If economy is Guantanamo Bay, first class is a white-collar prison. Despite this, pointy end passengers still have their fair share of complaints.
Randy Pegler, a former Pilot at Northwest & Delta Airlines from 1996 to 2015, once pointed out that the law of averages means the bulk of complaints come from economy. But when first class passengers complain, the sheer audacity of some of their complaints, one might argue, makes up for their rarity.
On that note: here are some of the wildest first class complaints ever.
First off the blocks we have ‘Nutgate’ – an incident that went so viral it now has its own Wikipedia page. This incident took place on Korean Air Flight 086 and involved the airline’s then-vice president Heather Cho (Korean name: Cho Hyun-ah).
The problem? She was pissed off that the flight attendants were serving nuts in their original packaging, rather than on a plate (as she believed they should have been, for first class). She was enraged to the point she ordered the aircraft to return to the gate before takeoff.
After a heated confrontation with the cabin crew chief, Cho assaulted him and told him to get off the plane. This meant the plane had to return to the gate and caused a delay of 20 minutes.
It came out after the incident that serving the nuts on plates was not even part of the airline’s procedures. When the incident made headlines around the world both Cho and Korean air came under heavy criticism and Cho resigned from one of her executive positions (she held several) at Korean Air.
She was later tried in a South Korean court for obstructing aviation safety. She was found guilty and given a twelve-month prison sentence. She served five months. The flight attendant and cabin crew chief eventually returned to their positions.
Another amazing first class complaint from the annals of history is the time two Qantas first class passengers, due to fly from Los Angeles to Melbourne, refused to fly once they realised the airline didn’t have pyjamas in an XL size.
The duo refused a pair of business class pyjamas and insisted they must be given a first class type, in XL. The issue couldn’t be worked out before the aircraft took off, so the angry couple demanded to leave the plane.
The aircraft crew, unable to source first-class pyjamas in that size in time, eventually agreed, and the aggrieved pair walked back into the terminal.
This meant the A380 was delayed for 30 minutes before beginning its 15-hour flight to Australia.
Rather than feeling angry about this, some other passengers on board told Australian media outlets that they laughed their heads off when the captain announced the reason for the delay.
A business class passenger said the captain had no qualms revealing what had happened.
“He said: ‘Just to inform you all, the reason we’ve had the delay is because two of our first class passengers refused to fly on this plane as there were no extra large pyjamas on board for them,'” one passenger said.
The same passenger also claimed that “the pyjama guy” wanted the crew to tell everyone why the plane was late.
“In his mind, he thought everyone sympathised with him…If you didn’t laugh, you would have cried. It was unbelievable.”
Another wild incident is the time a Delta Air Lines flight attendant smashed a bottle of red wine over a first class passengers’ head during a Chicago to Beijing flight. The first class passenger was trying to open the emergency exit at the time.
The passenger is said to have made for the door an hour into the flight and then punched a flight attendant who tried to stop him.
The crew allegedly smashed a bottle of vino over the passenger’s head, before restraining him with the help of other passengers.
According to The Telegraph, “As the scuffle unfolded, the pilot was forced to return to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport where, according to Delta, [the passenger] was taken away by law enforcement officers.”
Another wild ‘complaining’ story comes from Reddit. In a 2016 thread, one Reddit user, who claims to be a first class flight attendant, said that on a flight to Los Vegas a drunk woman spilt her water on a sandwich she bought and came up to the first class cabin to whinge and demand to talk to the captain about it.
“She demanded we compensate her with 5 vodkas and 10 blankets.”
The first class flight attendant said: “As my colleague goes over to wipe the tray table down with some napkins she starts screaming: ‘She punched me, this fucking bitch punched me!’ At that point you are for sure going to be getting a warning card.”
“Three days later this same woman tries to board the plane in Vegas and what do you know 4 of us that were working the original flight are now working this flight and recognise her so she was kicked off immediately for disturbance to flight crew.”
In the same thread Reddit user Balteuss says their godmother was an air hostess who was once asked by a passenger if she wanted to join him in the bathroom.
“She reported this to her very male, very gay, cabin supervisor who proceeded to grab the man by the arm and very loudly offer his services if the man really wanted a cabin crew member. He declined for some reason.”
Another memorable complaint comes from a blogger who was not happy with his first-class seats on British Airways. He was unimpressed with the “scuffed up seat,” leaky air conditioning and – the ultimate insult – “half a hotdog.”
Another blogger, in March 2022, called the staff on his Emirates first class flight “underwhelming.”
Finally, though the following story is business class, not first class, it deserves an honourable mention: the Singapore Airlines business class passenger who griped about the lack of champagne (and not the commensurable decrease in ticket price) during COVID.
“Singapore Airlines should be ashamed of itself for charging so much for a flight that was worth very little. Just like all restaurants which were forced to do take out service at a discount during phase 1, SQ should be charging 30% less for its business flights,” the disgruntled passenger posted on Facebook.
“Singapore Airlines should be ashamed of itself for charging so much for a flight that was worth very little. Just like all restaurants which were forced to do take out service at a discount during phase 1, SQ should be charging 30% less for its business flights.”
“Why?” he then asks, before listing all his complaints.
“No champagne aboard business cabin. How then is my cabin different from economy? You have one red wine, one white wine, tiger beer onboard for business flights. I suppose this is what is also available for economy flights.”
“I don’t understand how having champagne would endanger safe distancing in the cabin.”
He then goes on to list a bunch more grievances, of which we’ll spare you the details.
At least he didn’t become unruly during the flight. As we learnt the other day, you can get fined up to US$81,950 (AU$109,821) for being a dickhead on a flight.