I love visiting different cities but I can't stand planes. Like, I absolutely adore and am fascinated by airports, yet getting into those massive flying vehicles is a special form of punishment I despise. From the moment you walk through the gate into the aircraft and smell that nauseating stale stench of humans-cramped-in-a-tight-space-that-seriously-lacks-oxygen, the transportation experience tends to just go more downhill from there.
Because then you're faced with tiny seats (seriously, why do they keep diminishing in size?), the lack of food, the passive-aggressive flight attendants with their arbitrary agendas (We seldom serve peanuts but we'll definitely have them on board if someone allergic is traveling — what!), and the 90 percent guarantee that you'll get sick before you land (if you're me) from breathing everyone else's germs. And these are just some of the amazing perks you can look forward to next time you hit the friendly skies.
And the airlines and staff all have to be fully aware of what a strange concept it is to propel oneself in the air across thousands of miles with other strangers, because, I mean, they spend several hours a week facilitating journeys, and are usually quite congenial and pleasant-sounding when they get on the loud speaker.
Which is why it doesn't surprise me one iota that they only tell us half of what's actually going on up there in the sky. If I were a pilot, I'd probably tell my passengers even less than that, for fear of someone setting off a chain reaction of panic attacks aboard my aircraft and that freaking me out to the point where I lose the ability to control the plane.
That's why it's amazing to read a trove of collected stories from former pilots themselves, who've shared the horrifying events they had to deal with in the air that they never revealed to their passengers.
Scroll down below for 8 of the most intense almost-accidents that thankfully never happened.
"We get paid by the minute."
I'm an airline captain and on this particular day I was flying a CRJ-900 into the Washington National Airport. We were on an arrival but due to VIP movement (the president) they took us off of our route with the intention of having us enter a holding pattern over east Maryland.
As we were turning around on the holding pattern, think of it as a big oval with 10 mile sides, we noticed an aircraft coming down the same route we were just in, at our altitude, roughly 10,000 ft. They were 20 miles away and we only saw a blip on our screen. Keep in mind that at 10,000ft we're doing close to 300mph, so a closing speed of 600mph. We got sight of them as we got closer and we had to turn to fly on the other side of the oval.
By now we're about 5 miles away, turning towards each other closing at 600mph, so I instinctively put my hand on the yoke and autopilot disconnect button. At about 3 or 4 miles, ATC issues a traffic alert and gives me an immediate left turn and to descend. So I click it off and start handflying. At that same moment the TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System) starts yelling "Traffic! Traffic! Climb! Climb!" So I do what I'm trained to do and fly the TCAS maneuver.
We probably came within two miles, maybe less, from colliding. Not that we would've since I saw the Southwest 737 and would've evaded had we gotten closer, and the TCAS did its thing right.
So, since the TCAS told me to climb I got to 11,000ft within a few seconds and leveled off. Then what do you know? A second airplane! TCAS starts freaking out again and telling me to descend, so I did.
We explained the situation to ATC and the controller sounded extremely embarrassed and apologetic.
Ooohh and when we were getting off some of the passengers asked what the commotion was about. The FA told them that its because we get paid by the minute (true) and we wanted to milk the clock since we were early, in a playful manner of course.
How's this for appreciation.
The first time I flew a plane, I nearly crashed into the helicopter I went heli-skiing on the day before. For some reason they only operate on their own frequency so we didn’t know they were there, and they didn’t know we were there. The flight instructor took over and it ended up being fine. Quite a shock though.
"I must have dreamt that we all almost died."
Not a pilot, but was onboard a helicopter (as a Marine) when this happened. We were coming back to the ship super late, pitch black. We’d been humping around a jungle for weeks leading up to this. Most of us were sleeping when all of a sudden I feel the aircraft nose up violently before leveling off and crashing to the deck in what felt like a one second span. I swear, out of the 30 of us non-flight crew, I was the only one that noticed anything amiss. For days everyone was telling me I must have dreamt that we all almost died. Eventually I said something to one of the flight crew about it and he was all “oh sh-t, you didn’t hear?” Apparently the pilot just kinda zoned out as we were landing; at the last second he realized we were coming in too fast, jerked back on the stick to slow us down, and “landed” a lot harder than we should have. Barely avoided a tail strike. He had played it off like everything was normal and the rest of the crew just went along with it in the moment, but they record everything on the ship, so within a day the pilot had to explain himself. For some reason they only spoke to the flight crew, not any of the 30+ Marines who were also on the helicopter, but even if they had, none of them would have even known anything was up. I felt like I was taking crazy pills.
"I didn't eat that much."
Private pilot here. Flying a small 4-seater about a year after getting my license at 17 to take may parents to lunch at Harris Ranch in BFE central California. There’s a small runway next to a monstrous cattle farm that has a delicious restaurant that I swear they must walk the cow straight into the kitchen and out on a platter.
When we left Sacramento, the seating configuration was my small-framed mother and myself up front, and my 275-lb. dad in the back. This led to a center of gravity to the rear situation that required me to set the trim forward to stay level or the nose would keep drifting up.
Flight to HR was uneventful and we had a wonderful lunch, but for the return trip we decided that my dad would sit up front and my mom would move to the back. Stupid 18-year-old me didn’t follow every step of the preflight checklist and I forgot to retrain the controls to neutral before taking off.
Started down the runway for takeoff and as soon as I hit speed, I realized my mistake that with the new weight distribution the CG shifted forward, as well as the controls trimmed forward, I pulled back on the yoke to rotate and it didn’t budge. Never in my life has 1000ft of remaining runway suddenly appeared to reduce to nothing. To make things worse, the end of the runway was an elevated road leading to an overpass with cars on it.
I literately wrapped both arms around the yoke and pulled back with all my strength to get the nose wheel to slightly lift off the runway and the plane slowly inches off the ground. The embankment to the road got closer and closer and I had visions of emergency crews having to scrape us off the surface, leftovers and all.
As we approached it became clear that we were going to just clear the road but I saw a pickup approaching the road and I wasn’t sure we weren’t going to collide. He saw us coming and slowed to a stop and I swear I was able to look straight in his eyes as we cleared the road.
When we were safely clear of trees and obstructions, I was able to let go with one arm and reach down to turn the wheel that trims the controls.
As I was thanking my lucky stars to have survived the day my dad was muttering at me something like, “Very funny. I didn’t eat that much.”
Both he and my mom assumed I was making a joke because my dad ate a huge lunch and thought I was acting like the plane couldn’t take off.
I never told them the truth about how close a call that it actually was, nor did I ever forget to reset the trim before takeoff.
Just a totally normal flying lesson. Nothing to see here.
CFI (Certified Flight instructor) here. While teaching my student how to do a cross country, we got blindsided by two pop-up thunderstorms. There was a 20-mile-wide corridor to fly down back to base, according to flight service, so we cut our trip short and headed home. Played it off cool, said "This is a great time to practice diversion and good decision making" but I was f--king terrified.
Firefighters and police cars are just part of the warm welcome!
Back in the '80s, I was in high school and went to USSR part of an exchange program. We were on a flight from a small airport in Soviet Georgia to Moscow, then home to the U.S.
The flight started normally, about halfway down the runway the pilot slams on the brakes and powers the plane down. Thrown forward, stuff flying all over the cabin kind of fast stop.
As we taxi back around, the pilot, in broken English, explains that technically the airport we are using doesn't have long enough runways, but the airplane has enough power so we're going to do it anyway.
We circle back on the taxiway, get back on the runway, he BACKS UP to the point that the wings are pushing over small pine trees, he locks the breaks and runs the engines up to "full ludicrous speed" to the point that the aircraft is hopping up and down on the landing gear.
He releases the breaks, everyone is instantly slammed backwards into their seats and off we go. I swear he had to bank to miss a tree at the end of the runway but we made it to Moscow.
When we finally flew into Atlanta (on a much larger aircraft) it was the first Aeroflot flight to ever land at Hartsfield so they decided to honor it by deploying the airport fire trucks to spray their nozzles over the plane as it taxied off the runway. Well, they forgot to mention this to the hundreds of family and friends who were waiting for us to return on a concourse they had closed to everyone but us.
So they announce to gathered crowd that your family members are arriving, watch out this window to see the plane land, then deploy the entire airport fire department, cops and everything with lights flashing and sirens screaming. People were freaking out and screaming and then suddenly they started (what looked like) hosing the plane down with fire trucks. It went as you might expect, people were losing their sh-t.
Turns out the airport had radioed the pilots and told them to expect "honors" after they landed but they apparently expected maybe a wine and cheese tray, not a full on crash response. So we lurched to a stop on the taxiway, being hosed down by firetrucks, surrounded by police cars and such with lights and sirens on. Again, the assembled relatives and friends are reacting as expected, not knowing this is all big show for our/their benefit.
On the plane, we're all looking out the windows, flight attendants are running all around, the pilots are coming over the overhead saying, we don't show any fire, I'm not sure what's going here, but we'll just sit here until we figure what's going on.
Finally tower figures out that maybe they should have been a little more specific about the "honorary welcome" and the concourse staff relays to the panicked friends and relatives that the plane is not on fire.
We proceed to the gate and everyone is happy.
It's a bird, it's a plane...
I'm a helicopter pilot. I was doing a tourist flight and was flying low (~ 50 ft) in between rock formations to impress my passengers and give them a nice time. I've done this flight multiple times, everyone always love that low pass and I usually love it too, except this time I saw a prey bird flying higher than us right over our flight path and I was unable to diverge as I was lower than the walls around me. You have to know that most birds usually try to avoid big noisy thing flying near them, they do so by swerving left, right or down. Prey birds are also known to sometimes attack big noisy flying things by diving at them. It all went pretty fast and thankfully the bird didn't do anything stupid like throwing itself into the main rotor. We landed safely a few minutes later and my passengers went on their way without suspecting anything. I'm more careful now when I make this flight.
You gotta take attendance!
Not a pilot but a dispatcher. Back when I was working with Private Jets, we had a customer request a trip from somewhere up north (Detroit I think) to Florida. The crew is waiting for them prior to the flight and their car and driver shows up and starts unloading them on the ramp. The crew takes all the bags and starts loading them into the cargo area of the plane. They also have dogs in carriers so they take them and put them inside with the passengers. Everything up to this point is normal, they take off and start heading down south. About 20 minutes into the flight, the passengers realize they only have 2 dog carriers with them and that they are missing their third dog. They immediately start panicking and ask the crew if they put them in the (unpressurized) cargo. You start to doubt yourself whenever someone asks you about something like that because no matter how sure you are that you didn't, there's always that thought in that back of your head that you are going to land with a dead frozen dog in the back.
Anyway the pilots give me a call and let me know the situation asking for a place to divert to, I give it to them and immediately start making calls. I call over to the FBO where they departed from and ask them if they saw any dog crate left behind, CSR up front says they haven't seen anything so she transfers me out to a line guy, once again they haven't seen anything either. So at this point i'm 90% positive that there is a dead dog on board and about 10% sure these people never knew how many dogs they had in the first place. Well they end up landing and run out to check the back, they open it up and throw everything out of there and what do they find???
Nothing. there's no dog in the back, and there's no dog at the airport they left from. We genuinely have no idea whats happening until the passengers make a call to the car and driver service only to find out the dog has been in the backseat the whole time and he didn't notice. Well passengers don't seem to bothered at this point, they tell him to take the dog back to their house and they continue on without it. So ya passengers fucked up and freaked out but it was all for nothing.