Airline travel is stressful, uncomfortable and sometimes, pretty darn scary. Check out these crazy stories from people on Reddit that have experienced the worst of the worst.
Content edited for clarity.
Heading on vacation may not always be a good time. Content has been edited for clarity.
A Sudden Drop Feels Like The End
“I was flying home. We were at cruising altitude, somewhere above 32,000 feet, with zero turbulence when suddenly the plane just plummeted. The weirdest thing was, the wings and nose stayed level, so you just felt the sudden loss of gravity* and marveled as all the unsecured objects (including the flight attendant) hit the cabin ceiling. I had my seatbelt on, somewhat loosely, and I was hovering about two inches above my seat.
People were screaming and praying. The man in front of me was telling his wife how much he loved her; the woman behind me was telling her little girl, ‘Close your eyes baby.’ Life does imitate art, and this was a disaster movie.
I don’t know why, but I remained unmoved; no panic, no tears. I thought, ‘This is how it ends. I didn’t think it would end like this.’ Then I remembered that my parents would be waiting at the gate (it was 1994), and I imagined their anguish as the waves of bad news rolled in. Delay. Incident. Accident. Crash. Rescue. Recovery. No survivors. So, a silent prayer for Mom and Dad; then I waited to die.
Suddenly, it was over. I don’t know how long our ‘uncontrolled descent’ lasted. Like all intensely stressful situations (car accidents, combat, small children’s birthday parties) time dilates. I do know we recovered at roughly 5,000 feet.
The remainder of the flight passed in complete silence, barring the announcements from the flight deck and the cabin crew checking for injuries. Instead, we all just looked at each other, and I mean looked. It was an odd and powerful sensation, 100 strangers having conversations without anyone saying a word. We also landed in silence, no cheers or applause. Coming out of the gate, with all the friends and family waiting, I expected someone to break down crying or rush into their loved one’s arms. Weren’t we in a disaster movie? Instead, nothing. All 100 silent passengers made their way to baggage claim, still looking at each other, friends and families trailing behind. And then we went on our way.
*I know you don’t really lose gravity.”
Nothing Like A Prejudiced Seat Mate
“Had a lady sitting behind and across the aisle from my girlfriend and me on a 10-hour flight. We’d spent the whole weekend together already and were flying to the States for leave. Both of us were enjoying our time being alone, but together. I’m reading a book on my phone, she’s listening to music.
This lady leans forward and taps my shoulder. Asks me to open her soda for her. I oblige. A minute later. Tap, tap. I politely turn around, she starts with, ‘I think something is lost.’ Then just goes into this long-winded spiel about how in her day she’d have been so excited to be with her boyfriend. Cuddling, kissing, talking. I point out that we’ve been together every second of the last 48 hours; we’re just fine. She disagrees wholeheartedly.
I disengage, turn back, get a page or two into my book. Tap, tap.
I turn around again, she starts bending my ear again about ‘Today’s youth’ and how we’re just too busy to talk to each other. Segues into the life stories of her children. Every time I turn away, I get that tap, tap again.
This goes on for almost an hour. I can’t get a word in at all. We move from the topic of her family to the problems with our country. Finally, it’s escalating. You know when someone starts trying to ease you into something, build you up with a few statements that everyone would agree with, then tie it into some crazy stuff to try to get you to agree?
Yeah, that’s where we were going. And it finally ended on, ‘it’s the fault of the minorities and Mexicans.’
I finally told her I’d had enough, I wasn’t going to support that kind of talk, and I’d appreciate if she kept that to herself. I was finally able to enjoy my flight in peace.”
A Tough Day For Everyone
I’m flying from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to Cleveland, Ohio. 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 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 feet rather than going up to 30,000. My flight was direct into Cleveland. We cruised along at 10,000 feet for 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 had no idea what was going on. Maybe there was an accident or maybe a plane was 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 attack. We thought this meant that someone had launched a military attack of some sort, like jet fighters, missiles, etc. I’m confused as to what is going on. Of course, my cell phone was dead, but it probably wouldn’t have mattered if it was charged because people were having a difficult time getting through on their phones.
After about an hour 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 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 30 minutes or so and found what I was looking for: U-Haul. I rented a U-Haul truck and drove it all the way back to Ohio.
And that’s my worst airline travel story.”
25 Hours Of Frustration
“I went to Greece in 2010. You know what else happened in 2010?
A volcano erupted in Iceland. And all flights were canceled between North America and Northern Europe. Since I had a layover in Germany, this included my flight. So I had to buy new tickets last minute, trans-Atlantic, which went straight from New York to Athens. That was a huge expense.
Coming home was even worse.
On my return trip, I had a short layover in Atlanta. We’re talking barely an hour. The flight from Athens to Atlanta is to date the longest flight I’ve ever been on. 16 hours. It topped the 12 hours of Seattle to Taipei and also the 12 hours of New York to Athens.
What the Delta website didn’t tell me, what none of the employees who looked at my boarding passes told me, what they didn’t tell us on the flight until we were 10 minutes from landing, is that Atlanta International Airport is one of three airports in the country that makes you go through extra security when flying in from overseas.
What kind of extra security, you ask? You have to go to baggage claim and get all your checked luggage. You have to go to customs. You have to recheck your bag and go through security again.
Remember, my layover was just under an hour, to begin with. My flight came in 10 minutes late. I spent 25 minutes waiting for my bags to come up in the baggage claim. I spent 20 minutes going through customs and security.
I then had to take a bus across the Tarmac because I was in the D terminal and I needed to be in the A terminal. At least, I reasoned, my relatively low-numbered gate (A7) would be close to the entrance, since (I assumed) they’d drop me off at A1.
When I got off the bus and entered the terminal, I looked at the nearest gate.
I sprinted the terminal, carry on bouncing on my back until I saw it.
With five minutes to spare.
And the plane was still on the Tarmac.
I ran up to the counter, boarding pass in hand, and told the woman standing there that I was there to board.
‘Oh,’ she replied, ‘I’m sorry, but we’ve finished boarding. I cannot allow you on that plane.’
‘But it’s still right there,’ I countered. ‘Still connected via the bridge and everything. And I have my boarding pass.’
‘I’m sorry, but boarding has finished,’ she said again. ‘You weren’t here when we called your boarding group.’
I was incredulous. They had booked me an impossible connection and now they were penalizing me for it? I explained the situation to the employee.
‘I just spent 16 hours on a plane from Athens,’ I said, ‘which came in less than an hour ago. Then they made me go through baggage claim (another 25 minutes of waiting), then customs and security, and then I came straight here. You saw me sprinting. It was impossible to be here any sooner.’
‘There’s nothing I can do without approval from my supervisor,’ she said.
‘Great!’ I exclaimed. ‘Can I speak with your supervisor?’
‘I’m sorry, but he’s onboard the plane,’ she said, pointing out the window at the aircraft that was supposed to take me home.
By this time I was getting pretty frustrated and angry.
‘Well, what are you going to do about this?’ I asked.
‘We’ll put you on standby,’ she said. ‘If we have space, you can head out on the next plane.’
‘And when will that be?’
‘In seven hours.’
And that was that. 15 minutes later they retracted the entryway and my flight left without me.
After an additional seven hours of waiting (25 hours after I boarded my plane in Athens), I still didn’t know if I was going to be on this flight. It was the last one of the night, and if I didn’t make it, I’d be sticking Georgia overnight. That wouldn’t have been so bad except that Delta wasn’t going to comp me a hotel room since it was apparently my fault I missed my original flight. That means spending the night in the terminal.
The shift had changed and I was dealing with a different employee now, but she was no more helpful than the last. Every time I asked if I had a seat, she insisted she would call those of us flying standby by name. It did not deter me from asking. If I asked what my chances were of getting a seat, she would say ‘it depends,’ and leave it at that. This also didn’t deter me from asking again.
As the departure time grew nearer, I started getting more and more nervous. Between each boarding group, I’d ask the status of standby and she’d say the same things.
Pretty soon everyone had boarded. It was 20 minutes past departure time and I’d pretty much given up, but then I heard her call my name.
I sprang up and boarded only to find that the plane was mostly empty. Maybe one seat out of every three was occupied.”
Changes And Connections Galore
“I was supposed to go to Salt Lake City to surprise a bunch of friends for New Year’s Eve this past December. My original flight was supposed to go from Cincinnati to Dallas to Salt Lake on Tuesday, December 29th. No big deal, right?
So around 1 a.m., the day I’m supposed to leave, I get an automated phone call saying my flight has been canceled, due to the storms that hit Texas. Apparently, they had four seasons in one day. So I get my flight changed from Dayton (4 p.m.) to Philly to Salt Lake.
I drive to Dayton, which is about an hour and a half away. I try to check in, but something goes wrong. I check with the front desk, and they said my flight doesn’t leave until 4 p.m. Wednesday. BUT, they can book me on the next flight in Cincinnati, which leaves in two hours. I’m like whatever, let’s do it.
So I haul butt and get to the airport in Cincinnati. Sadly, I miss my flight by 10 minutes.
I end up getting booked for Wednesday from Cincinnati to Chicago to Salt Lake. I get to the airport and make it to the waiting area. My flight gets delayed. The pilot for our plane is coming from Chicago and isn’t here yet. We get delayed 20 minutes. No big deal. We board the plane and are about to take off. The pilot comes on and says we aren’t going anywhere because the toilet is broken. So, they work on fixing it.
They finally fix it, and at this point, I have 30 minutes to get to my connecting flight, and it’s another 1.5-hour flight to Chicago. So, while on the runway, I quickly book a $1,300 flight from Chicago to San Fransisco to Salt Lake. We take off right as I make my purchase. Whew!
So I get to Chicago, and just for fun, I ask what they can do for me since I missed my flight. They tell me the next available is Saturday. Forget that. So I walk over to my connecting flight to San Fran and fly out.
I make it to San Fransisco around midnight (Thursday morning). I sleep in the airport, on the cold floor until around 9 a.m. My next flight leaves at 2 p.m. So I wait around until my flight leaves. I finally get on board and fly out. I make it to Salt Lake City, get a rental car, make it to my hotel, and shower/shave. I then head to my friend’s house literally four hours before the ball dropped. I was exhausted.
The day I was supposed to come home, we all went out for cheap Mexican food. I told everyone that I was worried because the last time I had cheap Mexican in California I got food poisoning. They all convinced me they ate at this place all the time, and never got sick. We ate, and I watched everyone, in the order, they ate their food, start to get sick. I knew my time was coming.
So yeah, I got the pleasure of flying back home with food poisoning.”
Woke Up To The #1 Worst Smell
“I was flying from Bangkok to NZ.
My dad was a little pale before we boarded the flight but we figured he was just tired.
I was 14 at the time and I fell asleep half an hour in and woke up a few hours later to absolute panic.
I had no idea what the heck was going on but the smell that I woke up to was the absolute worst I’ve ever smelt, even ten years later, it is still #1 the worst smell I have ever encountered.
I just remember looking over to my dad and there was blood everywhere. On the seats, on the walls, on the floor, everywhere. That’s what the smell was. Blood. Lots of blood.
We got moved to first class (not as exciting under these conditions) and some rich dude wearing snakeskin was more than happy to leave to give up the room. I thought that was pretty nice of him.
I sat on one side and my father and mother were kind of towards the back away from me on the other side.
A doctor came in too (luckily) and was assisting.
Flight attendants were consoling me and telling me everything was going to be OK, but I looked over there shoulders out of curiosity and saw my dad sitting on the window seat, hand kind of knocking on the window while his eyes were rolling back and he was projectile vomiting blood.
We left the plane as soon as we touched down, since we didn’t go through any security we had our bags quickly checked in some sort of holding room, I fainted because there were so many people in the room and also what the heck just happened. Also THAT SMELL!!
Then we all went to the hospital, my brother was getting married the next day so we all went and visited my dad after, even the bride it was pretty cool.
He turned out to have an ulcer in his stomach which ruptured due to taking a certain medicine.”
“So Is She Paralyzed?”
“I was on a flight from New York City to Los Angeles with my father. We are seated on opposite sides of the isle towards the back of the plane (I’m on the aisle seat on the right side and he is on the aisle seat on the left side). Everyone starts to take their seats and interestingly I am left with an empty one next to me. No for long. I see a woman, who I assumed was paralyzed, being wheeled in my direction. I politely stood up because I knew she was going to take the seat next to mine. After the airline staff had transferred her from the wheelchair to the seat next to me, they went back to tending other passengers. About 10 minutes later was liftoff and we were in for an eight hour flight.
Fast forward a few hours, and we are beginning to fly over Colorado when the lady next to me starts having a coughing fit. Now this isn’t your normal “cough a few times a minute” thing, this is the hard cough of someone who is dying. As I sit there uncomfortable, she begins to moan about how much pain she is in. It’s then when I notice all of the color has drained from her face and her eyes are barely open. THEN SHE GETS UP AND WALKS TO THE BATHROOM. So is she paralyzed? I thought to myself. I got up and let her in after she returned. That’s when the loud pain filled groans began.
She started screaming ‘I need to lay down! I need to lay down right now!’ So the flight attendants took this woman to the back of the plane (only a few rows behind our seats) and bend her over the counter. This was the best they could provide her, yet I could still her her groans from my seat. My dad told me that I should expect to have an emergency landing in Denver so this woman could be given medical attention. That landing never came. When we finally reached LAX the plane was taken to the side and stopped for a good 20 minutes before anything happened. That’s when the men in gas masks and suits that had the logo for the Department of Health walked toward her.
I was very off put at this point but it gets worse. Two men with briefcases walk behind them (also in masks) and I began vigorously shaking my dad’s arm. ‘Did you see what it said on the briefcase?! Did you see?!’ He said no. It said ‘CDC Emergency response team.’ Five minutes later they carried her out and the captain said that we were free to go. My dad was not okay leaving without an explanation so he asked the captain when we got to the front of the plane what happened. The captain said that she had just flown in from Africa and the CDC had to make sure she didn’t have a fever. That was it. I knew then I was going to die. Miraculously nothing happened, but it was so scary. I never knew what became of that woman.”
Not A Fan Of New Jersey
“I’m a big guy, so airline travel is hard. I usually buy two tickets so I don’t put anybody out. On the last plane trip I ever took, this woman asked me to move seats so she could sit with her sister. I politely told her I didn’t want to. I bought two seats together so I wouldn’t put anybody else out. I even used that machine when I came into the airport and worked with the teller to ensure I had two seats together. I’m not one of those annoying fat people, I’m much bigger than average and I don’t expect businesses to accommodate my choice of lifestyle. She threw a fit and sat down in her aisle seat and proceeded to have a loud conversation with her sister on the other end of the plane about how rude people were and how ridiculous it was that I was being stingy with my seats. I even showed her my tickets to prove they were my seats.
Luckily, the most beautiful flight attendant I’ve ever seen named Cheyenne came up and asked her to refrain from disturbing passengers, and moved her to another seat in the back and moved her sister back there too so they could be hateful together. Cheyenne then sat next to me when she was able to and we talked the whole trip to New Jersey. She even brought me a coke (flat, but the thought was nice). This was a trip from Oklahoma to New Jersey, so I’m not sure if most people from New Jersey are nuts, but I’ll never go there again.”
A Great Pilot Saves The Day
“Flew from Ohio to Charlotte, North Carolina. During the flight, a hurricane unexpectedly turned hard inland and made landfall. All air traffic was not permitted to land, was backed up to the maximum, and flights were forced to circle the airport until they could get them on the ground. Unfortunately, we arrived late and the air traffic at 30,000 feet was completely clogged.
Instead, we were forced to circle the airport, below those flights, which was in the heart of the hurricane. We flew in circles for 70 minutes, with lightning on both sides of the plane nonstop, with turbulence that would make a 70-year-old sailor wet himself.
Everything is thrown all over the plane, people crying, and basic terror. When we finally landed, no one would exit the plane. The applause lasted until the captain came out and spontaneously began weeping. He told us that he was sorry that we all had to experience that but that he was happy that he had the privilege of getting us safely back on solid ground, and then hugged an older lady that kissed him until we forgot about the hurricane and started to feel uncomfortable for him.”
Well That Escalated Quickly
“I travel a lot for work, mostly intercontinental, so lost luggage, theft, seriously delayed flights, a plane struck by lightning, missed connections, I’ve had them all and always make certain I have a decent survival kit (personal and work) in my hand luggage these days.
Most bad experiences have involved other passengers. The worst was a couple of years ago when I was at the end of a long haul from Argentina to Holland and was doing a final leg from Amsterdam back to London.
Boarded the aircraft, and there was a small American child bouncing up and down excitedly in the middle seat, and his morbidly obese mother in my window seat, overflowing the armrests.
I was jetlagged and also slightly ill, having caught a dose of mild food poisoning in Mendoza before I left, so was not very receptive. Anyway, I said to ‘Fat Mama,’ politely; ‘Excuse me, you’re in my seat.’
‘Oh, it’s my little boy, he so loves to look at the airplanes.’
‘Yes, but you are in my seat, not him.’
‘That’s so I can hold him up. Will you trade seats?’
‘I have been traveling for nearly 24 hours. I am not feeling well. I like to look out of the window at aircraft as well. If you don’t get your fat behind out of my seat now, I’ll ask one of the cabin crew to crowbar it out.’
‘Well, there’s no need to be rude!’
‘You started it.’
Thank goodness it was only a 45-minute flight. She humphed and squirmed and harrumphed the whole way to London.”
Stuck At The Airport At His Destination
“Flying from Minneapolis to Denver. There was a winter storm and I would be late. Fine. I called the shuttle ahead of time and they could pick me up and bring me to my hotel in Breckenridge, even though it was going to be late at night. Great!
Well, since I really wasn’t in a hurry, I let everyone go in line before me at the airline desk so they could correct their connecting flights.
I mean, I was at my destination. It sucks when you miss your connection, so I was being empathetic to their urgency. It was more important than mine because I already had my travel connection in place. Right?
Well, by the time I got to the front of the line, the airline baggage handlers shift ended.
My skis were locked in holding and there was NO ONE, NO WAY, NO HOW, I could get my skis.
By the time I whined and moaned and did everything I could to get my skis, I still couldn’t get my skis and I missed the shuttle anyway plus Interstate 70 was closed.
So I had to spend the night in the airport.
What I learned: It doesn’t pay to be nice. Airports specifically put the armrests on chairs to prevent people from sleeping laying across the chairs, and Denver airport does a lot of floor cleaning overnight.”
A Man Has A Medical Emergancy
“Coming in to land at Dulles (Washington, D.C.), and the guy in the opposite aisle starts groaning loudly. Immediately, I turn to look, and he’s not just groaning – he’s wailing, his body is convulsing, and he’s smashing his head into the chair directly in front of him. The passenger next to him is freaked out and terrified.
Now, I’m a medical journalist, pharmacy grad, and I’ve done a load of first aid courses, so I know what’s going on here. Someone starts yelling for someone to stick something in his mouth – and that’s the worst thing you can do if someone is having a seizure. Instead, as perverse as it sounds, the best thing to do is let the seizure go.
So, I yell ‘NO!’ at that, to make it clear, then calmly get someone to signal for the flight attendant, and ask if there’s something soft to use to cushion.
Now, this is a bit of a strange situation because the guy having the seizure is already restrained by the seatbelt – it’s scary. So the best thing to do was use this oversized teddy bear someone had (it was Valentine’s Day) to cushion the guy’s head and get that in place. The stewardess is trying to help, dropping off a medkit, and puts a call out for a nurse or doctor. So there’s me, the stewardess, and a nurse, unbuckled, coming in on a priority emergency landing at Dulles, the plane is at a crazy landing angle, and I’m straddling the aisle trying to stop this guy drill his head through the wall with a giant teddy bear.
As soon as the nurse arrived, I stopped because her expertise trumped my basic skills. The guy was OK – bewildered and covered in blood, but the EMTs got him off.
Anyway, all of that meant I was late for my flight to the UK. So I ended up having to sprint the entire length of Dulles’ terminal (and it’s a LONG terminal) to make the flight. Did it with five minutes to go, covered in sweat and exhausted.
Couldn’t sleep on the flight home after that. It was about midnight EST when it was all done, and I was sweaty from the run, and a little shocked by what the heck I’d just been involved in.”
The World Will Never Be The Same For Him
“Flight from NY to LA (direct) was delayed and passengers were getting angry. Flight eventually boards an hour late.
Two hours into the flight, a man is seen dashing full tilt towards the loo. Seconds later, a rancid stench consumes the flying tin can leaving passengers gasping for breath and their nasal hair on fire.
Turns out, man had dropped chunks of fresh deuce all along the aisle as he ran hopelessly towards his destination.
It’s still 3 hours to LA. Captain decides to turn back. At the same time, man has also locked himself in the loo, too embarrassed to face the world; that will now never be the same again for him.
Flight turns back and lands in NY where people have to avoid poo on their way out of the plane while carrying their luggage and desensitize themselves to the smell by punching themselves in the face repeatedly.
Carpets had to be replaced.”
Stuck In Your Own Hometown
“When I was coming back from Cozumel there was a storm in the Twin Cities, so we couldn’t land there. We circled for a while before having to land in Bemidji. We were on the ground in Bemidji for about four hours. That made the flight suck more than it normally would. With extra time circling, I think we were 6 hours late.
It didn’t suck for us nearly as much as the guy in the seat behind mine. He lived in Bemidji. He could see his house and his friend’s house just before we touched down. Now you’d think this would be a good turn of events for him — except they had no customs in Bemidji. He couldn’t deplane. He called his friend from the plane to tell him just how late he’d be. It’s a 4-hour drive down to the cities. We saw his friend drive down to pick him up as we sat there on the runway.”
Everyone Was Silently Pooing Their Pants
“Flying an early morning flight from Schiphol airport in Holland to Greece I think.
We take off and about 15-20 seconds in we get a bird strike on the left engine. I’m sat on the left side around the wing area and suddenly we’ve got what feels like turbulence and orange flashes flying from the engine. Instead of carnage on-board, everyone is deathly silent and clearly pooing their pants as I was.
After what feels like ages, this all stops and we are flying normally. As far as I remember it took the pilot and crew a lifetime to tell anyone what is going on, but we head out over the sea, dump fuel from the engine and head back to Schiphol.
A short while after landing we’re put on another flight and go on to have a great holiday.
I now have a time to time (in my head) freak out on flights when anything (and sometimes nothing) happens.”
That Wasn’t In The Toilet Beforehand
“I pooped myself on a plane to Florida when I was 7. The seatbelt sign kept switching on and off and the pilot couldn’t make up his mind on what the safe height was for people to stand up. My stomach was sodomizing itself and the saw mill eventually opened. So then the plane started to slowly smell like poo but instead of the passengers blaming me or my dad, they all started going off on the stewardesses and pilot.
‘A kid just pooped his pants because the pilot can’t tell if this is a plane or a bus!’
My dad then takes me to get cleaned up in the restroom. I still had some left in the tank, so I did the rest of my business. Upon looking down, I saw that I had pooped out a sponge. Yes, a mocha brown sponge. It wasn’t in the toilet beforehand, so it must have come out of me. To this day, I still don’t fully understand what happened.”