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By Travel writer
msnbc.com contributor
updated 10/23/2008 11:43:32 AM ET 2008-10-23T15:43:32

Canceled flights. Non-existent service. Sky-high airfares and fees. Modern day travel can be unpredictable and unpleasant. With Halloween just around the corner, let’s not forget that being at an airport or on a plane can be pretty scary, too.

How scary, you ask?

Weren’t you a bit freaked last July when an oxygen tank inexplicably exploded and punched a hole in the side of a Qantas jet flying from Hong Kong to Melbourne? And admit it, didn’t it frighten you when an Australian transportation safety official said it was perhaps a simple “computer glitch” that caused another Qantas jet to climb 250 feet and then make two terrifying nosedives — injuring dozens of passengers — before pilots could gain control of the airplane from unseen gremlins?

It scared me. And not just because I’ve been dreaming of a trip Down Under.

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Scary or stupid?
You know what else really spooks me about air travel these days? Other people. Not you, of course. You’re obviously a responsible, considerate well-mannered traveler. No, as I decorate the house for Halloween and try to stop eating the Trick-or-Treat candy, I’m mulling some recent incidents that prove once again that facts are indeed stranger — and often much scarier — than fiction.

Use your noggin
Earlier this month, TSA officers scanning luggage at the Tucson International Airport discovered a human skull inside a passenger’s suitcase. When pulled off the plane and questioned, the woman told police that the skull wasn’t technically hers (it belonged to her boyfriend), that it had been sitting in her garden for years and that it was scheduled to be a Halloween prop. According to reports, police searched the woman’s home, a medical examiner confirmed that the skull was “not fresh” (my words, not his) and the woman was allowed to, ahem, head on north to Philadelphia and complete her trip.

The skull stayed behind.

What’s with Las Vegas?
You may remember a few months back when comedy legend Jerry Lewis and cop-turned-actor Dennis Farina were each in the news for getting detained at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas with a carry-on bag containing a gun (Farina's was loaded).

Slideshow: Haunted destinations Just last week, non-celebrity Steven Nobles made headlines when TSA officers discovered a seven-inch folding knife and what appeared to be a pipe bomb in the carry-on bag he was trying to take from New York’s Long Island MacArthur Airport to Las Vegas.

If that wasn’t creepy enough, it turns out Nobles had fireworks, electrical circuit boards, a battery with electrical tape and more than a dozen rounds of .22 caliber nail gun nails in his checked luggage. Scarier still? Nobles’ lawyer gave the same excuse offered by lawyers for Lewis and Farina — that the illegal items were “inadvertently left in his bag” and that he had no idea what he was “packing” when he grabbed his bag to head for the airport.

I have no doubt that the same plea will be filed for Army Spc. Vonda Collier, the soldier arrested just last Sunday — also at Long-Island MacArthur Airport — with a loaded revolver in her checked luggage. The only wrinkle here: her final destination was Texas, not Vegas. Regardless, she clearly took a gamble.

Keep your hands — and foot powder — to yourself.
Several other recent incidents leave me plain mystified.

In the “nightmare seatmate” category, there’s 29-year-old Ezra Wallace, recently accused of using strips of athletic tape to bind the hands of a teenage girl seated next to him on a Southwest Airlines flight and planning to do the same to her sister.

Then there’s Arthur Nicolson. On October 6th he was a passenger on a US Airways flight traveling from Las Vegas (surprise, surprise) to Boston’s Logan International, and ended up getting arrested for interfering with the operation of the airplane. His offense? Nicolson got so upset over the fact that his original flight had been delayed by seven hours that he began throwing Dr. Scholl’s foot powder around the cabin. The label claims the foot powder “soothes and cools,” so perhaps it would have been better if Nicholson had applied the product to himself instead of sharing it with others.

And then we have what will certainly end up at or near the top of this year’s “bad-mannered traveler” list. On an Air France flight heading from Paris to New York on October 14th, there was a dust-up between an heir to the Hermés French fashion house and the first class cabin and crew. It seems an intoxicated Mathias Guerrand-Hermés was harassing another passenger and disobeying the flight crew’s instructions to sit down. When the captain was asked to come out of the cockpit and intervene, Guerrand-Hermés reportedly grabbed the captain’s crotch and tried to punch him out.

What about you?
See what I mean? Halloween isn’t even here and I’ve already run out of room for some of the more menacing stories out there. And, of course, I want to hear and share your stories. So while I run out to get more Halloween candy, please jot down a story about your scariest travel adventure. Send it along and it may mysteriously appear in next week’s column on Halloween Eve.

Harriet Baskas writes msnbc.com's popular weekly column, The Well-Mannered Traveler. She is the author of the “Stuck at the Airport” blog, a contributor to National Public Radio and a columnist for USATODAY.com.

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