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Prepare for Landing: The Friendly Skies Competition Winner

DESCRIPTIONPhoto: davidreid

There is a dark side to the popular Freakonomics contest: the allure of Freakonomics schwag can turn otherwise rational, law-abiding people into animals willing to violate any norm of civilized behavior. As a result, there has been skullduggery in our competition in which we asked for your best (or worst) air travel stories. More in a bit.
But first, a couple of entries that are too late for prize consideration but quite amusing nevertheless:

Two summers ago, we were headed back to the US (via London) for my SIL’s wedding. As we changed planes, we were told that there would be a brief delay…which turned into several more brief delays. Finally, the airline admitted that the plane had been struck by lightning on its way over the Atlantic and personnel were calling the manufacturer to see if it was still safe to fly it back. Imagine how thrilled we were (several hours later) to board THAT flight!


On a flight leaving Burbank for Las Vegas, we taxied out to the end of the runway and waited…a long time. Finally, the attendant announced that the plane’s flaps weren’t working and we’d have to taxi back to get them fixed.
Back at the terminal, we waited again, for a long time. Then came the announcement that all was well and we were leaving.
Taxied back to the runway. Waited. And waited. Finally came the announcement: “Well, the flaps still aren’t working, but Las Vegas has a long runway so we really don’t need them anyway. Anyone who wants to get off the plane now may.”
Several people opted off. So of course we had to taxi back to the terminal again to let them deplane.
At last, we took off for Las Vegas. Still flapless.
Rob Lewis


We were on the last flight back to London. 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 tires 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 have to wait until they had got home before they could be recalled to fix the tires.
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 minutes or so, five others had joined in. After an hour, we had nearly twenty people playing. A couple of French 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. Seven hours later than scheduled for a 40 minute flight.
In 1986, I was in a position to commit a large amount of a large bank’s pension fund to Eurotunnel in a private placing. It didn’t seem a great investment, but I was dead keen on the idea of a channel tunnel. We made 4x our money when it was floated several years later.

As commenter Beyond Ken pointed out, anybody who made money off of Eurotunnel deserves not just a piece of Freakonomics schwag but control of a major hedge fund.
Now for the winner. The overwhelming choice of the voters was reader Unbelievable for his tale of frustrated lust at 30,000 feet, the “Mile-Low Club.” However, at the last moment Unbelievable posted a retraction that his story was pure fiction. I guess the author’s name should have told us something.
So no schwag, Unbelievable, but given the reader response to your entertaining yarn it’s clear you will be able to option the film rights for mid-six figures.
In any event, the rules are quite clear: should the winner be unable to fulfill his duties due to 1) falsifying his story, 2) failing a steroids test, or 3) appearing in Penthouse, the second-place vote getter assumes the crown. So congratulations, reader Dave. Your winning entry:

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.

Hopefully, the schwag will make up for the trauma.
Thanks to all who wrote in. And before we move on, for what it’s worth, here’s my air travel story:
Many years ago, at the end of a stint I did working as a travel writer in then-communist Eastern Europe, my brother and I took:

  1. A bus ride from Amsterdam to Paris
  2. The metro from the bus terminal to Orly airport
  3. Flight from Orly to New York
  4. Flight from New York to Boston
  5. Flight from Boston to Cleveland

All of this 24-hour travel marathon was done without benefit of a bed or a shower, and we were college kids coming off a weekend in Amsterdam, so it’s not like we were particularly well-rested even at the start of the journey.
So you can imagine how happy we were to board our final leg of the trip home, the flight from Cleveland to Chicago O’Hare. The flight was blissfully uneventful, and we started our final descent into O’Hare. The landing gear went down. At that point, the pilot came on the intercom to announce that they had discovered that one of the landing gear had been stuck in the “down” position throughout the flight.
This is a lot better than having the landing gear stuck in the “up” position, I’ll grant you. However, the problem was that “the company prefers to deal with this issue in Cleveland.” Therefore, despite the fact that we were already practically skimming the treetops in Chicago, the plane turned around and took us all the way back to Cleveland, where we were forced to deplane and wait hours for another flight. And I thought I’d left communist-style Kafkaesque inefficiency back in Warsaw.
Again, thanks to all the entrants!