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Sleeping Passenger Wakes to Find Herself Trapped in Empty, Dark Plane Parked on Tarmac

Deplaning after a flight should be one of the least stressful parts of your trip, since you're likely just happy your journey has come to an end...

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While it may take a while for everyone to get their bags and file out the door, deplaning is usually one of the least stressful parts of your flight. But it turned out to be the most harrowing travel experience of one woman's life, when she woke up and found herself on an empty, dark, and freezing cold plane hours after she dozed off mid-flight.

After boarding a Toronto-bound flight from Quebec City, Canada earlier this month, Ontario resident Tiffani O'Brien fell asleep in the middle of the 90-minute trip, presuming she'd wake upon landing or at least be tapped on the shoulder when it was time to leave. Neither of those things happened, though, and she found herself in the terrifying position of waking up still buckled into her seat and locked inside the airplane, which was at that point dark, empty, cold, and parked far away from the airport terminal. She was essentially trapped.

“I thought, ‘This is a nightmare,’" O’Brien told CTV News in an interview. “‘This is not happening. I’m having a bad dream. Wake up, Tiffani.’"

O'Brien's first move, according to a Facebook post shared later, was to text and FaceTime her friend she'd been hanging with in Quebec City. However, her phone died shortly after she explained what happened. Re-charging it wasn't an option, either, since power to the entire aircraft had been turned off. That's when she panicked.

She tried to radio for help from the cockpit, to no avail. Then she found a flashlight and began shining it with S.O.S. signals out the windows. When no one responded, she managed to open the main cabin door, and considered trying to use the flight attendants' seatbelts to rappel down the significant drop to the ground. The belts weren't long enough, so she dangled partially outside and shined the flashlight onto the side of the plane. 

Fortunately, O'Brien's friend was able to get through to authorities at the Toronto Pearson International Airport and frantically explained O'Brien was trapped on an aircraft. She was later rescued by someone driving a luggage cart and taken to the terminal. When she got there, O'Brien says a representative from Air Canada asked if she was alright, and offered her a limo ride and a free stay at a hotel (she declined).

Though it's been a few weeks since the whole incident went down, O'Brien says she's been experiencing night terrors and frequently wakes up feeling anxious. She says Air Canada reps have since called her twice to apologize and that they're investigating the matter to ensure it doesn't happen again, but it's unclear if they've offered her anything else for her troubles. It turns out that this sort of situation isn't as uncommon as you might think. As The Washington Postpoints out, it's happened at least three times across the US in the last decade.

For its part, the Toronto Airport says it had no part in the "airline’s operational process that would result in such a situation," according to a statement it provided to the Post

For those of us who've always had trouble snoozing in the sky, let this be a lesson that your inability to do so may actually be a blessing in disguise.

h/tThe Washington Post

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Joe McGauley is a senior writer for Thrillist. Follow him @jwmcgauley.