JOHN Iaia could see stress behind the smiles of the Jetstar cabin crew.
It was about half an hour into the flight from Cairns to Sydney when passengers started complaining of a smell John and his friends described as "burning plastic".
The San Diego university exchange student and his friends said some passengers were moved from their seats because of the strong smell.
They said Jetstar cabin crew told passengers an electrical panel or cord was faulty.
Flight JQ 959 was diverted to Rockhampton Airport and landed at about 9pm on Sunday night.
John said he was nervous when he was told the plane would make an emergency landing, despite assurances from cabin crew that everyone was safe.
"They had smiles, but you could tell they were stressed," he said.
John said it didn't take long to land after the announcement.
"That was the steepest descent," he said.
Fellow exchange student Jamie Merkrebs said she asked cabin crew several times how they could be sure everything was safe.
She said they told her the plane had been checked by engineers in Cairns after complaints about the same smell, but had been cleared to fly.
Once the plane landed, passengers were kept on board for about 10 minutes before disembarking.
John and his friends spent the night at the Rocky Gardens Motor Inn.
"They were really nice," he said.
Although he felt some nerves on the flight, John said he was impressed with the crew.
"They were really professional," he said.
"They tried to keep everyone calm and they got us down safe.
"That's all that matters."