Airborne

04.16.14

Plane-Related Incidents Reach New Level of Weird

From accidental plane porno to “prank” terrorism—this week’s slate of airline-related incidents suggests air travel has hit a new altitude of bizarre.

According to the latest news in aviation, the world of air travel has gone a little wonky. US Airways inadvertently tweeted an—ahem—racy photo involving a lady and a toy plane. A traveler attempted to jump from their flight midair while another spat on fellow passengers in a fit of rage. A wave of “joke” bomb threats on Twitter indicates some teens feel prank terrorism is the new cool thing to do.

We’ve all been there; a delayed flight can be more frustrating than a fee for a bag of airline peanuts. But Twitter user @ElleRafter had no idea what was in store when she complained via tweet Monday about an hour-long setback during a US Airways trip. 

“Unhappy” about her wait on the tarmac, she took to Twitter to voice her irritation. The airline was quick to offer a personal response—now the social media hallmark of many airlines—via the same platform. They posted, “We welcome feedback, Elle. If your travel is complete, you can detail it here for review and follow up,” alongside a link. But instead of leading back to whatever customer service portal you might expect, clicking instead opened a—how would you say—erotic image of a woman spreading her legs and sticking a model 777 airplane you know where. You can guess how fast that went viral. (Here’s a hint: fast.)

The same day, passengers on a Southwest Airlines flight from Chicago to Sacramento faced an alarming mid-journey interruption: 23-year-old Joshua Carl Lee Suggs tried to open the rear emergency exit so he could jump from the moving airplane into the wild blue yonder.

After hearing yelling from the back of the plane, a group of other passengers managed to tackle and restrain the unruly Suggs. The captain subsequently made an emergency landing in Omaha to divest of the problematic almost plane-jumper, who now faces charges of interference punishable by big fines and up to 20 years in lockup. Though shaken, the remaining passengers made it to their destination only two hours late.

By Tuesday, yet another strange event had gone down. Flying from Istanbul to New York, a drunken man went crazy on his fellow travelers, accusing one of stealing his laptop. After spitting on two strangers, clearly intoxicated 30-year-old Shabaz Khan tried to fight off the intervening flight crew by running down the aisle, climbing on top of seated passengers, and then running back up the second aisle. When that proved an inefficient tactic, he punched a flight attendant. After issuing follow-up groin and stomach kicks, he was arrested. (Duh?) Part of the condition of his release, after bail, is no more booze.

Jokes aside, what is most remarkable and perhaps most difficult to understand is the way parts of the Internet reacted to a separate incident from the weekend.  Sunday night, a Dutch teenager tweeted a (despicably racist) threat to American Airlines. 

From accidental plane porno to “prank” terrorism—this week’s slate of airline-related incidents suggests air travel has hit a new altitude of bizarre.

“Hello,” she wrote. “My name’s Ibrahim and I’m from Afghanistan. I’m part of Al Qaida and on June 1st I’m gonna do something really big bye.” Afterward, she privatized the account and claimed it was a joke—in case you weren’t aware, it was meant to be funny. Kids these days!

Despite the prank claim, the airline reported the tweet to the authorities and they arrested the young woman the following day in Rotterdam. But the strangest part was yet to come. Since the event, a small group—at least a dozen—has continued to threaten American or other airlines under the guise of comedy. One tweet, from @AldoFernz, reads, “The bomb goes off in 3 hours.” Charming.

While all of these airline-madness incidents range from embarrassing mistakes to evidence that some people need a strongly worded talking-to, they sit at disparate places on a wide spectrum of seriousness. The rest of the Twittersphere has been quick to point out—from wasted tax dollars to sheer inanity—the gravity and implication of joke bomb threats. Meanwhile, on the other end, US Airways seems genuinely confused by their gaff.  

Within an hour of discovering the scandalous photo, the company deleted the offensive tweet, issued an apology, and announced they were “investigating.”  With an additional day of poking around, they were able to determine that the photo had been tweeted at the airline earlier in the day—it originally comes from a German language amateur shock site—and was inadvertently included in its response thanks to a copy-paste error. So there you have it, from amateur German porn to corporate social media—a real honest-to-goodness mistake.

And to think we used to complain about missing baggage.