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Worst Passenger of the Week: The Moscow Mule

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: The Scales of Justice

A one-time passenger at Westchester County Airport (HPN) has now filed a $5 million lawsuit against the facility in the New York City suburbs, alleging that he suffered serious injuries from tripping over a luggage scale while climbing behind the JetBlue ticket counter. According to the lawsuit, Ralph Faga received “very serious and unfortunately permanent” chest and shoulder injuries after falling over the scale which was not “visible to his line of sight.”

Faga claims that he arrived at the airport to purchase tickets, but upon learning that the airfare was priced higher than the price recently advertised, he called foul and was eventually invited behind the ticket counter to see for himself that the agent was offering him the best price available. At this point, the would-be-air-traveler took an entirely different trip than he had planned.

Only a jury can decide the validity of Mr. Faga’s claims. It is safe to rule, however, that a passenger arriving at the airport to try to book a fare he saw on the internet certainly isn’t going to help the rest of us get to the gate on time – even before EMTs and lawyers became necessary.

3rd Place: The Land of the Delta Blues

A passenger who just wanted to get back to Kansas in the early morning hours on New Year’s Day, found out that getting from Beale Street to Memphis International Airport (MEM) is sometimes easier said than done. While the 76-year-old jayhawker was waiting for the driver of his ride to the airport to load his wheelchair into the trunk of the car, a carjacker seized the opportunity to steal the black Lexus car with the passenger still in the backseat.

The alleged auto thief/kidnapper was easy to track down, both because the vehicle was equipped with a LoJack and for a perhaps more inevitable reason. After taking the out-of-town-visitor on a tour of Memphis, including BB King Boulevard, Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue and Danny Thomas Boulevard, the ad hoc sightseeing trip ended with a car crash.

The 33-year-old suspect was taken into custody. The involuntary passenger declined medical treatment and presumably made his flight back home where he now has a nearly unbelievable tale to tell well into the new decade.

2nd Place: The Golden Age of Air Travel

Gold smuggling arrests at New Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL) aren’t especially rare. In fact, previous gold-running passengers have earned Worst Passenger of the Week nominations for finding especially creative places to hide gold bars on their persons before arrival, but what occurred on New Year’s Day at the airport in the capital city is more akin to a modern gold rush than an occasional act of illicit trafficking.

According to customs officials, nearly a dozen gold smuggling passengers were arrested in a half dozen separate cases on the very first day of the new year. In one incident, gold bars worth a total of nearly $100,000 were discovered under a seat on an empty plane which had only recently arrived from Muscat International Airport (MCT). In another incident, authorities say a passenger arrived from Bahrain International Airport (BAH) with seven gold bars hidden among his personal items.

Four Afghani men were accused of attempting to sneak gold chains into the country from Sharjah Airport (SHJ). Officials say the passengers admitted to being part of an ongoing smuggling syndicate. A mother-and-son smuggling team arriving from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport was arrested after customs agents found the pair were carrying “646 grams of gold cylinders.” So far, this year, no passengers have had to resort to extreme measures to sneak gold into the country.

The Winner: The Moscow Mule

A passenger was arrested with nearly $100,000 in suspect iPhones at Newark Liberty International Airport after her carefully constructed web of lies and fraudulent paperwork collapsed. According to charging documents, Yulia Radochinskaya entered the U.S. through John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) under the allegedly false pretense of spending a few days shopping, but customs officials became suspicious after discovering she was already scheduled to depart through Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) the very same day.

Officials saw even more red flags when it was learned that Radochinskaya’s listed employer, where she claimed to be a flight attendant, was a defunct Russian carrier. When the Russian national arrived for her flight later that day, she was carrying 92 iPhones among her carry-on items, but she was able to present proper export paperwork making her actions dubious but apparently not criminal.

It was only after customs officials learned that the documents had been forged, that the scheme fell apart once and for all. In court documents first obtained by Quartz, prosecutors say Radochinskaya admitted her role in the smuggling operation and named a shadowy figure known only as “Dima” as her contact whom she met at the Port Authority Bus Terminal to receive the suspect phones.

In a probable cause affidavit, federal prosecutors indicated that the incident was part of a growing crime trend. “Law enforcement has been investigating illegal exports of stolen cellular phones for resale outside of the United States, with the proceeds from sales of the stolen cell phones used to finance international criminal enterprises,” the court documents reveal.