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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”