They say that truth is stranger than fiction, and after covering dozens of bizarre aviation passenger incidents, we could not agree more.
The stress and excitement of flying seems to bring out odd behavior in passengers. These incidents may make for good storytelling later, but at the time they must have been terrifying for those involved.
Halloween is just around the corner, so we’ve compiled a list of actual flight passenger incidents that have an uncanny similarity to popular horror films.
Brace yourselves and grab the popcorn, it’s going to be a spooky ride ahead…
The Sixth Sense and American Airlines’ ‘not real’ passenger
The Sixth Sense is a 1999 psychological thriller film by M. Night Shyamalan that features a young boy who can see and talk to – SPOILER! – the dead. The movie’s big twist, and how it was revealed, set the benchmark for thriller films of the era that followed.
In July 2023, a bizarre incident occurred in an American Airlines flight from Dallas. A woman marched to the front of the aircraft and demanded that she be let off the flight, claiming that a passenger at the back was ‘not real’.
Some have speculated that the woman was on medication, under the influence, or undergoing psychosis. Others said that she might have the ‘sixth sense’ and is able to see dead people, in which case they would join her in getting off the plane if it was haunted.
The flight eventually took off three hours later.
The Exorcist and Southwest Airlines’ spitting passenger
The Exorcist is a 1973 horror film that needs no introduction. One of its most famous scenes, familiar even to those who have not seen the entire film, is the climactic exorcism. This is when then-child actor Linda Blair hurls projectile green vomit at the attending priest, accompanied by terrifying facial expressions.
Passengers onboard a Southwest Airlines flight in June 2023 witnessed a similar spectacle when a passenger had to be forcibly removed after spitting at fellow passengers.
Video of the incident showed the passenger being dragged by two flight attendants down the aisle, still continuing to spit at other passengers. One of the flight attendants had to cover the passenger’s face with a safety briefing card while they struggled to haul her off the aircraft.
A Tale of Two Sisters and the two sisters at Newark Airport
A Tale of Two Sisters is a 2003 Korean horror film about a girl who had just been released from a mental institution. She reunites with her sister, and together they face a haunted house and a deplorable stepmother.
Admittedly, the plot has nothing to do with this particular flight incident, but A Tale of Two Sisters is also the perfect title for the misadventures of two sisters who had a drunken meltdown at Newark Airport in September 2023.
The sisters were on their way to Dublin, and went on a drinking spree at the airport when their flight was delayed. When their flight finally started boarding, the sisters were extremely intoxicated and started to become disruptive, arguing with airline crew and causing scenes.
Security officers eventually had to contain the duo, and one of the sisters was arrested for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, while the other received a criminal summons for disorderly conduct.
Candyman and bees / mosquitoes infesting aircraft
The 1992 horror film Candyman is about a graduate student whose deep research into superstitions summons a living urban legend, the Candyman, who is always surrounded by a swarm of bees.
In reality, bees and other winged insects are attracted to the warmth of engines, so idle cars and other transportation vehicles, including planes, are common shelters for insects.
In May 2023, a swarm of bees latched on to the wings of a Delta Air Lines aircraft, causing a flight to be delayed by several hours.
In November 2020, a parked Vistara Airbus A320neo jet at the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport (CCU) in Kolkata, India was attacked by a swarm of bees.
And from elsewhere in the insect kingdom, a heavy swarm of mosquitoes plagued the interior of a Volaris aircraft in October 2023. Flight attendants and passengers tried to get rid of the infestation, which delayed the flight by a couple of hours.
The Outwaters and Jiangxi Airlines’ elderly passenger
The Outwaters is a 2022 horror film set in the Mojave Desert. The film is so disturbing that it’s reported to have caused plenty of movie-goers to leave the cinema and vomit. Even die-hard horror movie fanatics have claimed that The Outwaters is so ‘sick’ that it has caused them nightmares, something that they haven’t experienced in years.
No one wants to be sick, or even be near someone who is throwing up, so an elderly passenger on a June 2023 flight onboard Jiangxi Airlines used a clever tactic during an altercation.
The passenger got into an argument with another woman over who got to claim a window seat. The elderly passenger then threatened that if the woman did not give up the window seat, she would throw up on her.
Flight attendants intervened and took the elderly passenger to another section of the cabin.
Rabid and the ‘rabid’ passengers of Lufthansa and Southwest Airlines
Rabid is a 2019 film about a model who is involved in a freak accident and then has to undergo reconstructive surgery. Post-surgery, the model finds that she has developed an appetite for human blood and thus begins a whole bite-scapade.
In reality, two recent incidents have involved bite-happy passengers who caused disruption on their flights.
The first was in May 2023, when a Southwest Airlines flight had to turn back to the gate due to an intoxicated passenger causing a disturbance. When authorities boarded the aircraft to remove the passenger, witnesses saw the passenger kicking and biting the officers. She was eventually arrested and booked with three counts of battery of a police officer, disturbing the peace while drunk, two counts of resisting an officer and criminal mischief.
The second incident happened just a month later, on a Lufthansa flight from Munich to Sofia in June 2023. The flight had not taken off yet when a female passenger started removing her clothes. The aircraft returned to the gate, and police officers came to intervene. One of the police officers tried to cover up the passenger with a blanket, but in doing so was bitten on the arm by the woman.
Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds – Cathay Pacific’s hitchhiking bird
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 classic The Birds involves aggressive birds attacking an entire town, which Hitchcock later explained was a symbol of nature (the birds) going up against corrupt human nature.
During May 2023, a bird got caught inside a Cathay Pacific aircraft on a flight to Kathmandu. Though the bird was just trying to hitch a ride, the flight attendants went on a frantic chase to catch it. The bird was eventually caught and contained until the flight landed.
Child’s Play / Scream and Southwest Airlines’ man child passenger
In April 2023, a Southwest Airlines flight was forced to divert in order to remove a man who had lost his cool over a crying baby in the cabin. As if getting angry over a crying baby was not enough, the man engaged in a screaming competition with the child, and when asked to stop, he reasoned that the baby was also yelling.
A grown man acting like a baby is a horror film in itself, but there are two movies that, when combined, might provide the perfect inspiration for this incident.
The first is Wes Craven’s 1996 film Scream, in which a knife-wielding stalker wears a fright mask that resembles a screaming face. Plus, we’d also like to throw in Child’s Play, to see if the passenger can face off Chucky in a screaming match.
Jumanji and VietJet’s escaped critters
Technically speaking, Jumanji does not belong in the category of horror. It’s an urban fantasy film that has become a classic family favorite since it first debuted in 1995. The concept of a magical board game that brings adventures and misadventures to life makes for a thrilling ride.
One of Jumanji’s most iconic scenes is when a stampede of zebras, rhinos and elephants comes storming out of the living room while the family is playing the titular board game.
A similar scenario, albeit on a smaller scale, came to life onboard a VietJet flight from Bangkok, when a passenger attempted to smuggle various wildlife inside her suitcase. In the middle of the flight, two of the critters – an albino rat and a baby otter – managed to escape.
What happened next was a wild chase inside the cabin, during which a flight attendant got bitten by the terrified albino rat.
The smuggler’s suitcase was eventually found to contain other species, including 28 live turtles and snakes.
Final Destination and the ‘battery-operated’ flight attendant
Final Destination is an American horror franchise including five films created over a span of ten years.
Each film takes on different characters and situations, but the main plot of each Final Destination movie remains the same: someone gets an eerie premonition of how they or their group of friends are going to die. In every instance, no one believes the seemingly crazed warnings of the character in question, with their friends or families brushing off their concerns – that is, until the prediction of doom actually comes to pass.
In July 2023, a similar situation occurred onboard a Chinese carrier when a passenger caused a commotion after he freaked out and claimed that one of the flight attendants was ‘not human’ and that he had seen her ‘change batteries’.
And as though stealing a line straight out of Final Destination, the passenger said that this particular flight had already happened, and it was going to crash just like MH370, and that he was sent back in time to warn everybody.
Ridiculous as the claims were, the flight ended up being canceled due to the anxiety it caused amongst fellow passengers.
The incident also reminds us of the 2001 indie film Donnie Darko, when Donnie was told by a rabbit that the world will end in 28 days, and finds a jet engine from a flight yet to come crashed in his bedroom.
So there you have it – 10 unruly passenger incidents that seem to have been taken out of a scary film.