Sleeping passenger left aboard United plane for night at Houston airport

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 December, 2013, 9:42pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 December, 2013, 3:39am


A passenger who fell asleep on a flight to Los Angeles said he awoke to discover himself alone and locked in a dark, empty plane.

Tom Wagner said he was to change planes at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, in the US state of Texas, but staff did not notice him sleeping in a window seat at the rear of the flight from Louisiana before they closed up the jet.

Wagner, 51, called his girlfriend who asked the airline to rescue him.

"I looked down the aisle, there was nobody on the plane," Wagner said on Monday from California. "It was locked up. Lights were off. No motors running. It was like it was secured for the night."

It was locked up. Lights were off. … It was like it was secured for the night

As the captain of an oil platform supply boat in the Gulf of Mexico, Wagner said he was no stranger to bumps and other movement while he slept, so it was no surprise that the landing bounce didn't wake him.

"That's the norm for me," Wagner said. "A little jolt wouldn't bother me."

He said he didn't panic.

"I had to use the bathroom," he said. "I was walking around, had to find the bathroom in the dark." Told he was fortunate the rest room door also wasn't locked, he replied: "They would have had a mess to clean up."

Then he picked up his mobile phone and called his girlfriend, whom he described as "kind of a joker".

She started laughing. "Get me off this plane!" Wagner pleaded. "Stop laughing. It's getting cold."

She called United Airlines in Louisiana, where Wagner had boarded his flight to make a connection in Houston, and was told there was "no way" he was stuck on that plane.

Back on board, Wagner started walking around.

"This is crazy stuff," he told himself.

He reached the front of the aircraft.

"I grabbed the [entrance door] lever," Wagner said. "I thought: I'd better not do that. Let them get me off the plane. So many things go through your head."

Moments later, a couple of maintenance workers coincidentally opened the door and found Wagner there to greet them.

"What are you doing on this plane?" he said they demanded. "Where's your badge?"

So he explained that he was a passenger who had been sleeping, and that he awoke to discover the lights off, the doors closed and everybody gone.

One of the workers got on his radio and Wagner was escorted to the terminal.

By then, he had missed his connection to Los Angeles, although his checked bags made it. He spent the night at a motel near the Houston airport.

Regional carrier ExpressJet, operating the flight for United, said in a statement that it apologised to Wagner for the inconvenience and that the airline was investigating what happened.

Wagner, whose adventure was first reported by Houston television station KTRK, said the airline gave him a US$250 voucher and paid for his accommodation for the night.