The Scariest Thing I Have Ever Seen on a Plane Happened Today on my United Flight

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united ceiling panel

Loose Ceiling Panel

My son and I are flying to Stockholm from Las Vegas via Chicago and London on United. This morning we boarded our first flight from LAS-ORD which was on a 737-900. This is a relatively new plane and it even features the “mood lighting” that Boeing loves to advertise as a feature of their newer aircraft.

Anyway, shortly after takeoff (just before we hit 10,000 feet mark) the ceiling panel in the forward galley came loose. One side of it stuck into the ceiling and the other side came crashing down. We were seated in row 2 and saw the entire thing. If someone had been walking in that area they would have been seriously injured. It swung down with an incredible amount of force.

A closer look.
A closer look.

Thankfully this happened while everyone was still seated and no one was hurt. Unfortunately it did have an effect on the rest of the flight as the purser decided no one in first class was to be served until it was fixed somehow. We spent the next 90 minutes watching them talk and stare at the panel and no one bothered to tell us why we weren’t being served.

Whether or not this was a safety issue that should have prevented the basic service of even water is debatable, but watching the panel crash down like that was definitely the craziest and scariest thing I have seen while flying. I know some people have experienced bone chilling turbulence and others have been on flights with serious mechanical issues, but I guess I have been relatively lucky. Thankfully I didn’t have to witness that panel smacking someone in the face.

Have you ever seen anything like this? What is the scariest thing you have encountered while flying? Let me know in the comments.


  1. On September 25, 1985 I was seated in 18F on MarkAir flight 71 – a 737 combi aircraft. (MarkAir ceased operations years ago.) We landed about 70 feet short of the runway in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Dutch Harbor (Unalaska) is a challenging airport in that it has a short runway with water on 3 sides and a 1500′ hill on the other. A log had washed up on the approach end of the runway and caught our landing gear. It collapsed so we made a belly landing. They evacuated the aircraft and we walked to the terminal.

    • LOL. I remember Mark Air. I flew with them once when j commuted to Denver from KC. I felt it was only a matter of time before they pulled a ValueJet!

  2. I had a flight where the sudden and violent turbulence was so bad that the cart and flight attendant hit the ceiling as did several passengers heads hit either their overhead displays or the aisle ceiling. to hear the crack of their heads on that plastic was awful. Parts of the plane were cracked or hanging down like that from the impact.

    • I fly quite often, but definitely not as much as a pilot. While I understand this does happen, the entire crew seemed to be very shaken and certainly wasn’t treating it as if it was trivial.

  3. Bangladesh Air 1990, entire movie screen came off during takeoff. Cap’n Sayeed reassured us not to worry…counted down the entire flight second-by-second. Scariest flight of my life.

  4. Hi Shawn–
    About 7 years ago, was flying from Emmonak, AK to Bethel, AK. in a Piper Navajo. I was the sole passenger, and it was about -20F. We were cruising at what I guess was 5000′. The pilot was reading the paper, and I happened to look up at the fuel gauges that were overhead, and both read “E”. With surprising calmness, (in shock) I tapped the pilot on the shoulder, pointed up, and he tapped the gauges, which rose fully!

  5. Hubby and I were on one of the first flights after 9/11. I think there were about 3 people on the plane. Definitely fewer than 10. The oxygen masks dropped within minutes of take off. The flight attendant called the cockpit, then told us to put our masks on. The masks dangled and swayed the whole flight on an empty plane. Very creepy.

  6. As a kid (50 years or so ago), I remember them taking up part of the center aisle to physically see if the landing gear was locked into position. They announced that the indicator lights didn’t show the wheels as down and locked.

    All was well and they just put the aisle back.

    While I was scared, I also wanted to look.

  7. Also on a UA flight, I was sitting in first class (aisle) and we were taking off. Apparently a large metal tray (I guess a tray to segment stuff in the cart) wasn’t secured and went flying out of the galley, past everyone’s head and crashed into floor of economy. It then proceeded to slide all the way to the emergency exit. It happened so quickly that no one really reacted until they realized they could’ve had some serious injuries.

  8. About 30 years ago, on landing, my Eastern Airline jet wobbled so much that the wing hit the tarmac sending basically fire and sparks. That was terrifying.

  9. I was on a flight that seemed to be going normally after takeoff except that my ear felt like it needed to pop and would not do so. Then suddenly the oxygen masks dropped down. It was a near empty flight late at night, but the appearance of the masks alarmed enough passengers that there was some shouting and shrieking. The pilot announced that everyone should fasten their seatbelts and don the oxygen masks, which we did, and then the plane started to descend rapidly. It was very confusing and I’m sure most of us thought we were going to die. It turned out that one of the doors did not seal when closed so the pilot was actually descending rapidly to an altitude where we could all breathe normally, but a few more announcements at the time would have definitely helped!

    • Wow! That is crazy. Like I said, I have escaped a lot of the crazier situations including heavy turbulence for the most part. I agree that some announcements would have helped.

      • Aviate, Navigate, Communicate.
        In that order.
        Announcements come last, even behind talking to ATC which itself comes last in that list.

        Severe turbulence, rejected take offs (3), go-arounds (more than 10), fire in the galley, entire carts ejecting from F class on take off, entire carts hurling through 747 upper deck on landing, ceiling panels falling from overhead – had all of that and more in nearly 2 million miles.

        While I’m sure this was “scary” for you when it happened, it’s not at all a big deal, didn’t compromise the safety of the flight and shame on the crew for not going forward with their service. I suspect there was a way to attempt to push the panel back into position and even use some tape to hold it there.


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