Can this trip be saved? Soaked on my way to LAX

Avoid seat 32J if you’re flying Air Pacific between Fiji and Los Angeles. Jimme Peters had the misfortune of being stuck in it for the 11-hour flight, and she’s got the scars to prove it.

A vent over 32J is leaking, according to Peters — badly.

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The signs of trouble started the moment she boarded. “I noticed paper towels stuffed in the air vents over the top of my seat,” she remembers. “The flight crew came through while everyone was boarding and would dab the water on the ceiling and replace the napkins.”

Occasionally, I would feel a drip, but the flight attendant apologized stating that the air conditioning caused condensation and it would cease upon taking off. I thought it was not a big deal and seemed like a reasonable explanation, so I did not think much about it.

It became a big deal after the flight took off.

A large amount of water dumped on my head, body, floor, and seat until the plane leveled out at altitude. I held a blanket over my head to try to shield my face from the smelly water, but this was lost cause. The water was running through the blanket down my arms and all over my head and torso.

The water soaked me clear through all my clothes and shoes. It was like taking a dirty water shower in my seat with my clothes on. My makeup was running down my face, hair was soaked, and I was just miserable.

I was captive in my seat for about 15 minutes as the seat belt sign was on and all passengers and crew had to remain seated.

Since the crew was seated right behind me, they were well aware of what was happening.

After the “fasten seat belt sign” was switched off, the flight attendants came over and apologized for the wetness, but because the flight was completely full, there wasn’t much they could do.

“The flight attendant stated that the plane is in disrepair, they have reported the leaking issue many times and this was not the first incident where a passenger experienced a big, wet mess,” she says.

Eventually, the attendants found an empty seat for her. But the damage was already done.

Since the flight, my life has been upended and I have suffered from illness.

I have been sick for more than a week with a head cold, congestion and sore throat that caused me to lose my voice. This is a result of being
soaked from filthy water in an air conditioning pump for this horrendous ten hour flight all the while re-circulated air was passing over me.

I sought a doctor’s care mid-last week and was told to rest and take cold medicine, my body would have to expel the infection over time.

This experience has made my Fiji trip memorable, in a bad way. My jacket was ruined from the water as it was dry clean only clothing. My Italian leather sandals are also misshapen and destroyed from the mass influx of water.

So why would Air Pacific continue to operate a plane that was leaking? Good question, and it’s one Peters asked of the airline in a polite email.

Air Pacific hasn’t responded, even though the flight took place in early May.

I think we can all agree that an airline ticket entitles you to a dry seat on a plane. But what, if anything, does Air Pacific owe her?

At a minimum, I think it should respond to her email and explain what happened to 32J, and maybe assure her the problem has been fixed. I think she should submit a bill for her jacket and sandals, if she hasn’t already.

Here’s how an airline would see this mess, and why I’m doubtful the carrier will offer a meaningful response. We sold you a seat between Fiji and Los Angeles, and we got you there. We offered you a better seat when the one you were sitting in got a little wet. What more do you want?

And so all of that makes me wonder if this is a case I should — or could — mediate.

(Photo: iamb ents/Flickr Creative Commons)

58 thoughts on “Can this trip be saved? Soaked on my way to LAX

  1. If Air Pacific hasn’t replied because they don’t know how to break it to her gently (to paraphrase a song), then they’d better find someone who can help them do that before this possibly gets worse. Maybe they can take a cue from Alaska Air, who isn’t arguably an amateur if/when stuff like this happens.

    That said, what exactly does Ms. Peters want? A detailed explanation and an apology…compensation…what?

      1. If there’s one thing I learned in life, it’s that things aren’t always as obvious as one tends or likes to believe.

        I asked what exactly does she want so that she can tell that directly to Air Pacific or whoever she wants to complain to.

      2. If there’s one thing I learned in life, it’s that things aren’t always as obvious as one tends or likes to believe.

        I asked what exactly does she want so that she can tell that directly to Air Pacific or whoever she wants to complain to.

  2. Air Pacific should have responded, but isn’t Peters being a bit dramatic? How do you expect anyone to take you seriously when you include phrases like “my life has been upended and I have suffered from illness” and “my body would have to expel the infection over time.” Huh? Never heard of that before medically!

    I don’t doubt that the flight was miserable, especially if there was a constant drip of water, but I think @3f57c5380f28f20578a77e922d06a713:disqus said it best. What exactly does Peters want?

    1. I doubt she would be completely soaked from “a constant drip.”  From what the letter said, it was a FLOW of water.  I would certainly say that would cause an illness.  If the water was dirty (it usually is) then I’m not surprised at infection either.

  3. If Air Pacific willingly operated this aircraft and placed a passenger in a seat, knowing this would happen, it is blatant negligence. The passenger should get a refund as well as be compensated for all additional expenses.

  4. I’m sure the FAA would love to hear about this.  Since the flight originated in LAX, the FAA/DOT has jurisdiction.  I’d file a formal complaint.  An implied part of the passenger contract is that the seat provided will be habitable and sanitary.  It doesn’t have to be comfortable, luxurious, properly lit, or well-ventilated, but this is simply not acceptable.

    Too bad she probably doesn’t have the tail number of the aircraft; that’d make the FAA’s follow-up job even easier.

    I’d request a full refund for that leg of the flight.  This was not a minor issue like a burnt-out reading light during a night flight, or a forgotten special meal; this made the seat simply unusable.  They also owe for the ruined jacket.

    But I will agree with the others who stated that the letter needs to be toned down a bit.  She should simply state she came down with a cold afterwards.  Ordinarily I’d say that since the air on a plane is HEPA-filtered, it’s probably actually CLEANER than the air on the ground, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that wasn’t working either.

    1.  Air Pacific only has 6 planes (three 737s, two 747s, and a 767) according to Wikipedia, so it shouldn’t really be that hard to figure out which plane it was, especially given the flight number and date.

      1. True . . . but given the state of repair on this particular plane what do you want to bet their others are in similar states of disrepair?

        I think this airline is long overdue for an FAA inspection of any of their planes that fly to from the USA.

        1. FAA inspections are for issues of safety, not cabin upkeep. Just because there’s water leaking does not make the plane unsafe to fly, just uncomfortable. Maintenance of the cabin interior and for the safety of the plane are different issues, and different people are responsible (the captain, for instance, has to confirm that the plane is safe before he/she will fly it) so don’t assume that there’s any safety issues to get the FAA involved.

  5. I voted yes, but really I think she should sue – not in small claims court but for real money – and with a lawyer who’s willing to follow through to the end and not accept an out-of-court settlement. I once flew JFK-Paris on a United flight where my seat wouldn’t stay upright, the toilet next to me was overflowing and the door to the aircraft was rattling so much that I was afraid it would open in mid-flight. This kind of thing is disgraceful and the airlines only pay attention to two things: lawsuits and publicity.

    1. That’s not how attorneys operate.  Settlement is always a possibility and generally the best option for all parties.  The problem is that suing in a non-small claims venue is very difficult unless very large sums of money are involved its expensive and timeconsuming.

      Regrettably, the OPs damages are unlikely to rise to the level that an experienced attorney would be interested or justified.

  6. That’s absolutely terrible!  While she might be a little dramatic with her wording, I think it’s highly likely that this was the reason she got sick, or at bare minimum contributed to a cold being worse.  Being sick on vacation and away from home can be very inconvenient.

    I do wish she said what she wanted from Air Pacific.  I don’t think a refund for the flight, reimbursement for the shoes and jacket, and a little something extra for getting her sick is unreasonable. 

    The bottom line is that the airline knew about this and never should have seated someone in this seat and needs to take responsibility for their actions.

  7. Definitely retain legal counsel.  Upon receipt of the lawyer’s letter, that will wake them up.  Furthermore, file a complaint with the FAA and have the Air Pacific fleet inspected.  That will cost them more than settling with the OP.

  8. This is Swift’s The Rape of the Lock all over again. Two paragraphs to say, ‘I have a cold’? Of course, up until she informs us of the actual diagnosis, you swear she’d been suffering from the Bubonic Plague. And Italian leather sandals? Did the cow speak with an accent?

    If what she is claiming is true — the plane threw up on her and ruined her wardrobe, caused her to have a cold — that’s all we need to know. Reasonable people know she should be compensated.

    But by throwing in the drama (“my life has been upended…my body would have to expel the infection over time” … omg, will she ever recover from that COLD?… and let’s not forget those sandals… they were misshapen! MISSHAPEN, I tell you!), she acts less like a victim and more like one of those precious snowflakes of the entitlement society.

  9. It doesn’t seem like this was an accident, it appears that someone made a decision to not fix that problem.  This is disturbing.  They should have, at the very least, not sold that seat.  Furthermore, how is it that you have a full plane and then “come up” with a seat later?  Did someone get off once they departed??

    If it were an accidental thng, that’s one thing, but I don’t think it was, so I feel the damages should be punitive.  They knew her flight was going to be ruined.

    First of all, I think the FAA should investigate and determine whether this airline should even be allowed to fly into the United States.  If this is the way they do business, then I suggest that they should not be on the list of allowed airlines.

    As far as compensation….flight refund, clothes paid for, lost time at work due to the cold…pain and suffering…these are all things caused by the airline’s decision not to fix this problem and to seat someone in that seat.  There is also the issue of punitive damages.  There are some serious issues caused by their poor decision.  It should cost them dearly because they are the ones who should be held responsible and to realize the effects of their actions.

    1. “How is it that you have a full plane and then “come up” with a seat later…”

      My guess is that the flight attendants had “reserved” some seats for themselves, since normal seats are more comfortable than the jumpseats they are allocated.  Once it became clear that this passenger really was uncomfortable, they probably decided it was best to let her use one of “their” seats.

  10. Fiji air should have responded immediately and refunded her ticket. Her flight sounds downright disgusting to me. Do you know what kind of bacteria travel through air conditioning systems? Especially on an old plane in disrepair? She is lucky she didn’t get Legionnaires disease or some other life threatening illness. Chris, please mediate for this person. Travelers should not have to be if ignored and fly in such uncomfortable circumstances…

  11. I have to say, that “my life has been upended” quote was a real eye-roller. However, she actually probably took it better than I would have. I know what that water looked like, and if it had been dumped all over me, there would have been an “incident” aboard that aircraft, I’m afraid. A refund for that leg of the flight, and the cost of replacement for her jacket and shoes is definitely in order, here. I can’t believe any airline would allow an aircraft in service with that kind of problem.

  12. She needs to tone down the drama in her letter and state what she expects as compensation, but then yes, I vote to mediate.

    The airline knew there was an issue with the vent over the seat, it chose not to fix it, and then knowingly subjected a passenger to the problem, resulting in an illness and destroyed personal items. I think she should be compensated for the flight and the costs of replacing the jacket and sandals.

  13. I wanted to point out a few things to the people who say she’s being dramatic about getting sick. Legionairre’s disease is a nasty, nasty bacterial pneumonia that is specifically found in air conditioning water. It is commonly fatal. 

    There are some other nasty bugs that could be there as well, but that one is unfortunately, common. 

    So, it isn’t being dramatic to say it made her ill, and it is disgusting. 

    I hope you mediate Chris, but I actually agree with the person who suggested to sue. If she was ill, her fiji vacation could not have been much fun. They owe her a refund, and something for her ruined vacation. 

    1. @5472b66d461e4ae884dbde2c3523add0:disqus First of all Legionnaire’s disease is spread by water DROPLETS or aerosolized water, not from actual drops of water. If so, everyone on the plane would be at risk, not just Peters.

      I’m not saying that this isn’t a big deal. I’m not saying that Peters didn’t have a miserable flight. I’m not saying that she shouldn’t be upset or complain. On the other hand, to imply that her health has been permanently ruined (“… my life is upended …”) or that she is somehow scarred for life (“… expel infection through time …”) really makes it hard to take Peters seriously.

      It isn’t dramatic to say it made her ill, but you cannot prove that her illness was caused by the dripping water. I challenge you to find a licensed health care provider that will be willing to testify that in court.

      I’m not excusing Air Pacific, as they should have responded (and preferably with a phone call, not a form letter). On the other hand, a direct letter like this may have garnered a response

    2. I think a call to the CDC might be in order.  Diseases are transmitted through contaminated water and this sounds like something that should be investigated for the good of all future travelers on this plane.

    3. Let me tell you about “nasty bugs.”  Returned from a tropical vacation with one.  I was not able to work for three months on my return and there was nothing that the doctor could do.  The bacterial infection had to run its course. 

      The tragedy was that at that time I was self-employed and had no income for that period of time.  I would say that my life had been upended and I can fully understand what the OP went through.  It was not the water per se that made the OP ill but the bacteria that it contained.  Someone referred to Legionnaire’s disease above.  Those of us who are old enough to recall will remember that at the time the public health authorities were totally mystified as to why people were dying. The deaths were finally traced to contaminated air that was dispersed into hotel rooms from contaminated air conditioning units.

  14. I really don’t understand the anger people here are posting towards the OP. In reading her message included within the article, her life really HAS been upended.

    She was taking what she thought would be an amazing, memorable trip to a beautiful tropical environment.  Instead, what she got was a nightmare, at worst, a major inconvenience at best.  Because of the laissez-faire attitude of the airline, she ended up with an illness.  It ended up being a cold but it could have been so much worse and thankfully it didn’t.

    Instead of the letter she DID write to the airline, would you have preferred to see:

    Hellooo Air Pacific!  Hope all is well with you these past few weeks!  Me?  Oh, thanks for asking – that nasty, nasty cold is still clinging to life and I’ve been to the doctor about but, no joy!  There’s so much going on in my life starting with a major water leak on my flight that dripped on my head the entire time.  But enough about me.

    Ta for now, Air Pacific – here’s hoping you have many, many more happy miles in the air!

    Many hugs and kisses and much love!

    The OP wasn’t being dramatic, she was upset over being sick because of the negligent actions of the airline.  I think a little hyperbole is allowed given what they subjected her to.  Chris needs to mediate but only as a last resort to hiring a big ticket attorney to address the poor maintenance of the planes.

    1. I am with you Maria. Why are people blaming the victim? Give me a break!!! Pure negligence on the airlines.  To sit and be wet for 10 hours in yukky water? UGH!! You go, Chris!

  15. A ticket should, at a minimum, guarantee the holder a safe, sanitary and adequate seating in a closed environment. This passenger was injured through no fault of her own. Considering the growth of microbes in warm wet climates – California and Fiji the airline should be fined for allowing itself to be a potential vector for disease.

  16. Just because Ms. Peters was being dramatic, and who knows – it’s possible that the cold was much more severe than a case of the sniffles – Air Pacific is clearly in the wrong here.

    If the crew knew that the seat was unusable, time to block it off, do a passenger count, and either put Ms. Peters somewhere else (even in a premium cabin) or put her on another airline.

    As to compensation, replacing her ruined clothing is a good starting point. I’m not so sure about refunding the leg of the journey unless she can demonstrate the severity of her illness.

    Air Pacific’s failure to respond is unfortunate, but unsurprising. These days, businesses figure they can get away with anything unless they face the risk of bad PR.

  17. Why are you even asking Chris?  This must be the 9th or 10th poll you have run in a row where the responses have been completely one-sided.
    Why would you not take on this case?

  18. I lost sympathy for the OP when she whined about “being sick” after the flight. While I’m sure sitting in a wet seat was unpleasant, having a cold is not the end of the world and she’s whining like it is. 

    1. @Raven: Perhaps this woman has always dreamed of going to Fiji, saved her money for several years, and made extraordinary efforts to make sure she would be in great shape to have a wonderful time, only to wind up sick and have this once-in-a-lifetime vacation ruined through an entirely preventable situation caused by an airline which took the money she gave them in good faith, and gave her in return a soggy seat where they absolutely knew she would be drenched in bacteria-laden water. Do you know that’s not true? Do you know how far from true it is? I can’t imagine you do. So what, pray tell, is your basis for characterizing her complaints about being cheated of a healthy vacation due to an entirely preventable illness as “whining”?

  19. The airline should not have sold the seat. In this case they should have blocked the triple or double seat until repairs are made. However, if the cabin crew knew and there was another seat available, why wait until the damage is done to change seats. 

  20. No question – mediate it, and the airline should be pursued for selling a seat it seemingly knew was unhealthy and unsafe.   But go beyond the airline to the FAA or whoever is competent to deal with such complaints, so that others do not have to put up with such slovenly aircraft maintenance.

    What should the injured passenger get:  a refund of the fare, money for the damaged clothing, and damages for being subjected to this treatment.  How about $1000 as a minimum in damages in addition to the other reimbursements noted in this paragraph.   I would not settle for less myself.

  21. Passenger made too much of the issue, there are repair problems all the time on airliners.  That doesn’t, however, release the airline from trying to make it right.  FAs should have done something, anything, to relocate her ASAP.  If they were able to find a seat later in the flight then why were they not scrambling to do that, even before a deluge hit her?

    Formal and escalated complaints need to happen, along with bills for the ruined clothing and vouchers for future flights.

  22. Heck yeah you should help her.  She not only should she receive a check for her ruined clothing, but refund her entire ticket price!  That is absolutely deplorable and there is NO excuse.

    Evelyn in TX

  23. When I first read the title I thought “oh, someone got water spilled on them or something” but the experience the OP describes is truly a nightmare to anyone who has spent a flight being even remotely wet.  Air Pacific, at a minimum, should have addressed her issue and described steps taken to ensure it never happens again. 

    That said, I agree with others that the maintenance concerns are significant.  If they are skimping on repairing a leaky vent what else are they skimping on? 

  24. I flew this flight  a couple years ago  (not the first time).  The 747 they use is specially equipped to handle extra cargo and they jam as much on as they possible can.  We were on standby, and even though they had 50 empty seats on the plane, they would not assign us seats until the final boarding call, because they needed a final weight on the cargo.  Cargo seems to be the primary money maker for this flight.

    So if the flight was actually full in the shoulder season, I’m quite surprised.   It sounds like they just didn’t want to reseat her until the fasten seatbelt sign was off.  On the other hand, until she sends them a bill for her jacket and shoes, it sounds like she is just whining.  After all, who hasn’t caught a cold on an airplane?

  25. The flight attendants acknowledged it was a problem seat. The airline knew it before the plane took off. They could have marked the seat as unavailable, but chose not to. It wasn’t a spontaneous problem — it was a known issue that they made a decision not to address before the flight.

    Because of that, they do owe her more than reimbursement for the jacket and sandals — at the very least, a full refund is in order. 

  26. Chris … Step one send her the link to your article on how to write a complaint letter.
    Her drama probably caused it to hit the circular file (or email trash) seconds after it was opened.

    She has a legit complaint but it gets lost in the drama.

    A very simple letter that gave what happened, what was ruined and what compensation she wants would probably have gotten her a response.

  27. Why do you want to report the complaint to the airline? I have a much better idea:

    She was flying into LAX.  Send a letter of complaint, noting that the aircraft appeared to not be airworthy because the pressurization system was not operating properly.  Say this:

    “On [date] I was on Air Pacific Flight # XXX from [origin] to LAX, which I believe was a Boeing 747 aircraft.  I was drenched in condensate water from inoperative and improperly draining pressurization and air conditioning systems.  The air conditioner is an MEL list item on the 747.  The flight attendants informed me that this has been a chronic un-repaired problem on this exact aircraft for ‘some time.’  There are clearly deferred maintenance issues with Air Pacific Boeing 747 aircraft operating into LAX.  If you require additional information, please let me know.”

    You can mail this letter [using priority mail so you can track its delivery] to:

    Federal Aviation Administration
    Flight Standards District Office
    Attn.  Airline Safety Operations Inspector
    6961 Flight Road
    Riverside, California 92504

    Be sure to send a CC of the letter to the local VP of American operations for Air Pacific  – also be certain to send a cover letter to their US office informing them that you tried to contact them directly with this concern and were ignored, and since you were ignored, you assumed that the federal regulators needed to know about their deferred maintenance items . . ..

    They WILL contact you, immediately if not sooner.  No need for Chris to get involved. Here is their local address and number –

    Air Pacific Limited
    6080 Center Dr
    Los Angeles, CA 90045

    310-568-8676 – call, ask who the USA VP of ops is – thats who you send the letter to .. ..

    1. Joe, you’re great! Yep, I suspect receiving THAT letter would make someone in charge sit up and take notice, muy pronto!

  28. Chris, take them on!  The airline is totally wrong in this case and it sounds like a total nightmare.  They had no business allowing a passenger to sit in that seat from the get go, especially since they were aware of this in advance. 
    I feel like they owe her compensation for her coat, shoes, and medical bills, as well as some punitive damages.  But sadly, and from experience, I have a feeling they will argue that they should only have to pay the depreciated value of her coat and shoes.  And while I don’t like it, I believe it would be impossible for anyone to prove that the water made her sick.  But it is still very likely.  I’m sure the airline also knows that it would be impossible to prove and of course will offer nothing.
    I am curious about the other passengers around her; if water was gushing it was bound to affect more passengers.  Maybe they can all complain together?  There must be other people in the splash zone.

  29. Everyone saying that the passenger sounds like a drama queen is right, but IMHO that’s irrelevant in this case. She isn’t complaining about a minor issue that is arguably not the airline’s fault, like if a flight attendant had accidentally spilled a cup of water on her. She’s complaining about being soaked by filthy water pouring out from a leak that the airline knew about well in advance of the flight and opted not to fix.

    I think she’s entitled to a full refund, period. I don’t know if she deserves anything more, but I would love to see her complain to the FAA about Air Pacific apparently operating planes with maintenance issues. I imagine doing that would cost them more than anything they’d give her anyway.

    1. I think the issue is the letter to the airline.

      A well worded letter will probably get her a refund and damages. No drama or threats of lawsuits, just describe the incident, the fact airline employees knew about the problem in advance, and the damages.

      Tally up the ticket cost, cleaning and medical bills. See what happens and then go to next step.

  30. This is a legal issue that needs the attention of an attourney. You do a great job of inturpretting issues that make no sense. But this is a safety issue with an international airline. Stay away and work with all of our domestic squabbles.


    behalf of Air Pacific, it is sincerely regretful to see that this situation has
    made itself public and in a context that doesn’t reflect the full circumstances
    of the situation or communications between Ms. Peters and the airline.


    Pacific prides itself on the care and attention given to customers on
    board. We take precautions to ensure a positive flight experience for all
    of our valued passengers. When something doesn’t go smoothly in-flight, we are
    sincerely regretful and make it a priority to resolve the situation favorably
    and amicably.


    with any claim, the airline needs to verify the situation. We know the
    appearance of water droplets is not an uncommon occurrence when jet aircraft
    depart from a hot humid airport like Fiji and efforts to minimize are part of
    the maintenance program. Air Pacific checked the voyage report and contacted
    the operating crew on Ms. Peters’ flight to determine the extent of the
    moisture and water droplets released and in this process we could not find
    evidence that any passenger was soaked to the extent as indicated by Ms.


    Air Pacific did indeed respond to Ms. Peters’ claim and also requested a
    medical report from her doctor for review in order to assess any refund of her
    medical costs. We also requested her doctor’s contact details to validate the
    information for any required further action.


    the only response Air Pacific received from Ms Peters was that she would
    dedicate her efforts to denounce Air Pacific in the public space.  We
    regret the investigative and resolution process in this case has not been a
    cooperative one. We will again contact Ms Peters and attempt to retrieve the
    required information in order to ensure this situation is resolved.


    Manager, Air Pacific Guest Services

  32. This same thing happened to my father on a flight on Spirit Airlines.  He was flying for a less than 24hr trip so he didn’t have a lot of clothing options.

    The Spirit flight attendants said this happens on every take-off as if it was no big deal and brought him a couple napkins (not nearly enough to help him since he was drenched).

    Spirit declined to respond to his complaint. 

    Although, that may be a good thing since knowing Spirit I bet they’d send him a bill for the extra napkins. 

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