Bad passenger, bad!

Ah, the glamorous life of the flight attendant, where you get punched, kicked and defecated upon.

Published April 13, 1999 6:46PM (EDT)

A few years ago on a United Airlines flight from Buenos Aires to
New York,
Gerard B. Finneran, an investment banker, went totally bonkers. Newspaper
accounts said that after becoming intoxicated, Finneran demanded more
alcohol from the flight attendants. When they refused, he began helping
himself to the liquor supply. After being cut off a second time, he became
visibly angry. He pushed one flight attendant (federal offense No. 1), verbally
threatened another (federal offense No. 2), interfered with a third who was
assisting a sick passenger (federal offense No. 3), then walked up to the
first-class cabin, dropped his pants and defecated on a service cart in plain
view of the passengers and crew. Then he stepped in his own feces and tracked
it through the main cabin (federal offense Nos. 4, 5 and possibly 6).

Finneran was arrested upon landing in New York. He subsequently
guilty to assault and was sentenced to two years probation. In addition, he
was given 300 hours of community service and a $5,000 fine and was ordered to pay more than $50,000
in restitution to the airline and to reimburse fellow passengers for the
price of their tickets. (Not surprisingly, Finneran's lawyer said his
client was "ill" when he committed the now infamous in-flight atrocity.)

Every one of the estimated 110,000 flight attendants currently flying in the
States has witnessed strange behavior in the air.
Occasionally, as in the case of Finneran, passenger misconduct exceeds
all rational limits. Sometimes these in-flight incidents are violent;
sometimes they're wickedly funny. Either way, the following examples
will give you a better idea of what flight attendants put up with every day:

  • Seated side-by-side on a 14-hour overseas flight, two business-class
    passengers became romantically involved. At some point they began kissing
    and fondling each other while sitting in their seats. The passion became so
    intense that the couple began having sexual intercourse in their
    seats. Bewildered passengers immediately began ringing their flight attendant call
    buttons. Despite the flight attendants' urgent pleas, the couple refused
    to terminate their airborne lovemaking. Ultimately, the captain had to
    intervene. It was necessary for him to physically separate the lovers to get
    them to stop.

  • While a female flight attendant was serving food from the meal cart, a
    female passenger thrust a small bundle of trash toward her. "Take this," the
    passenger demanded. Realizing that the trash was actually a used baby
    diaper, the attendant instructed the passenger to take it to the lavatory
    herself and dispose of it. "No," the passenger replied. "You take it!" The
    attendant explained that she couldn't dispose of the dirty diaper because
    she was serving food -- handling the diaper would be unsanitary. But that
    wasn't a good enough answer for the passenger. Angered by her refusal, the
    passenger hurled the diaper at the flight attendant. It struck her square in
    the head, depositing chunks of baby dung that clung to her blond locks. The
    infuriated attendant leapt upon the passenger, strangling her until
    passengers could separate the two.

  • During a full flight between New York and London, a passenger noticed that
    the sleeping man in the window seat looked a bit pale. Sensing that
    something was wrong yet not wanting to wake him, the concerned passenger
    alerted flight attendants, who soon determined that the sleeping man was
    actually dead. Apparently, he had died a few hours earlier because his body
    was completely cold. Horrified by the prospect of sitting next to a dead
    man, the passenger demanded another seat. But the flight was completely full; every single seat was occupied. Finally one flight attendant had an inspiration. She approached a uniformed
    military officer, and he agreed to sit next to the dead man for the duration of
    the flight.

  • Passengers on a flight from Miami to San Juan, Puerto Rico, were stunned
    by the actions of one deranged passenger. He walked to the rear of the plane,
    then charged up the aisle, slapping passengers' heads
    along the way. Next he kicked a pregnant flight attendant, who immediately fell to
    the ground. As if that weren't enough, he then bit a young boy on the
    arm. At this point the man was restrained and handcuffed by crew members. He was
    arrested upon arrival.

  • When bad weather closed the Dallas/Fort Worth airport for several hours,
    departing planes were stuck on the ground for the duration. One frustrated
    passenger, a young woman, walked up to a female flight attendant and said,
    "I'm sorry, but I have to do this." The passenger then punched the flight
    attendant in the face, breaking her nose.

  • A flight attendant returning to work after a double-mastectomy and a
    struggle with multiple sclerosis had a run-in with a disgruntled passenger.
    One of the last to board the plane, the passenger became enraged when there
    was no room in the overhead bin above his seat. He snatched the bags from
    the compartment and threw them on the floor, then put his own bag in the empty
    bin. After hearing angry cries from passengers, the flight attendant
    appeared from the galley to see what the fuss was all about. When the
    passengers explained what happened, she turned to the offending passenger.
    "Sir, you can't do that," she said. The passenger then rose from his seat
    and broke her jaw with one punch.

  • For some reason, a drunken passenger began throwing peanuts at a
    well-built man across the aisle. The man was sitting with his wife, minding
    his own business. When the first peanut hit him in the face, he ignored it.
    After the second peanut struck him, he looked up to see who had thrown it. He
    threw a harsh look at the perpetrator, expecting him to cease immediately.
    When a third peanut hit him in the eye, he'd had enough. "Do that again," he
    warned, "and I'll punch your lights out." But the peanut-tossing passenger
    couldn't resist. He did it one last time. The victim got out of his seat,
    then triple-punched the assailant so hard that witnesses heard his jaw break. The
    plane was diverted to the closest airport and the peanut-tosser was kicked

By Elliott Neal Hester

Elliott Neal Hester has been a flight attendant for 15 years. He has also written for National Geographic Traveler, Men's Fitness, Glamour, Maxim and Caribbean Travel & Life. Out of the Blue appears every other Friday. E-mail your tale of life in the sky to Hester. For more columns by Hester, visit his column archive.

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