Even on the best days, flying is the worst. It’s cramped. There’s always some snot-nosed kid bellowing into an iPad. If there were any quicker way to get where you’re going, you’d probably take it.
That said, some flights soar to new heights of horror. We’re talking about the kinds of experiences that make airport security look like a walk in the park. On Reddit, thousands of people gathered to share their worst airline moments with everyone. We steeled our stomachs and pored through these stories to find the most harrowing of them all, compiled them, and edited them for grammar and readability.
We do not suggest you read these before a flight.
Flying can be terrifying.
Humans weren’t meant to fly, but that doesn’t stop us from packing, sardine-like, into the bowels of a hunk of metal and hurtling through the ether at 30,000 feet. No wonder so many of us are afraid of flying. These stories of turbulence, mechanical problems, and lightning strikes will scare you right into the warm embrace of your nearest Amtrak station.
“[We] had extreme turbulence, [the] plane dropped what felt like 20-30 feet in an instant, drinks splashed everywhere, and little kids were screaming for the rest of the flight,” wrote hestonkent. “On top of that that was the most horrifying experiences ever because we fell so fast in such a short amount of time. Scary as s***.”
At least the pilot didn’t hop on the intercom to scare the wits out of that last Reddit user. Our next storyteller wasn’t so lucky.
“[We were] about to land, typical message from the pilot talking about the weather, etcetera,” wrote S***comp10121012. “At the end of the speech he exclaims, ‘No, don’t touch that!’ then soon followed after a swift termination of the loudspeaker.”
There’s turbulence, and then there’s turbulent turbulence.
“I’m not fond of flying to begin with, and this was my nightmare fuel for months after,” wrote ZOMBGiEF. “On a trip from Portland, Oregon, to Las Vegas in December of 2005, the pilot comes on the radio about 15 minutes after take-off and tells us we’re about to hit a really rough patch of turbulence and that nobody can get out of their seats.
“I’ll never forget his words: ‘This is going to get rough folks. I’m sorry, but we’ll be okay.’
“For the next two hours, I experienced exactly that—the worst turbulence I have ever experienced on a flight. This wasn’t just minor bumps. This was up and downs and big dips into massive air pockets.
“The lights flickered a few times, [and] luggage compartments opened and stuff fell. I was sitting in the rear and I could hear clinks and clanks of the flight attendant drink trays. It was f***ing awful. If you’ve ever seen the airplane scene from the movie Almost Famous, that’s what it felt like, for two hours.”
Things get even worse when the weather turns against you.
“[We were] circling Atlanta because it was covered in a severe thunderstorm,” wrote tuscabam. “We went round and round for over an hour. This was after a four-hour flight from Phoenix.
“[The] pilot comes over the speaker, [saying], ‘Folks, we’re out of fuel, so we’re landing now.’ We started the descent, and it went pitch black. It was dead silent in the cabin. You could hear alarms in the cockpit and the engines over-revving like they were going to explode. It was terrifying.
“We would suddenly drop every few seconds, just straight down, and a startled gasp would echo throughout the passengers, but they still stayed quiet. The pilot came back on and said we were about to touch down and to brace for possible impact. When we landed it felt like we just dropped 30 feet down instead of gliding down to the runway.
“You could hear the tires screaming on the wet pavement. Finally, we came to a complete stop and just sat there for what felt like an eternity. Then we slowly started taxiing around to the terminal.”
It wasn’t clear just how bad it was until the end.
“The pilots came out and greeted people as they got off the plane,” tuscabam continued. “A couple of women hugged them. Most men shook their hands. I certainly did. When I shook their hands, I could see that they were soaking wet from sweat. I think that’s what affected me most. This wasn’t routine for them, and they were probably just as scared as the rest of us.”
That sounds pretty bad, but at least the Thunder God wasn’t throwing lightning bolts at the plane.
But, of course, there’s a story for that.
“[The plane was] struck by lightning,” wrote RobotPreacher. “Everything went blue for a second, and it sounded like the plane got hit with a bowling ball. Then we dropped for about 3-5 seconds while everyone screamed their heads off. (The captain said it was a low-pressure pocket and had nothing to do with the strike.)”
If that’s not apocalyptic enough for you, check out this horror story:
“[I] was flying from California to Minnesota, and it was a normal flight at first, but all of a sudden the sky turned blood red,” wrote bonafideseth.
“We had apparently flown through the smoke of a forest fire and the pilot gave us no warning. [I] thought the apocalypse had started.”
Even when the weather participates, there are always those other passengers to worry about.
“I was on a transatlantic flight a couple years ago and the man in the seat behind me took his shoes and socks off right after takeoff and propped his stinky feet (complete with crusty toenails) on my armrest,” wrote msi12345. “I shut that down immediately and told him under no circumstances were his crusty feet going to be sitting on my armrest for the next seven hours.
“He moved his feet back to the floor but didn’t put his shoes and socks back on, so I kept getting whiffs of his stinky feet. I complained to the flight attendant not long after that (the two people next to me spoke up too) and she told Stinky Feet Man to put his shoes back on.
“Thankfully he complied. I’m honestly not sure what I would have done if he’d been more of a jerk about it. Why do people think it’s acceptable to take their shoes off on planes? Why?”
We can’t answer that question, but apparently bare feet are a thing on airplanes. Why indeed?
“I was once on an airplane sitting in first class,” wrote wahteverr. “There was a man sitting in my row that was clipping his f***ing toenails, and they were flying in all sorts of directions. He then proceeded to take that long metal thing on toenail clippers, clean out his toe jam, and wipe it all over his seat.
“He wins the ‘most treacherous human being’ award, in my opinion.”
He’s certainly in the running for that award, but he’s not the only one who made it to the finals.
Ever get the feeling that a fellow passenger is out to get you?
“My worst experience doesn’t involve any kind of turbulence,” wrote UCMCoyote. “It involves another passenger.”
“I was flying down to San Diego to see some friends, and I was traveling light, just a backpack and my laptop. I had bought a soda because my flight was delayed, and it was one of those twist off kinds. I didn’t finish it, so I put it into the drink pouches on my bag since it’s a hiking bag and it’s never failed me.
“Fast forward a couple hours later, and I had forgotten all about the bottle. I’m on the plane and trying to put my bag up into the overhead compartment. All of a sudden, the lady I’m standing in front of screams, ‘Ow!’
“I look down startled, then up at the bag, and just stared in shock. I didn’t see my bag open, things looked secure, and I didn’t get it. She kept saying I dropped a flashlight on her. I didn’t have a flashlight, so I didn’t know what she was talking about. She kept making whimpering sounds, and me, I’m just flabbergasted because she’s making it out like I did it on purpose, and I didn’t pack a flashlight!”
This woman stopped just short of asking if there was a lawyer on the plane.
“Anyway, we sit down, and she’s still making whimpering noises,” continued UCMCoyote. “The crew comes out, and she tells them how I dropped this heavy flashlight on her, and I tell them I have absolutely no idea because I don’t even own a flashlight.
“We take off and she’s complaining to her seatmate. The two beside me are just shaking their heads and muttering how she’s hamming it up. I feel bad because I think I hurt some woman, and am going over a mental checklist of what I packed. The flight crew takes my statement because the woman said she was going to sue the airline.
“We land, and I’m leaving, and she’s at the front of the plane talking to the captain, and she grabs my arm and says ‘He’s the one who hurt me! Him!’”
“I tell the captain ‘I’m sorry, if I hurt her it was an accident, but I don’t even own a flashlight.’”
“‘Oh, of course not, you hit me with this!’ she yelled in a very accusatory tone and pulled out my soda bottle. She had squirreled it away the whole flight. She wouldn’t even return it to me and stormed out of the plane with her three companion dogs, all while saying she just had eye surgery and she was going to go blind now.
“I tried to apologize about the soda because I had honestly forgotten about it, and I traveled with that bag a lot and never had a drink slipped out. She didn’t care, and the flight crew told me not to worry about it.”
At that point, not worrying about it is the best you can do. But this next story is even worse in some ways. Well, not really. But it does sound annoying.
“The woman sitting next to me told me I looked like Ashton Kutcher,” wrote Seameese. “Then, every 10 minutes, she’d ask me if I was sure I wasn’t him. It was a six-hour flight.”
Children are the future. They can also be terrible company on a long flight.
“I was seated next to a 9-year-old kid on a 10.5-hour flight from Shanghai to Vancouver,” wrote nellfromthemovienell. “This kid did not stop talking the entire flight. When I told him politely I was trying to sleep, he would start punching my arm.
“He would take my headphones out of my iPod. He purposefully knocked his drink all over me. He would lift up the armrest and try and rest his head in my lap. Whenever he ran out of things to say, he would burst into song. He was absolutely wretched.”
“Wretched” is the word, but this kid isn’t the worst we uncovered in our study of terrible flight experiences. There’s also this:
“[The] lady behind me brought her kid who screamed the entire four-hour flight,” wrote haysus25. “Kicked my seat. Screamed some more. Had a tantrum and was climbing over the back of my seat and shaking it furiously.”
“[I was] surrounded by eight children,” wrote Shurikane. “Eight. One on each side, the entire row up front, and the entire row behind. No parents, no chaperone. The plane was packed, and there was no chance of getting moved anywhere else.
“First, they screamed at the top of their lungs into my ear. Then they attempted to rip the pages off the book I was reading. And when that didn’t work, they attempted to tear apart the shirt I was wearing.
“Meanwhile, the mom is just sitting there smiling, not even apologizing or trying to correct the behavior at all. I had the worst headache when we got off.”
And, of course, this:
“[I] had a small child pretending to be a monkey climbing on the back of my seat and making monkey noises,” wrote 1000meeting. “I asked the mom to keep the child of my seat and she just gave me a smarmy half-smile.”
And for good measure, this:
“International flight,” wrote Swazzles. “Abscess on my tailbone. Stuck next to the world’s smelliest kid. Headrest TV wasn’t working.
Not all kids on planes are bad, of course. Some of them are alright…but still manage to ruin your flight.
“[I was] trying to go to sleep a couple of rows behind a kid with those light up shoes,” wrote p4177y. “His parents seemed oblivious to how much glare it was causing, especially since the lights were darkened throughout the rest of the cabin.”
Unfortunately, that passenger forgot to pack a sleeping mask. Our next storyteller should have packed a shield.
“I was sitting across from a young mom who had an infant and a 2-year-old,” wrote trazoc. “She had her hands full with the 2-year-old and so I offered to hold her baby. I’m a dad, I’ve fed and [held] babies.
“She agreed, and I held the baby, fed her a bottle, and was patting her on the back to soothe her and let her fall asleep, and she did fall asleep—but not before projectile vomiting in my face and down my shirt. On the bright side, I’m pretty sure I earned karma that day.”
Here’s the tale of a future Cy Young Award winner.
“I was about 11 or 12, and we were on our way back from a trip,” wrote msninagee. “There’s this cute little 2- or 3-year-old sitting behind me, so I start playing with him and his mom asked him, ‘Do you want to share your apple with her?’”
So this little s*** threw this f***ing apple at full speed right directly into my eye and gave me a semi-black eye for a few days, and the remainder of the trip was so awkward between him and I. I hope his baby strength disintegrated as the years went by.”
Before you hold this behavior against the kids, though, remember: We were all there at one point in our lives, as this Reddit user proves.
“I don’t remember this s*** at all,” wrote YeOldD****Goat. “But my mom always likes to tell the story of the time when I was 7 and screamed out, ‘We’re all gonna die!’ at the top of my lungs because the plane hit some turbulence.”
On the other hand, cute kids can totally save an otherwise boring trip.
“A little boy sitting directly behind me sang ‘Old MacDonald’ for just about an entire three-hour flight,” wrote mountaindesert. “I didn’t say anything because he was not terribly loud, and was well-behaved.
“The part I liked best was his emphasis in-between verses. So he’d sing: ‘Ohhhhhhhhhh…Old MacDonald had a farm, ee eye, ee eye ohhhhhhhh.’ By the time the plane landed, I wanted to join in.”
Flying isn’t fun, but flying sick, or around sick people, is even worse.
“At the end of my trip to Canada, all I had was a hoodie, no clean T-shirts,” wrote Jblonde002. “I chuck everything in the hold of the plane except my iPad and headphones. So I am queuing with my boarding pass, and this dude behind me makes this weird sound, but I’m British, so obviously I don’t turn round. [I] get on the plane, and the air conditioning is cold, like, really cold, so I pull down my sleeves, put my headphones on, and pull my hood up.
“Yeah. So anyhow, that dude had been sick in my hood.”
That’s absolutely disgusting, but you can’t blame someone for their health. Here are a few folks who suffered medical problems in the worst place possible: the air.
“My nose started bleeding and would not stop,” wrote 172116. “Apparently, you don’t clot at altitude.
“That was also the day I discovered that if you lock yourself in the toilets for too long, they bang on the door till you open it. I was shirtless (I’m female) and covered in blood.”
Mental health can also ruin your flight.
“Completely out of nowhere [I had a] hardcore panic attack,” wrote Frackenmoose. “They brought a three-foot oxygen tank next to my seat and put a mask on my face. Then, they went over the intercom and announced they need medical attention to be sent EXACTLY to my seat. Everyone watched. Humiliating.”
We saved the worst for last:
“On a flight to Chicago to visit family, [I] caught the flu,” wrote DarthContinent. “Shortly thereafter, my immune system got overzealous and attacked my pancreas’ insulin-producing cells, leaving me with type 1 diabetes.”
Always remember to eat before heading to the airport.
“I was heading home from a trip overseas where I was visiting my girlfriend—who broke up with me while I was there,” wrote HumanCatMan. “It was a terrible trip. Lots of fighting. I was stressed and didn’t eat much.
“When I did eat, I would feel sick to my stomach and throw up, so I was pretty malnourished after two weeks. On the plane, I started getting pains in my stomach. I went to the washroom thinking maybe I was going to be sick or something.”
It turned out something even worse was in store for ol’ HumanCatMan.
“While I was in there, the pain got worse and I started seeing spots…I realized that I was likely going to faint and that I should get out of the washroom. At that moment, my eyesight went completely blank. I couldn’t see anything.
“I tried to find the door handle and I could not figure out where it was. I knew there was an emergency button in there, too, but I couldn’t find this either. I also wasn’t super eager to rub my hands all over a public washroom in order to find it.
“I resorted to scratching at the door like some kind of dog. I could hear people on the other side trying to open the door for me but it was locked. Finally, I managed to find the lock and unlock it. I then pushed hard on the door but it still didn’t open because you need to press the handle.
“After a couple more minutes I found the handle. By now, my eyesight was starting to come back and I could see a hazy vision of an elderly woman waiting to use the washroom after me.
“Luckily, I was able to find my seat because of this dude sitting in front of me who had insisted on standing in the aisle for the entire flight. I put my head down and slept for the rest of the way. I felt better by the time we landed. It was weird and terrifying.”
“TL;DR,” they continued, “I had stomach pains, went to the washroom, went temporarily blind, panicked, and couldn’t figure out how to get out of the washroom.”
What do airplanes have against our ears?
“I got on an airplane once with a bilateral inner-ear ear infection (that means both ears),” wrote catsfanuk87. “I was a little loopy to start with, but once the plane took off, it really hit me. It turns out, with the severity of my ear infection, I couldn’t pop my ears. At all.
“It gave me a splitting headache, horrible nausea, and I was lightheaded for the duration of the five-hour flight. The descent and landing was like reaching nirvana.
“Of course, this was the first leg of a triple connection flight from Hawaii to South Carolina. So I got to repeat this two more times.”
Even if you don’t have an infection, excruciating ear problems are a common side effect of going on vacation.
“My ear wouldn’t pop,” wrote CommunityCollegeKing. “The pressure and pain inside my ear was almost unbearable for three hours.”
And finally, we’ll leave you with the worst experience of them all.
“[We] landed with no issues [and] some people clapped,” wrote orbak. “I hate that nonsense.”
The horror…the horror. Happy travels!