Smokes on a Plane – A Travel Horror Story

July 10, 2014

Loyal readers may have noticed there have been fewer blogs posts recently. While I am no longer trying to publish a post every day, the most recent lack of posts was because I had to make an unexpected trip to attend a family funeral. I’ve been on hundreds of flights and my initial flight on my latest trip was so crazy that most people don’t believe the story when I tell it.

Today’s post has nothing to do with computers or software, just a crazy story about my trip. I had an elderly aunt who had been in failing health for several years with the biggest ailment being Alzheimer’s. She lost her battle on June 29 at the age of 82.

If you have ever had to fly on short notice, you are no doubt aware that prices can be outrageously high. Combine short notice with the impending July 4 holiday weekend and there was no way I could afford to attend the funeral if I had to pay full price. Luckily I have a number of friends who work for the airlines and I knew they would have access to “buddy passes”.

The benefit of a buddy pass is that you can fly for a much more reasonable price. The downside is that you have to fly standby, can’t check any luggage and it is best to be on a direct flight to your destination. Once again the holiday weekend was making it difficult to find an empty seat. After talking with my airlines friends, the best option seemed to be to fly out on the morning of Wednesday, July 2.

Available seats on any given flight are in a constant state of flux and I was told on the morning of Tuesday, July 1 that it would be best if I could get on the last flight that evening. Luckily I was mostly prepared to leave so moving up my departure by 16 hours wasn’t a big deal. The challenge would be finding someone to pick me up at the airport at 11:36pm. After a couple of calls, I talked to a friend who got off work at 11pm so the timing was almost perfect or so I thought.

I got to the Phoenix airport and breezed through security. For the first time in many years I didn’t have to remove my shoes, take liquids or laptop out of my bag and some of the other hassles of security screening. I’m guessing the fact that I was using an employee’s pass allowed me to get the expedited screening. From there I went to the gate and let the woman working at the podium know that I was there and on the standby list. She asked if I was interested in sitting in first class before she noticed I was wearing shorts. C’mon, it’s 110 degrees in Phoenix so we don’t wear pants in the summer. No, pants are not required for everyone in first class. It is a rule if you are using an employee’s buddy pass. I had dress pants on my carry-on and informed her I would be glad to change if needed to get on the flight.

From there, the trip went downhill fast. I was assigned a seat in coach and proceeded to board the plane. Just as I got to the front of the line, the door to the jetway was closed. The armrest of a seat was getting repaired and the maintenance crew was blocking the aisle. As I was waiting, I got a call that my uncle had gone to the hospital. He was released the next day and was able to attend his wife of 60 years’ funeral. All in all, we waited at least 30 minutes for the repair to be completed so boarding could continue. My flight was going to be late and I guessed my friend wouldn’t be pleased.

My seat was in the front row of coach meaning I couldn’t keep my bag under the seat. All of the overhead bins at the front of the plane were filled so I had to go back to about the fifth bin to find some space. As I put my luggage in the bin, I was thinking how fun it was going to be to get back to the bin after the plane landed. I came back to my (middle) seat and attempted to sit down. It was difficult since the man in the window seat spilled over into about half of my seat. I sat somewhat sideways and told myself it was only a two and a half hour flight.

Boarding continued for a while and we were finally ready to back out of the gate. The plane backed out and came to a stop with the captain making the announcement that there was a medical emergency on the plane and that we would need to return to the gate so that the person could deplane and get medical attention. This wasn’t the first time I’d been on a flight with a medical emergency so I just sat patiently while the person who had taken ill could get off of the plane along with a couple of family members. This delayed the flight a few more minutes, but it wasn’t that big of a deal to me. Just a little more time in my half a seat.

Once again the plane backed out of the gate and once again it stopped and the captain made an announcement. This time there was an issue with one of the engines and we would again need to go back to the gate. No problem as I’d rather be a little late than have an engine fail. Unfortunately I was already very uncomfortable and couldn’t wait to get out of my seat.

We were asked to stay in our seats while the mechanics looked at the problematic engine. Some passengers got up during the wait and I just sat uncomfortably. Another announcement was made asking a flight attendant to check out an issue in the rear lavatory. A fellow passenger across the aisle seemed to know something about the problem in the bathroom as she leaned over and said something to the people in the row behind her.

Before long, we all knew about the problem as the passenger just behind the woman was arrested and escorted off the plane for smoking in the bathroom. To make matters worse, he was traveling with his three nieces who all appeared to be younger than 10. The good news for me is that there were now four empty seats across the aisle from me and I gladly moved so that I could enjoy an entire seat.

About 30 minutes after pulling back into the gate the second time, we were told that we would be moving to another plane. Fine with me as the first plane seemed to be a bit jinxed. I took the opportunity to get a snack in the time before we were allowed to board the just arrived plane across the terminal. Before long we boarded again and I stayed in the new seat across the aisle where I didn’t have to live with an elbow in my ribs or face.

I started chatting with the woman in the window seat as she was the one who had been talking to the passengers behind her earlier. She knew someone had smoked in the bathroom and was saying that she couldn’t believe that someone was dumb enough to do that when it is clearly labeled that it is against federal law. Of course the person she was telling turned out to be the guy who did the smoking and she didn’t even realize it. I noticed one other thing about this woman, she was seven months pregnant. I jokingly told her to make sure the baby waited until well after the plane landed as we didn’t need any more issues on this flight!

There was another 30 minutes or so delay because luggage had to be transferred between planes. Then a few more minutes went by while we waited for catering to stock the plane. Given the late hour, I’m guessing we were simply waiting for more drinks to calm all the frustrated passengers. Finally we backed out of the gate again and this time the flight continued uninterrupted. We arrived about three hours late at 2:30am.

As all of this was happening on the ground, I had posted each new happening on Facebook. My family didn’t believe the story and asked if I was making it up. I was convinced Samuel Jackson was going to come onto our plane with a bunch of snakes!

I had alerted my friend of the delay so he took a nap before coming to get me and we got back to his house at 3:15am. Great, I’d get a few hours of sleep before I needed to start driving to get to where the funeral would be held.

There was a lot of driving the next few days and I was scheduled to fly back to Phoenix on Sunday, July 6. This time when I went to the airport, there were no more seats on the plane and I’d have to try again on another flight.

A different friend had taken me to the airport and waited to see if I’d make the flight. He offered to take me in for the night, but I’d have to go to work with him the next day as a handyman. On one project, I was told to talk to the homeowner and distract him so that my buddy could get some work done. The next project required me to carry a bunch of bags of dirt (as you can see at right). While I worked up a pretty good sweat, it was fun to work a day with a friend that I’d known since high school.

We had dinner at his house before I once again went to the airport in hopes of getting a flight. Earlier in the day I was told the chances were very slim. Once I got to the airport, I found that quite a few seats had opened up and I might actually get to go home!

I got assigned a seat and walked down the jetway without delay. I was thrilled that the flight attendant working the flight was someone I knew. Even better, when the doors closed I had an empty seat next to me. Thankfully the return flight wasn’t nearly as eventful and I finally got back home at around 11pm on Monday, July 7.

While I’ve had some crazy travel stories in the past, it was really crazy that so many issues came up on this particular trip. While I got a nice discount on my tickets, I certainly paid for it with the extra hassles of flying standby. Through it all I stayed calm and just rolled with the punches because I knew it would make for an interesting blog post. I hope you at least got a chuckle out of the story. Now it is time for me to get back to work!

Post Discussion


  1. Paulette

    Makes me glad I don’t travel much.

  2. Anonymous

    Hi Foster,

    Quite an adventure! I enjoyed the story. – Jeff H.

  3. Brenda Duncan

    I believe all your delays was Gods hand protecting you from the unknowns. Good and bad happen for a reason and staying calming is the best way to handle it….Anger never ends good…I’m sorry for your loss, but I’m glad your flight ended safe and sound….


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Foster D. Coburn III

Foster D. Coburn III built his first Web site in 1995 and he has been working exclusively in WordPress since 2013. He has used the Divi theme exclusively since 2015. Earlier in his career he was the author of 13 best-selling books on CorelDRAW and has been a contributor to numerous technology and graphics-related magazines. Foster has taken many projects, including this Web site, from the early design stage through to a finished piece. He has been a featured speaker at many graphics conferences.

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