He was a passenger with apparent podiatry issues. He had already settled into his seat for an October flight from New York to Miami.
Off came his shoes, then his socks.
"He then begins to PICK at the dead, scaly skin on his feet. I'm not kidding — he used his fingernails to scrape, scrape and pull the dead skin from his heels, his toes, the arch of his foot," wrote the outraged passenger who was sitting within viewing distance of this spectacle.
Another flight and another unusual passenger, this one combing through his straggly beard and eating the strands he pulled out.
'Then, there is a story that's going to have the word cannibal and I'll leave it at that.' —Gregg Rottler, Flightsfromhell.com
"Then, there is a story that's going to have the word cannibal and I'll leave it at that," said Gregg Rottler, a 54-year-old county health officer from Tampa, Fla., and web genius behind Flightsfromhell.com.
For the past two years, Rottler has been compiling strange, offbeat — and just plain gross — tales of air travel woe from upset emailers to his online rant page.
Rottler does not claim to check the veracity of what gets posted.
"But, I don't think you have to make this stuff up," he said.
Not for the faint of heart
In fact, what was a site that attracted a handful of viewing hits each day has received as many as 75,000 readers in a single 12-hour period, Rottler said.
Now, he has a backlog of 500 stories that still need to by read and posted in one of the 16 categories on his site.
There was the passenger who was stuck chatting to an elderly flyer who kept spitting tobacco juice on the writer's white shirt.
"He would begin by apologizing and talking to me while facing forward, but before long I was getting sprayed again," wrote "Chewing Tobacco" on Flightsfromhell.com.
Then, there was the very heavy passenger who bought two fares so as not to inconvenience other flyers but was given seats that were not side-by-side.
"The airline has assigned her two seats across the aisle from each other. She explains that she needs two seats for herself. The flight attendant says 'there's nothing I can do' and tells her she needs to sit down," wrote the woman's business companion, seated three rows behind.
No cash cow
Rottler started the website as a way of doing something interesting away from his work. His spare-time hobby now takes in excess of 30 hours a week, he said.
"I have a very understanding wife," Rottler noted sheepishly.
Flightsfromhell.com has a few ads, enough to keep the site from costing him cash, he said.
"But, I'm not making a whole lot of money. It's a labour of love."
Or perhaps a labour of outrage.
One of the site's first stories was Rottler's own adventure with a behaviourally challenged passenger.
"She had some foam coming out of her mouth" as she strode up the airplane aisle babbling incoherently, Rottler said.
Interestingly, the public's increased interest with Rottler's site comes at a time when the number of air travel complaints registered with government agencies is falling.
|Canada (new complaints)||568||532||680|
|U.S. (unruly passengers)||148||134||203|
|Source: Canadian Transportation Agency, FAA|
In 2004, the Federal Aviation Administration in the United States received 304 complaints about unruly passengers. Last year, that number had fallen to 116.
In Canada, the Canadian Transportation Agency dealt with 568 new complaints from aggrieved flyers in 2007, down more than 100 from 2005's 680 gripes.
Still, Rottler does not appear overly worried as long as people tell their awful stories on his website.
In fact, if you have lousy dinner tales, you can go to his other site, Dinnersfromhell.com.
There, readers can learn about the man nearly impaled by a long wooden pepper shaker that had gone walkabout from a juggling chef.
Indeed, Rottler has registered all sorts of "From Hell" websites (a term also used by Jack the Ripper when he mailed letters to law enforcement agencies who were unable to capture the famous London serial killer, as it happens).
That means, at some point, people will be able to vent online about malodorous in-laws, awful girlfriends or even websites that annoy.
For now, however, Rottler said people will just have to be satisfied with the tales from people like "Mr. Poopy Pants," an air traveller who decided, during a trip from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., that the walk to the in-flight bathroom was too long.
"The attendants were handing out bags of coffee to passengers to mask the smell," Rottler said.