Sleeping in Airports
Oops Moment

7 Incredible Airport Worker Oops Moments

Who amongst us hasn’t screwed up at work in a way they’d dearly like to forget? Come on, be honest. Perhaps you’ve hit ‘reply all’ to an office email with the opinion that a co-worker is an asshole. Or maybe some delivery labels got switched out by accident, and now Granny’s crotchet set is an S&M bondage kit. Still, no lasting harm done, right? Assuming you don’t mind being ignored and Granny’s heart can take the shock, of course. For those in a safety-critical job at the airport, however, life isn’t so forgiving of such ‘oops’ moments. And neither is the media when they find out, which is exactly how we heard about these shining examples.


Thanks to one crap Hollywood movie, most of us think Air Marshals are all different versions of Liam Neeson: rugged, not-to-be-messed-with individuals with a drinking problem and reckless disregard for authority. In reality, they look like an average passenger (which is rather the point if you think about it), and will probably see out their career dealing with nothing more than drunk idiots. They’re supposed to keep a low profile and, above all, not let anyone know they are armed. One marshal on a Delta flight from MAN — JFK clearly forgot this little nugget, because she went for a pee and neglected to pick up her service pistol afterwards. Luckily, the next person in the bathroom was a concerned citizen and not a would-be terrorist, so the weapon was returned to its rightful owner.


Aviation security relies on an element of mystery to keep Johnny Terror guessing. Agencies go to great lengths to conceal their procedures, often changing them with little or no notice to counter perceived threats. It’s not perfect, but it does act as a deterrent to all but the most dedicated, or most stupid, bad guys. So, when someone in the TSA accidentally published their entire training manual online, that element of mystery disappeared faster than a politician’s promise. Luckily, the mistake was quickly noticed and the information taken down before any potential terrorist could learn how to be incredibly rude to the public.


What’s the worst that could happen to an employee who grabs 40 winks on the job? Maybe the boss catches them and issues a written warning. Or perhaps stoner kids steal all the Doritos from their convenience store. Then again, as was the case with this baggage handler, they could wake up in the cargo compartment of an Alaskan Airlines 737 doing 150mph down the runway.

The noise levels on the tarmac are horrendous, and protection is mandatory. This guy’s ear defenders must have been top of the range because he slept through the closing of the cargo door, the engines starting up, and even the takeoff! It was only once airborne that he started banging to attract attention, forcing the crew to return to Seattle. Luckily for the worker, the hold was temperature-controlled, so he made it back without being turned into a block of ice. With the diversion costing thousands, though, he would have received a frosty reception from the airline.


The jet engine is a wonder of modern engineering, with literally thousands of precision crafted parts assembled by perfectionists. Every component has to function perfectly in tune with the rest, or something like this happens…

Qantas flight 32
Photo source: Australia Transport Safety Bureau Report

Naturally, jet engines are subject to incredible forces during normal operations, and they are designed to withstand those. It’s abnormal forces that are the problem, as these Hong Kong Airlines engineers found out the hard way. For reasons still unknown, during a routine engine change, something went wrong, and they ended up with what scientists might refer to as a ‘rapid, vertical, accelerate-stop situation’. In other words, they managed to drop the damn thing onto the tarmac.


Like many a parent, Lisbon airport was caught out by the liberal attitudes which exist in parts of Europe. In 2015, a television in the baggage reclaim hall went from showing some awful Mediterranean soap opera to screening soft porn. The acting and production values were just as bad, but people noticed because there were definitely more naked breasts involved. Now, anything that brightens up the long wait for a suitcase is to be applauded, but the airport authorities felt this was a step too far. They pulled the plug and issued an apology straight away.


Despite their years of training and experience, professionals still make mistakes: doctors leave medical instruments inside patients during surgery, dentists pull the wrong teeth, airline pilots land at the wrong airport…wait, what? Incredibly, this is indeed a thing, and most events occur when the pilots confuse a nearby military airfield with their destination. They see a runway in front of them and go for it. While it may sound like plain incompetence, this is a known issue with the human brain called ‘confirmation bias’. In simple terms, once the mind is made up, it will ignore any evidence — no matter how blindingly obvious — that proves it wrong. It’s basically like having Donald Trump as your captain.


No, not like that.

Believe it or not, aircrew are human beings too and suffer the same issues with their body clock as passengers. This includes jet lag, lack of appetite, and the irresistible urge to fall asleep. Unfortunately, this urge can occasionally strike a pilot at the controls. To combat this potentially dangerous fatigue, it is common industry practice for one pilot to take a nap during the cruise. The problem is, you’ve guessed it, that sometimes the other guy falls asleep as well. In most cases, this situation only lasts for a brief time before one or the other wakes up. Occasionally, however, something is missed, like a call from ATC, or even the destination airport. This is what allegedly took place on a go! Airlines flight between Honolulu and Hilo, Hawaii. Air traffic controllers were unable to raise the pilots for an incredible 17 minutes, during which time the aircraft overshot Hilo airport by 15 miles, as the autopilot carried on happily out to sea. Eventually, contact was re-established and the airplane turned once more to Hilo where it landed safely. It was lucky they didn’t sleep through much more of their fuel, else they would have been gliding back.