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The 15 Most Bizarre Reasons for Flight Delays

From runaway rodents to MIA pilots, you're sure to get a kick out of these ridiculous postponed plane stories.

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Vietnam Stock Images/Shutterstock

Ice ice baby

For The Independent‘s acting head of travel Julia Buckley, a trip from London to Newark took nine hours because of strong winds the entire way. The delay itself, though, took place after the flight landed, when everyone’s luggage was stuck in the cargo bay because the doors had iced over. Buckley claims that she has not been back to Newark Airport. Here’s an easy trick to predict if your flight will be delayed.

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Ivan Cholakov/Shutterstock

Runaway pilots

Hard to fly without pilots. Impossible, in fact. But that was the problem facing travel journalist Alyssa Haak and her flightmates before their takeoff from Fort Lauderdale. “They ‘couldn’t find the pilots,'” she remembers. “They even made that announcement.” Eventually, they had to call in new pilots: The original ones never showed up!

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Midair emergency

Travel writer Jacqueline Kehoe’s flight to Orange County presumably took off on time, but had to be cancelled in midair when one of the pilots suffered a heart attack. Because there legally needs to be two pilots on every flight, flight attendants raced to find a replacement. “Did you know ‘Does anyone know how to fly a plane?’ is something they actually say?” Kehoe says. (At least she can joke about it now, because that sounds TERRIFYING.) Someone did, in fact, know how to fly a plane, and an air force pilot helped land the craft in Omaha. Luckily, everything worked out: The pilot was fine, and the airline gave all of the passengers first class flights to Orange County. Learn the secrets airlines won’t tell you (but all fliers should know).

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Breaking curfew

Travel correspondent Simon Calder broke curfew on his flight from Dubai to London. Or, rather, the whole flight broke curfew. It was so hot in Dubai that a bunch of extra freight had to be removed from the plane to make it safe for flying in that weather. After this was done, the plane took off, and landed at Heathrow at 10 p.m. The workers at the Dubai airport calculated that, since the flight had been delayed, it wouldn’t be possible for all of the passengers and baggage to get off their Emirates 777 plane in time for that plane to depart Heathrow again by 11:30 p.m. Apparently, Heathrow has a “departure curfew” of 11:30…who knew?

So the Dubai crew sent a message requesting that the plane land at England’s Gatwick Airport instead…but the pilot didn’t get that message. So the plane still landed at Heathrow, but no one there was expecting them, so the plane took off again and flew to Gatwick. Another plane, which was having technical difficulties, was blocking the Gatwick runway. What should have been a very brief flight took forty-five minutes as the plane hovered over Gatwick, waiting for the runway to be clear. “Having arrived an hour late at the right airport, we were now three hours late at the wrong airport,” Calder sums up. We certainly don’t envy anyone on this flight.

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Mouse in the house

In March 2017, British Airways had to compensate 200 passengers when they had to change planes because a mouse was found on the original plane. This plane-change was required not because of any cleanliness problems with the mouse, but because the mouse could have chewed through wiring. According to The Independent, a chewed wire could be found between the back of the plane (also known as the “tail”) and the “ram air turbine,” which is ironically abbreviated to RAT. Gotta love rodent humor. The flight on the new plane ended up taking off over four hours late.

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Not on a roll

Shortly after the mouse debacle, British Airways suffered another goofy flight delay. A flight from Gatwick Airport in England to Barbados was delayed for about five hours because the plane didn’t have enough toilet paper. To be fair, though, you know how annoying it is when you use a public bathroom stall and there’s no toilet paper. Think of how annoying it would be if you discovered there was no TP in the plane bathroom. We’re actually OK with this delay…but really, why did finding more toilet paper take a full five hours?

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Alexey Y. Petrov/Shutterstock

A screw loose

Tour guide Danielle Oteri’s plane literally had a screw loose. She and her fellow passengers had to wait for another plane to arrive, and for the replacement screw from that plane to make the journey across the tarmac. She even remembers the crew making announcements with bizarrely specific updates on the status of the screw. “‘Now it was in the hands of a mechanic who was traveling via golf cart between terminals,'” she remembers, and we’re genuinely not sure if she’s exaggerating. Eventually, the screw was secured and the flight took off. Check out these hidden airplane features you never knew existed.

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A very stinky plane crash

A stinky but harmless plane crash is better than any other kind of plane crash, but this still sounds disgusting. Freelance travel writer Johanna Read describes how her Vietnam Airlines flight was delayed because…the taxiing plane hit the toilet truck. (Yes, toilet trucks are a thing; here’s everything that happens after you flush an airplane toilet.) “Luckily there was no evidence of a leak as we boarded,” says Read, “but presumably it was messy.” No matter how delayed that flight was, we feel far worse for the people who had to clean that up than for the fliers. Here’s everything you need to know about plane crash survivors in Alaska.

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noBorders Brayden Howie/shutterstock

Special delivery

Missy Berberabe Umandal was flying from Dubai to Manila, a long flight to say the least. About four hours in, she and her fellow passengers “heard one semi-loud screech, and a few seconds later, there were tinier, cute screeches.” One of the passengers had given birth to a baby girl! Two nurses were on the plane, and they helped the sudden, quick delivery go smoothly. This little girl, named Haven, is officially going to have the coolest answer ever to “Where were you born?” Haven was born nearly two months prematurely, though, so the plane was forced to land in India so that mama and baby could get immediate medical attention. “What was supposed to be a nine-hour flight became roughly 18 hours,” Umandal says. However, according to her, the other passengers weren’t too upset; they knew they were “lucky to witness” such an event, regardless of the delay. Another kind passenger had an infant on the plane, and even offered the new mom some baby clothes from her suitcase!

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Cool it with the coffee

On a flight from Washington to Munich, the crew declared a “state of midair emergency” after noticing a disorienting electrical smell, as well as smoke, coming from the aircraft’s coffee maker. The plane had to land in Boston and be checked out by a tech crew, who confirmed that the culprit was, in fact, the coffee machine. It had overheated and wouldn’t turn off. The poor passengers of this plane were stuck in Boston for 16 hours! No word on whether they got compensated with free coffee. Learn the truth about these airplane facts you’ve always been curious about.

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Courtesy Scott Babcock/Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities

Seal surprise

On October 24, 2017, Alaska Department of Transportation worker Scott Babcock was preparing the runways for takeoff at Wiley Post-Will Rogers Memorial Airport in the northernmost city of Alaska. The area had been experiencing some winter storms lately, and Babcock wanted to check to make sure the runways were clear. After returning to the shop, he received a call from flight services, who had discovered that the airport had an unexpected visitor. It was a massive, 450-pound bearded seal that was lounging on the runway after waddling about a mile. The airport staff called animal control, who hauled the unharmed seal away from the runway via sled.

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Front view of a jet passenger airplane approaching an airport for landing

Big (metal) bird

All was going smoothly on United Airways Flight 5277 from Chicago to Chattanooga—the plane was in the air, just crossing the Indiana-Kentucky border. Suddenly, the pilot made an announcement that left passengers scratching their heads: The plane would be turning around and returning to Chicago’s O’Hare because they’d just realized that it was too big to land in Chattanooga. According to The Points Guy, Flight 5277 had had to undergo a quick aircraft swap at the last minute. The 50-seater plane that had originally been intended to make the flight needed an equipment check. Rather than keep passengers waiting through the check, the airport decided to replace the aircraft with a 76-seater plane that they would realize too late was incapable of landing at Chattanooga Metropolitan. The people who made the swap thought they were saving passengers time. If only they’d known. Here are some things you should never, ever do on an airplane.

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Airplane cabin business class interior view

High maintenance at high altitude

Before it could begin its journey from Zurich to Bangkok, a Thai Airways flight had to deal with a dissatisfied pair of off-duty pilots. They were unhappy that they didn’t automatically get first-class seating—even though the cabin was full. They refused to sit in business class, and, perhaps even worse, the on-duty pilots refused to take off until the pair got their way. After about two hours, two first-class passengers begrudgingly agreed to move to business class so that the plane would leave. The president of Thai Airways issued a public apology for the behavior of his pilots. Here are some more ridiculous real requests people have made on airplanes.

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Grey squirrel yawning

Squirreled away

In October 2018, one passenger boarding an Orlando-Cleveland flight brought an unusual companion with her. She’d alerted the airline that she’d be bringing an emotional support animal, but what she hadn’t said was that the animal was a squirrel. Emotionally supportive or not, rodents are not allowed on Frontier flights, as airline staff tried to tell her. When the woman refused to leave, the police were called, and all of the other passengers had to de-plane. The flight ended up taking off, sans the squirrel and its owner, about two hours late.

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MakeStory Studio/Shutterstock

When the massage is just too good

Mars El Brogy of The Independent was trying to fly to Tagbilaran Airport in the Philippines when his flight was delayed. Two of the plane’s would-be passengers had fallen asleep while getting massages at the airport kiosk. That must have been quite the massage! When they finally woke up and made it to the plane, they were met by the other passengers “with a mixture of applause and boos,” El Brogy recalls. He did not disclose which of those noises he supplied. Next time your flight is delayed, remember these genius ways to make the most of your layover.

[Sources: The Independent, Express.co.ukThe Washington Post, Alaska Dispatch News]

Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a word nerd who has been writing for RD.com since 2017. You can find her byline on pieces about grammar, fun facts, the meanings of various head-scratching words and phrases, and more. Meghan graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 2017; her creative nonfiction piece “Anticipation” was published in the Spring 2017 issue of Angles literary magazine.