What is it about flying that makes it so dreadful? Is it the stressful airport, the long haul flight, the blue airplane toilet (and wet bathroom floor – ewww), the mountains of baggage, the turbulence or that guy in front of you who reclines his seat while you trying to work on your laptop???
Here are a few of our worst experiences:
1. Babies, Babies! Driving me crazy
I think the only thing worse than one crying baby on a flight, is more than one crying baby on a flight. On a particularly lengthy trip to Dubai, there were two infants whose parents, despite being parents, just could not get them to sleep. After about an hour of constant shrieking, the one finally piped down and got some shut eye. The other, abandoned mid-duet by his partner, proceeded to cry rhythmically and somewhat strategically, every 20 minutes for the entire flight. Long story short, every time we fell asleep, the baby cried. Little devil.
The only person I felt more sorry for than myself was that baby’s mother who was understandably incredibly stressed and embarrassed.
Another baby experience being a long flight from Spain back to Cape Town. I was booked into the seat near the emergency exit (Score!!). Which meant I could stretch my legs and sleep “comfortably” all the way home. That dream ended when I saw the guy seated next to me holding the biggest baby I’ve seen. This baby was so big for its size that it didn’t even fit in the sleeping trays meant for it – design flaws abound. As he was a single dad, I spent most of the trip holding the baby while he ate and went to the loo. One of my worst flights ever.
2. Small Bladder Syndrome
When I was younger, I used to love flying. The seats seemed so much more spacious and comfortable and leg room wasn’t an issue. My first time flying as an adult, I was so excited and remembered the joys I had as a kid. I booked the window seat so I could watch the wonderful views from the flight. Big mistake! 1) The flight was at night- there was no view ; 2) when the sun eventually rose, we flew over the sea forever; 3) I needed the bathroom a lot!
A rather large man was seated next to me and he fell asleep almost instantly. There was no legroom to get pass him and I literally had to wake this poor man up about 4 times to go to the bathroom and stretch my legs.I felt so claustrophobic. I never booked a window seat on a long-haul flight again. No matter how bad it gets, don’t do this.
3. Death by Ear Infection
We all know that the bubbles in our ears during take off and landing can be annoying (tip: always chew gum. NEVER close your nose and blow. 9 out of 10 will ignore this). I was recovering from a cold but had to take a short business trip to Jozi. On landing, I had the most excruciating ear-ache I had ever experienced.
My ear pained for days after that flight and I had partial hearing loss for a while. Luckily my ear drum did not burst but be aware of the dangers of flying with an ear infection or sinusitis. Read more about flying with a cold here.
4. The Human Pillow
Snoring is common place on a plane (admission: I think I might even be guilty of that). But what about someone snoring directly into your ear?
On the flight from Panama to Sao Paulo, this elderly man kept falling asleep on my shoulder. The first few times I wiggled my arm and the he woke up and apologised profusely.
But after five minutes he would nod off and *bam* he was back on my shoulder. Eventually, I decided to let the poor man sleep. It was a bit weird but I hope he returns the favour to someone else one day.
5. All by myself
Cape Town to Joburg to Sao Paulo to Panama. That was my route with one long transit of 11 hours in São Paulo’s Guarulhos International Airport. This airport is often cited as one of the worst in the world. I don’t think it was the airport itself. Well apart from the very expensive food, the uncomfortable seats and the three-minute most-boring-ad-in-the-world running on a constant infinite loop.
But being alone in transit for 11 hours is a bit how I picture hell to be (except less hot). I cannot really describe how alone I felt (at one point I was the only person in the airport hall) but two Tom Hanks movies (The Terminal and Castaway) come to mind. I was too scared to sleep in case I woke up with all my belongings missing. I also could not communicate with anyone as I cannot speak Portuguese. Or Spanish. SO, NEVER AGAIN!
6. The drunk
On a morning flight from Joburg to Cape Town, I sat next to a man in a business suit who seemed to be in good spirits, and good spirits seemed to be in him. He started chatting to me which was fine – except for the strong smell of alcohol emanating from his mouth which made my eyes water. I felt as though I was being sterilized.
When the air hostess came around with breakfast, he asked if he could get wine. At 9am. He then proceeded to hit on me and the woman in the window seat. I quickly “fell asleep.”
Note: This tactic of avoiding drunk, flirtatious men is ONLY advised whilst flying.
7. Dying for airplane food
When taking long-haul flights, one of the perks is being ridiculously well-fed. On a previous flight from Cape Town to Bangkok (via Doha), we had 3 meals on 2 flights totaling to 6 meals in 15 hours. Way too much eating but there is not much else to do when flying.
The last thing I expected on a Dubai to Malaysia flight on Emirates was to be practically starved. The flight departed around 4am (understandably not many people eat at 4am) and we were not fed for 5 hours of a 7 hour flight. After a long transit, this is asking to being forcibly starved.
The cabin crew were awfully busy in the kitchen, but this seemed to be for business class as they barely emerged in economy. The perks of cattle class. Moo!
8. Stuck in the middle with you
No one likes to be seated in the middle but in some flights it is basically inevitable. So on this late night flight home from Joburg to Cape Town, all I wanted to do was sleep. A woman sat down next to me at the window and a man sat next to me in the aisle.
To the woman’s surprise she happened to know the man on the aisle seat. They started chatting over me (AWKWARD) as I closed my eyes and tried to sleep. The plane had not taken off yet and I politely interrupted and asked if one of them would like to swap seats with me. The woman quickly said “no, it’s fine.” She clearly did not want to sit next to him. They continued talking over me through the takeoff and for another 20 minutes.
I started getting really irritated being in this awkward position! I felt like I was going to scream, how could they be so inconsiderate? I was extremely tired and just wanted to sleep! I stood up and said to the man ‘please take my seat.’ And I wasn’t asking….
9. The insomniac
You get those groups of people ( families, friends, etc) on a plane who refuse to sleep during the evening flights. I remember my flight from Dubai to Cape Town, there were a group of “emirates” on the plane and they would not stop talking from when we boarded at 8pm till when we landed round 6am the next morning. Remember to pack your earplugs!
10. Say your prayers
This was the scariest flight I’ve ever been on. Your regular Cape Town-to-Joburg and stuck in the middle seat. About half way through, the oxygen masks dropped from the ceiling. All the passengers looked around and laughed – surely, this must be a mistake.
Then some people frantically grab their masks and we all fumble while putting it on. I guess I never really paid attention to the safety videos. They do not inflate! You expect them to do something but no, there’s no real way of telling if they are working or not. Most people were looking anxious by now.
After ten minutes or so the intercom comes alive. I was hoping they would say it was just a mistake but no, the screechy panicked voice of an air hostess comes out saying “Please put on your masks! Please put them on! It’s extremely dangerous not to have them on!!! Put on your masks! Please!” Shortly after, someone in the back starts yelling “what’s that smell? Is that a fire??” Everyone was panicked. The plane was losing altitude.
The man sitting next to me starts having a nose bleed. I gave him a tissue and I looked down at my Grazia magazine and tried to keep my mind calm. I told myself ‘nothing has happened. Keep calm’ and another thought keeps popping into my head ‘YOU’RE GOING TO DIE.’ My head was paining. I prayed quietly to myself, I thought about all the good in my life and accepted whatever my fate would be. People around me were crying.
The intercom came back to life. The air hostess again, now sounding (thankfully) much more calm. She explained that we can put away the oxygen masks. The plane had decompressed and lost all its oxygen which meant that the pilot had to drop the plane very low so that we could naturally get oxygen from the lower atmosphere. She explained that planes were not allowed to fly so low but they informed the air controllers. She also said that the air is very thin up here so if anyone needs medical attention there are ambulances waiting for us when we land. Also, the strange ‘fire’ (chemical) smell was due to the oxygen masks kicking into gear. The pilot also explained that we were very lucky. The same thing happened to the Helios Airways Flight 522 where a lack of oxygen incapacitated the crew, the plane ran out of fuel and crashed into the mountain. There were 122 fatalities.
I was so freaked out I never wanted to fly again but I had to catch my next flight an hour later…..
We asked some of our twitter friends what their worst experiences were:
@SuitcasesLattes Was with @FlyMangoSA. Grounded from weather in Jozi en route to Bloem. Locked in, no water sold for 2 hours!
— Dylan Moore (@MrCPT) March 8, 2015
@SuitcasesLattes was on an 18 hour flight, inflight entertainment wasn’t working, & I had a crying baby in front of me the entire way :/
— Meh (@AppleblossomPop) January 19, 2015
@SuitcasesLattes I’ve only had great flight experiences, happily. I slipped on a wet floor in an airport and cruised my coccyx though.
— Krissy Peterssen (@KrissyPeterssen) January 19, 2015
@SuitcasesLattes I don’t fly very often at all but the first time I did, I was 23 and so excited that I vomited just before landing — freckles & vuil kyke (@BooksBakesBio) January 19, 2015
@SuitcasesLattes Everytime I fly from PE airport, my bag gets broken into 🙁
— pizza guru (@mish_za) January 19, 2015
@SuitcasesLattes funnily, I’ve only had annoying local experiences and always comes down to bad communications to passengers. — Ighsaan Robinson (@Igy30) January 19, 2015
Think your experiences were worse? Tell us about it in the comments below!
– S&L team
*cover photo credit
Holy Moly! I am a nervous flier and the last one would have given me a heart attack! I think in those situations, less information is better. I never want a pilot to tell me how lucky I am when we are still in the air! Tell me when I am on the ground and have some kind of alcoholic beverage in my hand!
Now that you mention it Jacqueline, what you say is so true! I think after the adrenaline rush we were just all so happy and relieved that he could have said anything on earth and we would have clapped. I’m not really a nervous flyer but the incident left me far more apprehensive. A friend of mine is extremely nervous when flying and said these tablets called Relicalm (http://www.pharmashop24.co.za/product/relicalm) helped her. Maybe give it a try next time (and try to forget everything you read here!). – Rif
I find top ten lists spectacularly dull, written by astonishingly dimwitted writers.
Your writing style really is a hoot to read!
So I have been ‘privileged’ enough to experience all of the above (except for the last one, well, not entirely).
Flying from Manila to Bangkok, yet arriving in Kuala Lumpur was one of my less enjoyable experiences. Apart from missing my next flight I had loads of trouble in Malaysia – passport wise and even more trouble from my, then girlfriend, after arriving back home quite a few days late.
There exists, of course, an easy solution to most of the ten things mentioned here and that is to be number 6 yourself. It unfortunately is not very ideal for turbulence and may result in arriving at Kuala Lumpur Int airport instead of Bangkok!
Thanks so much for the feedback!! You are so right, sometimes I just read the headings of top 10 lists and not the actual content. I guess I’m not the only one!
I’m lucky enough to not have experienced passport/ visa issues (touch wood!). I find airports stressful so I would find it terrifying – especially when not in an English speaking country. What was the issue? Did they just pull you out of the line randomly? Did they refund you for the missed flight?
Number 6 – now that is funny! Give it a go and let us know if you land up where you meant to be. Oddly enough, Number 6 said he was the SA ambassador for a far east country.
Let us know if you have a blog. We could all do with a laugh and you sound pretty funny.