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Freaky flights: Should you greet the gremlin?

Whenever I’m booked on a night flight, and especially during Halloween season, I make sure to request a seat away from the window. Fans of the "Twilight Zone" TV series know why.
Ben Grefsrud /

Whenever I’m booked on a night flight, and especially during Halloween season, I make sure to request a seat away from the window. Fans of the "Twilight Zone" TV series know why.

It’s because of that classic and often-spoofed episode from 1963 titled "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet". In that segment, a jittery passenger played by William Shatner looks out the airplane window and spots a gremlin scampering about on the wing. Of course, the creature is up to no good. And of course only the increasingly alarmed Shatner can see the little rascal. So it’s no surprise that Shatner’s final destination is ... the "Twilight Zone".

Sure, it’s just a TV show. But just to be safe, I stick to the aisle seats. And, being the well-mannered traveler that I am, if I did glimpse a gremlin on the wing, I’d think twice before alerting my seatmates or reaching for the flight attendant call button. 

But you can bet your snack-sized-Snickers bars that, once on firm ground, I’d be more than happy to gab about the gremlin. And I’d definitely send my story to Gregg Rottler.

Spewing green liquid
By day Rottler supervises regulatory programs for a county health department in Florida. But at night, he stays busy tending to the cauldron he calls It’s a “share-your-story” Web site he created after a particularly frightening in-flight experience.

“It all started in Miami,” says Rottler, “when a woman with wild looking eyes and jittery behavior boarded the plane.” Many passengers but, mysteriously, no member of the flight crew, became alarmed when “foamy green liquid began spewing from the woman’s mouth and she started ranting gibberish. Finally, to the relief of all, she was led off of the plane just before take off.”

The Titanic toddler
Rottler says an airplane ride needn’t have gremlins or green liquid to be considered a “freaky flight.” As an example, he cites the story sent to him describing one traveler’s encounter with a “Titanic Toddler:”

“A passenger was already having an awful flight. He was hung over from a bachelor party and had endured multiple delays and bumped flights. Now it was 2 a.m. and he just wanted to be left alone. But then a lady toting a large carry-on that turns out to be a large toddler sits next to him. After take-off, the lady hands him the kid ‘for just a sec’ and heads to the bathroom. Sure enough, ‘just a sec’ drags into 20 minutes and all the while the kid is screaming and crying and kicking and carrying on. As soon as the mom returns, the kid is all happy and giggly. The no-manners mom just takes him and sits down without a word of thank-you.”

And “submitted for your approval,” as Rod Serling would say, are these stories from other Well-Mannered Traveler readers:

Airborne attack
“I can remember the intoxicated lady using an overwhelming amount of cheap perfume that filtered down the aisle to the rear of the aircraft. She then proceeded to use tons of hairspray as well. The woman next to her had to shield her infant with a baby blanket.”

Things that go whir in the night  
“On an overnight overseas flight to the UK, with people trying to sleep all around them, two women played cards with a constant shuffling—whirr, whirr, whirr, whack, whack, whack. It never occurred to the flight attendants to ask them to be quiet. The shuffling woke me up several times, after which I never did get back to sleep. I started the vacation exhausted.”

Witchy words
“My husband and I were on a flight from New York LaGuardia to Chicago recently when we experienced a family of five (mother, father, and three teenagers) acting totally obnoxious. This included intimidating remarks to the flight attendants and swearing. Everyone around them, including us, tolerated this by periodically looking at each other at rolling our eyes. Due to thunderstorms, we were held on the plane for three hours ... a total nightmare.”

Eyeballs everywhere
“On a flight from Jacksonville, Fla., to St. Louis, Mo., a young lady of rather 'exotic attributes' pulled out her laptop when the flight attendant announced that all were able to use electronic devices. She was sitting on the opposite aisle seat about two rows ahead of mine. I glanced up and noticed she was viewing nude photos of herself. Even being a couple rows back, I could see the screen quite clearly. I was shocked, considering the number of children on the flight. This is a form of exhibitionism I had not contemplated!”

Ghastly and gruesome
“My boyfriend and I were flying from New York to San Francisco. In the seat behind us was a woman who informed the flight attendant in a strident, nasal tone that she was an attorney and that she expected ‘decent service.’ From the moment we buckled our seatbelts, she complained (loudly) that the seats were too small, her drink was lacking in ice, etc., etc. She called a flight attendant to her seat and, after a brief and venomous exchange, referred to the attendant as ‘nothing but a glorified waitress.’ To top it off, her mother was seated next to her and was quietly offering up her own complaints, which were then translated to the hapless flight attendant.”

Surely no well-mannered traveler would intentionally do anything to land themselves a spot on the “freaky fliers” list. So if you’re booked on a night flight this Halloween season and think you see a gremlin out there on the airplane wing, do yourself a favor and just quietly lower the shade and look away.