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Toilet dining, pj show and other air tales

Doug Clark The Spokesman-Review

Please assume the reclining position. Unbuckle your seat belts.

You’ll need some extra belly laugh room when you read the tale of the toilet trap and the other winners of the Air Outrage contest.

A couple of weeks ago I asked fed-up fliers to relay their (unverified) air travel frustrations. From check-in to touchdown, flying has become such a rancid experience that it makes a cross-country trip on the back of a truck full of chickens look like a limo jaunt to the prom.

As promised, each winner will receive a jar of peanuts and a copy of “Airplane” – the finest documentary ever made on the airline industry. So let’s lift off:

•From heart attacks to heartless drunks, flight crews are called on to handle a vast array of predicaments that percolate from the human condition.

Popping an ample woman off a toilet seat like the cork on a champagne bottle, however, was not in the training manual when Janet Culbertson worked for a major airline.

“The engineer came out of the cockpit with his flat-head screwdriver and tried to pry her loose,” adds the former purser who retired after 35 years. “That didn’t work and we finally just decided to leave her be and let the ground people take care of her.”

The commode crisis arose because the woman flushed while seated. The vacuum pressure on that particular toilet fused fanny to seat with an unyielding bond.

But the restroom hostage turned her liability into an asset. Culbertson says she demanded to be served cocktails and dinner right where she sat.

“Dinner on the john – this was a first.”

Once on the ground, Culbertson says the woman was freed thanks to firefighters who drilled holes through the toilet base to break the seal.

•The jet sat on a tarmac in England for well over an hour. The air inside the plane was stale. Everyone was growing grouchy.

But there was a good safety reason for the wait. Earlier, the pilot had explained that the aircraft had “a mechanical problem and he would let us know when it had been fixed,” says Beverley Novin, who was bound for America with her husband.

Another half-hour crawled by. The pilot came back on the intercom.

“Well, we were waiting for a part,” he said, “but we decided that we don’t need it, so we’ll take off now.”

If the Novins didn’t already hate flying so much, that missing-part announcement would have done the trick.

•The lights dimmed for night on a jetliner returning from Europe. A noxious odor enveloped the cabin like an evil fog.

All right – who cut the Limburger cheese?

Nothing so temporary, says Pat Laird, who was with her husband at the time. “The man seated across the aisle from us had removed his shoes.”

She watched the classless clod doff his outer clothing. Then he changed into his pajamas and settled in to give his fellow passengers one long pungent night.

Come morning, Laird says, she watched the entire weird strip show in reverse. But it was a blessed sight to see the guy finally put his rotten dogs back in their kennels.

•The smiling little boy was in the row in front of Amy Balenzano and her relatives. He entertained them with peekaboo games during a bumpy flight from Seattle to Orlando, Fla.

It was so much fun until “he puked over the back of his seat, all over our tray tables and laps.” That wasn’t the worst of it, gripes Balenzano. The cleanup amounted to a flight attendant handing “us some paper towels and a garbage bag” and then leaving.

Balenzano says a better-tempered attendant tried to combat the stench by squirting the aisle with some of her own perfume. “It was like you were sitting in some floral vomit.”

What steams Balenzano the most is that the mother of the little pukester never apologized. Nor did anyone from the airline say those magic words: We’re sorry.

“And believe me,” she adds, “we wrote the NASTIEST letter we could think of.”

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