Smelly Passenger Who Diverted Flight Passes Away — We Can All Learn Something From This Story

This story gives me some pause.

On May 29, 2018, a Transavia flight from Las Palmas to Amsterdam diverted to Faro after the odor of one passenger caused those around him to vomit and faint. Not surprisingly, an endless number of media outlets picked up the story, because it’s one of those travel stories that at first glance will make most people laugh. There are so many horrible airline stories nowadays, so it’s only natural for people to want to find humor in travel.

But that’s not the end of the story. As it turns out, this wasn’t a guy who was passing gas because he had no respect for the people seated around him, or someone who decided to bring a five course Mexican meal on the plane.

Rather the guy who was offloaded was a 58 year old Russian art-rock guitarist. He was eventually taken to the hospital, and it was discovered that the smell was caused by necrosis, a form of cell injury resulting from the premature death of cells in living tissue by autolysis.

He stayed in the intensive care unit and underwent surgery, and passed away this past Monday, June 25, 2018. Before passing away he wrote the following on Facebook:

“The tragic and comic component of this whole situation is that I caught a disease, which (let’s not say how and why) makes a person quite stinky. As a result, a group of passengers may demand the captain for you to be removed from the plane.”

While I hadn’t written about this exact story because something seemed odd about it to me, it has made me realize that in general I need to hold myself to a higher standard when it comes to the viral travel stories I write about. It goes without saying that there’s a reason so many sites pick up stories like this — it seems interesting/amusing, and it makes a great headline, and therefore is easy pageviews (that’s the truth, regardless of whether most others want to admit it or not).

Now that we have all the details, obviously there’s nothing funny about this story, and many others like it. The only reason they make great headlines and stories is because we have very few details about what happened, and therefore can come up with funny conclusions in our heads. In the future I’m going to take more care when it comes to sharing viral stories like this. I’m not promising that I’ll never write one again, but I’ve been trying to (and will continue to) use better judgment.

For example, on Monday a video went viral of a lady going nuts on a Spirit Airlines flight. She was running up and down the aisle yelling some crazy stuff. When I saw that, I couldn’t help but be sad and feel like the lady clearly needed help. To me that’s not something we should all laugh at. Similarly, I don’t think most media outlets would have written about this “smelly” story if they knew the full circumstances, at least not in the way they did. There’s obviously nothing funny about someone dying due to a rare disease.

I’m curious how you guys feel about this. Where do you think the line is when it comes to writing about these airline stories?

(Tip of the hat to @MeenzMev, featured image courtesy of Alf van Beem)

Comments

  1. I completely agree with you. I saw that story many times on other sites and never clicked on it to read more. That kind of ‘news’ is not what I’m here for!

  2. I am the author of the article on Aviation24.be, when I first heard about the story I was also hesitant to write about it. With all the information now available I felt it my obligation to write the complete story, as some sort of tribute to the terrible faith of the passenger.

    One day a flight I followed got diverted, I asked the spokesperson for the reason and she replied that it was due to a medical emergency and that the passenger sadly passed away. Some things are better kept silent …

  3. I feel sad because the story is sad. And I am one of the many that laughed because as you wrote, no one knew the whole and detailed and most importantly true story. And after reading your article I feel ashamed of myself.

  4. Easy solution: only write about the drunk people getting kicked off planes! It’s their own fault.

  5. We could do with some compassion and conscientiousness in blogging, that’s for sure.

    Humans aren’t the kindest of creatures. Writers have a responsibility in this way to set a tone in their interpretation of events – especially for ones for which they were not present. People’s lives get overturned when someone picks out an unwillingly taken photo and throws it on the internet without appropriate context. Clickbait stories, mob rule, and photos taken and published without consent – it’s beyond rude. It’s shameful behaviour really.

    I wish more people would have some basic respect for others as people because we never know what’s going on in eachother’s lives. But we take the easy route and assume and judge and mock all too often.

    I’d be grateful to see a blog set a better example in that regard.

  6. This blog is not the worst offender, but the whole community of credit-card-remunerated bloggers has become infected with an apparent desire to drive traffic with bad-behavior-on-airplane type posts. These posts are only marginally related to points, miles, or even credit cards but they seem intended to inspire traffic-increasing arguments in the comments section.

    These posts often have the tendency to inflame tensions around some societal issue (sometimes class, sometimes race, sometimes gender). An individual blog often doesn’t take one side or another of the issue, as long as the post generates traffic, comments, and heat they’re happy to post a story that takes either side of a divisive issue.

    Personally, I prefer an environment in which people with different views on these not-directly-related-to-travel issues can unite around a common interest (miles and points) rather than one that constantly produces division in the quest for increased traffic. I find it harder and harder to wade through the increasing number of divisive posts. Earlier this year I took a two month “vacation” from another blog which I felt had become too oriented around “people behaving badly” posts.

    Again, this blog is not the worst offender. I’m posting here simply because Ben raised the subject.

  7. Gotta agree with the guy above.

    It’s comendable to Lucky for posting this and opening himself to criticism.

    But the bottom line is there is such a rush to post and grab views, scores of totally incorrect posts get made and the author is constantly passing nonsensical judgement on things they frankly know very little about. This blog is hardly the worst offender as the guy above says. But, it’s definitely a frequent offender nonetheless. The dynamic is toxic.

    But to Lucky’s credit, I have yet to see any of the other sites saying such a thing. So kudos for that. But yea the amount of clickbait overall is awful, spewing opinions about everything left right and center, it’s not good.

  8. I agree. You HAVE to have a filter (and or a well defined strategy) on what you cover. Keeping it to points and miles is one way of doing it. Do you want to be the Wall Street Journal of travel or the National Enquirer of travel?

    if I want odd, weird, humourous stories about travel, I can see them on needs feeds. I want unique perspectives on travel with miles and points.

    The click bait stuff has to end

  9. I think writing about it in its original article was fine. Look, what if sitting beside him was you, me or your wife. We would absolutely want some form of action taken. Now, we should stop short of judging… In the end, he got the medical care he needed because people spoke up.

    Like I said, writing about it originally was fine… You following up and continuing the story actually finished a very informational lesson for anyone who is open and tolerant.

  10. Just by expressing a willingness to reconsider these types of stories in light of what actually happened you are showing greater integrity than 99% of the people/organizations that publish on the internet. If I were in your position, the thing that would concern me about stories like this is that the details initially published by news outlets is often woefully incomplete or wrong, this applies to all news outlets across the political/idealogical spectrum. ALL of them. Anyone who has been personally involved in a news event and then read the news coverage of it can attest to how poorly most journalists and editors understand what they are actually reporting. This is particularly true when the story involves something technical/complex. Most consumers don’t have the attention span to truly understand it and news outlets have tailored their content accordingly. So, by relying on that and then commenting on it, there’s limited value. Bottom line though, I am impressed that you are evolved enough to reconsider these things, because most of the internet is making bank by post as much as possible about this stuff.

  11. Let me kindly say your post seems quite hypocrite. Most that a few times ive seen comments from you about odd families (old man with not so old women) or others that eat so much… Even more hypocrite when you have an odd family in 5/6 of the world or drink champagne like a cactus in red eye, early morning flights…. The more points in your blog the better :)))

  12. Compassion is always in order, and kudos for your desire to focus on it going forward.

    That said, the story was interesting – the cause and effect of the problem ended up being tragic, but the fact one passenger was able to make others faint and vomit seems to be relevant news for a travel blog.

  13. Who is to say what is stinky? Just the majority getting together and deciding that some smell was bad.

    Just like a majority deciding till a few years back that being gay was not natural. The thing is probably a lot of “open minded, diversity oriented” liberals that champion the right of the minority will also be hypocrites in many situations. Forget about conservatives. They do not have the humility to understand how big a role luck plays, thinking everything is about their hard work and determination.

    So what I am saying is everyone is on the same asshole scale and there is always someone to the left of you who thinks you are a self centered asshole. Yeah even you “oppressed minorities”.

    But coming back, if you stink get yourself checked.

  14. I don’t think there’s need to feel bad about laughing at the initial story. There’s humor in someone being stinky enough to make people vomit regardless of the final outcome.

    As a side note, Intestinal necrosis on the level described in the story isn’t something that just happens without an person noticing an issue. It happens due to disease or as an adverse effect of some medicines – oftentimes due to complications related to treatment for chronic kidney or heart disease. He should’ve been receiving treatment for it much earlier than being forcibly removed from an airplane and taken to a hospital. That’s the sad part of the story to me (but I shouldn’t have to feel guilty if I laughed at the original story).

    On the other hand, I do agree with others who say travel points and review websites should stick to stories about points, reviews, and other travel tips/info.

  15. “…or someone who decided to bring a five course Mexican meal on the plane.”

    Perhaps you could also start by dropping stereotypes.

  16. Was it Necrotizing Fascitis?
    That is a smell so horrible I can’t fault the plane for diverting.

    Necrosis rather implies the cell death/rotting flesh was localized to one area.

    Or maybe he was just patient zero for the impending Zombie Apocalypse. People forget that zombies have needs too.

    Don’t feel so down Lucky, the headlines were definitely giggle worthy.

  17. I did feel guilty when i read this story as i’m one of those who had a laugh at the initial story. Though at the time i questioned how the smell hadn’t been noticed when boarding. This is s a very sad story. Interesting enough the other sites that originally ran with the story haven’t updated it.

    I don’t mind the odd airline stories of someone trying to rap after they’ve had a few drinks.

    Lucky, i don’t remember you posting a story that i felt was innappropriate. So i’d ask that you keep going with your gut and posting that what you think is right because so far it’s been alright.

  18. I’m sure we all can relate to being around smelly passengers on past flights, which was why it was funny at the time. Sadly, this is story had a tragic ending. One is left to wonder if this guy could have been saved if he hadn’t been on a flight that day. One of the unintended consequences of airline high change fees is that sick people often travel.

    I enjoy all the content of OMAAT including the new writers and the occasional crazy story. I wouldn’t change the formula.

  19. There’s nothing wrong with writing about a story like this even as it happens, but it should not be used as a humorous story. When I first read about this I felt like you, something was not right with this person. Not showering for a period of time, being however dirty or gassy, will not produce the same kind of rotting tissue stink that this poor man must have had. Writing about a plane that diverted for a smelly person is not a bad thing. Writing about it in a humorous way is a bad thing, even if it’s just a gas smelly person. Today’s society leans on mockery as our main humor and that’s got to change. We all have our issues and we’re all different from each other…why in the world do we have a need to make fun of someone for it?

  20. I gotta say, you’re really just figuring this out now?

    Viral stories have extreme impacts, and people rarely take a second look.
    People honoring a deceased rapper while completely ignoring or even vilifying the woman he allegedly abused.
    A woman who (deservedly) gets her comeuppance for a despicable act that no child (or race) deserves. But trust that this will go beyond comeuppance and it will impact her too in a way that no human deserves.
    A fast food employee who gets death threats when a story goes viral about him kicking out a girl for a disfigurement. The girl’s family gets a bunch of money, he is tormented, and when the story turns out to be a hoax, nobody looks back and says “sorry”.
    Even the Dr. Dao story impacted people in a way it shouldn’t have.

    Were it me, I’d stay out of the news business (even if travel related). You’re bound to get it wrong sooner or later.

  21. @Debit
    Nature actually has a role in deciding what is “stinky”, and it doesn’t require a majority.

  22. @joepro

    Nature decides the chemical composition. You decide to call it stinky. But more than that assign value judgment to it.

    Most people would be playing with their poop if their parents hadn’t already conditioned from young age to consider it “disgusting”. So people that find other people disgusting are also conditioned to think like that.

    Lots of communities in central America east insects. What you find disgusting they consider food. On the same note most vegetarians in India probably consider beef eating Americans disgusting.

    Compassion and empathy expects you to be able to put yourself in others shoes: Imagine their experiences without actually experiencing it. Humans have that capability. But Humans can also become evil and turn off empathy. Majority preference is just social conditioning.

  23. This sounds like an infection with the bacterium Vibrio vulnificus, which you can get from bathing in hot water.

    See e.g. Katy Galimberti (June 18, 2015). “Flesh-Eating Bacteria Kills Two in Florida as Water Temperatures Rise”. msn.com. Retrieved August 1, 2016.

    It has an extremely rapid course and is often deadly. And yes, it does cause rapid necrosis of muscle tissues

    Hokland, MD

  24. Agreed with your assessment because some us or someone we know have had bad odor at one point or another. 10% of the of the US population have diabetes and the disease is one of the more common causes of body odor.

  25. I see no harm in you reporting these stories, of course not piling on, ridiculing anyone. Its part of our travel experience.

  26. I commend you Ben. It was an “innocent “ mistake but more important than making mistakes is how we handle it when we realize we did wrongly. You’re honest evaluation is absolutely refreshing!
    Cheers! And keep up the good work!

  27. Your respectful reporting results in more clicks for you. Win win.
    It’s still clickbait though.

  28. But we don’t know the whole story to not knowing the whole story as well. He wrote on facebook he did something that gave him a stinky disease. What if he did something awful or did something that makes people not so sorry he died. People die every minute of every day. We can’t feel awful about ourselves just because we didn’t feel awful about a stranger to us who died. Thats 50 percent being jaded and 50 percent being realistic.

  29. Perhaps, just perhaps, this can serve as a cornerstone of consideration. I know farts, gas, bad food odors (durian) may viral stories make, but in this case a horrible tragedy, wrapped in a conundrum of smell has provided us all with something to ponder.

    I know I have smelled a dead body and many have. Necrosis smells the same way, similar to gangrene. Sure some may say you ought to have that checked, but seriously if this were you would you want a story about your medical issues front page on yahoo.com?

  30. People laughed at this story? Really?

    Look, if a passenger is really stinky for whatever reason, is it fair to subject a plane full of people to it? He should never have boarded the flight, and should have gone to the hospital.

    When I was 6, we were on a LHR-MIA flight (I was already a seasoned international traveler by 6) and knew what I liked and did not. One of the things I needed was my mothers attention on tap. 4 kids were traveling alone and one got sick. My mother explained that she needed to take care of the little boy because he was alone. I didn’t like it, she was not having it and she went and looked after him for the whole flight. After awhile I grew to understand the importance of this.

    When I was 7, again on LHR-MIA (Pan Am) A passenger was coughing the whole way to MIA, upon arrival he passed out and was taken off on a stretcher. My sister broke out in a nasty rash that lasted for weeks since she was seated in front of him, it was a horrible trip for her. She hates America to this day….lol. He should not have been on that plane. Luckily I was with my dad in a window aisle seat a few rows away.

    At 9, I was on a MIA-LHR flight as an unaccompanied minor. 2 French ladies on either side of me looked after me the whole flight (I was a little sick and sad). A favour returned by the universe.

    We never know whats going on with others, but if you are sick, try try try not to travel. I know its not always possible.

  31. “Stop overwhelming pc!”

    Since when is compassion and human decency considered being “pc”?

    “you are showing greater integrity than 99% of the people/organizations that publish on the internet”

    Not really, many other sites are also posting follow ups to this article (liveandletsfly, for one).

  32. Remember to be all PC next time there’s a story about a drunk who makes a flight divert. He might be an alcoholic who will die from his disease.

  33. It’s newsworthy because horribly stinky people get on planes all the time….but seldom do they cause those around them to vomit and faint.

    Obviously there was something different here and turns out it was necrosis. Similar to how a diabetic can’t smell their own foot rotting.

    The passenger would have died a lot sooner with no hope for help if he stayed home alone.

    Millions of passengers took a flight that day and in the months since and did not have this experience. It was newsworthy. Post it. Don’t worry about not being 100% PC.

  34. Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of what has turned out to be a tragedy for the victim and his family. I speak from the unfortunate side of experience on necrosis. My brother, who was a diabetic, developed sepsis from a small sore. It quickly became necrotizing fasciitis, spreading mercilessly through his body. He endured many surgeries to remove the tissue, and we endured helplessly watching him die, inch by inch. After attacking his tissues and muscles, it moved on to his vital organs, his bones, his brain. I can’t find the adequate words to describe the horrific manifestations of the disease. I can only be thankful that, at the end, he was paralyzed and couldn’t feel the pain.

  35. Well said. Holding ourselves accountable and to a better standard is really a need of the hour.

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