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There’s a reason so many of us regularly put up with cramped seats, delayed bags, long security lines and short tempers: the ability to fly across the world is a daily miracle that’s not to be taken for granted.
An estimated 34.4 million flights were scheduled to take off this year and most of them went entirely smoothly. But here are a few that didn’t:
We should all know the drill by now: no flammable items, no long blades, no liquids over 3.4 ounces. However, there continue to be passengers who flout the luggage rules for carry-on and checked bags – some more extravagantly than others.
Why get caught with a regular knife or firearm when you can be stopped with a Irish shillelagh club or a multi-use, self-defence “vampire straw”? Or, for weaponry with wow, there was the US woman arrested in Sydney with an undeclared 24-carat gold-plated handgun in her luggage.
Contraband animal matter, alive or otherwise, is another obvious no-no. And yet giant African snails and a dolphin’s skull were among the items confiscated at Detroit Metropolitan Airport this year, while customs seized a box of giraffe poop at a Minnesota airport.
But the biggest carry-on faux-pas of the year came right from the start of January: Please, never stuff a four-foot boa constrictor into your hand luggage; it really is too much of a squeeze.
Always check you have everything you need before setting off on a trip. For parents, that means not abandoning your baby at the check-in desk, as one couple did in Tel Aviv, Israel, in February. And for flight crew, it usually means not leaving the passengers on the runway watching their plane take off, as happened in Bengalaru, India, or taking off with passengers but no checked luggage, as was the case in Zurich, Switzerland.
Still, if you’re delayed on the ground long enough, your luck can occasionally turn for the better. In June, a North Carolina man waited out an 18-hour delay and ended up getting an entire plane to himself.
02:02 – Source: WSOC
This man waited 18 hours, then had a plane to himself. See what it was like
Please remain seated
Unruly passenger incidents in the United States were still considerably more frequent in 2023 than they were pre-Covid, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, though down from their 2021 peak.
Some were kicked off before the plane even left the ground, such as the Delta passenger who opened a door and slid down the emergency exit slide at Los Angeles International Airport, and the men who left a Southwest plane before takeoff after punches were thrown in Dallas, Texas. In May, a woman was removed from a Frontier Airlines flight in Denver, Colorado, after hitting a flight attendant with an intercom phone. And in November, a Southwest passenger had to be subdued by airport workers after opening an emergency exit and climbing out of the plane while it was still at the gate.
00:56 – Source: CNN
Hear passenger explain why he got into fistfight on plane
Things weren’t peachy once planes got in the air either. Flights from France to Michigan, from Michigan to Florida, from Florida to Washington, DC, and from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur were all forced to be diverted or turn round mid-flight because of disruptive passengers on board.
Some high-profile incidents were particularly alarming. In March, a Massachusetts man was arrested for allegedly attempting to stab a flight attendant with a broken metal spoon during a flight, after attempting to open an emergency exit door. And in South Korea in May, a man succeeded in opening the emergency door just before landing, causing wind to whip into the cabin round the terrified passengers on board. The 19-year-old man, who told police he “wanted to get off the plane quickly,” later tested positive for drugs.
01:59 – Source: CNN
Man sitting next to passenger who opened door mid-flight speaks out
We’ve all experienced delayed flights, but it’s rare indeed for it to be caused by an escaped bear in the cargo hold, as happened in Dubai, or a swarm of bees, which held up a Houston-Atlanta flight for three hours.
In November, a Boeing 747 en route to Belgium was forced to turn back after a horse escaped on board, and in April, bird strikes were linked to a fire on an American Airlines plane. The 2023 award for bravery, though, has to go to South African pilot Rudolf Erasmus who safely landed his small aircraft after feeling a venomous stowaway cobra slithering on his body mid-flight.
00:37 – Source: CNN
Deadly cobra slithers up pilot’s shirt during flight
There was – excuse the turn of phrase – a surprising streak of human-waste-related incidents on planes in 2023.
In June, airline passenger Habib Battah was handed wet wipes to deal with blood and excrement in his seat footwell on an Air France flight from Paris to Toronto.
Then, in late August, two passengers on an Air Canada flight from Las Vegas to Montreal were told to sit in seats still soaked in vomit from a previous flight. Just over a week later, a Delta flight from Atlanta to Barcelona was forced to turn around after a passenger had diarrhea “all the way through the airplane.”
Completing this incredible run, an easyJet flight from the Spanish island of Tenerife to London Gatwick, which had already been delayed by several hours, was canceled after someone apparently defecated on the airplane bathroom floor. ““It was just a very uncomfortable experience,” a passenger told CNN.
There were more life-or-death health emergencies this year, too. In March, an off-duty pilot on a Southwest Airlines flight between Ohio and Las Vegas stepped in to help after one of the on-duty pilots needed medical attention mid-flight. And in July, a passenger took over the controls and crash-landed a small plane at Martha’s Vineyard Airport after the pilot suffered a medical condition, officials said.
Mishaps and misadventure
It’s always a bad day when you get locked out, particularly when you’re a pilot and it means crawling in through the cockpit window after a customer accidentally shuts the flight deck door. A passenger who took photos of the incident in May applauded the pilot for going “above and beyond.”
Less praise was on hand in March for two pilots with Indian low-cost airline Spicejet were grounded after they were said to have eaten hot drinks and pastries inside the cockpit – a coffee break which could have had disastrous consequences if something spilled.
In November, a plane took off from a London airport with two missing windows. The damage was initially missed by crew and the craft reached at least 14,000 feet before turning around.
Most of us take seamless air travel for granted, but for people with disabilities or reduced mobility, unfortunate plane journeys are a far too common occurrence. While progress is being made, we’re still some way away from every customer getting the service they deserve.
Air Canada apologized in November to customers with disabilities who were not met with “convenient and consistent service,” after a passenger passenger who uses a wheelchair hit headlines around the world after he shared his experience of dragging himself off a flight.
According to the Paralyzed Veterans of America nonprofit, more than 31 wheelchairs were damaged, delayed or lost each day by airline workers between 2019 and 2022. This apparent disregard for essential tools of mobility by a viral video from November that shows a baggage handler releasing a passenger’s wheelchair to slide down a jet bridge chute, where it flips over and crashes into the airport apron. American Airlines said it was reviewing the footage.
Plus-size travelers also complained about “discriminatory” and confusing airline seat policies, which often see customers “paying twice for the same experience” as other travelers. It became a hot topic online in December, after viral Tik-Tok videos brought attention to Southwest Airlines’ generous longstanding “customer of size” policy for passengers who don’t fit comfortably into today’s narrow airline seats.