A tickling sensation caused a female TS pax to absent-mindedly brush at her leg. Then it happened again. She looked down to see a very large, very hairy tarantula spider climbing up her leg.
Catherine Moreau was watching a film on her iPad during the 4 hr. flight from PUJ to YUL. Then came that sensation. “I brushed [it] away and it started tickling me again. That’s when I noticed the tarantula,” Moreau told CBC News. “I hit it to get it off me before it bit.”
Moreau has demanded that TS give her a partial refund over the incident. (If it happened to us, we’d probably want at least 1 item of clothing replaced too.)
She says the spider scratched her and the close encounter left her 11 yr. old daughter so shocked she “couldn’t breathe” from screaming and crying. The daughter has suffered nightmares since, Moreau says.
The tarantula was reportedly 1 of 2 running loose on the flight.
CBC quoted a flight attendants’ union spokesperson as saying passengers screamed and stood on their seats after learning of the spiders, while flight attendants “did what they could to calm people down,” asking pax to put on their shoes and cover their ankles. (That’s likely one safety suggestion that pax actually listened to.)
After the leg-climbing tarantula was captured, the other spider continued to roam the plane until it was caught by a worker at YUL.
A spider expert told CBC the tarantulas were probably a species called Phormictopus cancerides, commonly known as the Hispaniolan Giant Tarantula and found in the Dominican Republic and Haiti (countries which share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola). The species can grow to 23 cm long, or roughly the length of an iPad.
The spider is aggressive, the expert added, though its venom is weak.
Because the spiders are fairly easy to catch in the wild, they are sometimes sold as pets. One theory is that a spider-smuggling pax may have hidden the spiders in their cabin baggage for resale and the arachnids somehow escaped.
TS acknowledged pax were surprised, but said they "reacted calmly."
"Our cabin crew are trained to ensure the safety of our passengers at all times," spokeswoman Debbie Cabana told CBC. "In the case at hand, which is an unusual and isolated event, our staff reacted promptly and efficiently."