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Doug Clark: Readers relate nightmares at 30,000 feet

Tue., Feb. 18, 2014

Lavatory lockdown, a barfing brat and the unforgettable squeeze of plump friction.

The lucky ducks have landed in my Flight-Fright contest.

You may recall that last week I offered prizes for the most memorable tales of flying the unfriendly skies.

In a few days I will be heading to Southern California to meet up with the kids. And due to my past air terrors, I am already dreading what fresh misery I might encounter.

(Example: Once on a trip to Istanbul, I dropped my beautiful leather-bound reporter’s notebook into the befouled blue waters of the jetliner’s toilet.)

So I figured that hearing some tales that were worse than mine would ease my fears. I base this philosophy on the part in one of my favorite Steve Goodman songs that goes, “It ain’t hard to get along with somebody else’s troubles.”

Sure enough, while going through the submissions, I began to feel better and better.

Here are my favorites, each of whom will receive a DVD copy of “Airplane” and a CD of “Singin’ the News,” which contains all 14 of the parody songs I recorded about our lilac lunacy.

• Byron Buck’s flight fright took place during a marathon journey to Los Angeles from Sydney, Australia.

All the ingredients for true horror were there.

Every seat on the plane was filled. Smoking had yet to be banned on international flights.

And worst of all …

“The couple next to us occupying three of the five-wide set of seats had spawned the child from hell,” Buck recalled in an email.

The boy, about 5, controlled his parents the same way Mussolini controlled Italy, with a lot of screaming and unreasonable demands.

“This went on throughout the settling in, taxi and takeoff, and well into the climb-out,” Buck wrote.

Now at cruising altitude, the no-smoking light blinked off, whereupon “five matrons in the last row of the business section ahead of us began to chain smoke.”

The air inside the plane took on the quality of smog over a pulp mill. Feeling queasy, Buck began to worry about the stomachs of his own small children.

Alas, “the boy from hell beat us to it and paused in his screaming only long enough to throw up all over his and my wife’s seat.”

Buck looked at the video monitor, his eyes stopping on the part about flight status.

“Arrival in Los Angeles, 12 hours, 52 minutes.”

• If you’ve read my column you already know about what bad luck I’ve had with that singularly awful place known as the airplane commode.

That said, I wouldn’t swap experiences with Beverley Novin, who found herself imprisoned on a bumpy flight to Florida.

“I decided (more out of desperation) to use the bathroom,” she wrote.

Seeing that no one was ahead of her, Novin told her husband she’d be back soon and made a beeline to the loo.

No sooner had she entered the claustrophobic closet and locked the door when the flight hit some turbulence that must have felt like the bumpy ride over one of Spokane’s potholed streets.

Over the speaker system came the captain’s authoritative command for everyone to return to their seats and buckle up for the duration.

Trying to comply, Novin reached for the door and – “clunk!” – the handle fell off.

“I was in the air, about 30,000 feet up with turbulence, and where was I? In the bathroom with no way to get out.”

Novin said she banged the door like a drum and hollered for help to no avail. “The handle, meanwhile, had dropped to the ground into, I am sure, a fluid that had no name!”

All together now: “YUCK!!”

Novin estimates that about 20 minutes of banging and yelling passed before a flight attendant came to the rescue and “asked if I was OK … duh!”

Finally back safe in her seat, Novin gave her husband one of those stares that every husband has known from time to time.

She said: Why didn’t you come and get me?

He said: Uh, I didn’t know you’d been gone all that long.

“Yes,” Novin wrote, “the flight from hell!”

• We all know that it’s impolite these days to talk about individuals who are extremely huge and, well, gravitationally challenged.

But I think we can give Glenn Winkey a pass if not a medal for bravery.

Winkey’s tale of flight fright happened in 1997 during a trip to England that had him occupying a middle seat with his then-wife sitting next to the window, when …

“I looked toward the front of the plane when the light there suddenly got darker,” Winkey wrote.

There was good reason for that. Winkey found himself staring at one of the largest human beings he’d ever laid eyes on.

“You know how a car leans to one side when a heavy passenger plops into the seat? I swear to this day that the front of the plane dropped a foot!

“He could barely make it down the aisle between the seats, his hips hitting everyone’s shoulders.”

Winkey watched this approaching giant and began counting off the still-empty seats with a growing sense of panic.

Closer. Closer.

Winkey, like any drowning man, turned to prayer, asking God to – please – don’t let the “seat to my left” be his “destination, which, of course, it was.”

The behemoth finally arrived and began trying to ensconce his great girth into the seat, which was impossible until Winkey moved his armrest into the vertical position.

This allowed three-quarters of the man to scooch into the chair with the remaining tonnage scooching onto, well, we all know the answer to that one.

Things couldn’t get any worse, could they?

It took a whole lot of energy to get a body that size onto an airplane, and seated. The exertion, Winkey wrote, had the passenger “heaving for breath and sweating so that it was running off of his chin and arms” and all over Winkey.

OK. Now that has to be the worst part of this nightmare. And it would have been except that all the huffing and puffing had “overwhelmed his deodorant several hours previously, if you get my drift.”

Oh, we do get your drift, Glenn.

It is here that we must give credence to the power of prayer.

Just as Winkey was contemplating spending the next 12-plus hours entombed in a fleshy swamp of man sweat, a savior intervened.

“I thank the Lord that the flight attendant was intelligent and aware enough to see the effort that it took to get this guy seated, and found a place where he could have two seats all for himself.”

Doug Clark can be reached at (509) 459-5432


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