Nominees for the 'Worst Person on a Plane'

Smokers, Cell Phone Cops and the Pantsless All Make Unpleasant Travel Companions

ByABC News
January 19, 2011, 4:44 PM

Jan. 20, 2011 — -- If you're a regular reader of mine, you know I often skewer the airlines, either for their irritating list of fees or the way they make us crazy with their yo-yo airfare pricing.

So every now and then, I like to turn tables and write about some of the things we do that drive them nuts, and when I say "we" I'm talking about passengers.

This past year has seen a flood of nominees for "worst person on a plane"; I've perused some of the more entertaining news reports and now offer up the following six candidates for your reading pleasure.

At the end, I also nominate a "best person on a plane." Be sure to have a tissue handy.

For more travel news and insights view Rick's blog at

1. The Smoker
Last week, a man on a Delta flight from Nice to New York allegedly decided to light up somewhere over the Atlantic, but we all know cigarettes are a no-no so he was confronted by the crew. Things deteriorated from there: he allegedly shoved a flight attendant and later brawled with an air marshal.

His defense, if you can call it that, was somewhat novel: according to news reports, the man kept yelling, "I'm French!" I doubt this will set back Franco-American relations, but our ami has been accused of interfering with a flight crew and was scheduled to appear in court next week.

2. Pantsless Passenger

A 30-year-old San Francisco man aboard a US Airways flight from Philadelphia to Los Angeles last February allegedly entered a lavatory, began screaming and exited with his pants down.

Again, things went from bad to worse, and crew members had to subdue the passenger with a choke hold while the pilot diverted the plane to Pittsburgh.

According to the FBI, the passenger said he ate too many marijuana cookies before take-off; the U.S. Attorney's office in Pittsburgh confirmed he had a legal permit for cannabis consumption for a legitimate health issue. However, I doubt the permit mentions "clothing optional."

This odd one reminds me of the 2008 Brad Pitt movie, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." Back in October, a very old man boarded an Air Canada flight from Hong Kong to Vancouver. Flight crews freaked out when, sometime during the journey, the elderly Caucasian man disappeared, and his seat was taken over by a 20-something Asian man.

It turned out they were one and the same person -- the Asian man had boarded the plane in disguise. Authorities called it "an unbelievable case of concealment," and police suspect it was part of a human smuggling operation. Earlier this month, the old/young passenger was ordered to remain in custody as the investigation continued.

4. Head Games
I guess the nominee here is whoever packed those 60 severed heads that were to be placed on a Southwest flight for shipment to a medical facility. As the airline noted in its oh-so-discreetly titled blog post, "Cargo Shipment in the News," proper packing and labeling policies were not followed in the June incident.

I want to meet the guy who had to open those boxes. That is, if he's recovered yet.

5. Animal Kingdom Roundup
Sometimes, the "worst person on the plane" isn't a head or any other part of a human. I'm thinking of the sedated tiger cub that was found in a woman's checked bag last August in the Bangkok airport -- a real live tiger crammed into a suitcase filled with stuffed tiger toys.

That discovery was made before the flight took off, but such was not the case in an incident aboard Etihad Airways involving a passenger who transported all his "pets" in a carry-on bag during a flight from Abu Dhabi to Jakarta: one squirrel, two parrots and four snakes. How many pets he had left by the end of the flight is not known.

Then there's Mandy. The Manchester terrier also traveled in-cabin during a US Airways flight out of Newark last month, but unfortunately, Mandy's 89-year-old owner allowed the little dog out of its carrier and Mandy ran amok, biting passengers and crew until the flight was diverted to Pittsburgh. Now if I could just get that Barry Manilow tune out of my head…

6. Cell Phone Cop
A teenager on a Southwest flight from Las Vegas to Boise last month was allegedly still fooling with his iPhone after the flight attendant's spiel about turning off electronic devices, so fellow passenger Russell Miller decided to remind him. The 68-year-old man claimed he merely tapped the kid, but media items about the incident used words like "punch," and the police report said the 15-year-old had a visible mark on his arm.

The Idaho Statesman quotes the alleged cell phone cop as saying, "I'm old school. You abide by the rules." Well, not always, and thank goodness for that -- which leads me to the "best person on the plane."

Earlier this month, Mark Dickinson was desperately trying to make it to the bedside of his dying two year old grandson. As first reported by travel analyst Christopher Elliott, the frantic man was hurrying but kept running into airport delays, until he finally sprinted to the gate, shoes in hand, arriving several minutes past his flight's scheduled departure time.

But wonder of wonders, his Southwest plane was still there; as the pilot explained to Dickinson, "They can't leave without me, and I'm not leaving without you."

Southwest has since told me they have identified the pilot but are not releasing his name at this time since he's a bit overwhelmed by all the attention his act of kindness stirred up. Plus, he believes any one of his fellow Southwest pilots would have done exactly the same thing.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and does not reflect the opinion of ABC News.

Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations that include ABC News, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, the Associated Press and Bloomberg. His website,, offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deals.