Flying Off the Handle

Ken Murray / NY Daily News via Getty Images

JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater may be charged with a felony, but he's clearly a hero to many. Within hours of his dramatic exit from an airplane on Monday, Slater had become a martyr for the air-stressed, and perhaps the entire cubicle set.
Being stuck inside a poorly ventilated speeding metal box with hundreds of strangers is a bad scene to begin with. Add an increasingly nickel-and-dime experience in which delays, overcrowding, and short tempers are routine, and you have an ever-present recipe for disaster. Most people adjust (or self-medicate, as the case may be) for a few hours and deal. But some eventually snap. Certainly the air-travel zeitgeist changed on 9/11, but the in-flight zero-tolerance policy has yet to entirely deter the entitled, drunk, or mentally ill (and, apparently, the beleaguered flight attendants) from sparking mayhem. From the naked man in the middle seat to the in-aisle defecator, here are some of the most notable freakouts in recent airline history.

man urinates on girl on flight

Talk about a rude awakening: An 11-year-old girl was sleeping peacefully on Jet Blue’s red-eye flight from Portland, Oregon to JFK yesterday when a drunk man stumbled down the aisle and urinated on her. “I did not realize I was pissing on her leg,” said Robert Vietze, 18, who later admitted he had consumed eight alcoholic beverages. The girl’s father caught Vietze in the act and flipped his lid, cursing at Vietze and preparing to get physical, according to a witness. Flight attendants came to the rescue with liquid soap from the lavatories and escorted the intoxicated culprit to the back of the plane. Upon landing, Vietze was taken into custody where he was issued a summons for indecent exposure and then released.

gerard-finneran Finneran, left, and a bodyguard (Ezio Petersen / UPI-Newscom)

Gerard Finneran seemingly had it all: Investment-bank executive, first-class world traveler, expert in Third World debt. But it was a United Airlines flight in October 1995 that would make him infamous. Finneran boarded a flight from Buenos Aires to New York, and reportedly decided to unwind with a few drinks. At some point midflight, the airline said he became belligerently drunk, and when the flight attendants refused to serve him, he did what anyone in that situation would do: He defecated. On the drinks cart. And smeared feces thoughout the cabin. He was arrested on arrival and eventually sentenced to two years' probation and community service, and was forced to reimburse passengers for the cost of their flight. Finneran's lawyer said his client had had "uncontrollable diarrhea and that what happened on the plane was an accident."


In December 1997, college football player Dean Trammel began walking up the aisle of a US Airways flight from Los Angeles to Baltimore, tapping passengers with a pillow. Trammel, who reportedly claimed to be Jesus, told people, "Touch me and you'll live forever. We're all going to heaven." When flight attendant Renee Sheffer tried to restrain him, Trammel reportedly announced he needed to bless the pilots. As he headed for the cockpit, several passengers (including a U.S. Marine), used seatbelt straps to subdue the 200-plus-pound man, who by this time was biting, thrashing, and speaking gibberish. Sheffer was later taken to the hospital from injuries sustained in the fracas. In FBI custody, Trammel said he had taken LSD before the flight. He was found guilty of assault, but was ordered to do community service and undergo psychiatric counseling rather than go to prison.


John Michael Moody II was apparently in the mood to party when he took a Florida-bound Southwest flight in 2007. "Where's the gay section?" the 43-year-old lawyer reportedly yelled upon boarding, then proceeded to drink with friends from a stash hidden in his carry-on bag, according to an affidavit filed in federal court. Moody then allegedly groped flight attendant Cory Cash, inviting him to make out and join the "mile-high club." Cash rebuffed the advances and, after being showered with profanity-laden insults, reminded Moody there were children on the flight. Moody then picked up a 7-year-old waiting for the bathroom and carried him through the cabin, yelling, "This child?" Air marshals arrested Moody for assault in Jacksonville, Fla. It came out before his trial that Moody was dealing with bankruptcy and the recent death of his sister. He was sentenced to 120 days in prison, ordered to undergo substance-abuse counseling, and disbarred for five years.


Europeans can also get freaky when the bar is closed. After two drunken British women were refused alcohol on a 2008 flight from the Greek island of Kos to Manchester, England, they began harassing passengers and threatening flight attendants with a smuggled vodka bottle. The pair was also accused of smoking in the lavatory. All of which can apparently make you sick; one of the women ran toward an emergency exit and attempted to open the door, shouting, "I need some fresh air." Flight attendants tackled and handcuffed her until the flight was diverted to Germany, where the women were detained by police.

keith-wright Keith Wright sits naked on Flight 705 (Marius Langlete / AP)

US Airways Flight 705 from Charlotte, N.C., to Los Angeles was nearing its destination in June 2009 when passenger Keith Wright began methodically disrobing. He ignored requests from crew members to put his clothes on and allegedly assaulted a flight attendant after she tried to cover him with a blanket. Wright, who told authorities he suffers from bipolar disorder and later said he didn't take his medication, was eventually restrained and handcuffed by two off-duty cops on the flight. The flight landed in Albuquerque, where Wright was arrested. Coincidentally, an unrelated medical emergency--not his bizarre antics--was the initial reason the flight was diverted.

clare-irby Daily Express-ZUMA Press

Guinness scion and socialite Clare Irby had reportedly gone through several glasses of wine aboard a flight from Bangalore, India, to London in 2009 when she decided to get frisky with the man seated behind her (while his model girlfriend slept!). According to passenger and cabin crew reports, Irby was at various stages of undress throughout the flight and in various stages of amour with her new friend. She responded to crew members' pleas for her to behave with profanity and middle fingers. Oh, and Irby's toddler ran through the cabin naked. Her coup de grâce: allegedly flinging a soiled diaper across rows of seats. Irby and her new friend, Daniel Melia, were arrested and charged with gross indecency upon landing at Heathrow Airport. She was acquitted in September 2009.

ivana-trump Peter Kramer / AP

Flying private has its privileges. A few days after Christmas 2009, Ivana Trump was ejected on a flight from a Palm Beach, Fla., to New York after raging at children running around the first-class aisle. When the former Mrs. Donald (who had recently filed for divorce from her fourth husband) could reportedly not be calmed from a profanity-laced tantrum by the crew, the plane returned to the gate, where she was escorted off by Palm Beach sheriffs.  The incident was reportedly not the first time Trump became cranky while flying. She was not charged, and was allowed to board a later flight.

steven-slater Andrew Theodorakis / NY Daily News via Getty Images

As JetBlue Flight 1052 from Pittsburgh to New York taxied toward the gate on Aug. 9, 2010, flight attendant Steven Slater turned a final insult into an opportunity to make a grand exit. A passenger's carry-on bag reportedly hit Slater in the head, and when she chose to later curse him rather than apologize, he took to the P.A. system to curse her back—and quit. Slater then—wonderfully—grabbed a few beers, opened the emergency exit, deployed the inflatable slide, and leapt to infamy. He was arraigned the following day and faces charges of reckless endangerment and criminal mischief.

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