As the pandemic eases in the US, Americans are traveling once more. TSA data shows almost 2 million passengers went through airport security checkpoints each day in early June, compared to less than 500,000 for the same time last year.
But as people take to the sky, reports of bad behavior are also on the rise.
The Federal Aviation Administration has said there’s been a significant increase in disruptive behavior in recent months. The agency has received approximately 2,500 reports of unruly passengers since Jan. 1, most of which involved people refusing to comply with mask mandates. At least two airlines are delaying plans to sell alcohol on board — an announcement that came after one woman was arrested for punching a Southwest flight attendant in the face, knocking out her teeth. Sara Nelson, the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants, told an online town hall in May that her members were on the “front line” in dealing with unruly passengers. “We have just never seen anything like this,” she said. “We’ve never seen it so bad.”
But flight attendants have definitely been dealing with difficult passengers forever — and they swap battle stories of drunken, frisky, or just plain disgusting flyers.
We at BuzzFeed News asked flight attendants to share some of their wildest stories with us, and we heard back from dozens. We’ve collected some of their responses for your entertainment and horror. As you read them, remember that flight attendants are people too and they don’t deserve your anger — or your vomit.
Note: Responses have been edited for clarity and style.
I was dealing with a medical emergency in-flight. We had the passenger laid out in the aisle and a doctor was working on them. I was running back up the aisle with the [defibrillator] when the passenger who had been next to the poor man being worked on flagged me down and asked for a Diet Coke! Luckily the doctor’s wife was nearby and told that lady off the way I wish I had been able to.
—Whitney, flight attendant for 10 years
Standing in the back with another flight attendant, I saw a woman with two kids. One was around 4 or 5 years old and the other was under 2. There are only two oxygen masks in any lavatory on any aircraft, which means only two people [are allowed in] at a time. The woman got to the front of the line and started to walk into the lavatory. I stopped the door from closing and said, “Hey, sorry, there’s only two oxygen masks in there.” The woman cut me off, saying, “So what? You’re just going to watch one of my kids?” I said yes. She wasn’t expecting that answer so she looked up at me, hella pissed, looked at her kids waiting in the lav, then looked back at me. She swooped down and picked up the infant so I took a step forward for the handoff and the mom tossed her baby at me. I was a good few feet away from her, but luckily I was already moving forward — I just didn’t think I'd have to receive a child punted by its mother. I said, “Oh my god,” caught the child, and immediately sat in my jumpseat and looked at the other flight attendant. She just rolled her eyes and said, “Good thing it wasn’t thrown at me, because it would have just bounced off my chest and hit the floor.” When the mom came out, she took the child and just walked away. No “thank you,” no acknowledgment.
The kicker: When I walked through the cabin maybe 20 minutes later to do a trash run, I saw that the mom was traveling with her husband. All four of them were wearing matching outfits. Essentially, the mom could have just left her small child with the dad. —Miranda, flight attendant for three years
On a flight from Anchorage to San Francisco, two passengers who had just met obviously had too much to drink. During the flight — which, thank goodness, wasn’t full — the woman gave the man a blowjob! Right there! In their seats! Her lipstick was smeared all over her face. —Elena
We once had a ground delay due to maintenance, which was really long and super frustrating. During these situations, the flight attendants have to be near their doors in case of an emergency. This gave Ms. 38D and Mr. 38E the perfect opportunity to sneak into the bathroom. The problem with being sneaky is that you also need to be quiet… They were not. I was the lead flight attendant, so my crew immediately let me know. When I went to speak to the passengers, they immediately attacked me, swearing and using aggressive body language. So I told them to grab their bags and go. When security arrived they were trying to fake that the Ms. was sick and the Mr. was helping her, but it was far too late to pretend. As they left the flight, it took everything in me not to say, “We’re on the ground. You’re not in the club.” An airplane bathroom is the equivalent to a flying outhouse, but good for you, Ms. and Mr. 38DE. Hope your tetanus shots are up to date. —Kelsey, flight attendant for eight years
On a flight back from St. Maarten, probably 15 years ago at least, I was standing at the bottom of the bar cart. Two couples traveling together were at the exit row on either side of the aisle, passing a laptop back and forth and laughing. I pulled the cart past the exit row and looked up. They were looking at photos. One of the women was in the pic lying naked with her legs spread wide open; the husband of the other woman was standing, also naked, and holding a spear gun with a dildo attached to the end, pointing straight at her vagina. I think what came out of my mouth while I was laughing was, “Jesus Christ, there are kids on board! Put that away!” The lead flight attendant almost knocked me down with the cart as she tried to push back and see what it was. —Emma, flight attendant for 21 years
I once had a passenger on a flight from San Francisco to Sydney who had taken too much Ambien and/or Xanax and was peeing mid-flight on other passengers and the airplane door. He was sleepwalking and thought he was in the bathroom!
—Devin, flight attendant for five years
A passenger with an “emotional support dog” came to the back galley and asked me to hold the dog’s leash while she used the lavatory. While she was in there, the dog had explosive diarrhea ALL OVER the floor of the back galley. Baltimore to San Diego, with three hours left. —Dan, flight attendant for two and a half years
One of our teenage passengers had eaten a bad burger in Cancún and not long after takeoff developed minor symptoms of food poisoning. It was determined that we were safe to continue with the passenger [on board], but not long before landing in Canada, his symptoms got worse. In a panic, the young passenger got up and ran to the back in an attempt to throw up in the lavatory, but both stalls were occupied. With nowhere to go and no air sickness bag, the passenger began power puking all over the aft galley and door. There were about 45 minutes until landing. His parents were absolutely horrified and insisted they clean it up, but being so new, I didn’t mind. We used an entire biohazard kit and only finished cleaning just as we needed to sit down for landing.
Unfortunately, a flight attendant had to sit in the jumpseat directly in front of where this all happened, and the entire area smelled of acidic vomit. Both of the flight attendants in the back had to hold air sickness bags the entire way down while they dry-heaved from the smell. We were on a 737, which has a girt bar that attaches the emergency slide to the floor so that it inflates if the door is opened. When one of them attempted to disarm the door and lift up the girt bar, there were chunks of burger and vomit underneath that we had not noticed or been able to clean up. We had to delay the next flight so that a cleaning crew could deep clean the aft of the plane since the smell was so bad. —Tyler, flight attendant for two and a half years
I will never forget the day a passenger pooped on herself during a flight from New York to Rio de Janeiro. This lady had just had surgery on both of her legs, and she was traveling alone. I don’t know why she would travel alone if she couldn’t move and was still in extreme pain. In the middle of the long flight, the flight attendants got word that she pooped on herself because she couldn’t move. We had to lift her and transport her to the bathroom and clean the seats. It was a lot!
—Trisha, flight attendant for five years
The Just Plain Weird...
On one flight from New York to Dublin, after takeoff, a passenger rang the call bell and asked why the TV screen said we were crossing the Atlantic. He was supposed to be on a flight going to Orlando and had ended up on our plane. On another flight, from the UK to New York, a woman asked if we could crack a window open because she was warm. —Ricky, former flight attendant for five years
Going to Hawaii, all passengers need to fill out an agriculture form to declare if they brought any live animals, plants, meat, etc., into the islands. This lady didn’t have a pen, which is fine. Just ask your neighbors around you if you can borrow one! Instead, she pulled out her red lipstick and started filling out the form. Needless to say, she was upset with me when I gave it back to her to fill it out with a blue or black pen. —Chelsea, flight attendant for three years
I was doing a cabin walk-through and saw something scurry across the aisle behind the last row of seats. I thought my mind was playing tricks on me, but nope, there it was — a mouse cleaning himself when I looked at him. I tried to grab it, but it ran into the galley under the carts. I called the captain to let him know what had happened, and he told me to kill it immediately because if it got into the paneling and chewed the wires, it could be devastating to the aircraft. Each time we’d take a cart out, he’d run under another one! He finally outsmarted us and ran into the cabin again, but this time, we could hear little screams and shouts from people once they noticed him. They were throwing their feet up onto the seats so he wouldn't climb up their legs.
We finally made it to our destination, Toronto, and got everyone off the aircraft, except for one lady who had stayed behind. I could tell she was looking for something, so as I approached her, she basically dove under a seat, and when she came back up, she had the mouse in her hand and stuffed him back into her jacket pocket. I confronted her about it, and she just straight-up told me, “I am moving, and I had to do what I had to do to get my mouse here.”
—Trevor, flight attendant for 14 years
Illustrations by Hunter French for BuzzFeed News.