First thing’s first: If you have a fear of flying, maaaybe don’t read this article. Although nothing tragic occurs, some stories might lift the veil a little too high for nervous travelers. (We should note that we decided to write this article while flying from Denver to New York and it was a very, very, very bad idea. Even with a dose of Ativan.)
Recently, over on that arbiter of unnecessary information known as Ask Reddit, a user named Ozyman_Diaz asked a serious question: “Pilots and flight attendants: What was the scariest thing to happen to you in flight?” The query resulted in over 800 comments, and while many were a bit too technical for the layman to understand, there were plenty of answers that were clear as day and terrified us to the depths of our very souls.
Here are some of the scariest moments…read if you dare (hopefully not while on a plane).
“I will never forget my last flight from Minneapolis to Detroit in October, 2009. For starters, we had a self-proclaimed psychic on board who informed everyone that ‘this plane is going to crash and we’re all going to f***ing die’ by screaming it at the top of her lungs as soon as we reached cruising altitude. We ended up having to move her to a private section of the plane to try to calm her down and ease the minds of the panicked passengers.
Sure enough, we hit extreme, unreported turbulence as soon as beverages were passed out. Drinks were flying through the air, luggage hit a few of the overhead bins open and people were screaming and terrified (mostly due to the psychic in my opinion). A couple other flight attendants couldn’t help but crying. It was a horrible scene.
After an eternity we reached Detroit. Of course the runways were iced over and we slid nearly sideways after touching down (Again, everyone was screaming). I’m honestly surprised the plane didn’t flip over. When we landed everyone let out a roar of applause. Airport security boarded the plane and detained the ‘psychic.’ I was so shaken up that I quit as soon as we unloaded.” —MysticCurse
“I'm a Flight Attendant. When there was about 40 minutes left in the flight, I get a call from the flight deck that they have an indicator reading that my passenger door is not locked. So I double check the physical deadbolt indicators on the door and two out of the eight indicators were a little misaligned. So to be safe, I stopped service and sat down for the rest of the flight, directly next to the door praying that it was an issue with the indicator up in the flight deck. I'm sure that my face was flushed for a little bit.
For the rest of the 40 minute flight, I was cracking down on every person that attempted to stand up and every seatbelt that I heard being undone. I didn't want any unlucky people being sucked out if the door happened to suddenly fly open.
People started getting annoyed and started asking questions why the seatbelt sign has been on for so long, and I just told them that the pilots think there might be some major turbulence soon. Thankfully all was well and we landed with no issue. A few people getting off the plane were telling me how terrible the experience was and how badly they had to go to the bathroom and I wouldn't let them. If only they knew... c'est la vie.” —Nitropig
“We almost crashed coming into O’Hare. The copilot was pretty inexperienced and tried to touch down during an insanely fast moving crosswind. He should have circled around again. I was seated in the back of the plane. Both passengers next to me had a death grip on my hand or knee. Was covered in bruises. I’ve never seen a pilot so pissed off. He was cussing out the copilot the whole way to the hotel.” —lafleurcynique
“Not my story, but my mother was a flight attendant for Continental a while back. During a domestic flight one of the seals on a rear door either broke or came loose… and basically her and another flight attendant had to hold it closed until they could make an emergency landing. She said it was so loud that she thought she was going to lose her hearing, and the sudden pressure change probably didn't help. I'll have to ask her to tell me the story again but I remember it terrified me as a kid.” —JewishFightClub
“The scariest thing to happen to me in flight was a turkey vulture at 5,000 feet flew between the strut, cockpit, and propeller blade. I was definitely checking my pants after that event, because had the bird been closer, I might have died or lost an engine.”—Shredder3200
“Former commercial pilot. It was calm air with a high overcast and I had everything trimmed out for level flight. I was listening to the smooth droning hum of the plane filtered through my head set, looking out at the non-vibrant scenery, having given up on finding any AM radio stations to listen to through my ADF. And I fell asleep. I shot awake in a panic, where am I, am I level, what time is it, okay fuck me where am I, okay I'm here on the map, that's pretty much on course, everything is running, open up the cabin air vents. I'd been dead asleep for 5 minutes. Still had an hour to go before my next airport.”—name redacted
“Have had a couple close scares, but the most memorable one was when the entire side window of the aircraft popped out and fell onto my lap about 500' up into a takeoff.”—Retrolex
“As we're climbing through 500' I see a bright shower of sparks from the right engine. Passengers start gasping and talking. My first officer kinda freezes up. I say, ‘turn back.’ He starts to turn the airplane the opposite direction of what we had briefed in case of an emergency situation. I say, ‘I have the controls’ and take over, and turn us on a right downwind. I tell him to tell air traffic control we need to return immediately. I turn the alternator off but the sparks are still flying. The engine is running fine though.
We were only in the air for a couple minutes, but the adrenaline was high for sure. Seeing sparks flying from the front of your engine is never a good thing.”—TangoFoxtrotSierra
“Was doing my first solo cross country when at 3500 feet no more than 20 feet off my nose a happy birthday balloon shoots up at probably 1500 fpm, definitely caught me off guard." —Derpyfingers
“I had a very similar experience. I was doing a solo flight to practice maneuvers around my home town. I was heading back to the airport when I suddenly caught a glimpse of the sun reflecting off of something red to my right. It scared the shit out of me and as I prepared to die I looked over to see a heart shaped balloon float by and pass just under my wing. I had a good laugh once I realized what it was.”—garau
“We almost crashed into trees upon takeoff due to miscalculation of weight and density altitude. As in the bottom of the aircraft was skimming the tops of the trees. I thought for sure we were going to crash. It was to the point where the co-pilot had given up and was just repeatedly yelling obscenities.” —ggfergu
“I was on my cross country flight as a student pilot… Leaving Chicago going to Ohio we were flying under storm clouds with some bumpy conditions. This was my show so I was at the controls and my instructor was basically just watching. Little turbulence kicks up. It was expected, no problem, little airplanes actually handle turbulence well. It's less 'bumpy' and more 'leaf on water' kind of feeling. Boom, out of nowhere we end up getting shoved and shaken like ice in a cocktail shaker and zipped up right into a storm cloud. This is before I got my instrument flying certification and there is no visibility, I can't hear anything because my headset cord came unplugged and I am FREAKING OUT. I am proud I didn't piss myself… To make a long story short we survived and I got to learn what lightning looks like from inside a cloud.”—DeucesCracked
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