A diamond medallion Delta passenger had a “dehumanizing” experience when forced to either sit in feces or miss his flight.
Matthew Meehan was on the last flight from Atlanta to Miami on Nov. 1, when he realized the plane hadn’t been cleaned properly. But what he thought would be just another stinky flight turned out to be much worse.
“I sit in my seat and I immediately smell something, and I thought, ‘Not another flight that smells bad,’” Meehan tells Yahoo Lifestyle. And he wasn’t the only one who noticed. “I realized the person next to me also had their nose covered,” he says. “And then I went to take my charger out, bent down completely to charge my phone and realized it’s not just a smell, it’s actually feces and it’s all over the back of my legs, it’s all over the floor, all over the wall of the plane. And I sat in it,” he recalls.
He and his seatmate went to the front of the plane to notify the flight crew. As if the excrement weren’t shocking enough, what was even more surprising was the response they got. “The flight crew said, ‘Are you kidding me? We turned that in. I can’t believe they didn’t clean it.’ They knew it was there,” Meehan says.
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20. Hong Kong Airlines
Previous rank: 24
Why it's awesome: Hong Kong Airlines has been on an impressive growth streak over the past couple of years. Not only has it rapidly expanded its global network, the carrier has also worked to improve service and product. Hong Kong Airlines is a subsidiary of China's HNA Group.
Why it's awesome: Royal Dutch KLM is considered the oldest continuously operating airline in the world. Based out of Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, KLM is famous for its bright blue livery and Dutch house liquor bottle figurines. The airline is one half of the Franco-Dutch conglomerate Air France-KLM.
KLM also took home the prize for Best Business Class Seat in Europe.
Why it's awesome: Turkish Airlines is the flag carrier of Turkey and has its main hub at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport. The airline, with its ability to fly to over 100 countries and over 200 cities worldwide, hopes to turn its home base into a global transit hub.
Even though political unrest and security concerns have made life more complicated for Turkish Airlines, the carrier's high-quality service, and product offerings remain unchanged.
Turkish is a member of Star Alliance and had won the Skytrax award for Best Airline in Europe six years in a row before losing the title to Lufthansa last year.
(Photo by Vladimir Shtanko/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
17. Air New Zealand
Previous rank: 19
Why it's awesome: In 2018, Air New Zealand reclaimed the titles of World's Best Premium Economy Class and World's Best Premium Economy Seat from Aussie rival Qantas, the Kiwi carrier remains one of the industry's finest long-haul carriers.
In economy class, families can opt for the airlines innovative Skycouch that transforms a bank of three economy seats into a flat activity area.
Why it's awesome: Austrian Airlines has overcome a series of labor disputes in recent years, with its high level of service intact. In 2018, the Lufthansa-owned carrier, once again, took home the prize for Best Airline Staff Service in Europe. The Austrian flag carrier boasts a fleet of newly renovated long-haul Boeing 767-300ER and 777-200 jets flying out of its base in Vienna.
Economy fliers gave the Star Alliance member high marks for its efficient and effective service, as well as for the wealth of onboard dining and entertainment options.
Why it's awesome: Etihad Airways, based in Abu Dhabi, is the flag carrier of the United Arab Emirates, with its Airbus and Boeing fleet traveling to about 100 destinations. The airline has become famous for its trademark Residence flying apartments as well as its plush first-class and business-class suites.
Why it's awesome: Japan's flag carrier is one of the most respected airlines in the world. Reviewers on Skytrax praised Japan's second-largest airline for its attentive service, well-coordinated ground staff, and comfortable cabin.
For 2018, Japan Airlines once again won the award for Best Economy Class Airline Seat.
(Photo credit should read TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images)
12. Swiss International Air Lines
Previous rank: 14
Why it's awesome: Swiss International Air Lines emerged in 2002 from the remnants of the now defunct Swissair and is now a member of the Lufthansa corporate family. In 2016, the Basel-based carrier became the first in the world to operate the next generation Bombardier C-Series airliner.
Though some fliers found economy seat comfort to be lacking, most praised the cabin crew for its friendly service and the airline for its wide assortment of complimentary adult beverages.
Plus, the complimentary Swiss chocolate is always a fan favorite.
Why it's awesome: Even with strong competition from Virgin Australia, Qantas has been resurgent over the past couple of years. The airline received praise for its strong customer service and in-flight entertainment. And then there's Qantas' calling card — it has a fatality-free safety record in the jet era.
Why it's awesome: Thai Airways has long been an industry leader for quality service, so it's no surprise to find the Thai national carrier high up on the list. Though its most heralded products are its business and first-class services, fliers found its economy seats to be of high quality as well.
Economy fliers on Skytrax also noted the crew's friendly demeanor and delectable dining options.
In 2018, Thai Airways once again took home the award for the World's Best Economy Class, the World's Best Economy Class Onboard Catering, and the World's Best Airline Spa Facilities.
(Photo by C. V. Grinsven/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
9. Garuda Indonesia
Previous rank: 10
Why it's awesome: Garuda Indonesia has experienced a dramatic turnaround in recent years. The Indonesia flag carrier has undertaken extensive fleet renewal and service improvement measures to regain the trust of both fliers and safety regulators.
Economy fliers have raved about the airline's comfortable seats and selection of Southeast Asian cuisine.
In 2018, Garuda's flight attendants took home the award for the World's Best Cabin Crew for the third year in a row.
Why it's awesome: Founded in 1993, Hainan is the only Chinese airline to hold the coveted Skytrax five-star rating. In four short years, the airline surged from 22nd place all the way into the top 10. With a brand-new fleet of more than 160 Boeing and Airbus jets, Hainan is expanding rapidly throughout Asia, Europe, and Australia.
Reviewers on Skytrax praised the airline for its attentive service and quality business class accommodations.
Hainan also won the awards for Best Airline in China and Best Airline Cabin Crew in China.
Why it's awesome: Although Cathay Pacific, based in Hong Kong, fell back one spot from last year, the airline still retains its place as one of the most respected carriers from the Pacific rim. With a fleet of long-range Boeing 777-300ER jets and a business strategy centered on offering a high frequency of flights, Cathay is one of the finest flying experiences in Asia.
Skytrax reviewers gave the airline high marks for seat comfort, service quality, and in-flight entertainment.
Why it's awesome: Taiwan's EVA Air (pronounced ee-vee-ay) was founded in 1989 and is an offshoot of global container-shipping giant Evergreen Group. The Taipei-based carrier has grown immensely in the past two decades and now operates a large fleet of Airbus and Boeing wide-body jets. The airline is credited with pioneering the "premium economy" cabin.
(Photo by Fabrizio Gandolfo/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Previous rank: 4
Why it's awesome: Over the past 30 years, Dubai's Emirates has developed into one of the world's premier long-haul carriers. Operating almost exclusively through its palatial hub at Dubai International Airport, the carrier boasts the world's largest fleet of Airbus A380 superjumbos and Boeing 777 wide-body jets.
Emirates' state-of-the-art in-flight entertainment system includes a wide selection of video and music options on demand, and even allows for live television and sporting events on its "ice" entertainment system-equipped aircraft. In fact, Emirates has taken home Skytrax's award for Best In-Flight Entertainment 14 years running.
Why it's awesome: All Nippon Airways continues its march towards the top of the rankings. ANA is the largest international carrier in Japan and home to one of the world's largest fleets of Boeing 787 Dreamliners. ANA drew high praise from Skytrax reviewers across the board for cleanliness, service, and safety. Many of its planes feature slide-forward-style reclining seats that increase overall privacy, as well as power and USB outlets even in economy.
ANA also won Best Airline Staff in Asia and Best Cabin Crew in Japan.
(Photo by Fabrizio Gandolfo/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
2. Qatar Airways
Previous rank: 1
Why it's awesome: Qatar Airways falls back one spot to second.
The Doha-based airline received praise from reviewers for its seat comfort and in-flight entertainment. In fact, the airline boasts the second best in-flight entertainment system and economy class offering in the world The airline links over 150 destinations across the globe and is expanding its fleet to include the latest generation of long-haul airliners including the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350.
Qatar also took home the award for Best Airline in the Middle East, World's Best Business Class, and Best First Class Airline Lounge.
Why it's awesome: Singapore's standout service makes for a famously pleasant journey during which flight attendants are trained to treat customers with extreme care and respect. Personal TVs with plenty of entertainment options and hot towels served before take-off are just some of the economy perks.
Meehan knows for a fact that Delta planes are required to have a biohazard kit onboard for situations like this. “The Delta representative that spoke with me after the fact told me their protocol is to have a biohazard kit onboard,” he says. “The fact that they either didn’t take it down and offer me something from it to clean myself properly or it was absent completely from the plane broke protocol either way,” Meehan says. “They said they didn’t have one.”
Instead of calling the gate and asking for sanitizing products, Meehan alleges the flight attendant gave him two paper towels and a bottle of gin to clean himself with in the lavatory. “She wanted me to clean myself with regular alcohol, drinking alcohol,” he says.
At this point, Meehan wasn’t sure where the diarrhea had come from — dog or human; he just wanted it off him. “We didn’t know if it was a person who’d gotten sick, an animal who’d gotten sick. … Originally, the flight crew said that it was a German shepherd. And then the gate agent said in his paperwork that it was an older man who got sick upon landing. And now Delta Corporate is saying that it was a golden retriever puppy,” he says. “But to me, it doesn’t matter. It’s feces; it carries disease any way you look at it.”
So, Meehan took the meager cleaning materials into the bathroom hoping that when he came out, his seat would be cleaned. “It got all over my bare ankles,” he says. “They didn’t give me gloves. I had to take my pants off because it’s on the back of my pants, so feces, at this point, is transferring to my hands, with no kind of sanitizing solution to be able to clean anything with, and only one tiny bottle of gin.”
When he exited from the bathroom, to his surprise, they were still boarding as if there weren’t excrement coating parts of the plane.
The Delta representative also told Meehan that “Delta broke protocol in continuing the boarding process once the biohazard was identified and reported” by him. “Once a passenger brings a contagion or biohazard to staff’s attention, you’re supposed to stop boarding entirely,” Meehan says he was told. “And you’re supposed to deboard if possible so that the contagion or biohazard can be properly cleaned without spreading or contaminating others. But they just kept boarding the plane.”
Yahoo Lifestyle asked Delta about its specific protocol for dealing with contagions but has not yet received a response with that information.
When Meehan asked the flight crew for an update, he alleges they said, “If they didn’t clean, that’s not our responsibility, someone from the gate needs to take care of that. We are in the middle of an active boarding. We’re busy. If you want, you can get off the plane and talk to somebody.” So he did.
The gate agent called a manager, who Meehan described as confrontational, while he was trying to remain calm and “not get kicked off the plane.” “I tell her what happened and she said, ‘If the cleaning crew didn’t do their job, that’s not my problem. What do you want me to do about it?’” Meehan alleges. “Very confrontational, like, so what? So I said, ‘Can we get that cleaned up so I can sit down?’ So she says, ‘Sir, it’s almost time for that plane to leave. You can sit in your seat or you can be left behind.’”
Meehan and the manager realized he wasn’t the only passenger upset about this. “At that point, four or five other passengers had gotten up and out of their seats as well, standing at the flight attendant area in front in protest and wouldn’t sit until it was cleaned,” he says. To avoid causing a commotion, the manager had someone clean that area with paper towels. “To my knowledge, they did not use any kind of sanitizing solution, and I was supposed to be OK with that because she quote unquote, cleaned it.”
In situations like these, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends staff “remove any visible contamination and clean and disinfect the area with products approved by your company.” After the flight, the CDC instructs staff to “notify cleaning crew of areas contaminated with diarrhea, vomit, blood, or other body fluids, needing more than routine cleaning or possible removal.”
Meehan tried one more time to ask for the area to be sanitized, but he got the same answer: “She said, ‘We are pushing this plane back, you can either sit in your seat or you can stay behind.’” Meehan had to be somewhere the next morning and this was the only flight that could get him there in time. So he had no choice but to “fester in feces for two hours.”
“It felt like I was an animal tied up, forced to lay in their own feces that you see sometimes in PETA videos,” he says. “It was dehumanizing to be spoken to like that, demanded to sit in a seat full of feces with no care. They care more about getting a plane out on time than the safety and health of the passengers on the plane.”
Since the flight was oversold, he didn’t even have the option of sitting elsewhere. “So we sat there during the entire flight, my row, the rows around me, it still smelled horrific. There was still feces caked into the carpet.” They asked for blankets and covered the seats and floors to try to protect themselves from “contact with the excrements.”
Meehan took this story to social media, and local news outlets have since picked it up. Delta has addressed the issue, as well.
In a statement to Yahoo Lifestyle, Delta said:
“On Nov. 1, an aircraft operating flight 1949 from Atlanta to Miami was boarded before cleaning was completed following an incident from a previous flight with an ill service animal. Delta apologizes to customers impacted by the incident and has reached out to make it right, offering a refund and additional compensation. The safety and health of our customers and employees is our top priority, and we are conducting a full investigation while following up with the right teams to prevent this from happening again.”
Delta also stated that the aircraft was taken out of service to be “deep cleaned and disinfected” upon landing in Miami.
The airline offered Meehan 50,000 miles in compensation. “That’s what I’m worth to them? 50,000 miles? After putting my health at risk along with everyone else on the plane? That’s what people get for signing up for a credit card. It’s not even enough for a flight,” he points out. “Their offer was insult to injury. I wanted to know definitively if it was an animal or person, if it was sick, had they gone to a doctor, why was it diarrhea? What was it? Do I need to go get hepatitis shots? Do I need to get inoculated? And they won’t give me the answers.”
Meehan said he would have appreciated a heartfelt, genuine response, but instead got a scripted, corporate “here’s 50K, now go away.”
That interaction happened last Friday afternoon, and he hasn’t heard from Delta since, he says. “I’m a diamond medallion and a million miler,” Meehan says. “If this is how they treat their top tier, I can’t even imagine how they treat people who aren’t part of the SkyMiles program.”
He may take legal action. “I am waiting for Delta to give me the answers I’ve asked for and to make things right,” he says. “If they don’t, I will absolutely take action.”
After landing in Miami, Meehan was supposed to then fly to Tampa, but says he took a four-hour Uber instead. “I’m just not ready to get back on a plane.”