Plane Overloaded with Passengers

February 10, 2016

in Odds & Ends Stories

I was travelling back from Nairobi to London, via Paris, with Sudan Air in 1995, having spent six weeks travelling through Africa on the back of an old Bedford Army truck. After that I had no high expectations at all, especially as I had flown with them on the way over previously. However, on arriving at the airport… shambolic is a “really nice” phrase (maybe it’s changed/upgraded since then, but back then, it was spew on a stick).

We arrive at the “gate” (fashioned between an actual room/part of the apron), to find 20 plus people sitting there on the tarmac who had missed their flight(s) from three plus days prior. These guys and gals weren’t going anywhere. So regardless of seat allocation, it was a “free for all,” literally a mob storming that sacred plane to find a seat.

Whilst I did find where I was supposed to be sitting – ironically between a nun and a guy in a full-on safari suit who took up my seat too – I didn’t honestly care too much, as I thought myself lucky to have a seat. The surplus pax, most of whom refused to get off the plane, plunked themselves down in the aisle, arguing that they should have seats due to their cancelled flight and three days hanging out at the airport…

As I was only 17 at the time, a FA came and asked me to sit on an adult’s lap for take off. Ah – NO. Overloaded, the plane took off with grittily determined people who sat on the floor in the aisle – I kid you not. Remember – this is Air Sudan. As soon as we ascended, the row of seats that me, the nun and the safari suit bloke sat in ran back on the rails and straight into the knees of the pax behind us. I had the nun on the left praying, the safari suit guy sweating, and me wishing to sweet Jesus that this steep climb and turn would actually work.

At this point I should add that “hand luggage” on Air Sudan was never restricted. There were more white goods brought onto that plane than in decent restaurant kitchens in London. The guys who sat in the aisle got served first (why not!?), and so I didn’t get to sample the rice and meat dish that day. I don’t think I missed out.

When we arrived in Paris, the male purser began clapping, which set off the FAs and most of the passengers. I realised then that we had probably come slightly closer to death, due to payload, than anyone in charge of the plane had let on.

The moral of the story is… yes, it’s great to find the cheapest carrier. But don’t bank on arriving every time.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Traveler1 February 11, 2016 at 4:50 am

Lol! amusing story but how the hell did you not crash!!?!


patsytp February 19, 2016 at 2:58 am

I have no idea. Never again will fly on any budget African airline.


Melanite March 16, 2016 at 1:33 pm

I had a similar thing happen in college traveling in the then Soviet Union. I was with a college group and we were flying on Aeroflot (aeroflop) from Moscow to Kiev. The plane was overflowing with people and all types of goods. We leave the gate then stop and return. The doors open and a bunch of soviet soldiers came running in making everyone panic. They proceeded to sit in the aisle. We took off and flew to Kiev with the aisle full of soldiers. No meal service (probably a good thing as fish pierogies smell) and no way to get to the bathroom. It was crazy, but we made it after a rough landing.


patsytp March 19, 2016 at 2:56 am

I should have added as the OP, that the flights both ways went via Sudan, which was in the middle of some kind of civil war. On the way to Nairobi, having landed in Sudan, the plane filled with soldiers with machine guns and stood the equivalent of one to every three rows of seats. No water, no aircon for 3 hours on the tarmac, nothing. We could see various "shells" exploding somewhere over the perimeter fence… and to this day Istill have no idea as to why so many armed soldiers were needed to "gaurd" people that were too crap scared to even try and use the bathroom. Or talk.


Krista Kadimi April 7, 2016 at 11:55 pm

Hahahah! Asked a 17 year old to sit on an adults lap!!


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