Man falls asleep on flight making connection in Houston; wakes up in dark, empty plane

He woke up at IAH to a cold and pitch-black cabin, and the aircraft doors were locked shut
December 9, 2013 8:40:44 AM PST
A man was flying from Louisiana and had a layover in Houston when he says he fell asleep on the plane and was locked inside.

In an exclusive interview with the passenger, Tom Wagner tells ABC13 Eyewitness News what he did the moments after he woke up to a dark cabin.

It's the fifth largest airport in the nation. More than 40 million passengers flew out of Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport just last year.

"I was coming from Louisiana to see my sister in California. We had a layover in Texas," Wagner said. "I just took my hat off and I took a nap."

And never have we heard of a story like Wagner's.

"I woke up and the lights were out. I was like, what's going on? I thought maybe it was a layover, still on the same plane."

Wagner says he was left all alone on a United Express flight Friday night. He was fast asleep in a window seat near the back of the airplane. Somehow, everyone deplaned, and no one noticed he was still on board.

He woke up to a cold and pitch-black cabin, and the aircraft doors were locked shut.

He thought he was dreaming. When he made a frantic call to his girlfriend, she thought he was joking.

"I called my girlfriend, and she thought I was crazy. I said, 'Debbie I'm locked on the plane.' I said, 'I'm telling you the truth; you better go somewhere and get me off this plane.'"

Wagner says his girlfriend called the airline. After more than half an hour, workers came aboard and were stunned to find the lone passenger.

"I said, 'Don't put the blame on me. I didn't do anything wrong here.' And then they were, like, try to hush-hush, keep it quiet. And they gave me this little package here in a motel room."

United Express is investigating how this could this happen. Once in Houston, no one bothered to wake up Wagner -- not a passenger, flight attendant or pilot. So, he slept.

"They didn't sweep the plane," Wagner said. "I mean, who shut the door?"

Saturday afternoon, Expressjet issued this statement to Eyewitness News: "An ExpressJet passenger remained on board flight 4245, operating as United Express from Lafayette, La. to Houston on Friday, Dec. 6, after all passengers had deplaned. ExpressJet is investigating to determine how this occurred. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience this caused for the passenger."

The airline said there was a post-flight walk-through that was done, but the company couldn't explain how they missed Wagner.

"Let this be a lesson. It was incident enough. It was a faux pas," said James Conway with Global Intel Strategies Inc.

Conway is a former FBI agent and a counterterrorism expert. He says the incident is alarming.

"If an individual is going to be missed, what about a package or a backpack or a piece of luggage that could pose a threat to the aircraft on the next flight?" Conway asked.

United Express had a similar incident in 2010. A woman in Philadelphia was left on a plane for hours.

"What if I had a medical condition or something? What if I had a heart attack and I was dead? You just shut the plane and leave someone on there? It's the way I look at it," Wagner said.

Wagner told us he missed his connecting flight, but United Express got him to his destination in California. They did not refund his ticket, but they did put him up in a hotel room and give him a $250 voucher.

We reached out to the Transportation Security Administration. A spokesperson said Wagner was not a security risk since he was checked by agents in Louisiana.

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