United Airlines passenger claims scorpion stung him on flight to Canada

Ashifa Kassam in Toronto
A fellow passenger on Richard Bell’s Sunday flight warned him that the eight-legged creature – honey-colored and about an inch and a half long – was a scorpion. Photograph: Stephen Osman/LA Times via Getty Images

A Canadian man is seeking compensation from United Airlines over claims that a scorpion dropped on his head – and later stung him – just as he was tucking into his lunch on a business-class flight.

“While I was eating, something fell in my hair from the overhead above me,” Richard Bell told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “I picked it up, and it was a scorpion. And I was holding it out by the tail, so it couldn’t really sting me then.”

A fellow passenger on the Sunday flight from Houston to Calgary warned him that the eight-legged creature – honey-coloured, about an inch and a half long and described as a “little lobster” by Bell’s wife – was a scorpion and could be dangerous.

“So I dropped it on my plate and then I went to pick it up again, and that’s when it stung me,” Bell said. “It got my nail, mostly.”

As he reeled from what felt like a wasp sting, he flicked the scorpion on the floor. A flight attendant acted quickly to cover it with a cup. “Then we got out of our seats and stepped on it. And then the flight attendants threw it in the restroom,” he said.

Using the flight’s wifi, Bell and his wife frantically searched online for any information they could find on scorpions, combing through sites to figure out whether the sting could be fatal. “I was just sitting with anxiety – with my legs up, of course – looking around,” Linda Bell told Global News.

Her husband wasn’t showing any symptoms of distress, but a nurse who happened to be on the flight gave him a painkiller as a precaution. When the flight landed in Calgary, medical personnel boarded the plane to assist him.

As the flight sat on the tarmac, customs officials also came onboard, hoping to get a glimpse of the scorpion, but at that point it had already been flushed down the toilet.

“We don’t have 100% confirmation that it was indeed a scorpion or what exactly occurred there,” said Adam Loria of Emergency Medical Services in Calgary. “But in conversation with this passenger, he believed that it was. He believed that he was either bitten or stung or what have you.”

After a visit to the hospital, Bell was told he would be fine.

The scorpion likely hitched a ride in someone’s luggage, said Bell. While he has no plans to launch a lawsuit against the airline, he hoped they would offer him a travel credit or some sort of compensation for his ordeal. “It’s just one of those things that happens, right?” he told the CBC.

The incident was confirmed by United Airlines. “Our flight attendants helped a customer who was stung by what appeared to be a scorpion,” a spokesperson for the airline said in an email. “Our crew immediately consulted with a MedLink physician on the ground who provided guidance throughout the incident and assured our crew that it was not a life-threatening matter.”

Bell’s claim comes after a week in which United Airlines has dominated headlines, as its executives attempt to quell the uproar sparked by videos showing a man being dragged off an overbooked Chicago flight earlier this week in order to free up seats for employees of the airline.

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