All illustrations via Drew Shannon.
If you think about it, there’s something distinctly surreal about an airline flight. They pack hundreds of nervous strangers into a conical hallway and launch them full speed into the air, where the miracle of human invention collides with the most temperamental of social conditions. Hundreds of sweaty, cranky, exhausted people breathing the same recycled air have to obey a new, unique set of rules and norms.
There are rules about when to sit or stand, when to use the washroom, when to eat, and how to leave. Arguments are settled sophomorically by airline staff, and any actual laws that are broken are dealt with through a combination of the airline Marshall and vigilante justice.
At the epicenter of this surreal airplane universe sits the flight attendant. Ever professional, ever presentable, ever patient, ever prepared, ever scapegoated, and often overlooked. But behind their rehearsed, chipper replies and glossy smiles they’ve been cataloguing a lifetime of stories from having to deal with people
behaving strangely in a strange place. Here are their stories, in their own words.
A Leaky Revenge
Before arriving to a destination, the last service is to sell duty free items. One passenger was especially excited about it. When the cart reached his seat, he was told his item was no longer in stock. All seemed fine—he even said a polite hello to the flight attendants he saw as he left the bathroom, which was next to the galley where work was going on as usual. Suddenly, a rancid smell started to fill the galley and the floor was covered in a smelly liquid. When the leak was found to come from the bathroom door, they opened the door, and found that the unhappy but rather polite seeming passenger had purposefully pissed all over the floor in spite.
Don’t Go In There
When I worked at Sun Jet, there wasn’t a week that went by when passengers weren’t being kicked off our flights. One such fool locked himself in the bathroom moments prior to departure.
“Sir, are you OK in there?” A colleague asked, knocking on the door. “You need to come out now, we’re about to take off!”
When he didn’t answer, she did as she was taught in training and unlocked the bathroom door from the outside. As she pushed open the door, the guy jumped five feet in the air, causing the needle in his arm to pop out, blood splattering everywhere, including all over my colleague, who immediately ran off the plane. The airplane got pulled out of service, and the passenger probably ended up enjoying a beer with the inbound crew, I’m sure.
A Wrinkly Escape
Some passengers suffer from a fear of flying, and you often see it during takeoff. This one elderly woman I had on a flight makes everyone else look completely tame, though. Right after takeoff, she got completely naked and started shouting:
"Get me off the bus!"
She wrapped her wrinkled fingers around an emergency door handle while screaming:
"Let me off this thing!"
I’m not sure which scared the passengers more, the fact that she was so frail and naked, or that a young male colleague was wrapping himself around her exposed, ancient ladybits in attempt to pry her fingers off the door. In any case the door can’t be opened in flight no matter how badly an elderly nudist wants to get off. She was eventually subdued and put back in her seat.
Right after dinner had been served, a passenger in one of the middle seats got up suddenly to use the bathroom and knocked his tray all over the woman beside him. He threw his hands up in frustration as if she’d gotten in his way or something. She was covered in mashed potatoes, gravy and corn, and looked like she was going to kill him. She grabbed a handful of mashed potatoes and flung it back at him, but it went sailing over his head and landed on the little boy in the next row, who started crying. I tried to intervene but it was useless. The boy’s father came over, poured his entire cup of gravy over both of them and sat back down. The two sat panting silently, drenched in their own food. We apologized to the boy and his family and tried to suppress laughter as we handed towels to the two passengers.
The ‘Mile High’ Dungeon
Every few flights, a couple will sneak off to the bathroom to try to join the ‘mile high club’. We, of course, notice, and try to make it there in time to stop them before they begin. During boarding of one particular red-eye flight, I noticed one couple in business class being very affectionate—making out, holding hands, rubbing each other—and made a note to keep an eye on them. When the flight started they appeared to fall asleep like everyone else, so I stopped monitoring them and made myself busy with other things. About half an hour later I heard a rustling and walked over to investigate. It was fairly dark, but I could still see shadows moving around.
Excuse me, I said, standing right above them.
They didn’t hear or notice so I turned on the reading light. They reeled around and stared at me like deer caught in the headlights. I gasped at the scene before me. They were both done up in full-on leather dominatrix gear and she was kneeling on his back with some kind of club in her hand. He had a facemask on and an orange ball in his mouth.
We’re so sorry, she said as they scrambled back into a more appropriate position.
I thought about making a fuss but nobody had woken up and they looked genuinely sorry. Just get some rest, I said.