Houston (CBS HOUSTON) — A man who fell asleep on a flight from Louisiana to California instead woke up to find himself locked-in and alone on the cold, pitch-black airplane.

Tom Wagner thought he was dreaming when he woke up in his window seat at the back of the dark airplane cabin after it had stopped over at Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport for a layover this past weekend. The plane had been completely cleared and he was locked inside, KTRK-TV reports.

“I was coming from Louisiana to see my sister in California. We had a layover in Texas,” Wagner said. “I just took my hat off and I took a nap. Everybody falls asleep on a plane.”

“That’s not good, that you can just be stuck on a plane.”

Trapped on board the United Express jet at the nation’s fifth largest airport, Wagner awoke with complete confusion.

“I woke up and the lights were out. I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ I thought maybe it was a layover, still on the same plane,” he told KTRK. “They didn’t sweep the plane, I mean, who shut the door?”

Wagner then made a frantic phone call to his girlfriend, who thought he was joking about the situation.

“I called my girlfriend, and she thought I was crazy. I said, ‘Debbie, I’m locked on the plane.’ I said, ‘I’m telling you the truth; you better go somewhere and get me off this plane.’”

After his girlfriend called the airline, workers arrived a half-hour later to retrieve Wagner from the plane.

In response, United issued the following statement to KTRK: “An ExpressJet passenger remained on board flight 4245, operating as United Express from Lafayette, La. to Houston on Friday, Dec. 6, after all passengers had deplaned. ExpressJet is investigating to determine how this occurred. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience this caused for the passenger.”

Wagner did not receive a refund for his flight, but he did pick up a free hotel stay and a $250 voucher from the company.

However, at least one official expressed alarm at the security issue presented by the situation.

“Let this be a lesson, it was innocent enough, it was a faux pas,” James Conway, a former FBI agent and counterterrorism expert at Global Intel Strategies, told KTRK. “[But] if an individual is going to be missed, what about a package or a backpack or a piece of luggage that could pose a threat to the aircraft on the next flight?”

The Transportation Security Administration told KTRK that Wagner was not a security risk since he had passed screening at the airport in Louisiana.

Benjamin Fearnow


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