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Airline 'Ant-mageddon': Biting Ants Torment Travelers On Flight To Newark

Dashed Arrow photo illustration Jen Carlson/Gothamist; original photo Shutterstock

When you think of all the possible infestations, creatures and horrorshows that could suddenly emerge or breakout during a flight—snakes, spiders, spontaneous vomiting, ebola—ants seem relatively minor in the scheme of things. But just take a moment and really imagine sitting in your seat and suddenly seeing dozens of them crawling all around you—and possibly all over you—as you set off on a nine hour cross-continental flight with nowhere else to go. That is the situation one Charlotte Burns found herself in today on a flight from Venice, Italy to Newark on United Airlines.

Burns, executive editor of In Other Words at Art Agency, was still on the ant-infested flight when we spoke to her this morning via Twitter. "It's safe to say I have never had a flying experience like this before, so it was rather unexpected," she said. "And yes, of course it makes me rethink flying United. Ants! On my plane!"

As Burns described in the Twitter thread up above, she was bitten by the "fat little bugs," which she described as being larger than the common carpenter ant, and then saw them between the seats just as the plane was taxiing in Venice. Other passengers started noticing the ants too, and by the time they were up in the air, they seemed to be spreading out more and more.

"Me and the middle aisle guy are standing up like we are the ant enforcers while the senior cabin crew guy rocks up, armed with... a flashlight and a wet cloth. Sure, ant-mageddon might be undone with a lemony rag, why not," Burns wrote.

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Ants crawling overhead (Charlotte Burns)

While she was sent to the back of the plane, the cabin crew took a closer look at her seat for the ants (and wipe it down), the ants kept appearing in other parts of the plane nearby. Altogether, Burns estimated that she had seen at least 100 ants on the plane.

Burns said the flight crew eventually discovered that a bag in the overhead compartment seemed to be ground zero for the infestation.

"The cabin guy does the flashlight thing again in the overhead locker and says, 'I can't see anything,'" Burns wrote. "Me and middle aisle guy say please take the bags out and check beneath. He does. ANTS! Ants lie beneath."

"The guy in front pulls down his case (which btw isn't zipped shut, as middle aisle guy notes to me in an aside) and ants ants ants spill out, running in every which direction," Burns continued. "This is absolutely heeby-jeeby-goose-bumpy-get-me-a-gin-gross. This is where things start to get more inept. They open the suitcase ON THE SEAT! why? Ants running everywhere and guy in front is using his hands as little tweezers, picking them off one by one."

Now several hours into the flight, Burns said her fellow passengers were "just carrying on as normal: there are no spare seats so, on a nine hour flight, at some point you just have to settle in." She believes the bugs were in the bag—and the crew does as well, as they asked whether she was going to "take his details and do anything."

"I said, huh?" she told us. "'That guy: they came from his bag. They weren't on the plane. We've contacted everyone at corporate and this plane needs to be decommissioned and decontaminated. It is going to cost millions of dollars.'"

Could the guy have been carrying an ant farm with him? Or trying out a dastardly social experiment? Burns didn't think so and feels bad for him: "I mean, poor guy! It's probably his bag but it's not like he packed ants on purpose, if they even came from his bag."

The ant plane is still up in the air, but United Airlines has already released a statement saying they were aware of the situation and planning to take the plane out of service after it landed: "We are concerned by the experience our customer reported on United flight 169 from Venice to Newark. We have been in contact with the crew and they have advised the ants have been isolated from a customer’s bag and the affected areas have been wiped down. At this time, the aircraft will continue to its final destination. We will be taking the aircraft out of service when it arrives in Newark."

We'll update when we know more about the ant plane.

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One of the bites from an ant (left); the quarantined bag in question (right) (Charlotte Burns)

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