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Associated Press
Tom Wagner of Lafayette, La., is interviewed after he was rescued at the Houston airport, where he was left sleeping on an airplane after a flight.

Flier awakens to empty plane

Locked, in dark, uses bathroom, then gets help

– As the captain of an oil platform supply boat in the Gulf of Mexico, Tom Wagner is no stranger to bumps and other movement while he sleeps. So when he nodded off on a flight from Louisiana to Houston, it was no surprise that the landing bounce didn’t wake him.

“That’s the norm for me,” Wagner said. “A little jolt wouldn’t bother me.”

He awoke to a dark and locked plane parked at Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport.

“I looked down the aisle, there was nobody on the plane,” Wagner said Monday from California, where he’s visiting his sister. “It was locked up. Lights were off. No motors running. It was like it was secured for the night.”

Wagner, 51, from Lafayette, La., who had a window seat near the back of the plane, said he didn’t panic.

“I had a little smile: I’ve got to get off here,” he said. But first, “I had to use the bathroom,” he said. “I was walking around, had to find the bathroom in the dark.”

Told he was fortunate the restroom door also wasn’t locked, he replied: “They would have had a mess to clean up.”

Then he picked up his cellphone and called his girlfriend, whom he described as “kind of a joker.” She started laughing.

“Get me off this plane!” Wagner implored. “Stop laughing. It’s getting cold.”

She called United Airlines in Lafayette, where Wagner had boarded United Express Flight 4245 on Friday evening to make a connection in Houston, and was told there was “no way” he was stuck on that plane.

Moments later, a couple of maintenance workers opened the door.

“What are you doing on this plane?” he said they demanded. “Where’s your badge?”

After he explained, one of the workers got on his radio and Wagner was escorted to the terminal.

Regional carrier ExpressJet, operating the flight for United, apologized to Wagner for the inconvenience and said it will investigate.

“Could have been worse,” Wagner said. “What if I was dead? How do you explain that the next morning?”

Wagner said the airline gave him a $250 voucher, picked up the motel bill and switched him to a more convenient flight to an airport in Orange County, Calif.

“When we landed, they called my name on the P.A.,” he said. “I said: ‘Yeah, I’m over here.’ ”

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