Airline Loses Passenger, Not His Luggage

It’s an all too common story to hear of someone who flies into an airport only to discover that their luggage failed to make the same trip.  It happened to me when I flew back to San Diego in 2000 to defend my Master’s thesis and graduate.  Our luggage finally arrived 2 days after we did, which is why I always carry my computer and important items with me on the plane.

In the case of Tom Wagner, it was the other way around.  Wagner is the captain of a supply boat for oil platforms in the Gulf Mexico.  He was flying from Louisiana to Los Angeles to visit his sister.  His flight had a stopover in Houston where he needed to switch planes.  Being a boat captain, Wagner is used to sleeping in bumpy and moving conditions so on the flight to Houston, he quickly fell asleep.

Hours later, Wagner woke up to a dark empty plane that was all locked up for the night.  Wagner described his reactions, saying:

“I looked down the aisle, there was nobody on the plane.  It was locked up. Lights were off. No motors running. It was like it was secured for the night.”

“I had a little smile: I’ve got to get off here.”

“I had to use the bathroom.  I was walking around, had to find the bathroom in the dark.”

Fortunately for him, the bathroom wasn’t locked.  He said if it was that the airline would have had to clean up a mess on the floor.

Keeping his calm, Wagner called his girlfriend who started laughing.  He told her to call the airlines to get him off the plane.  She called United Express and told them that Wagner was locked inside Flight 4245 in Houston.  They told her that was impossible.

In the meantime, Wagner was walking through the plane thinking this whole thing was just crazy.  When he reached the front of the plane, he thought about trying the door to the plane:

“I grabbed the (entrance door) lever.  I thought: I better not do that. Let them get me off the plane. So many things go through your head.”

Just about that time, a couple of airline maintenance workers opened the door to the plane not knowing that anyone was inside.  They were quite surprised to see Wagner and asked him where his badge was, thinking he was another worker.  After explaining to them that he was a passenger who fell asleep on the flight to Houston, one of the workers called it in over his radio.  They then escorted Wagner to the terminal.

Since he had already missed his flight to Los Angeles and the airlines realized that it was their fault that he wasn’t woken up by flight attendants, they put him up in a hotel for the night, booked him on a morning flight to California and gave him a $250 voucher to use for future flights.

Wagner then described what happened when his flight landed in California and the crew wanted to make sure that he was awake:

“When we landed, they called my name on the P.A.  I said: ‘Yeah, I’m over here.’”

In a final comment, Wagner quipped:

“Could have been worse.  What if I was dead? How do you explain that the next morning? They found a dead body on the plane.”

You would think that standard operating procedure for flight crews would be to do a final walk through their plane before closing it up.  Obviously they failed to conduct that walk through on Wagner’s flight and left him sleeping in one of the rear seats.  Evidently, he doesn’t snore loud enough to be noticed.  This should be a warning to all of you who sleep while flying.  You just may be surprised when you wake up.

The ironic part in all of this is that Wagner’s luggage made it to Los Angeles on time, but this time it was the luggage’s owner that was lost by the airline.