June 24, 2009 -- You enter the airplane and there's the pilot, welcoming you aboard … except he seems to be a little, um, unsteady. What to do?
First, let me note for the record that the vast majority of airline and airport employees are terrific people who work very hard to keep us safe. It's just that, since I chronicled the antics of the worst passengers of the year last month, it was only fair to look at some candidates for the worst employee and we have some doozies.
Anyway, I've been collecting stories -- but keep in mind that the situations I'm about to recount are isolated incidents in the extreme. Some of these people are also just alleged to have done these acts but are included here because -- if proven true -- their actions qualify for this "honor."
Chances are, you will never meet anyone like these losers -- not in a lifetime of travel -- but just in case, see my tips for taming these folks. Ready?
Six Worst Air Travel Employee Nominees of 2009 (So Far)
1. Clueless Child Escorts: Earlier this month, two unknown Continental Express employees guided two youngsters, both traveling solo -- to planes that brought them to the wrong destinations. That's two "missing child" incidents -- in the same weekend. The airline apologized, blamed it on "miscommunication" -- and according to the family of 8-year-old Taylor Williams, offered them a voucher for a future flight. Question: Does that child really want to fly again anytime soon?
Tip: Have a family member travel with children under 12. If that's not possible, equip your child with a cell phone and make sure he or she knows how to use it. Finally, train your child to ask the airline escort, "This is the flight to XYZ, correct?" -- then have the child repeat the question to flight attendants and seatmates once on board the plane.
2. Cargo Traveler: Did you hear about the baggage handler who fell asleep on the job? Unfortunately, the JetBlue employee was in the cargo hold of a plane at JFK at the time -- which then took off for Boston. The 21-year-old man, who was not charged with a crime, said he woke up in midflight and called the office on his cell -- presumably to ask what to do (I'm trying to imagine his supervisor's response -- maybe, "Well, genius, I sure wouldn't open the door!")
Tip: I'm not sure I have a tip for something like this -- except maybe, choose your naptime spots wisely.
3. "Yesh-I-Can-Fly" Pilot: Passengers on Aeroflot flight 315 from Moscow to New York got a scare when pilot Alexander Cheplevsky began slurring his way through the pre-flight announcements. There was a mutiny, and the plane returned to the gate. According to the TimesOnline, airline officials denied the pilot was under the influence of anything, but one official reportedly then tried to reassure passengers that it was no big deal even if the pilot was drunk because "the aircraft practically flew itself."
The pilot said he celebrated his birthday with friends the night before, but says he didn't drink. The TimesOnline also reported that Aeroflot said tests revealed no trace of alcohol in the pilot's blood and the company later issued a statement saying that he could have suffered a stroke just before the flight.
Note: This incident took place on Dec. 28, 2008, but I include in my 2009 round-up since it wasn't publicized until this year.
Tip: I sincerely doubt anything like this will ever happen to you, but if it does, don't wait for fellow passengers to act -- simply stand up and demand to get off the aircraft. Repeat as necessary.
4. Gun at Gate Guy: A Philadelphia-based US Airways customer service agent allegedly helped his roommate take a gun onboard a flight to Phoenix -- by switching cases with him at the gate. Now, says the Philadelphia Daily News, both men have been indicted and face the possibility of stiff prison sentences.
Tip: Obey the law -- and note that firearms can be transported on US Airways and other airlines -- in checked baggage, along with proper documentation. See your airline's Web site for details.
5. Oblivious Tarmac Driver: An anonymous truck driver working construction at Boston's Logan airport was supposed to stop before crossing the runway, and radio for permission to go ahead. He didn't and a US Airways jet roaring down the runway during take-off missed the driver by seconds.
Tip: Can we just agree to always obey the law or work rules or whatever?
6. eBay Entrepreneurs?: Former Northwest Airlines employee Bridgette Bunnell reportedly blew the whistle on fellow (former) baggage handler Jose Trejo Romero for allegedly stealing items from passengers' luggage. The twist, according to the Oregonian newspaper, was revealed in court documents that claimed Bunnell was also in on the alleged scam -- however, she reportedly ratted out her colleague because he was allegedly withholding some of the loot. She is accused of selling her share of the swag on eBay. Both Bunnell and Romero have pleaded not guilty to the charges and a trial is pending in late July.
Tip: Leave valuables at home. If you must travel with them, keep them on your person or in carryon luggage -- never in a checked bag.
And a final tip: airline employees and others who work in the travel industry sometimes have bad days -- just like the rest of us. Sure, courtesy doesn't cure every ill, but try it. It'll take you a lot farther than yelling, that I can promise you.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.
Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations, including ABC News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, The Associated Press and Bloomberg. His Web site FareCompare.com offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deal.