As 2018 draws to a close, FlyerTalk looks back on the most charming passengers of the year. While there was a bumper crop of unpleasant individuals to choose from, only one flyer can take home the title of Worst Passenger of the Year.
Honorable Mentions – History Repeats Itself Again
Although it is true that misbehaving passengers still manage to surprise on occasion, it may also be true that there really is “nothing new under the sun.” In 2018, a remarkable number of flyers didn’t get the memo that joking about bombs while traveling on a commercial airline flight is a recipe for arrest.
According to the TSA, a record number of passengers also inexplicably attempted to bring weapons onto flights this past year (although one adult passenger blamed his mother for the contraband firearm screeners discovered in his carry-on bag). Screeners were also surprised to see “the skeleton of a small child” on the X-ray belt and a pet lover went to extreme lengths to smuggle a pet cat on her flight.
E-cigarette aficionados continue to be the absolute worst and passengers still have a disturbing habit of peeing on each other at 35,000 feet. Arguments over politics still get out of hand more than two years after the controversial U.S. Presidential election, but it was a fistfight over flatulence that caused a “farting man from Dubai” to be removed from a Transavia Airlines flight from Dubai International Airport (DXB) to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS) after an unscheduled landing at Vienna International Airport (VIE).
High-powered lawyers and even police officers learned that they were not above the law when flying. Meanwhile, celebrity air travelers kept TMZ busy. A “Florida man” was responsible for truly shocking amount of mischief and videos of passengers apparently doing blow on an easyJet flight to Ibiza and stomach-churning footage of a flyer picking his feet in the economy class cabin went viral in 2018.
A senior citizen’s innocent decision to clearly mark a checked bag caused unintended consequences at Brisbane Airport (BNE) in April. When 65-year-old Venkata Lakshmi arrived in Australia on a flight from Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (BOM), she was surprised to find that writing both the origin and destination on her luggage triggered a massive police response and caused chaos at baggage claim.
The reaction from authorities was somewhat easier to understand after it was explained that “BOMB” was a poor choice of abbreviations for the origin airport once known as Bombay international. While an actual terrorist is somewhat unlikely to write the word “BOMB” on-booby trapped luggage, the bag handler at BNE who noticed the suspiciously labeled suitcase wasn’t in the mood to take any chances.
“She wanted to write the airport she departed from and her destination on her bag,” Lakshmi’s daughter explained to reporters. “However, when she started writing it on the tag, she realized there was not enough space and tried to go with a short-form, only to lead to a great confusion. It’s understandable with the extra security for the Commonwealth Games. Because she is elderly they probably believed her.”
A Southwest Airlines passenger’s disgusting in-flight behavior was perhaps only matched by his disturbing excuse for committing an alleged sexual assault in the cabin of a Houston William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) to Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ)-bound flight. According to the arrest report, Bruce Alexander attempted to absolve himself of his misdeeds by telling police, “The president of the United States said it’s OK to grab women by their private parts.”
Police say that the 49-year-old’s unique defense didn’t get him off the hook and he was charged with “abusive sexual conduct.” According to sworn testimony, Alexander leaned forward and touched the breasts of an unidentified female passenger sitting in the row in front of him on at least two occasions during the short flight.
The victim later told authorities that she at first considered the possibility that the contact may have been an accident, but the second time she was groped, it was “clearly on purpose.” At this point, she confronted Alexander before alerting cabin crew members and moving to another seat.
“She rose from her seat, turned around and told the passenger behind her that she didn’t know why he thought it was OK and he needed to stop,” according to probable cause documents filed with an Albuquerque court.
A Spirit Airlines passenger says that she was left with no choice but to flush her emotional support animal down the toilet of an airport restroom after a gate agent told her it was her only option available to her if she wanted to reach her destination. The college student said the harsh airline policy, unhelpful customer service agents and a combination of circumstances out of her control forced her to part with her beloved companion.
While the airline admits that an employee mistakenly told the 21-year-old passenger that she would be permitted to bring her dwarf hamster named “Pebbles” with her on her flight from Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) to Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport (FLL), Spirit Airlines officials unequivocally deny that any gate agent suggested that Belen Aldecosea either release the pet on the tarmac or flush the animal in the nearest toilet.
Aldecosea claimed that although she urgently needed to get to Florida for medical treatment, she tried everything possible before making the difficult decision to end the hamster’s life. The student says she rebooked on a later flight in the hope that another choice would present itself, but when no other options became available, she then killed Pebbles in a bathroom stall and boarded the last flight of the day. She says that she attempted without success to rent a car and she also tried to find a friend to drive her and Pebbles to her final destination.
According to Aldecosea, she eventually decided it would be better to put the rodent down rather than to prolong its suffering by releasing it outside. She says that she has since investigated taking legal action against the airline.
“I didn’t have any other options,” Aldecosea told reporters at the time. “She was scared. I was scared. It was horrifying trying to put her in the toilet. I was emotional. I was crying. I sat there for a good 10 minutes crying in the stall.”