In what travel journalist Christopher Elliott calls one of the most bizarre airline stories he’s ever seen, a US Airways passenger says he was kicked off a flight because he was sleeping with his eyes open.
Gregory Machon has a condition known as nocturnal lagophthalmos, which is said to may affect somewhere between 4 and 20 percent of the population.
As Machon explains it, he was on a flight from Baltimore to Frankfurt last May. After boarding, he pressed the flight attendant call button because he wanted to see if he could move to a different seat. Time passed and no flight attendant appeared, and as the plane taxied down the runway, Machon dozed off.
“After several minutes of sleep, a flight attendant came to respond to the “flight attendant call” button that I had pressed much earlier,” Machon told Consumer Traveler. “She tried to get my attention, but being asleep, I did not respond. She tried again, then touched my shoulder. The physical touch woke me, and I turned to see what she wanted.
The flight attendant found my initial unresponsiveness startling, and assumed it was some sort of medical condition. Although I calmly explained that I had simply dozed off with my eyes open, she insisted that I was not in proper health.
At this point she addressed all of the passengers of the plane, asking if there were any medical professionals on board. Two heroic citizens came to the call – a veterinarian and a pediatric nurse. Even though I doubted their qualifications, I calmly answered their questions in the interest of calming everyone down. I remained patient and explained what had happened.”
Machon says neither of the medical professionals had ever heard of nocturnal lagophthalmos, so they began to speculate about his condition, bringing up numerous possibilities for what could be “wrong” with him. “ Even after I told them that it happens to me relatively often, the very insistent flight attendant joined by the the veterinarian and pediatric nurse (with their combined expertise) concluded that I should be checked out by EMTs. The plane taxied back to the terminal so that I could get off and be checked out. By this time the flight had already been delayed by over an hour due to my situation, and the other passengers were very impatient. They applauded as I stood up out of my seat, which was humiliating in itself.”
EMTs examined Machon and concluded there was nothing wrong with him. He was asked to sign a waiver, and the EMTs gave him permission to get back on the plane. The story doesn’t end there though, Machon told Elliott.
“The flight attendant continued to cause problems. She told the pilot that she was not willing to have me seated in her section, and that she considered me to be a liability. So despite the approval of the EMTs, I was kicked out of the flight, and rescheduled for another one a full 24 hours later.”
Machon says the airline put him up in a hotel that he says he doubts “would earn a half-star rating” and was given meal vouchers totalling $15 for dinner, breakfast and lunch.
US Airways offered Machon a voucher for being ejected from the flight, which he rejected.