It's hard to find someone who really enjoys airplane travel these days. Unless you're lucky enough to travel first class, taking a trip by plane presents limitless opportunities for hassle and discomfort. Even on an otherwise normal flight, you can't control the crying babies, arm rest hogs, or passengers who fill the cabin with their foot smell by taking off their shoes as though they're in their own home. While most people wouldn't think to worry about bugs, Twitter user Charlotte Burns provided the internet with proof that it should definitely be on your list of concerns.
It Started Like Any Other Flight
On her way back from a trip to Italy, editor Charlotte Burns noticed an ant making its way over her pillow, but didn't think much of it. Maybe the ant was also just making its way back from an Italian vacation. Who knows what the life of an ant entails? Literally no one.
But It's Never Just one
As every exterminator or friend who wants to freak you out will tell you, if you see one ant, there's probably a whole lot more you aren't seeing. It seemed that this particular ant had brought his family along for his Italian getaway. After all, Italy is no fun by yourself!
Finally She Says Something
Of all the requests a flight crew probably get before a plane takes off, a warning about ants is probably the last thing they would expect. And if you work in any kind of customer-facing position, you're probably used to a lot of customer concerns that end up not being such an issue.
Maybe It'll Be Fine
Whenever you're on a plane, if the flight crew isn't worried about something, it's easy to assume it's probably not something to worry about. But the appearance of another ant had Charlotte wondering if maybe this was a scenario the flight crew wasn't fully trained for.
The Flight Crew Takes Notice
Finally one of the flight crew sees an ant in action, and decides that they should probably start to worry about the potential for an ant problem on the flight. Surely there's some kind of protocol for dealing with insect stowaways on international flights?
But It Will Have to Wait
Even though they've finally taken notice, the flight crew doesn't think this qualifies as an emergency worth delaying anyone's meal over. Which is fair, as I'm sure it would really rankle the other passengers to have their food kept from them over a few ants.
Suddenly It Becomes an Urgent Issue
Seeing yet another ant sends Charlotte into a state of extreme concern. This is now enough ants that who knows what the ants could be planing. Could they be looking to sabotage the trip? Hijack the plane and hold it for some kind of ant ransom? They could be a whole army on board, after all.
Suddenly There's a Parade
Normally a parade is good news, but not when you're in an enclosed space and that parade is made up of ants. First of all, ants don't even play musical instruments, and they don't build floats, so it's literally just a line of ants making their way to whatever you're eating.
Things Are Getting Real
Charlotte has found herself at something of an impasse. She's no longer distracted by her book, and must now face the reality that she's surrounded by ants. But now she must answer the question of how many ants does it take for a woman to lose her cool in public?
But Now She Has Help
With the help of a fellow passenger, Charlotte is able to finally organize a resistance to the growing ant menace. And their trusty cabin crew has brought out the big guns: wet wipes! Normally, wet wipes wouldn't be the tool of choice when . battling and ant invasion, but maybe it's worth a shot?
Other Passengers Are Confused
Suddenly Charlotte is an airline seat refugee, taking shelter in the aisle of the airplane and trying to continue working on her laptop at the same time. Passengers who are blissfully unaware of the growing ant problem on their flight assume she's just, you know, a crazy person.
Is The Problem Solved?
With few other options, the cabin crew and Charlotte cling to the hope that maybe the lemon cloth made a difference. Though in her heart, Charlotte knows that there's no way the ant menace could've been defeated with a simple seat wiped down. This will require a more organized effort.
Another Passenger to the Rescue
A fellow passenger who Charlotte has dubbed "middle aisle guy" is ready to help Charlotte plead her case, however. He strongly urges the flight crew member to investigate the ant parade he'd seen earlier around the overhead bins. But the crew member is reluctant to move a sleeping passengers bags for a thorough search.
The Sleeping Passenger Is Oddly Calm
The sleeping passenger whose bag might be concealing an ant parade didn't seem too worried about the situation when they woke him up. He seems to be the kind of person for whom seeing an ant on a plane doesn't set off any internal alarm bells.
But the Search Is Still Facing Challenges
It's extremely hard to fight an ant infestation when people are reluctant to move things. Ants, you see, tend to hide underneath things, that you must move if you want to find them. And sure enough, once Charlotte and middle aisle guy introduced this concept to the crew, more ants were found.
What Did This Guy Pack?
The formerly asleep passenger seems to have brought a bag full of ants on the plane. Which is weird, because wherever you're going in the world, they probably have ants there. There's really no reason to bring your own. But also, you really need to seal ants up if you want to bring them places.
Is the Crew on the Side of the Ants?
Suddenly a bunch of bad decisions get made that make Charlotte and middle aisle guy wonder what on Earth the crew and the baggage owner could be thinking. Are they maybe helping the ants? Are they, in fact, thousands of ants inside a human suit planning an ant takeover of the plane?
Not All Passengers Care
Some veteran fliers, or maybe just people who aren't intimidated by bugs, were ready to let it all go. Specifically the woman sitting behind this whole scene, who really couldn't be bothered by the idea that ants were on the plane. After all, they aren't the worst bugs you could be dealing with.
There Are Way Worse Bugs to Deal With
Truly, the worst case scenario for bugs on a plane are bed bugs, which spread like wildfire and are almost impossible to kill. If you're ever on a flight that has bed bugs, find a parachute. Or, never go home, because those bugs will never, ever leave you once you have them.
Now the Cabin Crew Tries to Win Her Over
If you can't beat the ants, you might as well have some wine. At least that's the attitude the flight crew decided to take when it became clear this problem wasn't going to completely go away anytime soon. This is a multi-hour international flight after all.
Sometimes You Just Have to Adapt
Charlotte resigned to her fate, realizing that in an enclosed space without bug spray or the ability to leave, she was just going to have to make a new life with the ants. Maybe the ants would take her in and let her become one with their colony, feasting on sugar and the like.
And No, This Wasn't a Viral Marketing Stunt
United Airlines was sporting a lot of promotion for the new Spiderman movie on this flight, which might make some worry or think that this was all a stunt to draw attention to bugs in general. Alas, this is like the opposite of a viral marketing stunt, this is just bad PR.
And United Was Doing Damage Control Already
Even though she was still hurtling through the air at hundreds of miles an hour in a metal tube full of ants, United's flight crew were already trying to deflect responsibility for the ant crisis. One crew member casually dropped that it was all the other passengers fault.
It's Pretty Out There
But for any other businesses out there thinking of doing this, please know that trying to blame another customer for a poor customer experience is a really bad look. It makes it seem like you don't want to take responsibility for what your customers deal with after they paid you money.
They're Really Going With This Though
Even though this situation is very unique, it's a little weird to honestly expect a customer to believe that bug have never infiltrated planes ever. United has existed as an airline for decades, and bugs have existed for thousands of years, surely the two have intermingled at some point.
And There Were Definitely After Effects to Deal With
As Charlotte learned, ants aren't 100% harmless. Some ants do in fact bite, and people's skin will react to those bites. So of course Charlotte later found she had come off the flight with itchy bumps on her body that would surely take awhile to heal.
And Even as the Story Went Viral, United Held It's Position
In 2019, we like to think that Twitter is the customer's ultimate vengeance, and that going viral means companies have to treat you better. Unfortunately for Charlotte, that wasn't the case. While her story was getting lots of attention, it wasn't enough for United to do anything to make the experience up to her.
But She Did Get to Connect With Her Fellow Upset Passenger
The "middle aisle guy" who helped Charlotte to get her complaints taken seriously revealed himself on Twitter as Imran Shaikh. But all the two of them could really do at this point was commiserate about the fact that they came home from Italy with bug bites and bad memories.
Photographic Evidence Emerges
Even though they hadn't thought to take a bunch of pictures at the time, Imran Shaikh, aka "Middle Aisle Guy" did manage to capture one of the stowaway ants on camera. He shared the image on Twitter so we could all shudder at the image together.
She Took Precautions When She Got Home
Charlotte's experience with bed bugs meant she was prepared to make sure none of the ants followed her home to try and become her unofficial roommates. She heated her bag up in a machine specifically built to help travelers avoid bringing any creepy critters home with them by accident.
United Still Hasn't Done Anything
If you thought this was going to end with United offering Charlotte a discount on a future flight, a partial refund on her ant-filled flight, or even just a public apology, you're wrong. Beyond the free wine she got in the air, the airline has not seem to shown an interest in doing anything else to compensate the passengers. It would seem that ants are just a new thing we might encounter on planes, so flyer beware!