The 17 most shocking airline stories of 2018

A screenshot of Matthew Meehan's dress shoes covered in dog feces.

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A screenshot of Matthew Meehan’s dress shoes covered in dog feces.
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WNEM TV5/YouTube

  • 2018 was a busy year for the aviation industry, with nearly four billion people from around the world estimated to have used airplanes to travel.
  • While the vast majority of worldwide flights departed and landed without incident, several surprising stories featuring bad behavior by either passengers or crew members made headlines.
  • Here were some of the most shocking airline stories of 2018.

It was a busy year for the aviation industry, with nearly four billion people from around the world estimated to have used airplanes to travel. The Federal Aviation Administration estimates that 43,000 flights are operated into and out of the United States each day.

While the vast majority of worldwide flights departed and landed without incident, there were several times when shocking stories made headlines for the airline industry.

Perhaps no aviation incident gathered more headlines in 2018 than the engine explosion onboard Southwest Airlines Flight 1380, which led to the death of Jennifer Riordan, a mother of two from New Mexico.

Read more: These are the 15 best airports in America

But other airline stories made headlines this year for other, less tragic reasons. They include the Delta Air Lines passenger who stepped in the leftover feces of an emotional support dog, the United Airlines flight attendant who was said to be “drunk and disorderly” while onboard the plane, the monkey who escaped an American Airlines flight at San Antonio International Airport, the man who hopped the fence at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and ran onto the tarmac in his underwear, and, of course, the emotional-support squirrel.

Here were some of the most shocking airline stories of 2018:


A bomb cyclone snowstorm shut down John F. Kennedy International Airport (January)

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Getty Images

Shortly after New Year’s, an epic snowstorm known as a “bomb cyclone” hit New York City, shutting down John F. Kennedy International Airport and setting up a four-day ordeal in which hundreds of flights were canceled and thousands of passengers were stranded, some for days on end. Passengers described themselves as “rationing blankets” and “looking like refugees.”


An American Airlines passenger reportedly had to be duct-taped and zip-tied after allegedly biting and kicking flight attendants (February)

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William Perugini/shutterstock

After allegedly becoming irrational and violent on an American Airlines flight from Dallas to Charlotte in February, an American Airlines passenger had to be zip-tied and duct-taped in order to protect fellow passengers.

That the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force stated in its criminal complaint that the passenger “knowingly and intentionally” interfered with the operating of the flight by “intimidating and assaulting” the flight crew.


A puppy reportedly died in an overhead bin on a United Airlines flight (March)

In a story that led to major changes in airline policy, a 10-month old French bulldog reportedly died on a United Airlines flight after its owners said they were forced to store it in an overhead bin by a flight attendant.

After experiencing outrage from customers, United announced a new pet policy, and two senators proposed a bill to ban animals from being placed in overhead bins.


A one-year-old child flying on American Airlines was reportedly struck in the head after part of the plane’s ceiling collapsed (April)

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A photograph taken by the mother of the one-year-old who got hit on the head by falling American Airlines ceiling panel.
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Jennifer Zanone/Facebook

A ceiling panel and oxygen generator reportedly fell on the head of a one-year-old child who was traveling with his parents from Hong Kong to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on April 7.

Jennifer Zanone, the boy’s mother, reportedly was unable to get the airline to document the incident while she was at the airport, even though she declined medical assistance that was offered by the airline while on the plane.


A Southwest Airlines engine exploded in midair and led to one death (April)

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U.S. NTSB investigators on scene examining damage to the engine of the Southwest Airlines plane on April 17, 2018.
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Reuters File Photo

43-year-old Jennifer Riordan died after an engine on a Southwest Airlines plane exploded in midair, breaking a window of the plane and partially sucking her out the window. She died of blunt trauma to the head, neck, and torso.


A worker fatally stabbed a coworker at Philadelphia International Airport (May)

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CBS/YouTube

One employee of Worldwide Flight Services, a third party working for Frontier Airlines, reportedly stabbed another employee in the secured area at Gate E6 at the Philadelphia International Airport.

Early reports said the two men got in an argument and that the man was “likely” stabbed with a box-cutter.


United Airlines compensated passengers after a “drunk and disorderly” flight attendant reportedly made erratic boarding announcements (May)

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David McNew/Getty Images

Passengers aboard a flight of a United Airlines regional carrier, Trans States Airlines, reported that their flight attendant was reportedly “drunk or stoned” and acting belligerent toward passengers.

The Chicago-based airline compensated all the passengers on the flight “as a gesture of goodwill.”


A monkey escaped his baggage on an American Airlines flight in San Antonio (May)

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WoChit News/YouTube

A monkey traveling from Chicago to an animal sanctuary in San Antonio reportedly escaped from his cage that had been in the baggage area after the flight landed at San Antonio International Airport, and was walking around the airport grounds.

The monkey was eventually caught and brought to the Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary.


A man in his underwear reportedly ran onto the tarmac at Atlanta’s airport, jumped onto the wing of a Delta plane, and pounded on the windows while yelling at passengers inside (June)

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FunCo/YouTube

A man was reportedly arrested at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport after police said he ran onto the tarmac in his underwear and jumped on the wing of a plane.

Police said Jhryin Jones, 19, scaled the wing of a Delta Air Lines plane and pounded on the windows. A passenger told a local TV station that Jones appeared to be yelling at someone inside.

Jones was charged with criminal trespassing, obstruction of law-enforcement officials, and public indecency.


An American woman was dragged off a Korean Air flight after she commandeered a business class seat (July)

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TT News/YouTube

An American woman was reportedly dragged off a Korean Air flight at Incheon Airport outside of Seoul, South Korea, after she commandeered a business-class seat and proceeded to go on an incoherent rant.

The incident took place on July 27 onboard Korean Air Flight 25 and caused the flight to San Francisco to be delayed an hour and 44 minutes.


A man was arrested after he jumped the fence at LAX and started doing push-ups on the runway (August)

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CBS Los Angeles/YouTube

A man was arrested on August 27 after reportedly jumping the fence at Los Angeles International Airport, running onto the runway near a Delta Air Lines plane, and doing push-ups.

When asked what the suspect’s motivation was for climbing the security barrier and reaching the runway, Rob Pedregon, LAX Public Information Officer for Airport Police, told Business Insider that “a combination of mental illness and possible narcotics were involved.”


An Emirates Airbus A380 was quarantined at JFK Airport after 100 passengers became ill (September)

Emirates Flight EK203 was immediately quarantined after it landed at JFK International Airport on September 5. According to the Centers for Disease Control “approximately 100 passengers, including some crew on the flight, complained of illness,” though Emirates later revised the number to 19, with 11 taken to the hospital.

According to the CDC, passengers and crew reported symptoms of coughing, fever, and gastrointestinal illness.


Passengers on a Jet Airways flight ended up with bloody ears and noses after pilots forgot to pressurize the plane (September)

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REUTERS/Amit Dave

A Jet Airways flight from Mumbai to Jaipur, India, was forced to turn back on September 18 after its pilots reportedly failed to pressurize the jet after takeoff, causing several passengers to complain of bleeding from their ears and noses.


A woman was reportedly kicked off a plane for bringing an emotional-support squirrel onboard (October)

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A screenshot of the emotional support squirrel brought onboard Frontier Airlines Flight 1612.
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Fox News 8 Cleveland/YouTube

A woman was reportedly kicked off a Frontier Airlines flight on October 9 after the airline refused to allow the squirrel she was carrying to be considered an “emotional support animal.”

“The passenger noted in their reservation that they were bringing an emotional support animal but it was not indicated that it was a squirrel,” the airline said in a statement provided to Orlando ABC affiliate WFTV.

Fox 8 reported that when the crew explained the policy to the passenger and asked her to leave with the squirrel, she refused. Orlando police were called and the entire plane reportedly had to be deplaned so they could escort the passenger off the aircraft.


A Lion Air plane crashed in Indonesia shortly after takeoff (October)

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Wreckage from Lion Air flight JT 610 lies at the Tanjung Priok port on October 29, 2018 in Jakarta, Indonesia. Lion Air Flight JT 610 crashed shortly after take-off with no sign so far of survivors among the 189 people on board the plane.
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Ed Wray/Getty Images

The worst airline crash of 2018 occurred on October 29, when a Lion Air Flight 610 crashed off the coast of Jakarta, Indonesia, killing all 181 passengers and eight crew members. Data from the black box reportedly shows that the pilots fought to regain control of the plane after a faulty sensor reading caused the automatic system in the Boeing 737 MAX to nosedive.


A passenger stepped in dog feces on a Delta Air Lines flight and the crew reportedly did not assist him in cleaning it up (November)

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A screenshot of Matthew Meehan’s dress shoes covered in dog feces.
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WNEM TV5/YouTube

A passenger on a Delta Air Lines flight claimed he stepped in dog feces while boarding the plane, and the airline did not assist in helping him clean up the mess.

WSB-TV 2 Atlanta reported that passenger Matthew Meehan had stepped in the leftover mess and other passengers refused to sit until it was cleaned up.

“It was feces, and it was everywhere. It was on my seat. It was on the floor. My feet were in it,” Meehan said.

Meehan said that he had asked flight attendants for cleaning supplies and was only given “two paper towels and one of those little bottles of Bombay Sapphire.”


An Air India pilot was reportedly fired by the airline after twice failing a breathalyzer test an hour before he was scheduled to pilot a plane (November)

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AIR INDIA Boeing 787-8 lands at Frankfurt airport.
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shutterstock/Vytautas Kielaitis

An Air India pilot was reportedly fired by the airline after twice failing a breathalyzer test an hour before he was scheduled to pilot a plane.

According to the Economic Times of India, Captain Arvind Kathpalia of Air India Airlines was scheduled to pilot AI-Flight 111 from Delhi to London on November 11 when he failed a pre-flight breathalyzer test and was deemed “not fit to fly.”

After failing his first test, Kathpalia was administered a second test but failed that one as well.

Captain Kathpalia was the airline’s director of operations, a position that left him “in charge of ensuring safe and efficient flight operations.”