My own airline disaster stories 35



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Do you remember where you were on 14 September, 2001?

I was in Melbourne and about to fly to Sydney. I had arrived at the airport in plenty of time but found that my flight had been cancelled. Actually, not just my flight but the whole airline had been cancelled. Ansett Australia – an Australian icon since 1936 – had gone bust costing 16,000 staff their jobs.

It was an inconvenience for me but a shattering experience for the staff. Waiting for me when I finally made it home was the glossy Golden Wing Club magazine which advised me to book early for Christmas and, rather ironically, informed me that my impressive total of Frequent Flyer points would now allow me to fly free to…well, nowhere actually.

Over the years I have had some memorable in-flight experiences.

Once, flying Air New Zealand from Auckland to Hawaii I was upgraded to first class which was great although the downside was that the staff handling the catering was on strike so there was no food at all apart from small packets of stale peanuts. Undeterred by this and determined to enjoy the other privileges of first class travel, I spent most of the nearly ten hour flight quaffing French champagne.

I have no actual recollection of leaving the aircraft or of going through customs and I only more or less snapped out of it when I left the terminal and got into a taxi and discovered I was sitting behind the wheel. Yes, I forgot they drive on the other side of the road there.

A nightmare trip in the late 1970s saw me transported from Moscow to Tokyo by Aeroflot, then the wholly State owned Soviet Union airline. For about 11 hours we bounced around and the ageing Tupolev aircraft – already more than 20 years old – creaked and groaned as if it was in actual physical pain.

All pilot announcements were in Russian so I didn’t have a clue what was happening. The stewardesses looked like front row forwards in very bad drag and the only food on offer was something that looked like cold cabbage with flecks of something red. It was slammed down on my table with such force that most of it left the bowl and ended in my crotch and there it stayed. I would rather have starved to death than sample it.

All too frequently on international Qantas flights, cabin crew seem to regard Australian passengers – as opposed to passengers of other nationalities – as somehow second class.

Once I was called “mate” several times by cabin crew while an Asian gentleman sitting next to me was called “Sir”. He found all of this hugely enjoyable and couldn’t stop smiling. I had to ask him why. He told me in perfect English that he lived in Sydney, was an Australian citizen and, in fact, his family had lived in Australia for more than half a century.

“Tell that to the steward,” I said through gritted teeth – and he did, which elicited the response, “That’s nice Sir”. When I wanted my coffee replenished I casually said, “I’d love another cuppa digger” which, in turn, got a puzzled frown but, at least, it seemed that I was no longer a “mate”.

I’ve decided that next time I’m on a Qantas flight and am called “mate” my response will be a look of complete puzzlement and a “I no speakee de Unglish” comment.

A steward on an American domestic airline once asked me if I wanted dinner and I asked, “What are the choices?” to be put in my place with a curt, “Yes you do, it’s yes or no”. I agreed to sample the fare on offer and to this day am not sure what it was other than a large blob or melted cheese with chips (sorry, fries) peaking out. Not for the first time when contemplating airline food, I decided now was the time to start my diet.

It never fails to amaze me that airlines regularly announce that they have new menus which have been devised by internationally famous chefs whose own restaurants have no fewer than 37 Michelin stars and which looks and tastes like the same indigestible muck as their previous efforts.

I’m not one to deny myself a new adventure so I still peel back the aluminium wrap on what I swear are increasingly small food portions with a song in my heart. Bitter disappointment is always guaranteed.

It’s allegedly a true story and not an Irish joke despite happening aboard an Aer Lingus flight. Shortly after takeoff, a steward announced that due to some unfortunate administrative error only forty meals had been loaded for the one hundred and three passengers.

However, he said, “We are happy to offer unlimited free drinks to any passenger who surrenders the right to a meal so that others might eat”.

An hour later he made the same announcement – they still had 40 meals available.


Tell us, what’s the worst flight or travel experience you’ve had?
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Russell Grenning

Russell Grenning is a Brisbane-based former journalist and retired political adviser who began his career with the ABC in 1968 in Brisbane and subsequently worked on the Brisbane afternoon daily, "The Telegraph" and later as a columnist for "The Courier Mail" and "The Australian". He worked for a string of senior Ministers in the Federal, Victorian and Queensland Governments as well as in senior executive public relations positions, including Assistant Federal Director, Public Relations, for Australia Post, Public Relations Manager for the Queensland Department of Main Roads and Principal Adviser, Corporate Relations, for the Queensland Law Society.

  1. That is so funny. I flew to Auckland in my early 20s and before my flight was called to the desk where they said my accommodation had been double booked but they would find me something else in Auckland. I spent the night on an airport bench. Also flying back from UK in my mid 20s flew Air India and had condensation dripping on me the whole way – no spare seats either – Indian water torture it was.

  2. We were actually booked for a holiday in Perth when Ansett went belly up. It was terrible that all those staff lost their jobs.

  3. Oh , blimey what a read ! Just can’t help recalling some more of the stuff from my youth . My first trip , somewhere in Europe I refused the meal because I thought I had to pay for it , ! I had a dodgy fish flying Emirates back in the 90s , spent the whole flight being sick in the toilets . I had an emergency landing in Perth WA , that was amazing , fire engine , ambulances etc chasing the aircraft as it landed ( there was nothing wrong just a faulty light ). More recently flying business with Emirates again I had the toilet door busted open with 4 or more staff and a fire in extinguisher standing outside as I had made the criminal mistake of using deodorant while in there. Think I will give that airline a miss in future

  4. Wouldn’t have been tiger airlines by any change lol

    1 REPLY
    • I flew Tiger earlier this year. My girlfriend dropped me at the airport, got into the terminal and flight had been cancelled due to bad weather in the Gold Coast, that was okay. Then I was in a panic to contact my girlfriend to come back and get me. When I got home, I stripped off and started all over again the next morning 🙁

  5. Loved this thanks. I came out to Australia on an epically long flight 37 hrs the story of which could make the bones of a movie. The worst part was the Aeroflot segment. It was in the 70’s, but the hosties had huge beehive 1960’s hairdo’s, we were given caviar with a card telling us it was the best in the world. The women didn’t check on us at all and when I pressed the button to ask for an orange juice to quench my thirst, a woman stormed down the isle flicked the light off and shouted “no” in Russian. I would rather have tackled an All Black than ask her again, so just suffered in silence. In the airport we were corralled into a roped off area, and when my husband tried to move out to ask why we’re still there standing like spare tools when the time for our connection flight had passed, a juvenile soldier with first flush of bum fluff on his face actually pointed his automatic weapon at him and screamed “no” in Russian. Apparently the only word ever used. We NEVER flew with them again.

    2 REPLY
    • My sister in law, a tiny girl, flew Aeroflot. When she had the temerity to press the button to call the cabin crew a very large very cross woman marched up and with hands on hips demanded what my sister in law wanted. She told me is was quite intimidating!

    • I flew Aeroflot in 1974. I got hauled off and searched in Moscow airport. Thought I was going to end up in a Gulag!

  6. Earlier this year we had the misfortune to fly Emirates. I have heard wondrous things about Emirates but I was left wondering why. We booked to fly from Istanbul to Dubai with a connecting flight to Adelaide. Only after a cancelled Air Canada flight early in our trip caused an email to be sent to us with our new Air Canada flight did we notice the oddity at the end of our included itinerary. We suddenly were going to spend 24 hours in Dubai. Emails to our tray. She got Emirates put us up at a hotel. Flying into Dubai was a new experience as the plane coming down towards the runway suddenly had to surge upwards as the previous plane hadn’t yet cleared the runway. So a few circles were done and down we came then a slow trip through customs a successful hook up with our car service and off to the hotel There wasn’t actually anything wrong with our hotel apart from its resemblance to a Middle Eastern Fawlty Towers, the cafe staff the reception desk couldn’t ever seem to find, a tour hire company whose little vans meant all you could see when they said look to the right or left if sitting on the other side of the vehicle was the roof. All our ticketing still showed us on the connecting flight so we had to explain both in Istanbul and Dubai what was going on. In Dubai we were also told it would be around $170 extra each as we were changing our flight. “No” we explained and started up the iPad to show the attendant our emails. We sat for what seemed like ages for them to get tickets for us which had at that stage not been organised. However I can say Emirates had great staff and I am not sure where or why the stuff ups occurred but despite our grumpiness, I had come down with a cold and was struggling to remain cheerful. the staff were great.

  7. Got jammed in a toilet with a 2 year old and they had to take the hinges off to get us out. And the toilet was full and vety disgusting

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