By James Wysong Travel columnist
updated 6/17/2008 11:35:55 AM ET 2008-06-17T15:35:55

As a flight attendant, delays have become second nature to me. It’s like peanut butter and jelly, cookies and milk, beer and chips — only not as enjoyable.

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Many air travelers are shocked when they arrive on time, and if you are lucky enough to be early, notice how quickly the pilot announces that fact.

If O’Hare and LaGuardia airport are among the worst for delays, what do you think the flight track record looks like flying from one to the other? One airline has a certain flight that has an on-time arrival rate of only 11 percent.

Shouldn’t airlines be forced to change their published times after six months of such nonsense? And the longest flight delay that I have ever heard of was a Braniff flight out of London that supposedly was delayed for an unbelievable 68 hours.

Every once in a while, a hold-up occurs because of such unusual reasons that I just have to write about it. Think delays are no laughing matter? Tell me that after you read these excuses.

1. Lawnchair Larry
In 1982, a man attached helium filled balloons to a lawn chair and accidentally floated over LAX airspace at 16,000 feet. A Pan Am pilot preparing to land was the first to call about the spectacle. All flights and traffic ground to a halt while authorities dealt with the situation. Sound like an urban myth? Yes, but it’s true.

2. Trim the wait
Speaking of LAX, there is a widely disputed story that involves former President Clinton getting a haircut on Air Force One at Los Angeles International Airport on May 18th, 1993 that backed up air traffic in and out of the airport for two hours. The uproar it caused required damage control, but haircut or not, anytime Air Force One arrives at a civilian airport there will be delays.

3. Stuck in San Juan
Our flight was delayed landing in Puerto Rico for over two hours due to Iguanas on the runway. I thought they were joking at first, considering the size of an airplane compared to that of a lizard. Apparently, they grow them bigger down there and they can cause havoc on smooth landings.

4. Nuts!
A mother whose daughter was terribly allergic to nuts demanded that a passenger whom she saw eating a bag of trail mix during boarding be off-loaded. An argument ensued and the passenger ended up throwing the trail mix at her. The authorities became involved as she claimed the nuts hit her daughter and that was grounds for assault with a deadly weapon. Needless to say, a long delay resulted.

5. De-bugging the cabin
An airplane that had come in from Mexico City was off-loaded and sat at the gate for a few hours. When the flight crew boarded for the next flight, the pilots turned on the air and thousands of fire ants were blown through the air vents. They apparently crawled from the cargo hold into the ventilation system. The cleaners were called and when they refused to clean it up, exterminators were summoned. Five hours later, they were cautiously on their way. I have heard instances of cockroaches, ticks, lice, and a great story about a rat. As of yet, nothing about snakes on planes.

6. Plugged up
A passenger freaked out as the plane was taxiing out to the runway because an earplug became lodged so far up his ear that he could not retrieve it. He was frightened that the air pressure would cause it to lodge even farther possibly causing permanent damage. The cockpit was alerted and after a 90 minute delay, the captain himself got out his personal tweezers and performed a successful removal procedure.

7. Gender specific
I was once pulled off of a Germany flight to work on the more senior Tel Aviv flight, when a group of passengers demanded a male flight attendant in accordance with their religious beliefs. I was happy to go, but the other female flight attendants were not as happy with the situation.

8. Chicken or beef
A captain who was fed up with his airline decided to make a stand and declared that he would not depart until his special meal arrived. Two and a half hours later a catering representative finally brought his meal and the flight finally departed. He has since retired, much to the chagrin of his wife, I am sure.

9. Erupting delay
I have encountered previous delays due to natural disasters like earthquakes, blizzards, tornadoes, and even hurricanes, but have you ever heard of a delay due to a volcano? Mount St. Helens erupted and delayed all flights in and out of the Northwest. It would have been interesting if we were eventually able to fly by and see the display, but no such luck. All we got was a three-hour delay and news coverage.

10. Lucky delay
Leaving Las Vegas, a passenger won over $350,000 on a slot machine waiting for his flight. Understandably, he forgot about his flight and refused to leave the machine until his win was confirmed. Since he had checked bags, the airline had to search and remove his luggage. Somehow I don’t think he was too concerned about his luggage.

11. Haunting delay
I have heard of creeping delays but never a haunted one. An airplane that had previously been in an incident involving multiple fatalities when a cargo door ripped off in flight, was considered haunted by many crewmembers. Years later, the captain did his routine briefing with the flight attendants and wisecracked that the airplane they were on was indeed the same refurbished aircraft. Two very superstitious crewmembers immediately called in sick, delaying the flight until replacements were found.

12. Mother’s milk
A female captain who was forced to return to work too early after giving birth routinely delayed her flights in order to pump for breast milk. She had no problem announcing the reason for the delay, citing it as safety related and her company wisely refrained from making an issue of it. Having a pilot wife who recently gave birth to our second son, I will refrain from commenting as well.

Those are my wildest stories. Do you have any others? Send them to me — and don’t delay.

James Wysong is a veteran flight attendant who has worked with two major international carriers. James recently released a new book, “Flying High With A Frank Steward: More Air Travel Tales From the Flight Crew.” For more information about James, visit his Web site or send him an e-mail.

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