With a row of seats to herself on a 15-hour trans-Atlantic Delta Air Lines flight out of Atlanta, Brandi DeLaO was stretched out and fast asleep when a sharp pinch to her inner thigh jolted her awake.
She complained to a flight attendant, she said, who told her it was probably just a mosquito bite.
But then the small red mark grew into a darkened, crusty, oozing mass of dead skin about the size of a hand. Fever and such severe pain followed that DeLaO couldn’t walk up stairs. It was no mosquito, a South African doctor told her — DeLaO had been bit by Loxosceles reclusa, the notorious brown recluse spider, the most dangerous spider in North America.
The bite happened in January, and Delta has since agreed to an $80,000 settlement with DeLaO, her attorney says.
“I would not wish that on my worst enemy for anything,” said DeLaO, 38, who underwent three excruciating operations to dig out the venom and is awaiting plastic surgery. “It was horrible. It was amazing that a spider could do all that.”
Spokeswoman Betsy Talton confirmed in an email that Delta settled, but she added, “That particular aircraft also was inspected after her flight and no infestation was found.”
Talton described Delta’s pest control program as “a multilayered approach that leans heavily on inspection and cleanliness.”
DeLaO’s attorney, Jonathan Johnson of Atlanta, said the maximum she could have received would have been roughly $175,000 under the Montreal Convention, an international treaty covering air carrier liabilities. Because of uncertainty about where the spider came from and the difficulty of laying blame on Delta, they settled for less, he said.
Recluse spiders are known for inhabiting dark crawlspace corners, not airline cabins. Still, DeLaO’s ordeal isn’t the first of its kind.
In 2006 a San Antonio woman sued American Airlines over a disfiguring spider bite during a flight from Germany to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Ursula Riederer settled for an undisclosed sum.
Last year, a college student reportedly lost part of an ear after being bit at the airport in Amarillo, Texas.
On Jan. 9, after spending Christmas with her mother in North Carolina, DeLaO and her three daughters were connecting out of Atlanta to Johannesburg, South Africa. Her husband is a Marine stationed at the U.S. Embassy there.
DeLaO said she’s thankful that her daughters were sitting elsewhere on the plane.
“I just feel that they are not checking those planes like they are supposed to,” she said. “I tell everybody who’s flying, especially those flying Delta, spray yourself down and check under the seats.”
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