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When Tiffani O’Brien opened her eyes, she was still in the same place she fell asleep — strapped into her seat aboard an Air Canada flight bound for Toronto.
Only, something wasn’t right. The entire plane was empty, O’Brien wrote in a Facebook post shared last week by her friend on her behalf. She was “freezing cold” and sitting in “complete darkness.” It was around midnight and her flight, which left Quebec City that evening, had landed hours earlier.
“I thought, ‘This is a nightmare,’ ” O’Brien, who is from St. Thomas, Ontario, told CTV News in an interview that aired over the weekend. “ ‘This is not happening. I’m having a bad dream. Wake up, Tiffani.’ ”
But O’Brien says what she experienced was very real, and the Canadian airline is now looking into how a sleeping passenger could have been left behind, the Associated Press reported. Air Canada did not respond to a request for comment late Sunday but confirmed to the AP that the incident did happen.
“We are still reviewing this matter so we have no additional details to share, but we have followed up with the customer and remain in contact with her,” the airline said.
Since going through the event earlier this month, O’Brien said she’s suffered from insomnia and “reoccurring night terrors,” according to the Facebook post, which her friend Deanna Noel-Dale shared to Air Canada’s official page Wednesday. The post identified the passenger as “Tiffani Adams,” but in a message to The Washington Post, Noel-Dale confirmed that her friend’s legal name is O’Brien.
Noel-Dale added that she and O’Brien were declining to comment further on the incident, citing advice from a lawyer.
In the post, O’Brien wrote that she was heading home by herself on June 9 after having “the most incredible time” with Noel-Dale during a weekend trip to Quebec City, located about 160 miles northeast of Montreal. The flight to Toronto Pearson International Airport was only about a quarter full, so O’Brien scored an entire row of seats to herself. O’Brien told CTV News she was seated in 32A, near the middle of the plane.
“I got super comfy reading my book,” she wrote on Facebook, and fell asleep less than halfway through the roughly 90-minute trip.
When she woke up, her nightmare began.
Alone and surrounded by “pitch black” darkness, O’Brien wrote that she initially thought she was dreaming. But reality soon dawned on her: She was trapped on an empty plane.
Grabbing her phone, O’Brien exchanged frantic text messages with Noel-Dale, who had been waiting for her friend to check in after landing, CTV News reported.
“I just woke up alone in plane,” O’Brien texted Noel-Dale at 11:45 p.m., according to messages published by CTV News.
“What?!!!” Noel-Dale responded. “You should almost be home!!!! Nobody woke you up?!!!!”
In another text, Noel-Dale asked if O’Brien could get off the plane. No, O’Brien replied, the door was shut.
O’Brien tried to FaceTime Noel-Dale, but her phone died mid-call. Unable to find any working outlets because the plane’s power had been shut off, O’Brien said she started to freak out.
“Since I can’t charge my phone to call for help I’m full on panicking [because] I want off this nightmare asap,” she wrote.
She made her way to the cockpit where she tried to radio for help, but that didn’t work either.
Then she found a flashlight.
“I was so happy,” she told CTV News. “That was like the best moment ever.”
Wielding the flashlight, O’Brien started making “sos signals” out of the plane’s windows, hoping the light would catch someone’s attention. When that didn’t seem to work, she turned her attention to the main cabin door, “determined to unlock the door and save myself,” she wrote.
When she got the door open, O’Brien said she could see the lights of the airport in the distance, and realized the plane had been parked overnight far from the terminal. With a 40- to 50-foot drop between her and the tarmac, O’Brien wrote that she desperately searched for a rope and thought about using the flight attendants’ seat belts, but found that they were too short. Instead, she resorted to “hanging out the door reflecting the flashlight off the side of the plane.”
Meanwhile, Noel-Dale told CTV News that after losing contact with O’Brien, she called the airport.
“I said ‘My friend is trapped on the airplane, in the dark, locked in and she just woke up. I need someone to go and get her,’ ” Noel-Dale said.
On Facebook, O’Brien said she was rescued by someone driving a “luggage cart.” Once she got to the terminal, a representative from Air Canada asked O’Brien if she was okay and offered her a limo and a hotel, which she wrote that she declined. Following the incident, O’Brien wrote that Air Canada called her twice to “apologize for my inconvenience” and said the company would investigate.
Toronto Pearson International Airport did not respond to a request for comment late Sunday. In a statement to CBS News, an airport spokesman said, “We are aware of this passenger’s story and we can certainly empathize with the concern she must have felt.”
“I’m asking for help,” O’Brien wrote in the Facebook post. “I would really like to find out if anyone had been through this too [because] 10 days later and I am still a wreck.”
In fact, there have been several instances of sleeping passengers getting left behind on planes in past years. In 2010, a British law professor flying on Air Canada’s regional discount carrier, Air Canada Jazz, was awakened by a mechanic after the plane was taken to a hangar at Vancouver International Airport, ABC News reported. The same year, a Michigan woman who fell asleep during a flight from Dulles International Airport to Philadelphia was trapped for more than three hours after landing, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. In 2013, a Louisiana man also found himself stuck in a dark, locked plane at Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport after he slept through landing, ABC News reported.
O’Brien wrote that she continues to be affected by her experience and now struggles to sleep, often “waking up anxious and afraid” that she is alone and trapped “some place dark.”
“It’s just a sheer sense of helplessness when you feel like you’re locked on this aircraft,” O’Brien told CTV News, “and you have no connection to the outside world.”
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