Some say Twitter’s character limit is an affront. That, in order to stay within the allotted character count, we sacrifice grammar and spelling and let the platform bastardize the English language. But every so often, one of Twitter’s many chirping members sings us a song that rises above the cacophony, an epic so riveting it weaves a thread that reminds us that a story told 280 characters at a time can sometimes be a work of art.
Over one such 22-tweet thread, Charlotte Burns tells the harrowing tale of the transatlantic United Airlines flight that was overtaken by ants. Hers is not a story that begins with “once upon a time.” Instead, on the morning of June 17th, she wrote: “On the plane from Venice to New York when a large, fat ant walks over my pillow. Hmmm. That’s odd.”
We’re hooked. Our expert literary review concludes that Dr. Seuss could never. A second fat pest “hurries over the television screen.” “These are bold,” she adds, “I start to feel itchy.” “Ant-mageddon” is darker than any Edgar Allan Poe and more perverse than any H.P. Lovecraft.
You’re stuck in a big metal tube in the sky, with nowhere to go, and an army of ants start to trail and march all over your body. The cabin crew notices and “senior colleagues” are notified but it’s time for meal service and Burns is asked to wait it out.
Until: all of a sudden. I mind. I mind very much. Here's another bugger dashing—absolutely tearing it!—across the armrest. Where is this ant going? To an ant party? An ant union meeting about bad travel conditions?— charlotte burns (@charlieburns) June 17, 2019
The passenger across from her has also been noticing the ant-invasion, “He says he has seen a parade – a parade! – of six of the in the overhead locker in the seat in front of me.” Burns is conflicted: “The part of me that, you know, doesn’t want to be difficult or cause a fuss is being taken over by the part of me that really doesn’t like ants on airplanes.”
Let us now picture our narrator, “middle aisle guy,” and a handful of airline employees following the ant trail with a flashlight. An airline employee tries cleaning the seats with a damp cloth but to quote Burns: “I suspect the lemony cloth hasn’t quite been our Excalibur.”
Me and the middle aisle guy are standing up like we are the ant enforcers while the senior cabin crew guy rocks up, armed with... a flashlight and a wet cloth. Sure, ant-mageddon might be undone with a lemony rag, why not.— charlotte burns (@charlieburns) June 17, 2019
Middle aisle guy is ON IT: look in the overhead bins, he urges cabin guy. Cabin guy flashes the light and says, yeah, I can't see anything. I saw PERHAPS TAKE THE BAGS OUT. He says I can't, the guy who owns them is asleep.— charlotte burns (@charlieburns) June 17, 2019
The ants are coming from one of the overhead compartments. Which means they’re coming from someone’s bag. Said passenger is asleep, they mustn’t invade his privacy, much less disturb his slumber. Time out: A transatlantic flight is being swarmed by ants but the main concern here is the comfort of the man in the Spiderman sleeping mask?
The owner of the bag, presumably now with his Spiderman sleeping mask resting on his forehead, doesn’t seem all that bothered. (Could he have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids?)
This is where things start to get more inept. They open the suitcase ON THE SEAT! why? Ants running everywhere and guy in front is using his hands as little tweezers, picking them off one by one. Cabin guy is using sterile lemon wipes.— charlotte burns (@charlieburns) June 17, 2019
Ben Berkowitz of NBC New York interrupts the Twitter-novel to ask if it’s a Delta flight. And because some things are just cursed, it’s a United Airlines flight, of course. Berkowitz returns to Twitter with some new information.
Hi Charlotte - we're told the ants have been isolated and your plane is being taken out of service in Newark. (That jive with your experience? Still seeing them?)— Ben Berkowitz (@BerkowitzBT) June 17, 2019
According to to United Airlines, the ants definitely came from the passenger's bag and not the plane itself. That's almost besides the point, because what troubles us most is: How is it that liquids on flights are monitored down to the third of an ounce, but a whole colony of ants can catch a flight from Europe to America and nobody's the wiser?