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Airplane Horror Stories

Sure, you can laugh about it now — but at the time, it was far from funny. Unfortunately, it’s also inevitable. The more you travel, the more likely it is that you’ve had an ill-fated journey (or five). In this day and age, the transport du jour is the airplane, and stories abound from travelers who didn’t find the skies quite so friendly. Straight from our very own message boards, our members shared with us their tumultuous air travel tales of sick seatmates and nail-biting nose dives — so many that we also posted a part two!

Got one of your own? We want to hear it! Post it in the comments below.

Houston, We Have a Problem

“My worst flight was on a trip from Dublin to London. Out of nowhere, the plane took a nose dive … for about eight seconds! I know it doesn’t seem like that long, but seriously, count for eight seconds. That’s a long nose dive! Passengers started screaming, luggage went flying out of the overhead bins and the lights went out. So scary! I really thought the plane was going to crash. Everything ended up being okay, at least I think so. The pilot never even announced what happened.” — Evalla

Cleanup on Aisle Five!

“On a recent flight from Jacksonville to Newark, I was seated directly across from a very ill woman. This wasn’t simple motion sickness either. She was using her complimentary ‘bag’ before we even began taxiing. The flight attendants asked her if she wanted to deplane but she insisted on staying … and continued to get sick for the entire flight, shaking and lying across three seats. Eventually, the attendants just gave her an industrial-sized black garbage bag. Yuck. Trust me, nobody within a three-row radius ate their in-flight snack.

“I was never so happy to see Newark in my life. The kicker is, as I was headed to baggage claim, I heard over the P.A. system, ‘Cleanup at gate X.’ Hmm, wonder what happened there!” — TravelMel

Is It Hot in Here?

“I had the delayed flight horror on one trip from Denver to Ottawa via Chicago. I was squeezed into the middle seat between two football-player-sized fellows who smelled of garlic and last night’s beer. We sat on the tarmac for five hours. They wouldn’t let us off the plane, and would not serve food or let us stand or go to the bathroom as we were waiting for permission to take off — and the air conditioning didn’t work! The two fellows on either side turned into a bath of sweat.

“Finally the plane took off, and took a very long flight detour to the south as there were storms in our path. The hot food had long since cooled off. The cold drinks were warm, and the staff finally decided they couldn’t serve the food as it was not suitable to eat. Of course, any connecting flights were non-existent on our arrival in Chicago, many hours late. And at the baggage counter, they advised that they couldn’t find the luggage of anyone on the whole plane.” — Anonymous

Losing Your Lunch

“When we lived in Oklahoma and were coming home from a visit to Pennsylvania, we went through some terrible, frightening turbulence. The flight attendant was serving meals (that’s how long ago it was!), and she’d gotten to our row when the bumpy ride became a roller coaster. The pilot announced that all flight personnel should be seated and secure all items. The woman threw a few meals at me because I was traveling with young children and rushed to lock up her cart and herself.

“A few rows behind us, a woman started screaming, ‘Hey, where is my meal? I’m a diabetic and I need to eat now!’ The flight attendant told the screaming woman to shut up and sit down, or she won’t have to worry about getting another meal! I passed my tray back to her because I didn’t figure my food was going to stay down. I think I kissed the ground once we were off the plane.” — Cruisin’ Cats

Where There’s Smoke …

“About 20 years ago, on an airline serving and indigenous to Mexico, I was taking a flight back to New York from Acapulco via Mexico City. It was a twin engine jet, but I can’t recall what type. As usual, I snagged a window seat just forward of the starboard side wing. About 20 minutes into the flight, the engine on the wing started trailing flames. As you can imagine, there were a lot of very scared people onboard.

“The pilot must have shut the engine down or something around that point because the flames died out suddenly, but the flight got very bumpy and it seemed the plane was vibrating. Somehow we limped into Mexico City where we were greeted on the runway with emergency foam and just about every emergency vehicle that the airport must have had access to. The pilot put us down on the ground rather gracefully, and after a quick inspection they towed us to a gate.

“For some reason they didn’t want anyone deplaning and they kept us in the airplane for about an hour while the mechanic worked on the engine. Now, when I say worked, I mean worked. The guy tinkered with the engine for about 40 minutes, then said something to two confused-looking fellows on the ground off to the side of the wing and then started beating on the thing with a pipe wrench. Nine or 10 good whacks later the whole engine tore loose and plunged to the tarmac. At this point, they decided we might be slightly delayed … and they let us off the plane into a sealed waiting room (no food, dubious telephones).

“Now we could only see the other side of the airplane — the one away from the problem. They left us there for about three hours, telling us that a new plane was coming. Then they announced that they didn’t have another plane and that this one was being repaired. As you might guess, somewhere along the line during the next seven hours when they were repairing the plane (duct tape and bailing wire is my guess), the pilots timed out and had to get some time off. So we waited another four hours for a fresh flight crew. We got home, 18 hours late, and I’ll never again fly a local airline into that area of the world.” — DocNY

Hit the Brakes!

“I was traveling from Salt Lake City to Atlanta on a Delta 767. We were on our takeoff roll when the pilot jammed on the brakes and brought the whole proceeding to a halt. As we taxied off the runway, the pilot informed us that an engine warning light had illuminated in the cockpit and he had to abort the takeoff. Back at the gate, the maintenance crew did their inspection and could find nothing wrong with the engine.

“Maintenance decided to call headquarters in Atlanta for advice. Atlanta’s response was to not worry about the light and send the flight on its way. As you can imagine, everyone had a death grip on the armrests when we started down the runway for a second time. Fortunately we flew off without a problem. However, it took a day or two for my blood pressure to get back to normal.” — jwahl54

Ruffled Feathers

“Flying from Sioux Falls to Denver, I asked a United Airlines agent for permission to carry on an extra item (a cooler containing frozen South Dakota pheasants) and received verbal permission to do so. However, when I reached the security checkpoint, a single employee of a private security company was acting as gatekeeper for the area and refused to let me pass. I asked both this person and the TSA staff working adjacent to contact United to confirm my authorization, but they did nothing while giving me the impression that they were trying. They suggested that I go back to the United ticket counter myself to get an agent to come to the gate. The inevitable result was that I missed my flight. Fortunately, United had another flight to Denver that I was able to catch.” — jimbo

For Better or for Worse…

“My girlfriend was on her way from the Midwest to Kauai, Hawaii, to get married and was sitting in an aisle seat. The woman sitting in the seat across the aisle and slightly behind my friend decided to change the diaper of her toddler male child on her lap. Needless to say, she did not cover him with a diaper, and he proceeded to spray into the air and across the aisle all over my friend, completely drenching her lovely dress! The woman never even acknowledged the event, much less apologize. To add insult to injury, when my friend got to Kauai via Honolulu, her luggage was missing, including her wedding dress. The luggage did eventually arrive in time for her wedding, but she was soaked again when the resort sprinklers were turned on in time to catch the bride and groom in their open horse-drawn carriage leaving the ceremony.” — millelacsbabe

Happy Holidays?

“I was on a Continental flight from Houston to Pittsburgh just before last Christmas. The flight was listed as on time until we were supposed to board the plane, when the ground staff came on the loudspeaker and told us they could not locate the flight crew. We were assured that it would only be a short delay, and then we would be on our way. Four hours later, the flight crew finally arrived and a grumpy bunch of people boarded our little ERJ for the 2.5-hour flight to Pittsburgh.

“Once onboard, we started taxiing out to the runway. We were in line for takeoff when the sole flight attendant noticed that his galley light had burned out. The pilots asked him if he could just do without it, but he insisted we return to the gate to have it checked. The maintenance staff had it repaired in about 30 seconds, but the pilots came on and told us they had ‘timed out.’ FAA regulations limit the number of hours that pilots can fly in one day. Our little detour to get this light bulb replaced meant that we could not physically make it to Pittsburgh in the amount of flight time the pilots were allowed.

“Since it was now nearly 10 p.m., there were no other flight crews available and Continental canceled the flight. An angry group of Pittsburgh-bound passengers descended on the Continental desk to get their reservations changed and make accommodations for the evening. I guess someone from the Continental ground staff felt threatened by all of these angry people, because they called the Houston police, who showed up with their billy clubs drawn and threatened to arrest everyone on the flight. This sparked further outrage from the passengers, with one guy yelling about his First Amendment rights. What a scene. I left at this point and returned home, preferring to spend the night there rather than in jail.

“I related this story to the security guards as I was passing through security to get on my rescheduled flight and they said ‘Isn’t that the flight where the woman died?’ I hadn’t heard anything about it that night, but apparently someone from that flight died in the terminal … probably a heart attack from stress. I managed to get to Pittsburgh just before Christmas, but heard other stories about people who did not make it until after Christmas or had to split up their parties to make it before the holiday. In Continental’s defense, I wrote them a letter relating this whole episode and received two first-class upgrade certificates for my troubles.” — Pryan41

What’s your airplane horror story? Share it in the comments below — or read more in Airplane Horror Stories: Part II.

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–written and compiled by Elissa Vallano

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