How exactly does a passenger get on the wrong flight?

How exactly does a passenger get on the wrong flight and go unnoticed for hours?That's the question that Chris...

Posted: Dec 28, 2017 12:38 PM
Updated: Dec 28, 2017 12:39 PM

How exactly does a passenger get on the wrong flight and go unnoticed for hours?

That's the question that Chrissy Teigen and many others are asking in the wake of a passenger mix-up that caused a Tokyo-bound flight to return to Los Angeles after eight hours in the air.

An LA-to-Tokyo flight turned around Tuesday because of a passenger who wasn't supposed to be on board

Flight mix-ups are rare, but not unheard of, experts said

Two brothers were both going to Tokyo but were booked on separate flights, two law enforcement sources told CNN. One law enforcement source told CNN the two brothers have very similar names. Somehow, both brothers were allowed to board the All Nippon Airlines flight, even though only one of the brothers was actually booked on it.

In general, it takes a "perfect storm" of errors for a passenger to get past the scanners, flight announcements, gate agents and cabin crew of a modern flight, said Buck Rodger, commercial airline pilot and President of Aero Consulting Experts.

"It is rare. There are a lot of checks and balances in place to prevent it from happening," Rodger told CNN. "But it can happen."

Brian Kelly, a flight aficionado who runs ThePointsGuy.com, came to a similar conclusion.

"It was multiple failures, but it's not crazy to think that it happened," Kelly said.

'I got on the wrong plane'

Jeff Waldman, 35, learned this the hard way a few years ago. Waldman told CNN that all it took was his exhaustion, the ticket scanning employee's inattentiveness, and a little happenstance to create his own flight mix-up.

Back in 2012, he was supposed to take an early morning Virgin Airlines flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles. At the airport, he accidentally lined up at gate 54B -- heading to Dallas -- instead of gate 54A to LA.

Somehow, he had no problem with the ticket scanner and boarded without incident, he said. He then took his seat and, remarkably, nobody came up to ask him to move. Exhausted from his job working nights, he fell asleep for most of the flight.

When he woke up hours later, he felt that he had slept for much more time than it would take to fly to LA. He looked out the window, saw some Texas water towers and heard the pilot mention Dallas. He realized with a sinking feeling that he was about to land in the wrong city.

"It was definitely my fault. I got on the wrong plane. I stood in the wrong line," Waldman told CNN. "But there's certainly a lapse in security or whatever you want to call it, protocol. The airline probably should have noticed."

The airline paid for his flight to LA, he said.

Checks in place

Rodger said that, in general, there are three main checks in place for passengers.

First, there are the gate agents using ticket scanners for each passenger.

Second, there are the repeated announcements from the pilot and flight attendants saying the destination and flight number.

And finally, there are assigned seats. If someone else has a ticket for the seat the confused passenger is in, that would quickly reveal their mistake.

If you get a failure in each of those situations -- a stressed gate agent or broken ticket scanner, an inattentive passenger wearing headphones, and a half empty plane -- then there is the possibility of a flight mix-up.

Indeed, several of Teigen's tweets questioned the efficacy of the ticket scanner -- or, as she calls it, "beedoop machine."

Rodger said those scanners flash red in several situations -- if there's a wrong ticket or if the passenger is in an exit row. It's possible that a rushed agent might not notice and wave someone onto the wrong flight, he said.

Kelly said that the All Nippon Flight mix-up was "not really that uncommon."

"I'm sure All Nippon will be extra careful looking at boarding passes going forward," he said.

Auckland v. Oakland

A flight mix-up figured prominently in the 1992 movie "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York." In the film, the harried McCallister family sprints through the Chicago airport to board a last-minute flight to Miami.

The family's young son Kevin, played by actor Macaulay Culkin, gets lost in the rush and loses his ticket. A flight to New York City is about to take off and Kevin is convinced his family is on the plane, so they usher him on and send him to off to the Big Apple. Shenanigans ensue.

That fictional plot line may have been informed by the real-life story of "Wrong-Way Mike." Back in 1985, a 21-year-old Sacramento community college student named Michael Lewis was returning to the United States from a three-month vacation in West Germany, according to the Los Angeles Times.

He was supposed to fly from London to Los Angeles, transfer and fly to Oakland, California. Instead, he misheard an announcement, and boarded a flight from London to Auckland, New Zealand.

"They didn't say Auckland. They said Oakland," he told the LA Times. "They talk different."

The airline flew him home from Auckland at no charge, and the mistake made Lewis a minor celebrity. He even appeared on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson, according to the Times.

Even in the post-9/11 age of travel security, mix-ups like this continue to occur from time to time.

Barbara Corcoran, a businesswoman and TV personality on ABC's "Shark Tank," wrote in The New York Times that she accidentally took a flight from Washington, DC to Syracuse, instead of New York City, in 2005. She was running late and rushed to the airport gate, barely making it onto the plane, she wrote.

"But when I got to my seat, someone was sitting in it. The attendant just told me to take another seat," she wrote.

Corcoran noticed the flight took longer than she expected, and that the pilot kept talking about the weather in Syracuse, but she didn't think much of it, she wrote. Finally, she recognized her mistake after she asked a cab driver to take her to Manhattan and he asked for hundreds of dollars in cash for the fare.

"I got angry thinking he was just trying to take advantage of me," she wrote. "I went back into the terminal, composed myself, and then had the moment of clarity where I put everything together. No seat. A Syracuse weather report. A cab driver who wanted a king's ransom. I wasn't in New York City. I was in Syracuse."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 314710

Reported Deaths: 7254
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21646260
Hinds20369416
Harrison17949309
Rankin13643278
Jackson13450246
Madison10113217
Lee9986174
Jones8384163
Forrest7689152
Lauderdale7198240
Lowndes6403148
Lamar623686
Lafayette6203119
Washington5341134
Bolivar4802132
Oktibbeha462998
Panola4596107
Pearl River4519146
Marshall4450103
Warren4393121
Pontotoc420872
Monroe4115133
Union411176
Neshoba4031176
Lincoln3969110
Hancock379586
Leflore3498125
Sunflower336290
Tate334784
Pike3327105
Scott316274
Alcorn313368
Yazoo311770
Itawamba300577
Copiah297465
Coahoma295579
Simpson295388
Tippah288768
Adams286982
Prentiss280060
Marion269380
Leake268473
Wayne262841
Grenada261587
Covington259881
George248148
Newton246862
Winston227581
Tishomingo227067
Jasper221148
Attala214473
Chickasaw208057
Holmes189174
Clay185554
Stone182833
Tallahatchie178941
Clarke178080
Calhoun170932
Yalobusha164638
Smith162534
Walthall134245
Greene130633
Lawrence128724
Montgomery127142
Noxubee126734
Perry126338
Amite123142
Carroll121829
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis107133
Tunica105726
Claiborne102430
Benton100025
Humphreys96733
Kemper95828
Franklin83923
Quitman81116
Choctaw76418
Wilkinson67531
Jefferson65728
Sharkey50217
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 539829

Reported Deaths: 11038
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson798271529
Mobile41261809
Madison35132506
Tuscaloosa25915455
Shelby25294249
Montgomery24705593
Baldwin21392310
Lee15987172
Calhoun14569319
Morgan14422280
Etowah13918353
Marshall12275225
Houston10641282
Elmore10147206
Limestone10065151
St. Clair9946245
Cullman9761194
Lauderdale9457243
DeKalb8865188
Talladega8339176
Walker7260278
Autauga7001108
Jackson6836112
Blount6771139
Colbert6320135
Coffee5578118
Dale4876113
Russell445138
Chilton4369113
Franklin426282
Covington4138118
Tallapoosa4044153
Escambia394777
Chambers3590123
Dallas3568153
Clarke351461
Marion3137101
Pike311977
Lawrence302698
Winston275773
Bibb264564
Geneva254078
Marengo249665
Pickens234862
Barbour232056
Hale223978
Butler219069
Fayette212662
Henry189643
Cherokee184645
Randolph182442
Monroe178141
Washington167739
Macon161150
Clay157157
Crenshaw153557
Cleburne149641
Lamar143236
Lowndes140553
Wilcox127430
Bullock123242
Conecuh110829
Coosa109228
Perry107826
Sumter104932
Greene92634
Choctaw61024
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High pressure will continue to dominate our weather forecast for the end of the weekend. We will see our area filled with plenty of sunshine but clouds will be on the increase into the evening hours. There will be some changes for the start work week in our weather forecast as low pressure brings back some chances for showers and thunderstorms.
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