Lights that turn themselves off and on. Unusual sounds. Sudden temperature spikes or drops. At my airline, we have always counted on aircraft #502 to have a mind of her own. Most people affectionately – but some not as much – refer to her as “Christine” after the Stephen King film, believing her to be possessed or haunted. She does seem to “behave” for some people more than others, but lots of people have claimed to have seen her be quite temperamental. Christine doesn’t bother me, but some avoid flying on her because of the stories.
I don’t believe ghosts are flushing toilets of unoccupied lavatories at 35,000 feet, but the legend of our “haunted” plane is still a bit of fun. But our Christine is not the only aircraft to be said to have supernatural qualities. And the experiences aboard Christine, no matter how unsettling some may find them, are nothing compared to other supposedly spectral encounters onboard commercial aircraft.
The best-known of these stories is the tale of Eastern Airlines Flight 401. The story begins in 1972, when the 3 pilots of flight 401 were preparing the brand new L-1011-1 aircraft, carrying 172 passengers and 10 flight attendants, for landing at Miami-Dade airport when they found that there was an issue with the landing gear. It’s thought that the second officer may have unwittingly disengaged the autopilot function while distracted by the issues with the gear, causing the flight to crash into the Florida Everglades, killing many onboard, including the pilots.
Following the investigation, the aircraft’s parts were then said to have been used as replacements in the rest of Eastern’s L-1011 fleet. Crews working those flights were said to have seen mid-flight sightings of the perished pilots onboard, just to have them disappear shortly after. One of the pilots was even said to have spoken to a flight attendant, warning her of an impending fire on the aircraft, which according to legend broke out the very next day.
The next tale comes from Virgin Atlantic. The story goes that a flight attendant went to the galley, where she found an elderly man standing. The man asked the flight attendant to pass along a message to a woman onboard, telling her that he was okay. The flight attendant complied with the man’s request and shared the information with the passenger, who was confused for a moment. She then pulled a photo from her wallet and asked if the man in question was the same one. When she confirmed that it was, the woman said that the man indeed was onboard…in a coffin in the cargo hold.
While most airlines have their own stories of spirits contained on and within aircraft, it seems that some choose to bring their own onboard – and one airline in particular is even catering to that demographic. In Thailand, some believe that dolls known as Luk Thep, or ‘Child Angels’, are inhabited by the spirits of children, and to treat them as one would care for a real child will bring good fortune to the bearer. The spirits are said to reward those that care for them with everything from help with alcoholism to financial success. The dolls are brought everywhere, including flights, and Thai Smile Airlines has found the dolls to be so prevalent that there are actually written policies regarding them; for instance, dolls may be ticketed for seats (in the name of the passenger only), but must not sit in the exit row. And if your “child” would like a snack or drink? Thai Smile is more than happy to serve them as well.
Everyone loves a good ghost story, and we in the airline industry are no exception. It’s very possible that even you have been on a “haunted” plane and been none the wiser. Each airline seems to have their own. If you notice the lights flickering onboard or temperature suddenly plummeting, make sure to sweet-talk her. If you believe in ghosts or not, one can never be too careful!