It began almost as soon as he stepped onto the plane.
As Emerson Collins, a film producer and nonprofit director, boarded his American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Dallas on Sept. 6, a bizarre noise from the plane’s intercom system flooded the cabin: a loud groan — or was it a moan? — laced with pain — or was it pleasure?
It was difficult to discern.
“It was either someone’s unfortunate food poisoning in the bathroom or, like, someone with an uncomfortable approach to personal satisfaction,” Collins said. “Literally, it was halfway between an orgasm and vomiting.”
Passengers seemed confused but also amused, he said. By the third guttural outburst, Collins joked with a flight attendant about the pilot, asking “Is he OK?”
Flight attendants announced that there was no cause for concern and that the sounds weren’t coming from the crew, Collins said. He shrugged it off.
But then it happened again just after takeoff. And several times after that.
For the first half-hour of the flight, the noise returned every two to three minutes, Collins estimated, so he took out his phone and began recording. Many people were snoozing, and some had slipped on their headphones, but Collins, delighting in the hilarity of it, wanted the full experience, he said.
“Weirdest. Flight. Ever,” the video begins. And then, the moaning. Or was it groaning?
At one point during Collins’ two-minute video, a flight attendant comes over the P.A. system: “Ladies and gentlemen, we realize there is an extremely irritating sound coming over the public announcements,” the attendant says. “The flight deck is trying to troubleshoot, trying to turn it off, so please be patient with us. We know this is a very odd anomaly and none of us are enjoying it.”
The captain reassured passengers that whatever was going on wasn’t affecting operations, Collins said.
At another point in his video, a flight attendant is heard telling Collins, “I swear it’s a prank.”
But Collins had channeled his best Nancy Drew and made his way to the bathroom a few times, slowly walking the aisle and looking for signs of mischief — smiles, giggles, proud grins — among fellow passengers. “No one looked suspicious,” he said.
The video has been retweeted and liked thousands of times since Collins posted it to Twitter on Thursday.
Bradley P. Allen, a technology executive from Manhattan Beach, couldn’t believe what he was hearing when he stumbled across the video on Twitter. He had the same perplexing experience during his American Airlines flight from John F. Kennedy Airport to LAX in July.
Collins’ video captured it exactly, he said: like someone had grabbed the flight attendants’ mike, collapsed at the front of the galley and was just “incapacitated by a severe gastrointestinal problem, and is just moaning.”
On Allen’s flight, the noise happened only a few times. Upon the second instance, people seemed “freaked out,” Allen said. Some passengers hit the flight attendant call button. The crew made an announcement, allaying concerns.
But it stopped as quickly as it had started, Allen said.
“It was remarkable,” he said, but “unnerving.” “With all the cultural allusions to things like gremlins on the wings of the plane or snakes on a plane, or whatever, we’re all kind of primed for crazy, disturbing things to happen on aircraft like that. And it just sort of fit that bill.”
Reports of similar noises on yet another American Airlines flight, this one from John Wayne Airport in Orange County to Dallas on Sept. 18, also made their way to Twitter in recent days.
Neither Collins nor Allen received any conclusive explanation from their flight crews upon landing and deplaning. Maybe someone hacked the intercom, Collins thought, or maybe it was just a jokester on the plane — the comedic timing was too good. Allen is highly skeptical that someone on the flights was behind the noises and said he “could possibly be talked into” thinking it was a mechanical issue. But the issue intrigues him, he said.
“A lot of things go on in life that are inexplicable and happen and you just kind of have to file it away and ponder it every now and then, but not necessarily be sure you’re ever going to get a resolution,” Allen said.
American Airlines said it has so far investigated the John Wayne-to-Dallas flight.
“Our maintenance team thoroughly inspected the aircraft and the PA system and determined the sounds were caused by a mechanical issue with the PA amplifier, which raises the volume of the PA system when the engines are running,” said Sarah Jantz, a spokesperson for American.
Jantz said the P.A. systems are hardwired with no external access and no Wi-Fi component. The airline’s maintenance team is reviewing the additional reports. Jantz did not respond to questions about how many reports it has received and whether the reports are from different aircrafts.
As Collins’ flight neared Dallas, he said, he was “sort of vaguely disappointed” that the noise had stopped.
“We had to get like one big final blast right after touchdown … just for the comedic resolution of the adventure,” he said. “Like, finish it off big, right?”