The Friendly Skies: Freakonomics Contest Semifinalists

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Last post, I asked you to regale us with your most memorable air travel stories, good, bad or just plain weird. Without further ado, here are the semifinalists in the competition. Vote in the comments section for the lucky winner, who will be awarded a sought-after piece of Freakonomics schwag and the satisfaction of some much-deserved emotional catharsis.


Flight back to Milwaukee from Paris. Switched planes in Cincinnati. Took a bus from the main terminal to the Commuter Terminal for the final leg. The bus hit another bus. The terminal was a large plastic tent. It was July, 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity. We were told to board the plane, then stopped because the toilets weren’t working and had to be fixed. We stood in a confined area in that heat for 20 minutes. We boarded the plane and one of the props stopped spinning as we headed into a thunderstorm. We were getting tossed around so bad I see the soda of the passenger in front of me splash against the ceiling. It turned out that we had an engine fire and had to make an emergency landing. As we landed, the flight attendant yelled “Run for your lives, get away from the plane.” They booked us on another plane. As we went through security, the X-Ray scanner broke and was running backwards. Our next plane was late because of mechanical failures. They lost our luggage. The flight was canceled at the last second and I missed it.

– Dave


A few years ago, I was on a trip home from Tucson via Chicago. The women who sat behind me was a very interesting character.

After the seat-belt sign was turned off, I reclined my chair. For the next 30 minutes or so, it became a battle of her kicking or pushing my seat forward and me reclining it again. I finally turned to her and asked her to stop kicking my chair, to which she responded that there was no room for me on her lap. Once I explained that, due to a back issue, I needed to have the seat reclined during the flight and then reclined my seat, so seemed to acquiesce.

Then the real surprise: She started to spray Binaca in my hair as retaliation. At this point, I decided that a little help from the flight attendant would be helpful, so I pressed my call signal. Her husband helped to diffuse the situation by asking her to act reasonably.

– Kevin


I took a Qantas flight from LA to Melbourne.

We were on the runway in LA, gaining speed for takeoff. We were about halfway down the runway when we heard this huge bang that shook the entire plane. I felt the plane slow a little, only to continue its acceleration for takeoff.

After being in the air for a few minutes, the pilot came on. “One of the tires on the landing gear blew,” he said. “We were initially concerned we wouldn’t be able to get the landing gear up; but everything looks good, so we’re on our way to Melbourne.”

All passengers had the same thought: What about getting the landing gear down!?

15 or so hours later we approached Melbourne. The pilot came back on the PA with this message: “As we touchdown, don’t be alarmed if you see flames, smoke, or flashing lights from emergency personnel waiting for us on the runway. It’s just a precaution.”

Very comforting, thank you.

The pilot landed the plane, and it was quite uneventful – for which the pilot got quite the applause.

We then waited 30 or so minutes on the runway as the emergency personnel hosed down the landing gear of our plane for fear it was going to catch on fire. We later found out from an airport employee who watched us land that the landing gear was red hot, and he was surprised the plane didn’t catch fire when we landed.

After the emergency crews left, the pilot came on the PA and said, “come to find out, we lost hydraulics and can’t steer the plane. We have to be taxied in to the gate from here.” I guess I can’t fault the guy for not telling us this before we landed. The taxi took about an hour to pull us in because the control tower had us land on the strip furthest away from the airport.

And, of course, our luggage was still in LA.

– Adam E.


I’m bald, well overweight, and-I admit it-about as attractive as an old, grizzled uncle.

Except I DID make the Mile High Club. Almost.

Apparently she, a, shall we say, pleasingly plump young lady, was on Spring Break with her more fortunately favored sorority sisters. While they were getting drunk and making trips to the bathroom with some male company-then coming back and giggling about it, I was feeling like the world’s most overlooked man.

I was old. They were young.

I looked like Jack Elam on a bad day. They were stunning, vibrant, and beautiful.

The guys had pecs. I had rolls.

Then this larger brunette, probably around 21-years-old, sitting across the aisle from me-I thought she was the chaperone the way she conducted herself-looked over at me and said, “They’re leaving you and me out.”

Don’t ask me how I had the presence of mind to say it, but I replied, “I would never leave you out.”

I’ve never been quick with responses, and didn’t think that was particularly clever at the moment, but apparently it was all that was needed to boost this young lady’s self-esteem into the I-am-going-to-join-the-Mile-High-Club orbit.

That girl unbuckled her seat belt, tapped my wrist and said, “You coming?”


Then came the “nonchalant” walk down the aisle, just knowing that every person on that plane knew what I was up to-DIRTY OLD MAN!

She went in the bathroom and turned around, looking me right in the eye with what I assume is a “come-hither” look. You can believe my breathing got funny.

But then, when I tried to slip suavely into that phone booth they call a bathroom, my belly hit her belly. Push and compress as much as I might, there was just no way-and there was still enough of my backside sticking out in the hallway to block progress.

There I was, eye-to-eye with immortality and…nothing. Whoever designs the bathrooms on airplanes ought to be horsewhipped! My every teenage dream died with me that day, swallowed in humiliation and an abiding hatred for small people.

– Unbelievable…


Flight from LAX to SYD, flight VA2. Less than halfway through the flight, the flight attendants announced that we’d run out of water – no drinking water, no coffee, no tea, and the bathrooms will be… fragrant. After this, aside from the light breakfast, we didn’t receive any other drink cart service. To top it off, after we landed, they sprayed us with bottles of disinfectant – mumbling something about immigration and contaminating Australian agriculture or immune systems, but I suspect it was that no one had washed their hands after (trying) to use the lavatories for 8 hours. We stumbled off, bleary-eyed, looking for caffeine.

– rk


When we flew to Rome for [our] wedding we paid for a ticket for the wedding dress, since it was cheaper than sending it by courier. This meant that we had a boarding card for Wedding Dress B–n. Since then, we have regularly received marketing literature and “EXCITING OFFERS!” for Ms. Wedding Dress B–n. Never fails to make me smile.)

– Hamed


I was boarding a Southwest Flight and, being a frequent traveler, I was one of the first to get on. After I sat, I noticed the flight attendents were in a good mood. One of the smaller female flight attendents decided to play a practical joke on a passenger and she hid herself in an overhead bin! She closed it, and I waited patiently for someone to open that bin and get quite a surprise. Unfortunately, no one did, but it was pretty funny when she crawled out after everyone had boarded.

I do enjoy it when the crew seems to be having fun.

– Anne


Going to Zambia for volunteer work, we had a choice between flying from London to Lusaka with British Airways or Aeroflot. The latter was 40 percent cheaper so, being a student, I went for that option. The flight went London to Moscow (10 hour layover, but as a plus we did get complimentary borsch!) then Malto, Togo, Angola and finally Lusaka, 36 hours after first take-off. All the Russians on the flight applauded each safe touchdown, explaining it was not a given. Nearly everyone else disembarked in Angola, and for the last leg there were only about 20 of us on the plane. No cabin service. We went up front to find a stewardess and found them all sitting in first class swigging vodka. They had all clocked off due to the length of flight. We also parked ourselves in first class seats, which were like 1970s sofas (including garish wipe clean material) but still the most comfortable seats I have ever flown in. Arrived in Zambia to find we needed to go straight to a meeting in Zimbabwe, so we took a 12 hour bus ride to Harare. We could have flown direct from London to Harare for the same cost as the Aeroflot ticket!

– nickyp

That’s it: Cast your votes for best story in the comments section, and find out the winner next post!




Late entry:
It was 1977, i was 14 and had been with my parents and sister to Paris for the weekend. We were on the last flight back to London on
Sunday evening at about 7pm.
Everything went fine, we boarded, complete; we rolled back and there was a thump. We stopped.
15 minutes later we were told that we had run over something and punctured all the tyres on one side. The cabin crew would be handing out free drinks while we waited for it to be fixed. Big cheers.
An hour later we were told that all the (french) engineers had gone home and that we would hve to wait until they had got home before they could be recalled to fix the tyres.
We were dragged back to the terminal and let off the plane. There were no drinks left on the plane. My father and i fashioned a cricket ball out of some screwed up newspaper and tape and using a brolly as a bat we started to play cricket in the departure lounge. After 20 mintues or so, five others had joined in. After an hour we had nearly twenty peple playing. A couple of Fench staff looked on in bemusement.
Two hours later the game petered out; it was now about 11pm. We were told that it would only be another 40 minutes or so.
Several times.
We took off at 2am and got to Gatwick at 2am. 7 hours later than scheduled for a 40 minute flight.

In 1986 I was in a position to commit a large amount of a lagre bank's pension fund to Eurotunnel in a private placing. It didnt seem a great investement but i was dead keen on the idea of a channel tunnel.
We made 4x our money when it was floated several years later.


Jason kernan

The winner by a country mile has got to be number 4 the near miss member of the mile high club. Talk about suffering a let down! I should also mention number 2 - I hope this comes last! I hate people that recline their seats on a plane, there just isn't the room for that.


Entry 4: Mile Low Club. The author has apparently never heard the phrase, "Where there is a will, there is a way."


Entry 4. Not even close.


Aw snap! I missed the submission deadline. I could have told about how in the summer of 2005 I was on a flight from London to Cleveland and we had to wait on the tarmac for several hours, then get out and wait in the terminal at Gatwick for another 4 hours. Later it turned out that a terrorist had been removed from the flight after it was found that he had brought liquid explosives on board.

That's the closest I've come to being murdered (to the best of my knowledge) and that's also the reason why there are now restrictions on how much liquid you can take on a plane.


Entry 4: It's good enough to be in movies.


Hands down for Entry 4.

Runner up: Entry 1, which seems too much for a single experience.

Fritz Mills

Hands down - Entry 1


Entry 4!

After all, I was the lady in the story.


4, of course!

And to echo Mr. Kernan--I agree. Recline should be disabled when there is someone seated behind you.

marketing idiot



Definitely #4. Sorry, guy. Scarred for life.

Witty Nickname

Why are you even asking for votes when the answer is so clearly number 4?


#4 for sure. As a chubby guy I have to feel for my fluffy brethen.

Eric M. Jones

Comment on 3:

If the aircraft was above a certain speed (usually V1-20 knots) when the tires blew, taking off was the best option. The allowable landing weight is far less that the takeoff weight, which is why planes have to dump fuel in certain emergencies.

I disbelieve 4. And surely there are better stories out there!


yeah, #4 sounds like a kevin smith vignette- and i was a witness to a #2 scenario on a bus- it was absolutely hilarious to see 2 older adults battling with all their might in a recline/not recline war :)


The winner should be Entry 4.

I think Entry 1 had too many tragedies bundled in it to merit credibility. Entry 3, on the other hand, was going along just fine until he added that last bit about the luggage. That overcooked the meat. Reality... that's what we are looking for, not a goofball comedy from Hollywood.



Beyond Ken

I do concur with all those who voted #4, but honorable mention must be made of anyone who managed to make money investing in Eurotunnel .