What’s worse than not being able to sleep on a plane? Too much sleep on a plane.

by Janice Hough on December 11, 2013

© Leocha

For many travelers, one of the worst things about traveling is not being able to sleep on the plane.

On the other hand, as a man found out this weekend, the alternative can be worse. He fell asleep on a United Express plane from Lafayette, Louisiana, to Houston, and not only missed his connection, but also he woke up on the plane at Houston Intercontinental Airport, alone and in the dark. The passengers and flight crew had left and the plane was locked.

Fortunately, he had a working cell phone and was able to call a friend. Once the friend realized he wasn’t joking, she called United, convinced the airline she wasn’t joking and got maintenance workers out to open the plane and let him off. United’s initial offer was a $250 voucher and a hotel room, although I would imagine this may go higher.

While some wonder how could a passenger sleep through a landing, I have a personal story about oversleeping through a landing.

Back when I was in college, I’d pulled a few near all-nighters getting ready for exams and conked out almost as soon as I got on the plane for a flight out of San Francisco. I was connecting through Houston and headed to Orlando. I woke up and heard the flight attendance talking about arrival time. It didn’t sound right. She said something about Miami!

When I called her over, she confirmed that we were heading to Miami. We had already stopped in Houston. She was very surprised that it was a problem. It was a DC 10 plane (yes, this was a while ago) and I was on the two-seat side seated next to a man I didn’t know who was probably in his 20s.

But when we landed in Houston, she had seen me sleeping and without asking if we were together, asked the man in the aisle next to me if he was going to Miami. Since he was, she figured, so was I, and let me sleep.

It could have been worse. Miami is at least the same state. The flight attendant directed me upon landing to customer service and they offered to fly me on a flight several hours later to Orlando. But, a discount carrier had a cheap seat for about $29 in an hour, so I just bought my own ticket. (Yes, I should have demanded they reimburse me, at least, but what can I say, I was young.) My bag, of course, was already in Orlando.

I’d like to think this wouldn’t happen now, as airlines and their computers do a better job on seat counts. But as we all know, flying is still an inexact science.

Beyond my own craziness, our office has had a client fall asleep in the waiting area after taking an Ambien. He then was denied boarding because he was so wobbly when his wife woke him up that the pilot thought he was sick. I’ve seen a plane delayed because another man fell asleep in an airport chair and the airline was in the process of taking his luggage off an international flight when he woke up and ran to the gate. Plus, more than one client has dozed off and missed a connection.

(Side note: an easy way to avoid the latter example is setting an alarm on your phone, which is also a good idea if you get distracted and are worried about missing a flight period by being wrapped up in work, a conversation, computer game, etc.)

So, do any Consumer Traveler readers have other stories to add? Either your own mistake-sleepiness or someone else’s? Please share them in comments. If nothing else, we can remind those who can’t sleep while they’re flying that it could be worse.

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