His assigned seat in the aircraft was smeared in poop. Soon he was, too. He complained, other passengers complained, but Delta flew that jet from Atlanta to Miami, and the passengers just had to smell it. An apology later wasn't enough for Matthew Meehan.
“Not another flight that smells bad,” Matthew Meehan recalled thinking as he boarded Delta flight 1949 in Atlanta on Thursday night – 115 years into the age of powered flight and God knows how long into the nightmare of modern air travel.
Meehan told Yahoo News that he noticed his neighboring seatmate was also in apparent olfactory distress. Meehan bent down under his seat to find a phone charger, and instead discovered the source of the foulness.
“It’s not just a smell,” he told Yahoo, reliving the memory. “It’s actually feces and it’s all over the back of my legs, it’s all over the floor, all over the wall of the plane. And I sat in it.”
In the initial confusion, Meehan said, he didn’t know who or what the feces came from, or how it got on his flight to Miami.
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“Originally, the flight crew said that it was a German shepherd,” he told Yahoo. “And then the gate agent said in his paperwork that it was an older man who got sick upon landing.”
He asked the crew for help, expecting perhaps a biohazard kit. Instead, he told WNEM, “I was handed two paper towels and one of those miniature bottles of Bombay Sapphire.”
Meehan slid past passengers still finding their seats and stowing their bags, and ducked into a bathroom with his paper towels and cleaning gin.
His suit pants and ankles were smeared in filth, he told reporters. He pulled off a partially-coated loafer and held it up to his phone in the mirror.
“I’m NOT HAPPY DELTA!” he wrote as he posted the photo to Facebook. “Is this even legal? This is a HEALTH CODE VIOLATION!”
When Meehan left the bathroom, he said, the mess was still spread across his seating area. He asked the flight crew what was being done about the poo. He said the flight crew told him to talk to a gate agent.
“I’m in a Delta flight and I just sat in human feces,” Meehan said into his cellphone camera as he paced the jet bridge a few minutes later, unsure of what to do. A passenger walked past him, luggage in tow, and boarded the plane he’d stepped off.
Meehan said he found a manager at the gate. “What’s your problem?” she asked him, he told WNEM.
He told the agent what his problem and, in his opinion, everyone on the plane’s problem was.
“I said, ‘Can we get that cleaned up so I can sit down?'” he recalled to Yahoo. “So she says, ‘Sir, it’s almost time for that plane to leave. You can sit in your seat or you can be left behind.'”
He went back to the plane. When he got there, he said, several passengers were staging a sort of stand-in protest at the front of the cabin, refusing to sit down until someone cleaned up the feces.
In a statement this week, Delta apologized to Meehan and acknowledged that “the area around his seat was not appropriately cleaned following an incident involving an ill emotional support animal.” The company said a cleaning crew finally boarded after Meehan complained and disinfected the area.
Meehan remembers his final minutes on the ground in Atlanta differently; he didn’t recall seeing any sanitizer.
“To avoid causing a commotion, the manager had someone clean that area with paper towels,” he told Yahoo. He later sent The Washington Post a video of a swollen garbage liner containing many wads of brown-stained paper towels and a used latex glove.
Afterward, he told reporters, the upholstery was still obviously soiled. He said passengers laid blankets across it before the plane took off, and then endured nearly two smelly hours to Miami.
A Delta spokesman said the plane was taken out of service upon landing, then deep-cleaned and disinfected. The airline has not explained when the emotional support animal – dog or otherwise – got sick on the previous flight, and how the mess went uncleaned until Meehan and his fellow passengers boarded. But the airline says it’s investigating and intends “to prevent this from happening again.”
Meehan has been offered a refund for his flight, shoes and suit, according to the airline. He told reporters it’s too little too late, and he’s talking to lawyers.
Landing in Miami was not the end of his ordeal, he told Yahoo. He said he had a connecting flight to Tampa, but took a four-hour Uber ride rather than board another plane.