Unbelievable Airline Incidents Through the Years
Inflight entertainment used to just mean watching the latest out-of-theaters rom-com, but lately it seems like airline passengers are witnessing more attention-grabbing events in the aisles than onscreen. Each week seems to bring news of another fight breaking out onboard a flight or a passenger being ejected from the plane after a tense encounter with the flight crew. There are plenty of reasons for airline rage -- cramped seats, crowded terminals, extensive delays -- and we're hearing more about them lately thanks to viral videos of incidents shared on social media. Let's all put our chairs in the upright position and take a look at the most unbelievable airline incidents over the years.
May 7, 2017
During a layover at Hollywood Burbank Airport, a fistfight broke out between two passengers on a Southwest Airlines flight bound for Oakland, California, from Dallas. While the initial cause of the brawl wasn't released, cellphone video shows two men wrestling over the seats as fellow passengers attempt to pull them apart. The two men then flip over the seats, bringing the passengers down with them, as one man viciously punches the other. Members of the flight crew eventually were able to separate the two men, one of whom continued on to Oakland, while the other was detained at the gate and arrested for misdemeanor battery.
May 3, 2017
Passenger Cameron Burke, his wife, and his two kids settled into their seats in the last row of a JetBlue Airways flight to Las Vegas from JFK in New York after placing a birthday cake in an overhead bin. When a flight attendant asked Burke to remove the cake from the bin, he complied and placed the cake beneath a seat. Soon after, another attendant began arguing with her colleague and then Burke over the placement of the cake, and the family was asked to leave the plane. They refused to leave until Port Authority police arrived, although the police failed to find any wrongdoing. The airline claims that Burke refused multiple requests to move the cake and became belligerent, but a video shot by a very calm Burke -- with his upset family -- suggests a different story. After being booted from the flight, the family claimed a refund, booked a flight on United Airlines the next day, and plans to sue JetBlue.
April 23, 2017
Delta Air Lines passengers Brian and Brittany Schear and their two children were booted from a red-eye flight from Maui to Los Angeles for refusing to give up a seat for their 2-year-old. The family initially bought the seat for their teenage son but instead sent him home on an earlier flight, so the younger child could spend the overnight flight in a car seat instead of in the mother's lap. A video she shot shows Delta officials arguing with the husband about giving the seat to a standby passenger, insisting that the ticketed passenger must be the one in the seat and that Federal Aviation Administration regulations say the child must be in an adult's lap. One employee even threatened the family with jail time and suggested that their children would be put in foster care if they refused to comply. The family eventually left the flight and flew home the next day.
April 21, 2017
American Airlines suspended an employee and apologized to a female passenger after a video went viral showing a mother sobbing after a clash with a flight attendant over a stroller. Witnesses say the flight attendant violently wrested a stroller from the mother, who was holding one child while another was in a car seat. In the video, the woman is seen crying and asking for her stroller back, while a male passenger intervenes on behalf of the woman, yelling at the attendant, who challenges the man in return. The man ultimately returned to his seat, and the woman was taken to another flight where she was upgraded to first class.
April 19, 2017
Simon, a 10-month-old, 20-pound, 3.5-foot Continental Giant rabbit, was being flown on United Airlines from London's Heathrow Airport to Chicago's aptly named O'Hare Airport to be given to a new owner by the breeders. But while waiting for a connecting flight, the giant rabbit mysteriously died in the cargo hold. The breeders say the rabbit was healthy before the flight, but the body was cremated before a necropsy could be performed to determine the cause of death. Simon was expected to be the longest rabbit in the world, potentially surpassing his father, Darius, who holds the Guinness world record.
April 9, 2017
In one of the most high-profile onboard incidents in recent history, a doctor was violently removed from his seat and dragged down the aisle of a Kentucky-bound United flight at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. David Dao, a Vietnamese-American doctor, was one of four passengers selected by computer to disembark after having been seated, to make room for United employees on the overbooked flight. When Dao refused to comply, saying he had patients to see, police were called in to forcibly remove the doctor from the flight. The violent incident, as a bleeding Dao was dragged from the flight, was caught on video by several passengers and sparked widespread outrage. After a lackluster initial response, United reached a settlement with Dao, who suffered a concussion and a broken nose and lost two teeth. The incident has also motivated Congress to move toward new industry regulations, and the airline is creating a new rules for overbooked flights.
March 26, 2017
United Airlines faced fierce public backlash after two girls were blocked from boarding a Minneapolis-bound flight at Denver International Airport for wearing leggings, which a gate agent deemed improper attire. United defended the decision to prevent the girls from flying as they were "pass travelers" -- relatives of United employees who fly for free and are therefore held to a stricter dress code, which bans form-fitting spandex pants and tops. When the incident was shared on social media, United was widely criticized for a policy deemed by some to be sexist and body shaming.
December 20, 2016
While Richard Marx is best known for soft-rock jams like "Right Here Waiting," he gained some inflight cred when he helped subdue an unruly passenger on a Korean Air flight from Vietnam to South Korea. A passenger seated near Marx reportedly become violent and attacked other passengers and crew members, who Marx said were unprepared to deal with the passenger. One crew member was said to have aimed a stun gun at the passenger but ultimately didn't use it, thanks in part to Marx's help. Guess the passenger "Should've Known Better" than to mess with Marx.
December 12, 2016
After reportedly refusing to comply with boarding and baggage procedures in Detroit, a woman was dragged down the narrow aisle of a Delta flight by police. The uncomfortable incident was caught on video as the woman was removed from the plane. Witnesses say she blew past the gate agent without checking in and refused to leave the aircraft when asked.
March 9, 2016
Five women violently clashed in the aisle of a Spirit Airlines flight when it arrived in Los Angeles from Baltimore, in a fight that started over the volume of a boombox. Two of the women were reportedly intoxicated on the flight and refused to turn down their music when asked by other passengers. When the plane landed, a brawl broke out between the two parties, with punches thrown and hair pulled, while fellow passengers recorded the incident for social media. All five women were removed from the flight for questioning by the FBI.
October 19, 2015
A Southwest Airlines flight headed for San Francisco had to return to Los Angeles after a man was said to have choked a woman seated in front of him after she reclined her seat. The incident took place mid-air, and the crew decided to return to LAX after only 13 minutes in the air. When the flight landed, law enforcement removed the man from the flight, while the rest of the passengers and crew switched planes and eventually flew to SFO.
February 4, 2015
Conrad Hilton, hotel heir and younger brother of Paris, had to be restrained by a British Airways flight crew during a flight from London to Los Angeles after he allegedly threatened the crew and smoked in the bathroom. Flight attendants believed Hilton was under the influence of drugs and were monitoring his erratic behavior when Hilton shouted, "I am going to f------ kill you!" along with other obscenities. He also reportedly yelled, "I will f------ own anyone on this flight; they are f------ peasants." Hilton is also said to have punched the bulkhead, missing a flight attendant's head by inches, and disabled a smoke detector in the bathroom in order to smoke. The crew managed to restrain and handcuff the hotel heir until they landed.
January 5, 2013
An Icelandair passenger on a flight from Reykjavik to JFK had to be restrained after he consumed copious amounts of alcohol and began behaving violently. According to fellow passengers, Gudmundur Karl Arthorsson drank an entire bottle of alcohol from the duty-free shop, followed by mini-bottles of Grand Marnier, whiskey, and schnapps. He became verbally abusive toward the flight crew and shouted that the plane was going down. After he attempted to grope and choke other passengers, an off-duty pilot and two passengers restrained and gagged Arthorsson with duct tape and flex cuffs for the remainder of the flight. When police eventually removed him from the plan, he reportedly shouted, "There's a snake on my leg!" before he was taken to a hospital for alcohol poisoning.
December 6, 2011
While onboard an American Airlines flight awaiting departure at JFK, actor Alec Baldwin was ejected from the flight after he reportedly refused to turn off his cellphone while playing the game Words with Friends. Baldwin claims he was unfairly singled out by a flight attendant -- a notion supported by fellow passenger and professional boxer Oscar De La Hoya -- and refused to turn off the phone when requested. He then went to the lavatory with his phone while the seatbelt sign was on and slammed the door, according to the flight attendant. The plane returned to the gate, and Baldwin was removed before the flight took off. He later apologized to fellow passengers for the delay but had harsh words for the flight crew.
August 9th, 2010
JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater decided to quit his job with a flourish that many people only dream about. After landing at JFK from Pittsburgh, a passenger on Slater's flight reportedly stood up while the plane was still taxiing on the runway. When Slater told the passenger to sit down, the two got in an argument and Slater was hit in the head with a suitcase. Finally fed up, Slater got on the PA, cussed out the entire cabin, grabbed a beer from the galley, deployed the emergency chute, and slid off the plane. He then ran to the terminal, retrieved his car from employee parking, and drove home. Later he was arrested by Port Authority police and charged with criminal mischief and reckless endangerment.
October 20, 1996
Investment banker Gerard B. Finneran probably holds the title for most dramatic display of airline rage. While onboard a United Airlines flight from Buenos Aires to New York, Finneran allegedly made the most of the free alcohol available on the flight and became very intoxicated. When a flight attendant refused to serve him more, he began serving himself. Informed this was against regulations, he told the attendant he was going to "bust [his] ass." He then reportedly began terrifying other passengers, knocking over crew members, and pouring drinks on himself. Afterward he jumped on top of the food-service cart, proceeded to defecate, and then tracked the mess through the rest of the plane. He later pled guilty to a judge and agreed to 300 hours of community service and a fine of $50,000.
August 8, 1994
While some people only dream of being pilots, a mechanic and a customer service agent with Delta Air Lines decided to take matters into their own hands. At 3 a.m., the duo took an empty Boeing 737 for a mile-long cruise around the taxiway in Tucson, Arizona. The joyride didn't last long, though. The mechanic was arrested for suspicion of driving an aircraft under the influence, unlawful use of transportation, and theft, while the agent was charged with unlawful use of transportation, theft, and criminal trespass.
February 3, 1969
"Candid Camera" is considered one of the first reality shows and an inspiration for modern pranks shows like "Punk'd" and "The Jamie Kennedy Experiment." But when the show's host, Allen Funt, and his family were flying from Newark to Miami in 1969 aboard Eastern Airlines, the joke became all too real. Hijackers took a flight attendant at knife point and demanded that the pilots reroute the flight to Cuba. Everyone on the flight remained motionless until someone recognized Funt and told everyone that it must be a staged "Candid Camera" stunt. Despite Funt's insistence that the hijacking was real, everyone continued to laugh off the incident, cheering for the hijackers, who they thought were actors, and asking Funt to sign their air-sickness bags. When the plane landed in Havana, greeted by Cuban military, the passengers finally realized it wasn't a prank, and most became furious with Funt for "tricking" them.
March 19, 1963
Ball lightning is a glowing sphere of electrical light that can appear during a storm. It's been mistaken for UFOs, caused serious destruction, and perplexed and eluded scientists over the years. But on a late-night route from New York to Washington in 1963, scientists onboard the flight claim to have witnessed the strange phenomenon. While passing through an electrical storm, the plane was surrounded by a bright, electrical discharge. Soon after, a glowing orb of light, roughly 8 inches in diameter, appeared from the pilot's cabin and drifted down the length of the plane. The incident was later documented in a study in the journal "Nature."