A Passenger, After an 18-Hour Delay, Took a Flight Alone

Phil Stringer lived both the nightmare of a traveler and the dream of becoming reality one day as he waited for an 18-hour delayed flight to find himself as the sole passenger on the aircraft.

Phil Stringer chatted with the flight attendants on his recent flight from Oklahoma City to Charlotte, NC.

Stringer, 34, is a CEO of a real estate brokerage firm and also advises businesses on AI utilization. He frequently travels for business, and despite the many upheavals in the aviation industry, he said his trips generally go smoothly—until one Sunday last month.

His early morning flight back home from Oklahoma City to Charlotte, NC, was progressively delayed throughout the day due to maintenance reasons, so he set up shop at a Starbucks in the airport (and when it closed, a nearby table). Finally, when he was called to the gate just before midnight, he found it almost empty.

“I thought everyone had boarded and I was late because there was no one there,” Stringer told NPR in a Zoom interview. “But [the gate agent] said, ‘No, sweetheart, you’re the only one left.'”

Only Stringer and four flight attendants, who he says had been called back from their hotel for the approximately two-and-a-half-hour flight, remained. He said they decided to make the best of the less-than-ideal circumstances together.

They spent the entire flight joking, teasing, and just chatting with each other, an experience that he captured in a now-viral TikTok video.

“We were like, look, we can be negative about the situation and make it worse with our attitudes, or we can be positive, have fun…and try to make something out of it and at least be entertained,” Stringer said.

That positive outlook certainly paid off when, after the final flight landed around 3:30 a.m. local time, Stringer realized his long-checked bag was missing. He found it after about 45 minutes, then drove an hour to Greensboro, stopped home to quickly shower, and went to work.

That could have been the end of it. But two things happened.

First: Stringer and the flight attendants stayed in touch, regularly texting in a group chat about daily life and the viral fame they gained. He even bought plane tickets to visit them at their homes in Dallas later this month.

And Stringer received all kinds of supportive calls and messages from people who saw his TikTok, which garnered over 10 million likes. He said he heard from television producers, who want to make episodes about his experience, and even received an invitation to join the popular video-sharing platform Cameo.

Stringer feels that the video will be successful, but not to the extent it has been. He added that the most touching messages came from strangers saying it made them smile even during tough times and made them think about how they could incorporate some of that positivity into their own lives.

“People have reached out and thanked me for changing their perspective on their own bad situation literally so that they could smile or so they could be kind to someone else or pass it on,” Stringer said. “And that’s just really interesting to watch, and something I didn’t really expect with the video.”

The Economics of One-Passenger Flights
Stringer didn’t intend to spend the entire day at the airport—he tried to rebook his flight but realized it was the only option to get home in time for a meeting Monday morning.

He didn’t know how long he would wait, or how empty the airport would be during the wait. Eventually, when he arrived at the gate, he said it was a “ghost town.”

“I almost felt bad because I thought, ‘Wow, they’re going to fly this entire plane for one person. Like, that’s a waste,'” he said. “And then two minutes later, the entire crew walked on and they looked and saw that I was the only person. They were like, ‘Are you kidding me?'”

They all wondered why the flight wasn’t canceled.

Stringer said the gate agent gave him a few reasons, including that airlines make more money from cargo they transport than passengers and they still had to get the plane to its next destination to take off.

“So, it seemed like they were going to fly the plane whether or not I was there,” he said.

In recent years, other passengers have gotten commercial flights to themselves, including a woman flying from New York City to Washington, D.C., in 2018; a man flying from Lithuania to Italy in 2019, a college student in Florida on her way back from the UK last year, and a passenger flying from Portugal to Ireland in April.

Stringer said he hasn’t heard anything from American Airlines—not even after he spent hours waiting for them at the airport to try and get a refund, as well as after his story went viral.

“We know that travel plans can be frustrating when they’re delayed and we appreciate our crew members going above and beyond to take care of Mr. Stringer during his flight,” American said in a statement to NPR without addressing specific questions.

The Importance of a Good Attitude
Stringer noted the crew’s positivity in turning around his challenging day of travel.

He said as soon as the flight attendants saw him at the gate, they started joking with him about making them come back to work in the middle of the night. They jokingly said he would sit in the middle seat at the back of the plane with no snacks or beverages.

“And I was like, ‘Okay, that’s fair. That’s good. But watch how many times I can hit that call button. Like, this is gonna be a blast,'” he recalled. “And so, that kind of built a fun relationship between us before we even got on the plane.”

By law, there are certain announcements the crew has to make, even with an audience of one, Stringer said. So, he received a personalized safety demo as well as a special thank you at the end of each PA announcement: “Yeah, Phil, we’re just talking to you.”

He said they laughed a lot, got to know each other, and even tried to find some games—like bingo—to play during the flight. They made sure to exchange numbers at the end of the flight.

From his perspective, people who can be positive in a negative situation are the type of people he wants to keep in touch with. Stringer called himself someone who firmly believes that a person’s attitude determines their direction in anything they do.

And he hopes that’s a lesson that people take away from his experience:

“If you’re going through a tough time, if you’re going through a hard time in whatever it is—or it could be something as silly as a delayed flight—if you choose to shift your focus to something positive, you can absolutely change the situation just by changing your perspective and your attitude.”

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