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Worst Passenger of the Week: Cactus Smugglers, Turtle Rustlers, Failed Kidnappers

Worst Passenger of the Week: Cactus Smugglers, Turtle Rustlers, Failed Kidnappers
Jeff Edwards

Every Friday, FlyerTalk looks back at the week’s most charming individuals. While there are always plenty of contenders for our Worst Passenger of the Week column, only one lucky flyer can take home the glory.

Honorable Mention – Seed Money

A German visitor to the U.S. learned a painful lesson about cactus smuggling this week. U.S. Fish and Wildlife arrested passenger Simon Langer at Denver International (DEN). He is accused of attempting to sneak thousands of cactus seeds out of the country in his luggage.

Langer reportedly sought advice from experts at the Colorado and Succulent Society about locating various species of wild cacti before poaching seeds from the plants. He is said to have first cast suspicion on himself when he was allegedly spotted harvesting the seeds at the Leslie Canyon National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona.

Langer is now facing federal smuggling charges. Trafficking in cactus seeds is apparently big business – the plants native to North and South America fetch thousands of dollars in illicit trading overseas

“It’s really common,” Colorado Cactus and Succulent Society President Sara Randall told Denver CBS affiliate KCNC. “Cacti and succulents are some of the most, if not the most, poached plant in the world. It’s a huge problem, stealing cacti and bringing them back to Europe and Asia, it generates money if you sell them. You can sell them on eBay.”

Honorable Mention – Look at that Escargot!

The U. S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) “Beagle Brigade” once again foiled a smuggling attempt. In this case, officers “Candie” and “Chipper” discovered giant African snails hidden in a passenger’s bag at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL).

Although the giant slugs are considered a delicacy around the world, importing the oversized escargot into the country is strictly prohibited. The passenger who had just arrived from Nigeria was not penalized for the unusual contraband, but instead received a warning about “properly declaring of pests and agriculture products” in the future.

“CBP is on the frontline 24/7, searching for anything entering our country that could potentially harm our citizens,” CBP spokesperson Lee Deloatch said in a statement praising the very good doggies. “Our beagles sniffing out these snails highlights how valuable our canine members are to protecting the U.S.”

Third Place – Cowabunga Dude

Two Indian nationals at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL) learned the hard way that slow and steady doesn’t always win the race. The pair was reportedly arrested after arriving on a flight from Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (CAN) when customs officials discovered 5,255 baby red-eared slider turtles in their luggage.

Authorities say the men admitted that they intended to sell the shelled creatures as pets upon returning to India. Apparently, turtle smuggling is even more lucrative than the cactus seed game – the seized turtles were valued at well over $10,000.

“This is the first such case of the year, and we are unable to state whether it involves a similar quantity or more [compared to previous cases],” Malaysian Customs spokesperson Zulkurnain Mohamed Yusof told reporters at a press conference in which the thousands of seized turtles were on display on Wednesday. “But it appears to be quite a large quantity in two suitcases found at the same time.”

The Runner-up – Super Human Strength vs. The RAF

Liquid courage reportedly gave one passenger aboard a Jet2 flight from London Stansted Airport (STN) to Dalaman Airport (DLM) some extraordinary abilities, but she was still no match for Her Majesty’s Royal Air Force. One eyewitness on the flight described the rampaging and allegedly intoxicated flyer as possessing “super strength.” The out-of-control woman, it seems, was also in possession of single-minded determination to create havoc; attempting to open both the flight deck door and the emergency exit in quick succession.

“She bolted to the front of the plane and threw one stewardess from one side of the aisle to the other,” one fellow passenger later recounted to reporters. “Another was clinging onto her but lost her grip and the woman ran towards the door She was punching, kicking and screaming at the stewards, they were trying to stop her but they had no chance.”

Meanwhile, on the ground, the wildly disruptive flyer’s resolute attempt to access the cockpit triggered protocols for responding to an attempted hijacking. Long before news of the mayhem aboard the flight reached the public, Derbyshire police fielded hundreds of emergency calls reporting sounds of large explosions. Authorities later confirmed that the loud “explosions” were the sonic booms created when two RAF Typhoon fighter jets broke the sound barrier en route to intercept the passenger plane and escort it back to London.

The Winner – Attempted Airport Abduction

Air travel is by far the safest mode of transportation. Airports, on the other hand, are starting to look less and less secure. In a bizarre incident this week, a family on their way to Disney World, narrowly avoided disaster with the help of an alert traffic cop.

Police say parents at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) were forced to fend off a woman who attempted to abduct their child in a stroller at the time. Security footage appears to show the mother desperately fending off the would-be child snatching, only for the woman to instead attempt to make off with another of the family’s small children. The father and the traffic control officer arrived just in time to subdue 26-year-old Esther Daniels before she could escape with the second child, but it would take another three police officers to finally take the struggling woman into custody.

“Her behavior was very erratic, but we can’t really speak on what her mental state was,” Atlanta police spokeswoman Tashena Brown told reporters. “But we can agree that what she did was very erratic and odd, to say the least.”

Although Daniels’s alleged actions certainly do qualify as “erratic and odd,” the circumstances are more common than one might expect. In October of last year, a stranger attempted to abduct an 8-year-old girl from a security checkpoint at Orlando International Airport (MCO). According to police, the accused kidnapper grabbed the child and repeatedly shouted, “This is my girl! This is my girl!” before he was eventually subdued with the help of fellow air travelers.


[Featured Image: Atlanta Police Department]

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