Image: Flight attendant
Paul J. Richards  /  AFP - Getty Images file
Traveling is unpredictable. From delayed flights to unruly passengers and scary mechanical issues, you never know what you're going to experience.
By Travel writer contributor
updated 10/30/2008 2:54:52 PM ET 2008-10-30T18:54:52

Last week, in preparation for Halloween, the Well-Mannered Traveler column was filled with scary travel stories “ripped from the headlines.” Unfortunately, there was no room for the unnerving story about the pilot sidelined by United Airlines for failing a breathalyzer test just before joining a crew flying from London to San Francisco. Or for the saga of the inebriated passenger who earlier this month tried to hijack a Turkish Airlines flight with what turned out to be an imaginary bomb.

There’s still no room here for those stories.

You see, this week’s column is devoted to spooky stories sent in by readers. Because there were so many stories to choose from, I asked Gregg Rottler, captain of the scary-all-the-time Flights from Hell Web site, to help me choose the kookiest and most unpredictable tales to share. Here’s what we came up with:

Trick or treat?
To start things off on a light note, Kevin-665253 shared this “not creepy, but certainly crazy, and very funny” story about a classic and very Halloween-worthy trick he watched a group of college kids play on other travelers while waiting out a long flight delay at Chicago’s O'Hare International Airport:

“They tied some fishing line to a $10 bill and tossed it out in the middle of the concourse. Of course, numerous passers-by attempted to retrieve it and chased it all over the concourse as it got tugged away by the invisible string: business men in suits, women in dresses, kids, older folks; the lot of them. Certainly not the most original joke in the world, but it kept the entire gate howling for hours. It even got so everyone in the gate area would get really quiet until the next victim came along, at which time the fun would begin anew.”

Terrifying in any language
Lee Miller wrote to tell about a flight that went very wrong for at least one passenger:
“... [W]e were moving down the runway, taking off, [and] had just started to gain speed [when] a woman got out of her seat and was running toward the front, yelling something at the top of her lungs. The flight attendants tackled her and the pilot aborted the takeoff using maximum brakes and thrust reversers. Then a voice from the cockpit asked, ‘Can anybody translate Italian?’ We went back to the gate and she was escorted off ... but we all wondered if she knew something we all didn't know.”

First-class cabin; last-class manners
J. Burman’s family is still talking about a flight they took home on a 747 from Hawaii back in 1973. They’d upgraded to first class and were delighted to have the cozy cabin pretty much to themselves, save for “an elderly couple several rows behind us and a drunk man stretched out in his own row at the very front.” But somewhere over the Pacific, writes Burman, “the drunk rolled to his side and we heard the sound of water hitting the carpet. ... Apparently, he'd been too drunk to get up and go to the bathroom so he just unzipped and relieved himself there on the floor!”

Another “sauced and scary” first-class cabin story rolled in from Peter Keller, who writes, “We were sitting in the back of the first-class cabin on our way home to NYC, and sitting across the isle was what appeared to be a comatose passenger. That was until the plane took off. Once we got off the ground he perked up, found the mike to plane’s PA system ... and announced to all aboard ... ‘This is your captain, we've lost all engines, please prepare for crash landing. ...’ The good news was that most of us in first class knew what was going on. But the rest of the passengers had years taken off their lives from the thought of hurdling earthward vertically and ending up as a lawn dart in the backyard of someone’s house in Arizona ... ”

Dressed for success?
FormerFieldServiceEng is still concerned about the fate of a fellow passenger from a flight on which “soon after takeoff, we dropped about 700 feet in an ‘air pocket’ ... [T]he flight attendant who was holding a flat tray filled with cups of soda and juice was now weightless and unable to control the tray. He attempted to fling the tray back into the galley but hit the only passenger on that side of the plane, dousing him with all the contents. That young passenger was on his way to a job interview and not carrying any change of clothing. I still wonder about that interviewee and the story he told the prospective company ...”

Scary, but with a sweet ending
Our favorite story comes from Kommonsense, who told of being on a flight from Hawaii to Los Angeles and noticing “about an hour and a half into the flight ... that we were still flying [with] the nose of the plane higher than the back of the plane, like when you are climbing ...”  The flight attendant insisted that everything was completely normal but, Kommonsense reports, “Finally the pilot announced, ‘Awhile back we lost an engine. Don't be alarmed, but they are foaming the runway for our arrival. The flight attendants will be bringing free ice cream sundaes for everyone.’ I guess they thought impending death would be easier to take over an ice cream sundae. Needless to say, we landed safely, but that last hour was very scary.”

Thanks, everyone for sharing your stories. Here’s hoping you have a well-mannered and not-too-scary Halloween. Try not to eat all the candy before the Trick-or-Treaters get there. But if you do, consider serving up some ice-cream sundaes.

Harriet Baskas writes's popular weekly column, The Well-Mannered Traveler. She is the author of the “Stuck at the Airport” blog, a contributor to National Public Radio and a columnist for

© 2013  Reprints

Photos: Haunted destinations

loading photos...
  1. Bran Castle

    Bran Castle, Dracula's castle, in fog, Transylvania. (Gavin Quirke / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. The Myrtles Plantation

    Now a bed and breakfast, this antebellum estate northwest of Baton Rouge has been called "America's Most Haunted Home." Reported phenomena include an oil portrait whose features become animated, a "bloody handprint" on the adjacent wall, and doors that open and close by themselves. (Courtesy of The Myrtles Plantation) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Pfister Hotel

    Built in 1893, the Pfister is the most regal address in Milwaukee, Wis., having hosted every U.S. president since William McKinley and scores of celebrities. But rumors abound that late at night, the spirit of hotel founder Charles Pfister, who died in 1927, arrives to check in. Some guests report hearing strange noises and having paranormal experiences. (Morry Gash / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Alcatraz

    The former maximum security facility on an island in San Francisco Bay was once home to Al Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly. It is no longer used as a prison, but visitors and tour guides have claimed to hear screams, slamming cell doors, and footsteps. (Robyn Beck / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Amityville house

    The house at 112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville, New York, gained infamy in a best-selling book and several movies. Former owners reported creaking noises, voices, the music of a full marching band in the middle of the night, foul odors, and a black, shapeless apparition. (Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Edinburgh Castle

    This ancient stronghold overlooking Edinburgh is one of Scotland’s most popular tourist attractions. It is reputed to have many ghosts, including a drummer who only appears when the castle is about to be attacked, and a piper who disappeared in the tunnels underneath it. (Jonathan Smith  / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Paris Catacombs

    In the 1800s, Paris’s cemeteries were coming dangerously close to being filled, so some bodies were moved to tunnels that had been dug beneath the city by workers quarrying for building materials. Bones and skulls are stacked up throughout the Catacombs, and visitors have reported strange voices. (Fred De Noyelle / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Hotel Chelsea

    A familiar haunt for artists and bohemians in the Chelsea district of New York City since it was built in 1883, the Hotel Chelsea still puts up guests today ... if they don’t mind sharing accommodations with the reputed ghosts of former residents Dylan Thomas, Eugene O’Neill, and Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious. (Timothy A. Clary / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Eastern State Penitentiary

    Located in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia, this prison was designed to encourage solitude, supposedly helping prisoners open themselves up to God. But it is said that many went mad instead ... which may explain the eerie noises that have been reported since it closed. (Matt Rourke / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Hotel del Coronado

    In 1892, a young woman checked into this luxury hotel on California’s San Diego Bay to meet her husband. He never arrived, and a few days later, she was found dead on the hotel steps. Since then, guests and staff have noticed the pale figure of a young lady in a black lace dress.... (Nathan Hughes) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Inverary Castle

    It is said that the ghost of a harpist who was hanged in 1644 for peeping at the lady of the house can be seen wandering this castle in western Scotland, and can be heard playing every day in its library. The castle is home to the 13th Duke of Argyll today, but sometimes opens its doors to brave visitors. (Graeme Cornwallis / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. New Orleans

    The Big Easy’s French Quarter is well-known to tourists for its hot jazz and spicy food. But New Orleans is also the historic center of voodoo traditions that African-Americans brought to Louisiana during the days of the slave trade. Although those customs were suppressed by slave owners, they linger on today. (Mel Evans / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Petzow Castle

    This 18th-century castle near Potsdam in eastern Germany is a hotel and restaurant today ... but its corridors harbor a dark history involving murderous barons. (Sven Kaestner / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Forks, Washington

    Michael Gurling, right, of the Forks, Wash., Chamber of Commerce, talks about the bonfire location on a beach in LaPush, Wash., that is portrayed in Stephenie Meyer's wildly successful vampire-themed "Twilight" books and movies. (Ted S. Warren / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Point Hicks Lighthouse

    In 1947, the keeper of this historic lighthouse on the eastern coast of Australia mysteriously disappeared. Afterward, many visitors have claimed to hear his hobnail boots at night, and it’s said his ghost continues to keep the tower’s brass doorknobs polished to this day. (Oliver Strewe  / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Salem, Massachusetts

    The location of the infamous Salem witch trials of 1692, dramatized in Arthur Miller’s play “The Crucible,” is today a mix of important historical sites, New Age boutiques, and witch-kitsch attractions. The Salem Witch Museum claims to be the most visited one in town. (Ed Young / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Sleepy Hollow

    This picturesque village 30 miles north of New York City was immortalized in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” Washington Irving’s classic tale of schoolteacher Ichabod Crane and the fearsome Headless Horseman. Irving implied that the apparition Ichabod saw was a fake, but a number of visitors also have claimed to see the Horseman, supposedly a Hessian trooper whose head was carried off by a cannonball during the Revolutionary War. (Susan Rosenthal / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Stanley Hotel

    This neoclassical hotel in Estes Park, Colo., was the real-life inspiration for the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King’s “The Shining.” It is named for Freelan O. Stanley, inventor of the Stanley Steamer automobile, whose ghost has been reported visiting its billiard room and bar. Guests also complain about children playing in the hallways at night ... even when no children are checked in. (Rob Lee) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Tower of London

    The ghosts of Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey, just two of hundreds of victims executed on Tower Hill over the Tower of London's bloody 900-year history, are among many that have been seen in what is called England's most haunted building. Legend has it that in 1816, a guard died of fright after seeing an apparition of a bear approaching him. (Scott Barbour / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. The White House

    America's most famous residence is the setting for a number of ghost stories, some of which have even made it onto the official White House Web site. The spirit of Abigail Adams supposedly continues to do laundry in the East Room, while the ghost of Dolley Madison has been reported looking down upon the Rose Garden. (Alex Wong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments