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The Craziest Things Airline Workers Have Experienced on a Flight

We asked a pilot, a flight attendant, and a CEO to spill some of their wildest stories. Turns out, they're more outrageous than we'd even imagined.

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Rock-a-bye baby… in the overhead bin?

Just before takeoff, while one of her colleagues was finishing the safety briefing, Farida Boland, a flight attendant and senior purser for over a decade and co-founder of HolidayPromoCode.com, heard a baby crying, but she couldn’t figure out where the sound was coming from. The cries were kind of muffled, and the sound seemed to be coming from nowhere in particular. And then she realized: It was coming from one of the overhead luggage bins. Turned out that one of the passengers had managed to stow her baby, snug in its bassinet, into the overhead bin without anyone seeing. Believe it or not, Farida explains, this wasn’t a sign that the woman was a bad mother. Rather, in some cultures, it isn’t uncommon for first-time fliers to be under the impression that the overhead bin isn’t just a place to stow carry-on luggage, but also a perfectly cozy sleeping cove for a newborn or infant baby. This, among others, is one of the funny and surprising things your flight attendant won’t tell you. Farida located where the cries were coming from, reached up, took the baby (leaving the bassinet, which is where it belongs on a plane) and handed to its mother, who was confused until Farida managed to explain that babies without their own seats must be held during takeoff.

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So, uh, where’s the playroom?

Dan Boland, a pilot, travel consultant, and co-founder of HolidayPromoCode.com with his wife, Farida, flies an Airbus A330, a wide-body twin-engine jet airliner that can accommodate up to 335 passengers. In other words, Dan flies a large plane. That’s why he’s not surprised, although you might be, to learn that some parents who are taking their children on such a large plane for the first time assume that there must be a place on board where kids can play with toys and relax on flight. “They ask me where the playroom is,” Dan says, “and I have to break the news.” This has happened most often on Dan’s longer flights (think ten to 14 hours). It might sound silly, but if you think about it, it’s not such a bad idea, having a playroom in the sky, now is it?

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Passenger name? Meow

Alerion Aviation flies and manages private jets for individuals who can afford to own their own private planes — but may or may not know how, have time to maintain them, or fly them. As CEO of Alerion, Bob Seidel does his best to keep Alerion’s clients happy. Sometimes that means honoring some unusual (read: pricey) requests. Take this one for example: A client’s adult daughter was living in London and feeling a bit lonely for her kitty back home in the states. The client was too busy to make the trip to London but not too busy to drop the daughter’s feline friend off at her trusty G-4 jet (a 13-passenger gulf stream). This isn’t the the craziest request airline passengers have ever made. From there, the flight crew flew the unaccompanied cat all the way to London and delivered the kitty into the arms of her person.

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Passenger name? Ow

Dan tells the story of the worst delay he ever experienced. He had just completed a flight to Hong Kong when there seemed to be some trouble in the back of the cabin involving a passenger being unwilling or unable to deplane. It turned out that the passenger had refused to move his seat to the upright position before landing. Apparently his back was aching. The catch was that later on, after he eventually relented and moved his seat upright, he began claiming that the reason his back hurt was because he was forced to sit up. To prove his point, the passenger insisted that he couldn’t leave the plane on his own. An ambulance was called. The passenger was stretchered off the plane. There was nothing actually wrong with his back, Dan is certain, but it cost Dan and the crew more than an hour’s delay.

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How do you open this thing?

Farida can’t even begin to count how many times she’s been asked to open a window or the emergency exit to “let some fresh air in.” Incredibly enough, this doesn’t just happen on the ground, but also while the plane is at cruising altitude. In recent years, there has been a surge in the number of cases where passengers actually manage to open the emergency windows and deploy the emergency slides. You should also never, ever do these things on a plane. This inevitably cancels the flight for everyone as the inflatable emergency slides need to be repacked by mechanics.

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Cash and carry

When Seidel had a client accidentally leave a briefcase with $15,000 cash in Brazil, it set off a domino effect of odd requests that Seidel had to accommodate. First off, he needed to send a jet to Brazil. Then, he needed to find someone to send on that jet to Brazil who had a Brazilian passport—because apparently no one gets into Brazil without a Brazilian visa or passport. Then, it all needed to go off without a hitch. It did. An Alerion employee with a Brazilian passport was located and brought to the plane, which flew to Brazil, where the briefcase was located. Miraculously, all of the cash was intact and returned to its rightful (and grateful) owner.

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Mile high matchmaker

If you want to pursue a potential love interest, getting a flight attendant involved may not be the best way of going about it. Farida says it’s not all that unusual for passengers to ask for her phone number, especially when they’re tipsy. It’s no secret that this happens to flight attendants, but here’s the secrets your airline isn’t telling you. But it was a first when a tipsy passenger in Business Class asked her to set him up with a woman he saw walk down the aisle to take her seat in Economy. Actually, “set him up” is putting it mildly. The tipsy man told Farida he wanted to “join the mile high club” with the woman in economy, but was too scared to ask her himself. “Would you mind going up to her and asking her for me?” the man asked Farida.

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It’s not like backstage at a rock concert, except when it is

High-profile musicians make all sorts of wild demands about their backstage set-ups at concerts. Apparently, Kanye requires a barber’s chair, Mariah Carey wants two vases of white roses, and Van Halen famously demanded no brown M&M’s. But guess what? This stuff really happens. Seidel knows firsthand. He’s had to field special requests from clients who want to be able to watch this particular movie while en route or to be able to have that particular toy ready to give to their child as soon as they step off the plane. It’s usually doable, especially with the help of Amazon, which offers same-day delivery of certain items, including a case of tea that a client “really, really needed.” On the other hand, it doesn’t always turn out perfectly. Seidel recalls a time when one of his clients requested an obscure candy for his flight. Although the candy was finally located and brought on board in just the nick of time, it turned out that there was more than one flavor of this particular candy, and the one on the plane was… the wrong one.

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Out of range

One of Seidel’s clients is the CEO of a Fortune 200 company, but he’s not above the occasional fast food run. In fact, when he flies with his colleagues, he’s been known to request that lunch be “catered” by Wendy’s. One time, the guy was traveling with his wife. It was supposed to be a breakfast trip, and a full but very healthy breakfast had been ordered, as per the wife’s request. Unfortunately, the couple didn’t end up making it to the plane in time for breakfast, so the breakfast trip became a lunch trip, and the crew had to quickly make adjustments. The wife wanted sandwiches made from organic, free-range chicken. You might think that wouldn’t be hard to find, but you’d be wrong. After searching everywhere for just the right chicken, time ran out, and the caterer made sandwiches from organic chicken and left a note for the wife that he was sorry that they couldn’t accommodate her request for “free-range.” But maybe the couple shouldn’t have eaten at all, because this is why you should never eat on a plane. When the plane landed, Seidel got a phone call from his client, the husband. But that was nothing compared to when the wife grabbed the phone so that she could have her say. Apologies were exchanged eventually, however, and the husband is now back to eating Wendy’s on his business flights.

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Buncha amateurs

Have you ever tried asking a flight attendant if you can speak with the pilot while in the air? Probably not, and certainly not if you don’t like to be told, “No.” Dan explains that for safety reasons, pilots are never allowed to come into contact with passengers during a flight. But that didn’t stop one irate woman from demanding to talk to Dan just this week during a particularly bumpy ride across international waters. “We’d entered an area of turbulence,” Dan says, “so we put the seat belt signs on and asked all the passengers to be seated. Then we reduced our speed and requested a higher altitude, which had been reported by other flights to be a smoother ride.” Despite the pilots’ best efforts, the turbulence continued, which caused on Business Class passenger to become agitated. She began yelling and complaining to the cabin crew that the pilots were amateurs and inexperienced, Dan recounts. The cabin crew assured her that she was quite mistaken and that she was being flown by over fifty years of cockpit experience. Eventually, the turbulence abated, and no one heard another word from the passenger for the rest of the ultimately uneventful flight. Next, read about some of the craziest-ever reasons for flight delays.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction; her first full-length manuscript, The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.