Airlines Make It Surprisingly Easy to Get on the Wrong Flight

Celeb mom Chrissy Teigen is known for many things, one being her unwillingness to hold back on Twitter. So recently, when she and John Legend were on a flight to Tokyo that was forced to turn around due to a passenger who’d boarded accidentally, Teigen live-tweeted the entire thing. Her tweets raised a lot of questions, the most important one being: How does this happen?

Believe it or not, despite the boarding pass checks and labeled gates, it’s easier than you might think to get on the wrong flights. And airlines don’t really help matters.

Chrissy Teigen’s ‘flight to nowhere’

On Dec. 26, 2017, Chrissy Teigen and her husband, John Legend, boarded a flight for Tokyo at LAX airport. A few hours later, Teigen tweeted:

“A flying first for me: 4 hours into an 11 hour flight and we are turning around because we have a passenger who isn’t supposed to be on this plane. Why … why do we all gotta go back, I do not know.”

As the flight head back to Los Angeles, Teigen made her questions known:
“Why did we all get punished for this one person’s mistake? Why not just land in Tokyo and send the other person back? How is this the better idea, you ask? We all have the same questions.”

This actually happens?

American Airlines airplane taking off at Dallas - Ft Worth (DFW) Airport in Texas.

A surprising amount of people get on the wrong flight. | Aneese/iStock/Getty Images

Teigen’s tweets were met with various reactions, most of them expressing shock that the plane would have to turn around. But it happens more than you might think– in fact, out of the 150,000 flights that departed within 24 hours of Teigen’s infamous flight, 10 of them returned to their destinations, some because of confused passengers.

But how does one board the wrong flight?

Man sitting in airport with backpacks

Everything is very clearly marked and announced. | Saklakova/iStock/Getty Images

If you’ve ever flown before, you know how difficult it should be to get on the wrong flight. The flight numbers and gate numbers are clearly marked, announcements are made, and of course, your boarding pass is thoroughly checked–and scanned!–before you board.

But people get on the wrong planes all the time, typically because there are two flights going to a city with the same or similar sounding name at around the same time, in the same area. And sometimes, the gate agents don’t check as thoroughly as they should, or they let passengers board despite scanning errors.

The case of the 2 brothers

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At least she found the humor in it. | Chrissy Teigen via Facebook

In the instance of Teigen’s ill-fated Tokyo flight, it seems that it was a case of mistaken identity–between two brothers. A U.S. government official with knowledge of the situation reported that two brothers went through security at LAX with proper boarding passes, but were booked on separate flights to Japan on separate airlines. One had a ticket on Teigen’s All Nippon Airways flight, while the man who made the mistake had a United ticket.

Teigen’s tweet on the subject was, of course, hilarious:

“They keep saying the person had a United ticket. We are on ANA. So basically, the boarding pass scanner is just a beedoop machine that makes beedoop noises that register to nowhere.”

‘Wrong-Way Mike’

One passenger heard wrong and ended up on the other side of the world. | Pascal Pavani/AFP/Getty Images

This is far from the first time that an international mixup had occurred. The most famous incident (until now) happened in 1985, when “Wrong-Way Mike” traveled to Auckland, New Zealand instead of Oakland, California. College student Michael Lewis became briefly famous after the incident, even making appearances on The Tonight Show. However, in most cases, the passengers realize their mistake before the plane takes off and are able to get off the flight.

An accident … or not?

Airplane interior, seats

Could the passengers have done it on purpose? | iStock/Getty Images

Of course, since the two brothers on Teigen’s flight were both heading to Tokyo, people have questioned whether or not the man tried to trick the airline in order to fly with his brother. While it is believable that a passenger could board a wrong flight, United Airlines and ANA are very different. But considering there were no arrests made and the airlines won’t provide any further details, we may never know the truth.

Why punish everyone?

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This case was different, but you don’t want to end up somewhere totally random. | Chrissy Teigen via Facebook

The question on the minds of Chrissy Teigen, John Legend, and likely everyone else on the “flight to nowhere” was: Why punish all 150 passengers on the flight by turning the plane around for one person? After all, it was clear that both brothers were heading to Tokyo, so the logical solution would seemingly be to get everyone there and then deal with the situation–or, at the very least, fly the plane to Tokyo and send the “confused” passenger home.

But since they did turn the plane around, that should provide a bit of reassurance to anyone who has this fear–if you do manage to board the wrong flight, take off, and realize in the air that you’re heading to the wrong part of the world, there’s a good chance you’ll get taken right back.

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