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posted: 4/4/2010 12:01 AM

Insects on planes can drive passengers buggy

Air Pockets

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Did you hear about the recent flight delay out of Miami caused by some pesky travelers who bugged both flight attendants and passengers? They weren't the two-legged variety that board with an attitude. They were cockroaches who set up housekeeping near the cockpit - probably thought that's where they belonged. The plane had to be debugged before continuing its flight to Washington, D.C.

These aren't the first bugs to ground an aircraft. A couple of years ago on a flight from Washington, D.C., to Denver, a passenger discovered a tick sharing his beverage of choice. Apparently he wasn't the only stowaway. Several others were discovered on the aircraft. Because these little bugs can spread Lyme disease and other disgusting illnesses, United Airlines decided to change aircraft in Denver before continuing its flight to Des Moines. It took six hours before the new airplane was ready for boarding. Talk about ticked-off passengers.

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Several sting operations have occurred on aircraft over the past several years. A passenger checking in for a flight from New Zealand felt something crawling up his leg. It wasn't ants in his pants. It was a scorpion, and the passenger almost bit it from the bite.

Over the years, honey bees have caused a buzz on several flights. On a flight from San Francisco to Chicago, a passenger got a bee in her bonnet. It caused quite a buzz when it stung her. Apparently, the young lady is highly allergic to bee stings. Luckily she had an epinephrine kit with her and survived the flight. The bee didn't.

On a flight from Japan to Australia, a bee pre-boarded a flight and settled into his seat just before a passenger took the same seat. It was a painful landing for both of them. However, Australia was more concerned about the species than the sting. If it had cleared customs and managed to start a colony, it could have had huge effects on the continent's own bee population.

All of these insects cause problems for countries as well as airlines. Mosquitoes and flies can cause diseases such as malaria and sleeping sickness. Insects like the fruit fly have destroyed entire agricultural crops when accidentally introduced to a new area.

Countries and airlines try to keep the bugs from stowing away on aircraft. Some airlines spray airplanes with insecticides before passengers board. Some countries require the airlines to spray the aircraft before landing. While these sprays may be toxic to bugs, they can also be toxic to passengers.

One possible solution is a bug curtain. The process puffs air away from the aircraft doors and propels flying insects away from the aircraft. Sacramento International Airport uses the air curtain on passengers when they enter the airport. It cuts way down on their fly and mosquito problems.

Keeping pesticides off aircraft would be a boon to crew members and passengers alike who are concerned about poisons in their environment. It's an inexpensive solution. And it's one way to take the sting out of air travel.

• Gail Todd, a freelance writer, worked as a flight attendant for more than 30 years. She can be reached via e-mail at gailtodd@aol.com.

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