was dying for the chance to talk to her lol. She seemed bothered by the announcement. Seemed like a good time to chat her up. Turned out she was a former Miss Hawaii. I tried to change the subject. But she said something smart I thought. Why did the Captain have to tell everyone at the beginning of the flight so we are stressed out the entire flight, instead of announcing it close to landing? Good point.
It was nighttime and overcast. As we approached the landing, everyone was kinda tense. I had the Miss Hawaii flight attendant sitting in front of me in her jump seat, at least I had her to look at. The Captain made a final announcement right after we heard the gear go down. He said all seemed well. The flight attendant gave a big smile. Once we touched down it was ok, the fire trucks met us. We continued to taxi.
As we were taxiing, it seemed like we were going a bit fast. As we turned there was a huge boom and the whole plane shuttered. The flight attendant was freaked out, so was I. The Captain comes over the intercom chuckling, you can literally hear the crew in the cockpit laughing, and says ‘Not to worry we just blew a tire.’
Dude, seriously it’s not funny.
I was moving to Hawaii, transferring to command at Pearl Harbor. About three years later I would run into the flight attendant at the big mall at Ala Moana. She was in the food court doing what looked like modeling for a new place. I went up to her and she remembered me. Turns out she quit the flight attendant gig not long after that.”
The Flight Attendant Cured His Blindness
“One morning, waiting to board a flight from San Jose to Seattle, my name was called for pre-boarding. I went up to the desk at the gate and told them my name. The two attendants looked at me strangely and then at each other and then at the computer and again at me and then one of them said, ‘Um, Mr. Burke, the computer says you are blind?’
I chuckled and informed them that I was pretty sure I wasn’t. They looked relieved and thanked me for being a good sport. I asked if I could still pre-board and they said no.
On my return trip a couple of days later, I didn’t leave the office in time and there was some heavy construction on the freeway to the airport so I missed my flight. I got to the gate about two to three minutes after the plane had pulled away from the gate. I approached the lone attendant at the gate desk and told her of my predicament and she said she would help me get on an alternate flight. After some time, she found a flight for me and said she would book it for me. Soon after this, she stopped typing and looked at the screen strangely and then slowly back up at me with a questioning look. Thinking I knew what was going on I replied with a smile, ‘I’m blind.’
I then proceeded to explain the strange incident on my departing flight and she had a good chuckle.
She said that it was not a problem and that the flight she was booked for me wasn’t very full. She then asked me if I had a seat preference. I’m 6’4″ tall and I asked if I could have a seat in the exit row. She said she would check. She typed and typed for some time and gave the screen some more strange looks and then it hit me and I said, ‘You probably can’t put me in an exit row because I am blind!’
She laughed and said that I was right! She had to first cure me of my blindness in the system and then she was able to assign me to an exit row. I thanked her for curing me and for the extra legroom!”