WEEKEND BONUS: AIR NIGHTMARE

So, here's my Worst Flying Experience tale. It pales in comparison to your stories of defying death on Third World airlines or taking hard landings with white knuckles, but it has its own unique flavor of misery nonetheless.

I was in Hawaii for an academic conference. More accurately, I was ready to jump off a bridge after my first year in grad school and I used the conference as an excuse for a vacation in Hawaii. My inbound flight was uneventful, as was my stay.

As is common with Hawaii-US Mainland flights, my outbound flight departed around midnight. Departing at midnight local time puts one in the continental US around midday the next day. Of course, leaving at midnight means that everyone on the flight immediately goes to sleep. Among several hundred people on a full 777, there was not a soul awake 20 minutes after takeoff except for the flight attendants. And me. And the person sitting next to me.

I am going to try to be delicate here.

I had an aisle seat and the passenger to my right was a large (severely) developmentally disabled boy of about 15. His handler, for lack of a better term, sat to his right. With an attitude that unmistakably said "I have been dealing with this kid 24-7 for a week and I'm goddamn tired of it" and without so much as a word to the kid, the handler put on a sleep mask, inserted earplugs, took a quantity of prescription sleeping pills that I imagine would adequately tranquilize most zoo animals. She immediately fell asleep.

This confused the kid. He did everything he could to get Mom/Handler's attention but she was out cold, clearly with the intention of not having to deal with him. So he turned his attention to me. Intermittently for the next eight hours, I was slapped, poked, headbutted, and unintelligibly slurred at by a child with some obviously extreme developmental handicaps. I tried talking to him to no effect. So for the duration of the flight, every time I tried closing my eyes, reading, or listening to music I wouldn't make it a full minute before he started doing something that involved all or part of his body from striking mine. I am pretty sure he shit his pants around hour six.

The icing? Since everyone on the flight was asleep, the attendants did not bother changing the in-flight film. Thus Miracle, the jingoistic Kurt Russell film, played three times in its entirety. An attendant offered me headphones for the audio, which I politely declined. I was the only way I could think to make the experience worse.

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19 Responses to “WEEKEND BONUS: AIR NIGHTMARE”

  1. Ike Says:

    Ugh! My worst flying experiences have thus far been while not flying… trying to sleep across several slippery vinyl chairs in a suit I've been wearing for two days and nights under the flickering lights in the terminal while someone vaccums nearby and the PA system makes an announcement every 5 minutes… at three o'clock in the morning.

  2. John Danley Says:

    It turns out that the kid *was* Kurt Russell.

  3. Entomologista Says:

    Why did you not alert the flight attendants? They could have made the kid and the handler switch seats.

  4. Ed Says:

    Because I could not think of a tactful way to say "This handicapped person is driving me crazy."

  5. mcsey Says:

    Someone as miserable as you deserves experiences like this. It validates you.

  6. Nomad Says:

    If you told the flight attendants that he had grabbed your package you would have been guaranteed a new seat and a few drinks to silence you. Keep that one for future reference. Aloha.

  7. Daniel Says:

    I went on a family vacation to Hawaii five years ago, and it is truly the trip of a lifetime. I cannot sleep on planes or in automobiles, so I did have the similar experience of being awake in the wee hours. I didn't have any problems with anyone sitting next to me, but I can say that going from Hawaii to the mainland is absolutely brutal. Our flight was from Hawaii to L.A. to Chicago to Indy with about a two hour layover in L.A. and a four hour one in Chicago. Needless to say my body felt weird as the day was magically pushed up five hours. In conclusion, that flight for you must have been a doozy.

  8. Prudence Says:

    My worst civil aviation story is still a US Airways flight from LAX to DCA (National airport in DC). Everything had gone according to plan, and we broke thru the rain clouds at our scheduled arrival time of 8.30pm, and saw the lights of DC, when suddenly, we gained altitude and flew *away* from the city. For reasons that were never made clear, we'd been diverted. To Philly. Not Baltimore, not Dulles, Philly. The air crew then kept us prisoner on the plane for another 3 or so hours, also for no given reason. Long enough for me to miss the last train from Philly to Union station at 12.35am. The crew only agreed to hand out cups of water after I started a near-riot, earning my unending enmity. Finally, they told us that the airline had secured school buses to drive us to National airport, which closed at around midnight, meaning that there would be no buses, taxis or Metro trains to take us to our destinations. We disembarqued and were told that we'd have to wait for the buses to arrive– despite having waited all that time on the tarmac. I thought, "fuck this shit" and asked a couple of my fellow passengers if they wanted to split the cost of a one-way hire car to DC with me. Funnily enough, both the guys had been rained out by Katrina and we drove from Philly in what had become a bit of a deluge. I finally arrived in DC at just after 4am, when I'd told my friends I'd be arriving at 8.30pm and would meet them at a party. I wrote a rather irate letter to US Air, and got a very half-assed apology and a $50 voucher "for the next time you fly with us!". Needless to say, I'll never fly with them again. EVER.

  9. Andy Brown Says:

    Well, if it's a question of helpless travel suffering . . . I remember my friend and I were on an overnight train through Yugoslavia (back when there was such a place) and 5 local workmen piled into the compartment made for 6. And settled in, kicking off their shoes, the fumes from which immediately drove all oxygen from the train, or would have if the window had opened, so maybe the oxygen just died. Even the cheap Russian cigarettes that at least one was always smoking, couldn't compete. Propped by the entryway door we at least got the occasional welcome whiff of diesel exhaust, but we couldn't even pass into unconsciousness, because the 5 guys only had 4 tickets between them, so one had to climb over us to go hide in the bathroom whenever the clairvoyant one thought the ticket taker might be coming.

  10. Nick Says:

    My worst travel experience was when I was about 12 or 13 years old. My family and I were going to DC from Salt Lake City, and we had a layover in Houston. Just before we were scheduled to land, a tropical storm made landfall a short ways away on the coast. We were only about 15 minutes late landing, and boarded our next plane. We then sat on the plane for nearly three hours, before being told that the weather was going to delay our flight. By this time, other travelers who were inside the airport when they heard that flights were being canceled had already booked all of the hotel rooms connected to the airport. That night, we ate at a nicer restaurant in one of these hotels, hoping that we could just nap for a few hours on the floor of the airport with the pillows and blankets handed out by the airplane crews before continuing on after the storm passed. Alas, this was not the case. The storm washed out most of the area's roads, making it impossible for ground crews or air traffic controllers or plane crews to get to the airport. Parts of the runway were flooded, meaning that even if the crews got through we still couldn't leave. Early in the evening on our second day there, all of the restaurants and fast food places had run out of food, so the airport staff organized the emergency food rations–basically, those box lunches with a sandwich, a small bag of chips, an apple, and a cookie, all wrapped in plastic–and because they only served them at certain times of day, every meal involved a two-hour wait if you didn't get to the serving area quick enough (which, being in the back of the terminal, we generally did not). After three days of sleeping in the airport, washing in the bathrooms, eating our box lunches, wandering the terminal, purchasing and reading another book from the airport bookstore a couple times a day, and constantly checking the flight board, we were finally able to take off. It'd probably be better for me now, as I could drink and would have a computer, but for 12-year-old me who had nothing to do but wander when I got sick of constantly reading, it was pretty hellish.

  11. Nan Says:

    Three hours on the tarmac at Minot, ND, after a flight from Seattle to Minneapolis got diverted due to severe thunderstorms. We could see the Pizza Hut across the highway, but we were trapped on the damn plane. I did not question the diversion because that flight also included seeing the plane struck by lightning (the joys of a window seat), but having to sit there starving with fast food only a few hundred feet away was not fun.

  12. Aslan Maskhadov Says:

    Oh WAAAAH!!! Try flying from Moscow to New York in the summer. 9 1/2 hours last time, bright sunlight outside all the way, and some jackass having a conversation the entire time.

  13. Julie Says:

    I lol'd very much reading this.

  14. acer Says:

    I used to ride Greyhound a lot, including one three-day trip from Atlanta to Portland, OR. This isn't the forum for that. So I'll just say that every trip I've ever taken that involved O'Hare International Airport was some shade of miserable.

    Also, I never grabbed Ed's crotch, and I was just trying to be friendly. Har de har.

  15. duquesne_pdx Says:

    Got one better Aslan. Hong Kong to Frankfurt on Lufthansa (which is a great airline). Non-stop flight. 17.5 hour light time. Overbooked flight, so every seat was full, including the one I was sitting in that wasn't supposed to be used. Because it was broken. Stuck 5 degrees from vertical.

    After 7 or 8 hours my back started to spasm, and I spent the rest of the flight walking up and down the aisles.

  16. Nyuk Says:

    I thought Miracle was pretty good. The main question in one's mind, if one knows anything about hockey, is "how the fuck was that even possible?" The movie offers a plausible explanation to go along with the standard "power of the American spirit" crap, namely, that Coach Brooks was a psycho who skated them to death, so they were even better conditioned than the Red Army team and had skated together enough to play well as a team. I've watched it three times, with the sound, *on purpose* (but not consecutively).

  17. Jennifer Says:

    Oh! I have one – Aeroflot domestic (not the "nice" planes they use for international travel but the piece of crap ones they use internally) from Vladikavkaz to Moscow.

    After surviving what can best be described as a rugby scrum just trying to get a ticket on the plane. When we crossed the tarmac to walk to a plane that had likely been around not too long after WWII. I walked up the stairs and was greeted by a smell that one can only achieve with old shoes and mouldy cheese. I took a step back and told my friends that I couldn't get in there – so they pushed me.

    I found my seat – and the source of the smell. The seats had likely not been cleaned since the plane was built – there were the dingy outlines of the hundreds of sweaty bodies who had sat in these seats before me and no matter how much I turned up the air it didn't make a difference. But at least I had a seat – apparently they typically oversell their flights and the aisles were crowded before take off with people standing there and holding on through the entire flight. I attempted the washroom – I won't describe it here but suffice to say that once I saw it I decided to sit through the flight until we reached Moscow.

    Fortunately the attendants came through before take off (as best they could with all the people in the aisles) selling vodka, water and shoes (shoes?!? yes, shoes). I bought a bottle of vodka and was able to dull my senses and get myself over the worst of the smell and the fear, but spent the rest of the flight trying not to lean back in my seat or touch ANYTHING and praying that the plane didn't fall apart in the sky.

  18. heydave Says:

    Suck it up, wussies; builds character!

  19. Jacie Says:

    Miracle pisses me off because it makes hardly mention at all of any other players besides the Boston ones. Two of the "Miracle Team" were from my alma mater and one of them is a hall of famer.

    I'm sorry Jennifer, your Aeroflot flight story made me laugh. Did you bathe in the vodka after your flight to kill whatever was growing in that plane? Yikes.