May 5th, 2002 was an important day for the WWE. They had just concluded their 2002 British tour with the taping of Insurrextion. It was also the first Raw-branded PPV, and the first event to be held under the new WWE banner. But none of those are the reason we remember that date, which now lives in infamy. What followed was a flight described by Jim Ross in his now-defunct Ross Report column as “about seven hours in length and low-lighted by a handful of people who consumed too much alcohol and consequently acted like children whose parents were away and left the liquor cabinet unlocked.” This was The Plane Ride From Hell.
Here are some of the things we know to have happened
The Plane Ride From Hell: Curt Hennig & Scott Hall
Things started innocently enough when the former AWA tag team champions started to get bored. They had gained a reputation for pulling pranks on their colleagues and decided to alleviate their boredom by spraying some of their fellow passengers with shaving cream. They were asked to stop and escorted to their seats. Scott Hall passed out drunk shortly thereafter, but not before making some lewd comments towards the flight attendants.
Michael Hayes is no stranger to tales of drunken excess. You could write a book about the drunken antics he got into with the legendary Fabulous Freebirds in the 80s. By 2002, he hadn’t calmed down much when it came to partying. Things seemed to be going pretty rough for Hayes when he got up to use the washroom, staggering towards it through he aisle. He stood up where he thought the toilet was and began to unzip his fly before realizing he wasn’t in the bathroom. He was in front of then-WWE president Linda McMahon. The Freebird quickly realized his mistake, but was unable to to control himself, muttering “Wait a minute…” several times before being escorted to the washroom. – As retold here.
Hayes then drew the ire of John “Bradshaw” Layfield. Bradshaw’s match against X-Pac earlier in the night left him with a gash on his forehead. Michael Hayes saw the Texan bandaged up and sleeping, shouted “Hey you redneck!” and punched him in the head. Brashaw woke up and struck back, knocking out Hayes. The unconscious Freebird was escorted back to his seat, where a GHB-addled X-Pac took out his frustrations by cutting off Hayes’s mullet. The next day, X-Pac taped the Freebird’s hair clippings to a wall in the production area, where it was auctioned off.
The Plane Ride From Hell: Mid-Air Grapple
Curt Hennig and Brock Lesnar were close friends who had traveled with each other for some time before the infamous flight. But over the course of the journey, the two began to get restless. What began as some gentle ribbing by Hennig over who was the better amateur wrestler became a tussle mid-flight. Hennig and Lesnar began grappling in the aisle, each trying to take down the other before Lesnar slammed Hennig into the emergency door. The concerned cabin crew tried to calm them down, but it was no use. It took the combined strength of Triple H, Dave Finlay, and Paul Heyman to separate the two massive Minnesotans. At the end of the impromptu match, it seemed like Lesnar emerged victorious, but Hennig’s drunken state might have given him the upper hand.
By the time of the infamous Plane Ride From Hell, Dustin and Terri Runnels had been divorced for 3 years. At that point, Dustin was well into his second run as Goldust, while Terri had transitioned from manager to interviewer. The stress, the alcohol, or both got to Dustin while he was on the flight. After harassing several of members of the cabin crew, he managed to get ahold of the P.A. mic, which he used to serenade his ex-wife. This made Terri visibly uncomfortable, and she pleaded with Dustin to stop. Eventually then-VP of talent relations, Jim Ross, had to step in and restore sanity, if only for a little while.
The Plane Ride From Hell: Ric Flair
Much like his contemporary Michael Hayes, Ric Flair is a legend in both wrestling and partying. The Nature Boy must have heard about The Freebird almost revealing his penis, because Flair emerged later in the flight, wearing nothing but one of his classic sequined robes. He proceeded to strut down the aisle, styling, profiling and showing off his ‘Little Naitch’ to anyone who would look. Two of the flight attendants recall The Nature Boy spinning his genitals at them and forcing them to touch his crotch, even going as far as to forcibly keep one of them from leaving. The two attendants compiled their complaints into a lawsuit in 2004, which was settled out of court.
Punishment for the acts of depravity aboard the now infamous flight was swift and brutal. Much of the blame was placed squarely on Curt Hennig. As a result, he was released from his WWE contract the next day. He was never seen on WWE TV again. Scott Hall, who was in a deep sleep for most of the journey, was released shortly after, nudging the already lagging nWo storyline into a nosedive. Dustin Runnels received a relatively milder punishment, as he was already on his way out of the company. As a consequence of his actions, he was given many lackluster comedic angles before his exit in 2003.
Two flight attendants from Sportsjet, the company who provided the chartered flight, filed a sexual harassment lawsuit in 2004. In the suit, they named Ric Flair, Dustin Runnels, and Scott Hall as the main contributors. WWE settled the case out of court for an undisclosed amount of money.
Jim Ross said of the flight in his column:
“The conduct of this inebriated minority was unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Procedures have been put in place to ensure such conduct does not occur in the future. The bottom line is this: yours truly is the person in charge of the talent roster and the buck stops with me. We will do all we humanly can to solve the problem.”
To JR’s credit, whatever he did must have worked. There hasn’t been a report of a flight this boisterous since.