Flight Attendants Describe Their Worst In-Flight Experiences

Flight attendants do more than serve pretzels and small cans of soda: they inform passengers of safety measures, break up mid-air fights, and handle a number of other delicate tasks while dealing with turbulence at 30,000 feet. All of this results in some interesting tales about life working up in the friendly skies.

These flight attendant stories, as chronicled on Reddit and other outlets, include some of the scariest things that these vital employees have witnessed. After reading the flight attendant stories here, you’ll think twice about slamming that button for service.

Broken Nose Over An Armrest

From Redditor /u/waterbadger:

“I am a flight attendant for AA. A few months ago, two men sitting next to each other started getting very physical over the arm rest. It escalated quickly and one guy ended up having his nose broken. As if this weren’t stressful enough, there was a pregnant women near them that obviously was in danger of a stray punch. On the street, you can just walk away, but its quite terrifying when everyone looks at you to sort it out!”

Grandma Was Dead The Whole Time

From Redditor /u/That_Bass_Guy:

“My mother was a flight attendant for 26 years, and the strangest thing that happened to her (besides the frequent ‘sir, please, you have to stop masturbating’) was an elderly woman who got rolled on the plane with her granddaughters (in their 20s).

My mom immediately noticed something was off, as people in wheel chairs need to be taken on to the plane ahead of time. The granddaughters would not leave her, not so weird, but the grandma was asleep so she couldn’t answer questions. Eventually, they try get her on the plane, with much convincing from the daughters. Turns out, halfway through the flight, they discover the woman is dead. When the plane landed everyone got interrogated to make sure she died ‘naturally,’ and it turned out the granddaughters knew the whole time and we’re just trying to get her to America cause moving dead bodies internationally is difficult. They almost got away with it if it wasn’t for those meddling flight attendants.”

Ice Was Built Up Behind The Propellers

From a former Redditor:

“There was freezing rain in Ottawa one night and due to the direction of the rain it fell behind the prop covers. Freezing there overnight, it was missed during de-icing. As soon as we took off I felt the entire plane rattling. I watched my coffee cup dance as it sat in a cup holder in front of me. I remember the plane leveling off very quickly, and then the blinking red light came on and EMERGENCY lit up on the panel.

We went through the TEST briefing and the captain sounded incredibly stressed, though he did say it would be a non-emergency landing.

We landed without incident, and later found over two pounds of ice built up behind the props, and four oz. was considered bad for balancing.

I was two weeks on the job, and I remember being so calm and accepting in the air. On the ground, after debriefing, however, I finished a pitcher in five minutes.”

Fumes In The Cabin

From Redditor /u/itzBACON:

“When I flew in the Navy (was Aircrew, not pilot), we had smoke and fumes in the cabin. One of our batteries was pouring smoke out of it, while we were over the Pacific about halfway to Hawaii. Luckily we caught it in time to prevent thermal runaway, but just barely.

We were preparing to drop the battery out of the radio access door on the bottom of the plane by dropping to below 10,000 feet, where I’d strap in using a harness specifically for that task, and drop the battery out of the hatch. By that time we had already made it to Hawaii. Never have I seen so many emergency vehicles in one place. The emergency crew ran over, yanked the battery out, and threw it in a big barrel of water.”

An Unscheduled Landing

From Redditor /u/guth86:

“I’m a pilot, but I was deadheading and sitting in the jump-seat while hearing cockpit warnings going off, until the captain called the FA on inter phone and told her we’re making an ‘unscheduled landing.’

They were getting low oil pressure indications for one of the engines, it ended up being rather uneventful, but at the time, only having been at the airline a few months, it was both exciting and stressful.”

Vomit Everywhere

— Justin Fenton (@justin_fenton) March 2, 2018

A nor’easter whipped through the East Coast on early March 2018, leading to lots of canceled flights. But one United flight braved the trip into Washington Dulles International Airport – at a cost.

According to reports from the plane, almost everyone – including the pilots – threw up due to the intense turbulence. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured.

All In A Day’s Work

From Redditor /u/WindShears:

“I think what scared me the most was passenger medical emergencies. Sure, we’re first aid trained, but when you’re in a little metal tube, hurdling thousands of miles through the air, there’s only so much you can do. I think the worst I’ve dealt with was a heart attack, but thankfully we had a doctor on board. In fact, for nearly every medical emergency I’ve dealt with, there was some kind of medical personnel on board to assist. Not sure if I’m just lucky or there’s a hell of a lot of doctors, nurses, and paramedics out there.

The scariest thing that happened to me might have been hitting the ceiling during unexpected turbulence. Just to be clear, turbulence doesn’t scare me while I’m strapped into my seat, but it can be a little nerve racking without a seatbelt. Thankfully, I just came out with some bumps and bruises, but I have friends who have gotten serious spinal and/or head injuries from similar situations.

Other than those, I’ve had bird strikes, lightning strikes, hydraulic leaks, landing gear issues, engine failures, aborted take-offs, missed approaches, smoke in the cabin, passenger disturbances, and I’m sure many more things that I can’t remember at the moment. But it’s all in a days work.”

The Police Had To Be Called

From Redditor /u/Kaida52Kaida52:

“Very long story short, we had to board and deplane the same group of 183 passengers four times on three different planes over a span of six hours. The problem was when OPS canceled the flight at one point only to reinstate it even though passenger bags had already been sent to baggage claim.

As we were boarding the last time it took too long because of the logistics of it, that the flight attendants timed out. The second time it canceled passengers were irate, throwing their bags, breaking seats, swearing, crying; it was so bad that the police had to be called. Before the police showed up we started to deplane yet again. As each person walked past us I was afraid they would throw a punch at us. I couldn’t sleep right for two weeks because I felt so horrible and stressed over the whole situation.”

Another Plane Was Shot Down While In Flight

From Redditor /u/LadyLigeia:

“One of my best friends is a flight attendant, and she was flying to Dubai (so was somewhere over the Middle East) when the Malaysia Airlines flight was shot down over Ukraine. They cut all the news channels, and customers were asking about it. Then all of the crew were called to meet and they were just told ‘a plane has been shot down, we don’t know much but in case any passengers have found out and ask we didn’t want you to find out through them.'”

Weather Delays Cause Problems

From Redditor /u/Sad_Pandaa:

“Honestly, my most terrifying moments on the job are when things go a little crazy with weather and delays. I’m then strapped into a seat with a large amount of angry, sometimes aggressive, and possibly rude passengers. Most are great, but I can’t describe the feeling of knowing one of them is about to become a sh*t-starter. I get nervous every time and start going over what I’m going to do and say when they get out-of-hand. I’ve yet to actually remove anyone, but I’ve asked people if they are fit to continue to fly or if they need to get off the plane.

Other than that, it’s usually dandy.

I did once have to divert mid-flight because a super large (300+ lbs and 6’4 or so) 74-year-old-man decided to fly a week after having a heart attack. He also suffered from COPD. Needless to say this situation turned into what I described above with many people being upset about the medical emergency delay. Sigh. At least the guy lived.”

Crosswinds Caused A Violent Landing

From Redditor /u/body_by_monsanto:

“The captain had us secure the cabin early for landing as we were expecting some bad cross winds which can lead to crazy turbulence. We secured and I took my jump seat with another FA in the back. On approach, the wind was gusting so bad that my seat-mate and I were being whipped from side-to-side pretty severely. We were both pretty scared as this was the most violent landing either of us had experienced. She grabbed my hand and we held hands until we were sure we weren’t going off the runway.

That, and the time I was in the back galley, and we hit a patch of turbulence and I was lifted off my feet and smashed my head on the ceiling, then landed on the R2 door. It was pretty funny after I stopped being scared.”

Flew Too Close To A Volcano

From Redditor /u/sketchmirrors:

“My dad is a pilot, and he told me of a pretty terrifying experience he once had on a flight back in the ’90s.

Basically he was flying a plane over the Philippines, and due to inaccurate warning systems had to fly very close to an ash cloud from a volcano. The ash got into the engine propellers and solidified, causing one of the engines to break down. Despite horrible visibility and a very real threat of volcanic debris, Dad still managed to fly onwards and landed the plane safely. After he landed, he said that the entire plane had turned a blackish-grey color due to the ash.”

Last-Minute Maintenance Didn’t Work As Planned

From Redditor /u/spicyshrimpbit:

“Back on Christmas day of 2007, just months into starting to fly, our A319 was on its way back from LAX to YYZ. We were on the ground delayed for almost an extra two-and-a-half hours because the maintenance crew noticed there were three huge indents on the right engine. We then found out that someone in YUL drove their truck into the right engine and failed to report it (obviously this guy was consequently fired) and let the aircraft fly.

After being assured by maintenance in LAX that we are safe to fly, we finally departed. After finishing the first service, which is approximately an hour-and-a-half into the flight, the plane plummeted downwards to the right wing. It fell so fast that everyone in the plane was screaming and crying.

After a good 10 seconds of falling (and 10 seconds is a long time), we felt the plane ascending at incredible speeds. We were climbing so fast that the bar trolley lodged the service director to one of the open seats. The other flight attendant was on the ground, trying to climb up on her jump seat (barely getting her seatbelts buckled), and I had to use my arms and legs to wedge myself between the two lavatory doors. The other FA grabbed my hand and tears were streaming down her face. I just kept on telling her ‘we’re not going to die on Christmas day.’

After drastically climbing for another 30 seconds or so, we finally evened out. There was vomit everywhere, and people were still panicking, sweating, crying. The captain came on the PA saying we had issues with ‘turbulence’, but when we landed and passengers deplaned, the FO looked at us, lowered his head, and he said ‘we all knew why that happened.'”

The Plane Clipped A Building On The Ground

From Redditor /u/misskrumpet:

“My brother works for British Airways and was in the flight out of Joburg that ended up on the wrong taxiway that was too narrow and clipped a building.

The crash was scary, but the worst part was that because of a fuel-spill they had to stay on the plane for an hour until they were cleared to evacuate. They told passengers not to use their phones due to the flammability of the situation but as you can see from the news articles the request was ignored and many photos were taken.”

A Bloody Panic Among Passengers

From Redditor /u/sykicat:

“My friend is a flight attendant for Malaysia air. She told me a man was clipping his toenails (not sure if clippers were even allowed on plane) during the flight when he ripped one of them badly and blood began gushing out. Man next to him passed-out from sight of the blood.

Toenail man limped out of his seat to approach my friend for help with his hands covered in blood and patted her on her shoulder leaving a bloody hand-print on her clothes. Toenail man said to her ‘I’m bleeding and’ – points to passed out man – ‘He killed.’ She and other passenger panicked thinking he killed him, before he said he ‘keeled over.’

They turned the plane around which was 30 minutes after takeoff.”

The Landing Gear Wasn’t Functioning Correctly

From Redditor /u/AcaciaWildwood:

“My sister is a FA and told me of her scariest flight.

They were flying into an airport in California from Hawaii and during the pre-landing checks it was discovered the landing gear wasn’t functioning in that it wouldn’t deploy / come down. After circling the airport to burn off fuel, fire and emergency personnel were put into place at the airport and the cabin secured.

She was sitting in the jump seat and she said there was a fellow mechanic on-board within eyesight of her. He looked her directly in the eye and gave an almost imperceptible shake of his head, letting her know the situation was very dire. As they were coming down to land, she and the other FAs were in their seats, yelling at the passengers at the top of their lungs ‘BRACE BRACE BRACE BRACE!’ while they were all in position for impact – she said it was the one time she thought for sure she’d never see her son and husband again.

Miraculously, the landing gear deployed at the very last moment, saving them from having to land on the belly of the plane. Once they got all the passengers off (sent them down the slides in the middle of the runway surrounded by emergency personnel racing them away from the plane) and were back at the hotel, the last thing she wanted was to get back on a plane to go back home to Hawaii.

She called her husband – also a FA for the same airline – and told him what had happened, said the Flight Crew were being told they could either stay overnight in the hotel and fly out the next day, or fly back to the island that night on a different plane. Her husband told her she needed to get back on the plane that night or she’d never have the ability to fly with confidence again. She did as he said and this being over nine years ago, he was right: she’s still a FA with the airline today.”