From bees on windscreen to snakes in cockpit, a look at how reptiles and rodents can threaten aviation safety

Bikram Vohra

Talk about the birds and the bees in a different context. A swarm of bees blocked an Air India flight at Kolkata airport couples of days back after settling stubbornly on the windshield and attacking the ground staff who tried to remove them.

There were 136 passengers on board the flight and it took over three hours to literally drown the swarm with water jets before the flight leaves. Earlier in the year, a mynah bird showed a bit of class perching itself on a seat in the business class of a Singapore Airlines flight bound for Heathrow, all 14 hours. Talk about a free flight.

Wildlife delaying or causing disruption in flights is not unusual.

Snakes have made several unannounced appearances on flight decks. Again, Air India had a scare on an Airbus 319 as far back as 2008 when a snake wriggled past the crew on a flight from Srinagar to Delhi. It disappeared inside a panel and the aircraft had to be fumigated.

As a crisis, this was nothing compared to the arresting moment on an Aeromexico flight when a large snake fell from the overhead bin mid-flight. The flight made a quick landing and animal control took the stowaway into custody. Fortunately, nobody was bitten but you don't even want to imagine the chaos.

In Darwin 2012 the homo sapien theory was severely tested when a small commuter plane's pilot saw a snake in the cockpit. He tried to stare it down and it crawled up his leg. But he kept his cool and landed safely without being bitten.

Scottish traveller Moira Boxall was shocked to discover a live spotted python in her suitcase after when she reached home in Glasgow after a long flight from Adelaide.

The serpent had settled into a shoe and even shed skin.

Worse than snakes are mice and squirrels and other rodents. They can chew up the controls and if discovered on a plane it calls for an immediate landing. I was on an Air India flight when this little mouse slithered past and rushed towards the galley clearly enticed by the smells. The crew gave chase as did some of the more adventurous passengers and trapped it finally in a corner of the cabin but it managed to escape and vanish into some spot under the floor. This necessitated informing the captain who decided to fly back to base.

Pets can also cause problems. In 2017  a disruptive and hugely unreasonable passenger was removed from an American Airlines Atlanta to Chicago flight after dressing down a stewardess attendant while letting her dog run through the cabin much to the irritation of the passengers.

Some of the more amusing animal capers include a Spirit Airline flight from North Carolina to Newark that inadvertently played host to bat flying around the cabin and scaring the hell out of everyone. As screams rent the aircrew and some brave passenger managed to capture it in the pages of a book and lock it up in the toilet. Earlier this year a passenger on an Air Malta flight in Canada was bitten by a scorpion that crawled up the back of her neck.

But if animals inside are a threat those outside are even scarier to flight safety. Birds cause billions of dollars damage in BASH(Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard) incidents every year. The famous Sully landed in the Hudson after being hit a flock of geese. Foxes in Manchester, dogs and goats in Mumbai, deer, coyotes and hyenas in the US, polar bears in Alaska, can all trigger go-arounds or aborted takeoffs. Air India even hit a cow on take off for New York from Mumbai.

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