Given the endless string of cringe-worthy airline news these days, you might be feeling a bit of trepidation before your next flight. And if that's you, you might not want to read on to hear these 10 frequent flyers' harrowing flight stories — from severe turbulence and aborted landings, to babies born up in the air, and more.
1. That Time The Flight Made an Emergency Landing
Apart from stressing that you’ll make your flight on time and get to your destination, if you’re a nervous flyer, worrying about emergency situations may weigh heavy on your mind. For travel blogger Janice Holly Booth, who goes by the nickname "Anxious Adventurista," a routine 45-minute flight from Phoenix to Palm Springs became a scary situation, with the flight up in the air for more than 90 minutes. Behold her story:
“The plane shuddered and shrieked, as if it were alive and being torn apart. The woman next to me, in her 80s, had gotten very quiet, while nearly every other person on the plane — she and I were the only ones who didn’t puke — was throwing up. 'You’re pretty calm,' I said as I white-knuckled the armrest. She didn’t look at me, just continued to gaze out the window. ‘I’ve done this flight dozens of times,’ she said, ‘and we’ve been in the air too long.’ Then she turned and looked at me. ‘I’m saying my prayers.'
The captain’s voice over the PA told us we were going to have to make an emergency landing in Yuma and that he wasn’t going sugar coat it — it was going to be rough. That was an understatement. The plane continued to pitch and tilt until we finally broke through the heavy cloud cover and I saw below us a small runway lined with fire trucks and people in silver fire-fighting suits.
When we landed, we were rushed off the plane, not allowed to take our carry-on items, and whisked into the small terminal at Yuma, herded into a room and kept there for hours, forbidden to make or receive calls or talk to anyone from the outside. On the way in, I had turned back to look at the plane — huge swaths of fuselage had been sheared from the plane and were hanging off like giant, curly ribbons.
Armed officers ensured we followed the no-contact rules. If you wanted to go to the bathroom, you had to ask permission and leave any personal items behind. I had no clue what was going on, but the captain was there too so I sat down next to him and thanked him for getting us safely back to terra firma. ‘Were you scared?’ I asked. ‘That was some pretty hairy turbulence.’ ‘No,’ he answered. ‘I was fine until we ran out of fuel. Then I started to worry a little.’”
2. That Time When a Toddler Got Into Medicine
SmarterTravel deputy executive editor Christina Sarkis once asked her readers to share their most cringe-worthy travel stories, and this one is still one they’re talking about. Fair warning, if you’re a parent, this one might especially get to you:
“A man was taking a three-leg, 30-hour trip solo with his 15-month-old son to get home to Australia. As they were boarding the second leg and the dad was packing the overhead, the baby got into the children’s antihistamine the pediatrician had recommended to encourage plane sleep and chugged part of the bottle. The man panicked, grabbed the kid under one arm and their three carry-ons in the other, and charged off the plane. The flight left with their luggage; meanwhile, they got in an ambulance and went to the hospital. Three hours later, after intubation and a huge liquid charcoal injection, they left the hospital, walked a mile to a diner, ate some food, and then began to suffer the aftermath of liquid charcoal and a limited number of diapers. The next day, he finished the journey — another three-hour flight, nine-hour layover, and 14-hour flight to Sydney — with an unhappy, diarrheic child.”
3. That Time Someone Lit a Match
Imagine this: You’re on a plane with your family, and suddenly you see smoke. You’d probably freak out, just like mom Samantha Slaven did.
“I was on a cross country flight with my husband and seven-year-old son last year when suddenly the cabin was filled with the smell of smoke. The flight attendants began quickly, silently, and uniformly walking up the aisles feeling the overhead bins for heat and fire, and while my son was mostly oblivious my husband and I felt like time had stopped. It was surreal. I genuinely thought the plane might go down and that my family and I could be at the end of our lives. The entire cabin was silent for a good 30 seconds. It was terrifying and we were all frozen with fear.
Turns out some moron a few rows up lit a match because it was dark and he was trying to read something. Talk about relief! But it was really scary and one of the few moments I can recall where it felt like time sped up and slowed down all at the same time. It was a really emotional experience I hope to never repeat again.”
4. That Time Someone Forgot to Wear Deodorant
While she was flying from North Carolina to South Africa, travel agent Malena Cahall tried to save some money by selecting two overnight flights, which included a brutal 14-hour layover in London. In hindsight, she might of wanted to splurge to avoid a stinky situation.
Cahall said: “On our second overnight flight from London to South Africa we had horrible turbulence, making it nearly impossible to sleep. At this point, I noticed a man in the row ahead of us who had the worst body odor I have ever smelled in my life. We could hardly breathe, trapped in the small space with no ventilation for a very, very long flight.”
5. That Time One Woman Had to Endure Too Many Landing Dramas
While some folks might struggle to make it the airport the recommended two hours before takeoff, others could battle anxiety over landing. For Katie Hammel, the latter is true, especially since her luck with touching down hasn’t been so stellar.
She recalled: “I've been on two flights that couldn't land: one because of fog and the other because all landings were temporarily halted, and while circling we got low enough on fuel that we had to land at another airport and refuel.
Bu that’s not all! I've also been on two aborted landings. One was in Florida because there was another plane in the way — we circled and landed. The other was actually two aborted landings in Vegas due to what the captain later said were 55-mile-per-house winds. It was the worst turbulence I've ever felt.”
6. The Time the Plane Almost Crashed Into Another Plane
Jenna Mahoney's plane had just about touched down, when it soared back into the air.
Mahoney recalled: “We landed at Boston from Frankfurt, Germany. Wheels hit the ground and literally — and the next second, we shot straight back into the sky. The pilot gets on the mic and says, ‘Well folks. as you can see, the landing didn't go as expected. There was another plane on the runway.’ So then we circled. Now, mind you at this point we are out of fuel because it has been dumped. Obviously, we eventually landed and everything was fine. But wow.”
7. That Time Someone Had a Heart Attack
It’s hard enough heading home after your honeymoon, knowing you have to get back to your job and responsibilities. But what if the flight you took had to make an emergency landing? That’s what happened to Krista DeMalo, who shared her story:
“Heading back from Hawaii, my flight made an emergency landing in Salt Lake City in the middle of the night after a passenger had a heart attack in the aisle. We had a large plane and with a full tank of fuel and the runway was short, so our front tire went up in flames during landing. The plane was evacuated. The terminal was closed at that time. A woman came to let us inside in her pajamas! We sat inside the terminal for several hours before we were back on board. I never found out if the passenger survived.”
8. That Time When People Were Escorted Off the Plane
For Laura Finney, watching passengers removed from her flight was a jarring experience.
Finney said: “We were delayed and these passengers got sick of sitting on the runway. But instead of staying seated, they kept getting up and telling everyone on the flight that they wanted to get off the plane. They kept doing this, even when we were about to take off, meaning that we had to go back to the gate. Several times. We went back to the gate a couple of times, because of other things that I can't remember — mechanical crap or whatever — but at least twice was because of them. They then had to bring the police on to take him off. It was insane.”
9. That Time Someone Smoked a Cigar
A nice glass of vino or an airplane bottle can calm your jitters when you’re miles above the ground, but allowing the soothing taste of a cigar ease you? Well, that’s not allowed. Even so, Jenn Rice saw it happen.
Rice remembers: “On a recent flight back from Italy, a cigarette smoke smell filled the air on the plane. Everyone started looking around, as it was that distinct. A flight attendant went into one of the restrooms in the very back and came out with a cigarette butt from the trashcan. The anonymous bathroom smoker was never caught, but they did make an announcement to please not smoke in the bathroom. I guess that’s my answer as to why, in 2017, airlines still have to put up signage and verbally make announcements to not smoke on planes.”
10. That Time a Baby Was Born in the Middle of the Ocean
When former flight attendant Christine Mango flew for Continental Airlines, she witnessed plenty of crazy events. One of the most unique experiences? When a woman gave birth while flying above the longest overwater route in the world, Los Angeles to Hawaii.
Mango told us: “While working a flight between LAX and HNL in the mid-'80s, a surrogate mother in the beginning stages of labor boarded a flight. The woman was required to give birth in a Hawaii hospital, as stated in her contract with the adopting parents. Though the airlines require a doctor’s note from a pregnant woman that is toward the end of her third trimester, it’s often hard to identify and enforce.
Midway through the flight the laboring woman alerted a flight attendant that she was about to give birth. The captain and the rest of the crew were notified and then a plan went into action as flight attendants are trained to do. We were halfway between Los Angeles and Honolulu with no place to land, so the captain decided to stay on course and continue to HNL. The closest medical professional to an ob-gyn was a veterinarian, and one of our flight attendants happened to be a physical therapist and assisted.
On the pub aircraft, what is normally business class on most planes, the mid cabin was a bar/lounge area for all passengers to gather. We cleared the pub area, covered a large seating area with blankets and prepared the woman for delivery. The healthy baby boy was born about 30 minutes out of HNL. The aircraft was greeted with an ambulance, doctors, and other medical professionals. Mother and newborn were fine."
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