Food Poisoning : Sick in a Plane – My Aweful Experience

food poisoning in a plane

Warning: In this post I talk about my food poisoning. It gets somewhat graphic.

It’s a 6 day pairing staying in various cities in Canada, Cuba, and Mexico. These kinds of pairings are very tiring and it’s pretty easy to get sick.

I was staying in Edmonton when I first started feeling a little off. The previous day I had flown in from a layover in Cuba and this wasn’t the first time I’ve had… umm… digestive issues after staying in a tropical destination. For that reason I wasn’t too concerned when the symptoms started up. They usually pass pretty quickly. I’d also had a pretty busy day with my crew. I’d met them for brunch and gone to the movies with them as well. I also spent a good amount of time running errands and planning for my upcoming vacation. I’d eaten a lot that day and told myself that all of these could be contributing factors.

I continued my routine for the day. I even went out to get a haircut before meeting my crew for dinner.

After dinner I went back to my room to go to bed and that’s when things began to get pretty bad.

I won’t get into too much detail but I’ll tell you that I was in and out of the washroom pretty much all night. Eventually I did manage to go to bed, but I think I got about 3 hours of sleep total before it was time to get up, put my uniform on, and head to the lobby to meet the crew.

I should have called in sick. But for some reason I kept telling myself that I didn’t have enough time to book off without delaying the flight. I needed to be a team player. (Keep in mind we were in Edmonton. There was no other crew there. If I called in sick, the flight would have been delayed at LEAST 4 or 5 hours since they’d have needed to call someone in from Vancouver.)

So I got ready. Sort of. As soon as I got out of bed that morning I was in the washroom again. I’d get up, start to brush my teeth, and then go back to the washroom. I swear I was on the toilet every 5 minutes. I was passing food from the night before and it was undigested.

It was painful.

I’d be on the toilet saying to myself, “Okay. I’m booking off. As soon as I can get up.” But as soon as I was up I felt better and would decide “No. I’m fine now. I’ll work the flight.”

This went on for 30 minutes. I was shaking. I was exhausted. I felt like I might fall apart. Finally I called my Cabin Manager’s room. I was going to tell him I’d be booking off. Unfortunately he didn’t answer. He was already in the lobby. I decided that meant it was too late to be sick. I composed myself, finished getting ready, and went down to the lobby.

Through some miracle my constant need to be near a washroom subsided. When I met up with my Cabin Manager I told him I wasn’t feeling well, but I didn’t tell him how bad it had been.

From the hotel to the airplane I was more or less fine. Tired, untalkative, a little pale, but otherwise fine. I completed my pre-flight checks, we loaded our passengers, and we took off. It wasn’t until we were in the air that the second wave hit me. This time was different though. I spent a little time in the lavatory, but there wasn’t anything left in me.

Instead I just kept experiencing really bad abdominal pain. The first time it hit I was in the galley. It was so painful all I could do was sit in the jump-seat, hold my abdomen, and lean forward until my head touched my knees. It was so bad I couldn’t work. I’d be in the aisle with a cart, and it would strike. I couldn’t focus on anything but the pain. All I’d manage to do is look up at the other Flight Attendant across the cart and say to her “I’ll be right back”. I’d hold my composure until I got to the galley and again I’d go straight to the jump-seat where I’d hold myself, lean forward, and wait for the pain to pass.

It turned out that our Captain was having the same issues as well. Although his symptoms didn’t start until that morning at the airport. Around the time I started getting the abdominal pain, he was getting hit with the diarrhea. He spent much of his flight in and out of the forward lavatory. Luckily it was our First Officer who was actually flying the plane that day. Otherwise we’d probably have diverted.

My pains came and went in waves. It went on for about 3 hours. I’d tried taking Pepto but it did nothing. It was awful. The only thing that provided any relief was ginger ale. After a bar service there was a half can about to be dumped and I decided I needed to drink something so I took it. It settled my stomach enough that I was actually able to get up and help a little bit with the services. I called up the Captain and recommended he have some ginger ale as well.

From that point things got easier. By the time we’d landed in Cancun the abdominal pain was much more mild and infrequent. By the next morning it was nearly gone all together. It would no longer affect my fitness to fly.

Sadly we couldn’t say the same for the poor Captain. Even the next day he was still very ill. He called in sick from Cancun. Luckily the crew bringing in the aircraft for our flight out of Cancun was deadheading back. We were able to take one of their pilots and bring the plane home without a delay.

When I got back to Vancouver I filed an incident report with the company over what happened. As it turned out the Captain and I had eaten the same crew meal which was evidently improperly prepared. It was a chicken crew meal that had been catered to us in Cuba. The plane we picked up in Cuba was scheduled to sit on the ground – in the heat – for about 4 hours before we arrived to take it to Edmonton. So instead of catering the return meals in Canada, my airline contracted a company in Cuba to provide our meals in order to (ironically) prevent the crew from getting food poisoning.

I’ve learned a valuable lesson from this, of course: If I’m sitting on the toilet thinking to myself, “Should I book off?”, then the answer is, “Yes, you stupid food poisoned moron.”


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