Flight Attendants Reveal the Worst Flights They've Ever Worked

Daniel Fishel/Thrillist
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

Speaking from experience as someone who travels six months out of the year, I’ll put my bad-flight stories up against almost anyone’s. Take, for example, a return flight from Mumbai with a layover in Istanbul. On the second leg of the flight, one carefree passenger decided it was the appropriate time to drop ecstasy. As life decisions go, this one ranked pretty low, though I’m sure in the moment our Mile High Raver was feeling quite the opposite. After he lovingly stroked his chagrined seat neighbors, he began to prance down the aisle and around the galleys. The flight attendants could only take so much of this revelry before they had to tackle him to the ground and inject his neck with a sedative.

This was not a great flight for me. I don’t think it ended up being a great flight for this passenger, either, as he was escorted off the plane at JFK in handcuffs. But this flight was unquestionably worse for the flight attendants.

Flight attendants have packed for more than their share of bad flights. By far. And unlike the rest of who get to complain, demand refunds, or be visibly terrified, flight attendants have to remain alert, stoic, and brave AF, even if they are just as annoyed, irate and/or terrified as you are. If you think you’ve been on a bad flight, trust me, they’ve got you topped. Flight attendants’ stories tend to fall into some broad general categories, all of which get even me spooked.

Daniel Fishel/Thrillist
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

Turbulence throwdowns

Admittedly, turbulence terrifies me. The fear is bad enough that I’ll white-knuckle the armrest while whispering a few Hail Marys. And I’m not even Catholic.

When air turns choppy — perhaps when warm air is rising through cooler air, or a mountain range disrupts air currents — the plane rises and falls, like a yacht on a heaving sea. It won’t knock a plane out of the sky, or even flip it. But in the moment, it can feel like the end of the world.

“I was flying from Miami to London, and while serving beverages in economy, we hit a few mild bumps,” says one flight attendant with American Airlines. “It was nothing to be concerned about. After no bumps for about 30 seconds, all hell broke loose. We hit severe turbulence. My coworker and I were both tossed upwards, including our serving carts. I landed on both feet, much to my surprise, and I yelled at passengers to grab my arms to keep me grounded. Mother Nature tossed us around for about 30 seconds before the rocking and rolling subsided. I still don’t know how I landed on my feet like a gymnast, because that situation could have been a really ugly, career-ending situation.”

Air traffic (out of) control

Air traffic controllers have one of the most demanding jobs out there. Their schedules often result in chronic fatigue, which means they aren’t always completely on their game for directing planes in and out of the sky. It’s a stressful job, to say the least. A 2011 FAA report found that nearly two in 10 controllers had committed significant errors, like bringing planes too close together. More than six in 10 controllers said that they had fallen asleep or experienced a lapse of attention during their midnight shifts. So while air travel may be the safest form of travel, sometimes accidents do happen.

“In 2000, I was sitting in the rear of the aircraft in my jumpseat, going in for landing into SFO,” says another American Airlines flight attendant. “About 10 seconds from landing, I looked out the window and saw the tail of a Cathay Pacific Airlines Boeing 747 crossing our path as we were landing.”I remember the pilot pulled up so fast, I thought I was back in my Navy days,” the flight attendant continues. “The pilot didn’t say a word for about a minute. A very long minute. Passengers were screaming, and the only thing that prevented me from screaming was I was pinned to the seat with such force it kept me silent. The pilot finally made an announcement and apologized for the severe maneuver, but that we had almost hit the aircraft, which crossed into our landing path without permission. Let’s just say I had a series of cocktails when I arrived home.”

The airsickness “domino effect”

While they might seem like a relic from the days of smaller planes, barf bags are not there for decoration. Airsickness can strike when eyes adjust to the stillness around you, and your brain is made aware that you are sitting still, but your inner ear, sensitive little bastard, knows that you are actually in motion.

You already know where this is headed.

“I have always been terrified of vomit,” says a Delta Air Lines flight attendant. “I just. Can’t. Do it. I was working a red-eye from Seattle to Atlanta and we hit some pretty rough air. Although the pilots tried their best to find a smoother route, they just couldn’t. The roller coaster ride lasted about an hour. Before I knew it, a lady in the middle seat of the last row upchucked her dinner everywhere. That’s when it all started. It was a domino effect. The entire last two rows of passengers were puking. It sounded like Jurassic Park.”

Daniel Fishel/Thrillist
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

The passengers from hell

Yeah, being a flight attendant is low-key one of the most hardcore customer-service jobs in America. And it goes well beyond mere air sickness. Sometimes, some very disturbed people just happen to be in the air, and in a confined flying cylinder, there’s not much to be done for them.

“We had just departed the gate from Los Angeles for New York and had begun the video safety demo,” says a Virgin America flight attendant. “As it was playing, I see a woman climb over her seatmate into the aisle and was standing there, motionless. This is a no-no while we are moving on a taxiway, and especially during the safety demo.”

The flight attendant rushed up the aisle to see what was happening. “The woman pointed to her seatmate shouting, ‘She’s evil!’ over and over again,” he continued. “I decided to reseat her in a row that was empty. This seemed to have calmed her down.” Or so he thought.Just after liftoff, the same women rings her call light. “Very frantically, she tells me, ‘I changed my later flight to this flight and my brother is picking me up. I need to tell him that I’m coming early.'” The flight attendant took her brother’s contact information and had the captain call the ground to contact him. The flight attendant then noticed her staring out the window talking to herself.

“When I said, ‘Ma’am?’ she began screaming at the top her lungs ‘YOU’RE EVIL!’ and started beating me with her pillow. I was stunned and desperately trying to make her stop screaming. I made the mistake of trying to touch her to get her to calm down. Big mistake — more beatings.” Finally a woman flight attendant stepped in, but it didn’t make much of a difference.

“I was about to call the captain to let him know we may have to turn around to LAX, when from the rear of the plane comes actress Maria Bello. From ER. She begins reciting the Lord’s Prayer over and over until the woman calmed down.”

“All I could do was keep the other passengers calm”

A passenger requires medical attention. It’s an announcement that triggers a shiver of panic, followed by meerkat heads popping up to figure out who this passenger is. More often than not, multiple medical professionals hop to the scene. About one in every 600 flights involves a reported medical emergency (or so says the New England Journal of Medicine). The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center broke that down into 44,000 in-flight medical emergencies worldwide every year.

The most common problems include faintness, respiratory symptoms, and nausea or vomiting. Flight attendants can handle those, no prob. Then, there’s the other, more dreadful category.”In July I was flying from London to Miami,” says American Airlines flight attendant. “About 45 minutes before landing, the in-flight supervisors made an announcement requesting the assistance of medical personnel. A male passenger sitting in the business class cabin was complaining about chest pains and needed some assistance. The situation went from bad to worse.” The flight crew began performing chest compressions on the passenger. The doctor and nurse came to assemble medical equipment. “All I could do was try to keep the other passengers calm as the medical team did their best.”

The passenger didn’t make it. The flight attendant went through the motions on the rest of the flight and got home fine. Then: “The next day I was an emotional mess.”

Next time you consider what flight attendants go through on the job, remember: They’ve always got your back.Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Meagan is a travel writer living and breathing in NYC. Follow her on Twitter


Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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