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Top 10 Epic Flight Crew Mishaps And Meltdowns

by Adam R. Ramos
fact checked by Jamie Frater

These days, commercial airline travel is often a stressful experience. Between the delays, the ever-changing rules concerning what you can bring on the plane, and those miraculously shrinking seats, the moving walkways leading to the airport’s parking lot have never looked better. Then there’s the fact that you’ll probably have to go through the whole thing again to get home.

Whether taking to the skies is nerve-racking or frustratingly tiresome, such taxing journeys are only compounded by the difficulties brought about by the plane’s flight crew. The following ten stories delve into comically epic errors and meltdowns by pilots and flight attendants which their passengers will not soon forget.

10 Wrong Destination

Photo credit: Valerie Mosley, AP

In January 2014, passengers on a Southwest Airlines flight were jolted when their 737 had to brake hard on landing in order to come to an abrupt stop. Had the plane not come to a halt, the passengers would have found themselves plummeting off a steep drop due to the fact that they were not only on the wrong runway but at the wrong Missouri airport thanks to pilot error. According to the pilots, they simply confused the runway lights of the smaller airport with their intended destination. “Mistaking a nearby airport for the intended one, or landing on the wrong runway or a taxiway, can have catastrophic consequences,” said National Transportation Safety Board chairman Deborah Herman. Following an investigation into the discomforting mishap, both pilots were placed on paid leave, with the copilot eventually retiring.[1]

Such errors, however, are not that uncommon. An AirAsia flight from Sydney to Malaysia in 2015 ended up somewhere entirely different after the captain entered the wrong coordinates into the plane’s navigation system. Further problems only resulted after the loss of the airliner’s route directions and GPS. In the end, all passengers safely landed, albeit in Melbourne.

9 Daredevils

Two sentimental Air Berlin pilots were apparently channeling their inner Evel Knievel when they gave 200 passengers more than they bargained for while making an “honorary lap” upon landing in October 2017. The Airbus A330 traveling from Miami to Berlin was the airline’s last transatlantic flight; thus, the two daredevils moronically decided it would be a good idea to “make a mark—a dignified and emotional goodbye.”

Dismissing the standard landing procedure, the A330 banked sharply to the left, flying low over the airport and extremely close to the control tower. The maneuver was met by screaming passengers fearing for their lives, believing they would be incinerated within seconds. Witnesses on the ground as well as airport employees were understandably shaken, assuming that the jet was going to smash into the terminal. “It was a strange feeling when the A330 came right at us, as we did not know before that it would do a honorary lap,” stated a bewildered and petrified onlooker.[2]

Despite landing safely, the stunt justifiably triggered an Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) investigation as well as both pilots being immediately and indefinitely suspended.

8 Boiling Point

Photo credit: The Guardian

We all have our boiling points. For JetBlue attendant Steven Slater, however, his particular meltdown cost him his job. While his plane was taxiing to the gate at Kennedy International Airport in August 2010, Slater instructed an unruly passenger to remain seated. As Slater approached the defiant man, who was pulling down luggage from the overhead compartment, he was struck in the head by the passenger’s hefty carry-on.

Instead of receiving an apology, the rowdy traveler cursed at the flight attendant, prompting Slater to take to the plane’s intercom and verbally berate the man with his own choice of entertaining expletives. After declaring, “It’s been great!” and that he’d had enough, the irritated attendant chugged a beer, activated the emergency evacuation chute, and slid away from his 20-year career in a dramatically epic fashion.[3]

Later that afternoon, authorities surrounded Slater’s home like it was Raid on Entebbe. They arrested the smiling and newly unemployed flight attendant. He was charged with criminal mischief and reckless endangerment, all the while being supported by fellow flight attendants, who stated, “Enough is enough—good for him. If he would have called me, I would have picked him up.”

7 Texas Airspace Expletives

A Southwest Airlines pilot woke up on the wrong side of the bed in March 2011 when he vented to his copilot, unleashing a slew of expletives in the process. Although personal conversations are permitted in cockpits, the pilot inadvertently broadcasted the entire tirade across Texas airspace. The object of his frustration was simple: his coworkers’ sexuality, age, and size.

There’s twelve flight attendants. Eleven (expletive) over the top (expletive), (expletive) homosexuals and a granny. Eleven. I mean, think of the odds of that. I thought I was in Chicago, which was party-land. After that, it was just a continuous stream of gays and grannies and grands. Now I’m back in Houston, which is easily one of the ugliest bases. I mean it’s all these (expletive) old dudes and grannies and there’s like maybe a handful of cute chicks.

Apparently, Houston air traffic control had enough of the unsavory diatribe once the pilot began insulting their own, at which point they interjected. “OK, whoever is, uh, transmitting, better watch what you’re saying,” the controller said. One can only imagine the look and sudden paleness on Captain Sensitive’s face when he realized the microphone was left on. The pilot was ultimately suspended without pay after air traffic controllers sent the tape to the FAA.[4]

6 When Nature Calls

Diarrhea is never a pleasant experience, especially when you’re 11,600 meters (38,000 ft) in the air, and your name is Joao Correa. On a March 2009 Delta flight from Honduras to Atlanta, nature came calling for the 43-year-old Cleveland man 30 minutes into the trip. Holding it in the best he could, Correa attempted to make his way to the lavatory, only to find that the single coach aisle on the Boeing 737 was blocked by a beverage cart. After his pleas to use the lavatory in business class were denied, Correa waited patiently, but he could only do so for so long.

Feeling that time was running out, he dashed to business class like an Olympic sprinter and then came across an obstinate flight attendant determined to play by the rules. Despite his pressing predicament, the stewardess stood her ground while blocking Correa’s access to the lavatory with her arm. The flight attendant’s actions display a notable lack of common sense, considering the detrimental and putrid fragrances the entire plane would have been subjected to by her unwavering directive. Nonetheless, time was up for Correa, who grabbed the attendant’s arm and twisted it to get into the bathroom.

Despite releasing his bowels in a private and proper manner, Correa was arrested in Atlanta after the stewardess accused him of assaulting her. He was subsequently charged with interfering with a flight crew and jailed for two days before a federal magistrate could hear his case. In the end, he reached a deal with federal prosecutors, who agreed to drop the charges if he completed a three-month “pretrial diversion program.”[5]

5 Mile-High Club (For One)

In the last decade, British Airways has had their share of controversies. From cabin crews drinking bottles of champagne to pilots getting into physical fights to attendants making out and “petting” one another in front of passengers, there has never been a dull moment. However, in 2016, arguably the most embarrassing scandal for the airline occurred when 51-year-old Captain Colin Glover was caught red-handed, no pun intended.

A series of explicit pictures emerged (and were published in the tabloids) of Captain Glover pleasuring himself in the cockpit while 11,600 meters (38,000 ft) in the air. To throw fuel on the fire, a pornographic magazine can be seen on top of the plane’s controls, not to mention the black lace stockings Captain Glover was wearing as well as a photograph showing a naked man in the plane’s lavatory.[6]

The scandalous images are believed to have been taken on two separate long-haul flights, though some have said that the incident may have taken place in a simulator and not during an actual flight. Despite Captain Glover denying the pictures are of him, he was removed from flying duties indefinitely while the airline conducted an investigation.

4 Shout! Shout! Let It All Out!

It’s safe to assume that in times of uncertainty, one can look to their flight attendant for reassurance. Though we expect them to carry themselves with composure, human nature can outweigh any form of training when the unexpected occurs. Such was the case in October 2017, when an AirAsia flight headed from Perth to Bali experienced a sudden drop in cabin pressure, causing the plane to plummet 6,700 meters (22,000 ft).

At first, there was no real panic; that is, of course, until the flight attendants began screaming bloody murder, causing many of the 145 passengers to soil their shorts. This undoubtedly led to the passengers joining along with the screams as if they were at a death metal concert while fruitlessly reaching for their oxygen masks. One passenger in particular was so fearful due to the crew’s extravagant, diva-like reaction that he sent a goodbye message to his son. “The panic was escalated because of the behavior of the staff who were screaming,” exclaimed a tearful and shocked passenger who realized their end would not be once the cabin pressure was restabilized.

Following the roller coaster ride from Hell, AirAsia Indonesia issued an apology “for any inconvenience caused.”[7]

3 Warning Signs

In November 2015, an American Airlines flight destined for Germany was sitting on the tarmac in Charlotte, North Carolina, preparing for departure when several flight attendants became concerned about fellow stewardess Joanne Snow. Despite their informing a federal air marshal that Snow was acting irrationally and was a “concern for the safety and security of the flight” due to her odd behavior, American Airlines dismissed the request for her to be removed. Even more troubling, Snow personally told the air marshal that she was “crazy” and a “train wreck” prior to departure.

During the flight, the stewardesses’ concerns came to fruition when Snow slapped a flight attendant across the face. Less than an hour later, she began shoving an air marshal seated in the front of the plane several times before directing her physical lunacy at an air marshal seated in the back. Channeling her inner Rocky Balboa, Snow punched one of the officers in the chest, knocking him backward. In spite of all this, Snow was not arrested in Germany and was allowed on the return flight the next day, during which her apparent mental instability continued to worsen. Only after attempting to bypass a passport control officer in Charlotte was she detained by several officers, who held her down as she kicked and screamed.[8]

Snow was charged with interfering with the crew and assaulting air marshals. In the end, she was freed after being found not guilty by reason of insanity. Specifically, she suffered a “psychotic break while being treated with anti-aging hormone injections.”

2 Bathroom Break

A domino effect of comedic errors played out 3,000 meters (10,000 ft) in the air in 2011, when the captain of a Chatauqua Airlines flight decided to take a bathroom break prior to landing. Following his much-needed toilet session, the pilot attempted to leave the lavatory, but the door latch broke, trapping him inside. Panicked and with only minutes until the scheduled landing, he began pounding on the door, which caught the attention of a passenger in the front row. The captain instructed the Good Samaritan to inform his fellow crew members situated in the cockpit of his present embarrassing plight.

Unfortunately for the well-intentioned passenger, his accent, which sounded “Middle Eastern,” spooked the copilot and crew, who were under the impression that a hijacking was taking place. The copilot immediately radioed air traffic control, informing them the following: “The captain disappeared in the back, and, uh, I have someone with a thick foreign accent trying to access the cockpit. What I’m being told is he’s stuck in the lav, and, uh, someone with a thick foreign accent is giving me a password to access the cockpit. I’m not about to let him in.”

Fortunately for the captain, he managed to break the bathroom door down just in time to calm his copilot’s nerves and land safely at LaGuardia Airport. Upon landing, however, the plane was met by the FBI and Port Authority cops. In due course, it was eventually realized that the situation was an embarrassing misunderstanding.[9]

1 ‘We’re All Going Down!’

Photo credit: AP

Sometimes, the stress of the job just takes its toll on a fragile mind. Such was the case in 2012, when a JetBlue pilot, Captain Clayton Osbon, had a midair freak-out, causing his Las Vegas–bound plane to divert to Amarillo, Texas. Taking to the intercom, Osbon stated, “This is your captain freaking,” prior to running up and down the aisle screaming about terrorist attacks and the need to embrace religion: “Pray f—king now for Jesus Christ. This plane will never make it to Vegas. We’re all going down!” As frightened travelers prepared for the worst, a few brave and exacerbated passengers tackled Osbon, pinning him to the floor of the cabin while the flight’s first officer locked him out of the cockpit.

Months later, Osbon was tried and found not guilty in a Texas federal court by reason of insanity. Perhaps what is even more insane is the fact that following his acquittal, Osbon had the audacity to sue JetBlue for nearly $15 million, claiming negligence due to the fact that the airline “unnecessarily endangered” lives by failing to ground him, which ultimately cost him his career and reputation.[10]

To make matters worse for JetBlue, 13 passengers out of the 135 who were on board sued the airline as well. According to a Brooklyn man who chose to litigate, “When he screamed, ‘Put the plane in neutral,’ I said my prayer and good-bye to everybody that I know.”

Adam is just a hubcap trying to hold on in the fast lane.

fact checked by Jamie Frater