Moans, groans taking over some American Airlines flight intercoms

It started almost as soon as he got on the plane.

As Emerson Collins, a film producer and nonprofit director, boarded his American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Dallas on September 6, a bizarre sound from the plane’s intercom flooded the cabin: a loud groan—or was it a groan? – full of pain – or was it pleasure?

It was difficult to see.

“It was either someone’s unfortunate case of food poisoning in the bathroom, or someone with an uncomfortable use of personal gratification,” Collins said. “It was literally halfway between orgasm and vomiting.”

The passengers appeared confused but also amused, he said. On the third guttural outburst, Collins joked with a flight attendant about the pilot, asking, “Is he alright?”

Flight attendants said there was nothing to worry about and the noise was not coming from the crew, Collins said. He shrugged his shoulders.

But then it happened again right after take off. And then several times.

For the first half hour of the flight, the noise returned every two to three minutes, Collins estimated, so he pulled out his cell phone and began recording. Lots of people were dozing off and some had slipped onto their headphones, but Collins, enjoying the hilarity, wanted the full experience, he said.

“The weirdest. Flight. Ever,” the video begins. And then the moans. Or did it groan?

At one point during Collins’ two-minute video, a flight attendant comes over the PA system: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are noticing that there is a most irritating tone coming over the public announcements,” says the flight attendant. “The flight deck is trying to troubleshoot, is trying to turn it off, so please bear with us. We know this is a very strange anomaly and none of us enjoy it.”

The captain reassured passengers that whatever was going on didn’t affect operations, Collins said.

Elsewhere in his video, a flight attendant can be 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 couple of times, walking slowly down the aisle, looking for signs of mischief — smiles, giggles, proud grins — among fellow passengers. “Nobody 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 Manhattan Beach technology executive, couldn’t believe what he was hearing when he stumbled across the video on Twitter. He had the same confusing experience while flying American Airlines from John F. Kennedy Airport to LAX in July.

Collins’ video got it right, he said: like someone grabbed the flight attendant’s microphone, collapsed in front of the galley and was just “out of action with a serious gastrointestinal issue and just groaning.”

The noise occurred only a few times on Allen’s flight. The second time around, people seemed “freaked out,” Allen said. Some passengers pressed the flight attendant’s call button. The crew made an announcement and allayed concerns.

But it stopped as quickly as it started, Allen said.

“It was remarkable,” he said, but “annoying.” “With all the cultural references to things like gremlins on airplane wings or snakes on an airplane or whatever, we’re all kind of primed for crazy, disturbing things to happen on airplanes like that. And it just fit that bill.”

Reports of similar noises from another American Airlines flight, this one from Orange County’s John Wayne Airport to Dallas on September 18, have also found their way onto Twitter in the past few days.

People walk in front of airport windows where an airplane can be seen at the gate

Passengers walk to their gates at John Wayne Airport in Orange County in May, where strange intercom noises were heard on a flight to Dallas earlier this month.

(Allen J. Cockroaches / Los Angeles Times)

Neither Collins nor Allen received a coherent explanation from their flight crews upon landing and disembarking. Maybe someone hacked the intercom, Collins thought, or maybe it was just a prankster on the plane — the comedic timing was too good. Allen is very skeptical that anyone on the flights was behind the noise and said he could “possibly be persuaded” because he thought it was a mechanical issue. But the subject fascinates him, he said.

“A lot of things happen in life that are inexplicable and happen and you just have to file them away and think about them every now and then, but not necessarily be sure that you’re ever going to find a solution,” Allen said.

American Airlines said it has so far investigated John Wayne’s flight to Dallas.

“Our maintenance team thoroughly inspected the aircraft and PA system and determined that the noise was caused by a mechanical issue with the PA amplifier, which increases the volume of the PA system when the engines are running,” said Sarah Jantz, a spokeswoman for American.

According to Jantz, the PA systems are hardwired with no external access and no Wi-Fi component. The airline’s maintenance team reviews the additional reports. Jantz did not respond to questions about how many reports it received and whether the reports were from different aircraft.

As Collins’ flight approached Dallas, he said he was “kind of disappointed” that the noise had stopped.

“We had to land like a big final blast right after touchdown… just for the comedic ending to the adventure,” he said. “You want to end it big, don’t you?” Moans, groans taking over some American Airlines flight intercoms

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