Travel Disasters - tell us your tales of woe

I flew to Dulles for a training course this week, flying home Thursday night. But our flight home was postponed, then cancelled. I switched to a flight out of National about the same time, had to Uber over, and then that flight was delayed until midnight. By the time our plane arrived and got a gate, the pilots times out and they cancelled our flight at 1:00 AM.

It’s the Thursday of Memorial Day weekend, all flights to Boston are full for Friday. There’s some seats on Saturday. Amtrak​ is fully booked too. They refund our flight and get us a hotel, but overbook that and some folks get shut out. Head hits the pillow at 3:00 AM.

This morning we get our rental car (long line) and head to Boston. Seven hours of driving but my colleague and I will be home for the weekend.

So, what’s your best travel story?

Many years ago (16?) I took my son on a cruise from Vancouver to Alaska. It was fun.

Returning home, we showed up at the airport, exhausted. I walked up to the desk and handed my paperwork to the woman. She told me our flight was cancelled, then walked away to do other things. I was all :eek:.

I eventually got her supervisor’s attention, who confirmed that my flight was cancelled. I told him we still had to get home. So, instead of Vancouver-Toronto-Pittsburgh, we ended up flying Vancouver-Las Vegas(where I got in trouble for allowing my 6 year old son to play a slot machine)-some tiny airport-Atlanta-Charlotte-Philadelphia-Pittsburgh. There were ridiculous delays at several of our connections.

What a journey!

Was supposed to fly from Philadelphia - Toronto - Edmonton but there was a huge storm in Toronto so that flight was cancelled. Instead we went Philadelphia - Vegas - Vancouver - Edmonton.

East coast to southern US to west coast to northern Canada in one day!

I lived in London in 1994-1995.

I went back to Belgium to see my parents for Christmas and left on January 2nd to go back to England. Normally, the door-to-door trip took about 6h (train - jetfoil - train - tube). Since I had left my parent’s place at 6 a.m., I expected to be in my London flat around noon. However, it was the day after this and the weather was still way too rough for jetfoils.

To cut a long story short, we waited for hours in Oostende then were packed in a coach (destination unknown) in the late afternoon. After a while, I realized that we were heading towards France, Dunkerque as a matter of fact. We were then told to board a ferry and arrived in Ramsgate 4h later. The train trip to London took another 2h. With the tube ride, I arrived at my place shortly before midnight.

I’m sure there are worse delays than that still, 18h instead of 6 with almost no information and horrendous weather in the Channel* made that trip particularly unpleasant and exhausting.

*I ventured on one of the decks during the crossing but the wind was so strong that what with the drenched floors, I glided for several meters as soon as I was outside.

Another disaster occurred on a trip to New Orleans. It was a quasi-work-related journey; we flew down and partied for six days, then on the seventh day I had work stuff to do before returning home. Because it was a “work trip” I had my business manager book the flights.

So, on the morning of the seventh day I used the hotel computer to print our boarding passes, but discovered our flight was accidentally booked for 5 am instead of 5 pm. It was till early enough to barely make the 5 am flight, but I’d miss the business stuff that I was using to write off much of the trip.

I called the airline figuring we could just change the flight, but everything was totally booked. I tried other airlines, but nothing worked. I looked into the cost of a rental car to drive home
but we’d arrive home too late and exhausted for work.

I eventually found an evening flight, but I paid a huge price per seat (over triple the original ticket cost). I was pissed off. It was the last time I let anyone book a flight for me.

Several years ago I flew from San Antonio, TX to Chicago, stayed a night, and then joined a tour led by a holocaust survivor on a flight to Warsaw, Poland.

On the plane from SA the flight attendants had trouble with the door. For some reason it wouldn’t completely close for a long time.

Arrive in Chicago and the shuttle to the hotel was no were to be found. Ended up hailing a cab driven by a guy who should of been driving in NASCAR.

At the airport in Warsaw a member of our group was detained by customs. I believe said person was either mentally ill or on something due to her behavior.

A small plane took us to Krakow where they thought an 80+ year old woman who uses a walker to get around could just walk down a flight of steep steps to get off the plane.

While touring a concentration came the survivor invited a relative of the commandant (grandson) to join us. The people working at the camp got REALLY upset, tears and all, and it took over an hour to persuade them.

The woman who’d been detained at the airport got mugged and on the flight home we hit REALLY bad turbulence.

I was booked to fly Houston-Paris for a five-day business trip. I arrived at the airport, presented my reservation and at that point discovered that the person in our company who had booked the flight had made it for the same date of the following month. No way to change it as the flight was full. OK, my bad for not checking the date on the reservation.

Next day, I show up at the airport 2 1/2 hours before scheduled departure. Despite this, for some unknown reason the check-in line (this was before the days of self-service kiosks) was so long that I missed the cutoff time and was denied boarding.

Third time was the charm. I arrived at the airport FOUR hours early, and of course got through check-in in 15 minutes (sigh). When I finally walked in on the meeting (late on its third day), I received a sardonic standing ovation.

Then there was the time I had my pocket picked on a tram in Rome, losing all my ID forcing me and my two traveling companions to return home several days early…

Not too bad, but on a trip out to Colorado in the camper, had a blowout in the morning. Had another that afternoon. I carry two spares, so no big deal.

However, the second spare turned out to be a freakin’ Chevy or Dodge wheel (center hole slightly oversized than Ford) and started to work loose.

Had to buy a fairly expensive new tire in BFE Utah to make it to Colorado in time for the event.

Truck has 4 brand-new tires and a whole bunch of new stuff that had failed on the previous trip (alternator, thermostat, ignition switch), so I’m rockin’ now! And since space and weight are not an issue, I now carry 4 spares. :wink:

  1. My first assignment in the Air Force was to Seoul, Korea. I got there in October, and it was a real Indian Summer. 90 degrees, 100 percent humidity. Just awful. The airport was undergoing major renovations to get ready for the Summer Olympics happening the next year. In order to get through customs, I had to ride in a freight elevator about 30 feet wide by 40 feet long.

There were about 70 people in that elevator, and the Koreans don’t really have a concept of “Personal Space”. after a 13 hour flight, none of us were fresh as daisies, but I started to notice an odor. Sweat, BO and something else. Something intangible that assaulted my senses, but I had no idea what it was. It was the nastiest thing I had ever smelt in my life, to that point. The elevator started moving down, then stopped.

For 40 minutes we were stuck in that thing. Sweat streaming from everyone’s pores, and that awful, awful smell. When we finally got out, and got through customs. I ran outside and gulped fresh air. I grabbed a taxi to the post and got checked in.

That night, my sponsor and about 6 others who were new to Korea all went out for a meal. I was enjoying everything. The Kimbap, the Bulgogi, the Galbi, it was all so delicious. Then they brought out the Kimchi. I leaned over to get a sniff of the dish, and there is was, that smell that had tortured me in the elevator. On a plate right in front of me.

It’s sad, because I never got over that association with that smell, and can’t eat Kimchi to this day. I hear it’s delicious, but I will never know.

Mine was not a big one, but it was very funny in retrospect.

It was a dark and stormy afternoon, raining all day. I was taking Amtrak down to New York City. As we pulled into the station in Rhinebeck, the lights on the train went out.

They announced that the locomotive had failed (it was evidently its first trip). We would have to wait in the station for the next train, and board that. It would take an hour. They gave us half-price vouchers for our next trip as an apology.

OK. No big deal.

So about an hour later, I could see the light of the second train. It was sitting on the track stopped. And sitting. And sitting. And sitting for about fifteen minutes.

Now, those getting ahead of this probably think that locomotive failed, too. Oh, ye of little imagination. . . .

The conductor finally called us together. There was a problem: due to the rain, the mechanism to switch the train onto the second track had failed.

But good news! There was a manual switch.

In a box.

Protected by a padlock.

That was owned by Conrail, not Amtrak. Amtrak didn’t have the key.

Conrail was sending someone to unlock the box. He’s be there in an hour and a half.

The groans could be heard as far away as Poughkeepsie. It was also about six o’clock. No one had eaten (we were supposed to be in NYC long before dinner time).

The passengers offered to chip in to buy bolt cutters and a new lock, but that didn’t help. They also discussed pushing our train ahead of the second train, an idea that was probably even more insane than it sounds here.

Facing a potential riot, Amtrak told us they were ordering pizza for the entire train. It probably prevented cannibalism. Of the train crew.

So we waited another hour. Finally, the guy from Conrail arrived and the train was switched to the other track. We were ready to go.

Just as the pizza arrived.

The passengers basically said, “Screw you; we’re eating our pizza” and we didn’t board until it was gone.

We ended up getting in about six hours late.

  1. My father’s mother had passed away. Flight from PHX to Las Vegas to Chicago to rent a car. We had just moved to PHX a few months before, and no one had told us that the local nickname for America West was America Worst. Hours in Sky Harbor Thursday evening, waiting for our flight. Delays were announced, but not why. No major storms reported anywhere. Finally got to LV 4 hours late (long after the last connecting flight had left.) We were offered a hotel room, but decided that 3 hours in a room was a waste. If we were willing to get in line at 5 am, we could get onto a flight to Chicago early. 12 hours listening to those infernal machines ringing and dinging. Get down to the counters and there are hundreds in line. Ended up on a flight back to PHX Friday am, and once again delays with no explanations. I finally went to the podium to get some information, and the girl (yes, girl, she looked all of 16 years old) told me every company was delayed. After sitting in the airport for hours, I had heard enough announcements to know that was a lie. I was very upset and told her I was missing my grandmother’s viewing, and totally lost it when she began giggling. I am grateful no one called security, because I was pounding on the podium.
    Finally got to Chicago 11pm Saturday night and had to drive a couple of hours to Elkhart. Did get a little sleep before breakfast with family Saturday morning before the funeral. The trip home was so uneventful, I don’t remember it. America Worst was bought by another airline, so I guess it can’t wreak airline havoc all by itself anymore.

My husband and I were driving up to visit relatives, and we had trouble finding a place to stay for the night. Finally, we spotted a VACANCY sign in kind of a shabby looking place, but it was so late, and it was raining so hard, we pulled in. There was no electricity in the room. Also, in the middle of the night when we were sound asleep, a gust of wind blew our (locked) door wide open. (Not how I wanted to wake up.) And no, we couldn’t get another room.

Then, there’s the national airline of Belgium. SABENA. An acronym for Such A Bad Experience, Never Again.
Midnight flight, Dec 31, 1980. Many Westinghouse families moving to Europe after NATO bought AWACS airplanes. Many people (not just the Westinghouse people) had brought hats, blowouts, and other things to celebrate the new year.
Flight was overbooked, and our family of 7 was split up, with the 2 teenage girls sitting far away from the family. I seem to remember being a row behind my folks, but I could be wrong. The flight crew was mad that they had to use the jump seats because of the overbooking, and took it out on the passengers. Dinner was served right at midnight, which everyone suspected was done to keep people from doing anything but eating at the start of the new year. I don’t remember much else, but it is one of those events that families will retell together.

Considering the amount of travel I have done, nothing really ‘disastrous’ comes to mind. Oh, I’ve spent nights sleeping in airports (Chicago and Lima, Peru) and had flights cancelled (Manila, Phillipines) and had two flat tires on a gravel road in New Mexico 40 miles from nowhere (actually, it was about 40 miles from Truth or Consequences, New Mexico…at least that is where the tow truck came from) with free-ranging cattle roaming around the car…but I’m still here and alive, so I look upon them as ‘adventures’ rather than ‘disasters’.

I’ve had my share of lost luggage, canceled flights and disappearing reservations, but the most unique story belongs to my sister.

In 1982 the whole family gathered in Florida for my grandfather’s 100th birthday. My sister had flown in from California and while she was in Florida, the airline she flew on (Braniff) shut down and went out of business.

A very similar thing happened to my son, except that the failed switch was at a bridge over the Mississippi. Since they were on a bridge, he spent four hours just 14 blocks from the St. Louis Amtrak station - his destination.

Flying from left coast to right coast in the summertime. I was flying on my dime, so there was a stop in Denver. It was hot. Real hot. Damn hot. So hot that, come time for departure, the pilot comes on and announced that, because of the altitude and the heat that we couldn’t take off with enough fuel to reach right coast. We have two choices, says he. Taxi to down off the mountain, or stop in Kansas City to take on more fuel. Stoping in KC would be faster, he said, because they would have to build a long taxiway and a runway first. Ha-ha, we say. Of to KC we go, expecting to add maybe an hour and a half to our day. We won’t even be getting off the plane, just land, gas, and go.

We land, and when we make our turn on to the taxiway, there’s a bang. Says I, “I hope we didn’t blow a tire”. Says the guy next to me, “I don’t think so, tires blow at rotation and touchdown”. One of us was wrong, and it wasn’t me.

Sure enough, we have a flat on the nose wheel, a hole big enough I could but my fist in. They can’t take off with a flat, so they have to jack up the airplane and change the wheel. But they have to offload all the people and the fuel to jack up the plane.

Into the terminal we go. Then they tell us that they do have a spare tire. In Chicago. But they are going to fly it out to us right now, because our airplane has to be ready to fly in the morning for it’s scheduled service from the right coast to the left coast, and they will get us home tonight.

They arranged for one of the restaurants to feed us, then they moved us all into the gate area and shut down the terminal (because, hey, it’s dark, and all good people are at home). And we sit. And sit. 4 or 5 hours as I recall.

Then it’s back aboard, and fly home, 6 or 7 hours late. The good thing is that at that time of night I didn’t have to deal with traffic getting home.

Flying from Phoenix to NY to meet my family for a river cruise starting in Budapest, my parent’s treat. Everyone else is on the East Coast. Of course, my flight hits a storm and after racing like hell thru the airport (I’ve forgotten which), I get to the gate to see my family taxi-ing off. Off to stand in a 2 hour line. Rebooked to Budapest thru Frankfurt, run run, it’s boarding now.
I get on and this flight terminates in Riyadh. Many many people of Arab descent. I am a 5’9" in pretty short white shorts and a sleeveless blouse. The flight attendants suggested I cover up with blankets so as not to offend. I had already seen disapproving looks.
Get to Frankfurt and they give us (there were any number of people in a similar situation) vouchers for Budapest for another airline. Gate agent at said airline will not take our vouchers.
Down to stand in more long lines. When it’s my turn they say they’ll have me in Budapest the next day. No can do, boat leaves today, so book me thru to Vienna. More waiting and they finally get me on yet another airline (run run, they’re boarding) and I make it to Budapest. Turn the corner and there’s my mother, who was boarding on hysteria as the flight I was on was the last flight into B-pest for the day.
And wonder of wonder, my luggage made it. Good thing, since I intended burning the clothing I’d been wearing.

Flying from Rome to Sicily, as it happens often in Italy, general strike. No flights internally. Ok…trains only go to the major cities…ok…end up in Torino…not a bad city. Just got to go with it.

I was traveling from Florida to Maryland, a 2 day trip. On the morning of the second day I started feeling horribly dizzy, so I stop at the hospital. Two hours later the doctor gives me a bunch of pills including a sleeping pill. I spend the next two hours driving half spaced out then I take a wrong turn and spend another two hours stuck in traffic.

I have a couple of dramatic travel stories…

The first involved a strange chain of events. Over Christmas break in college, I visited my family in Heidelberg, Germany. My stepfather was a U.S. Army officer who was temporarily deployed, so my mother and sisters were there by themselves.

After the holiday, I was supposed to fly back to the U.S. on a Delta flight out of Frankfurt. This was in January 1990. This was also just over a year since the Lockerbie bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 (which also originated in Frankfurt), and my mother was a nervous wreck about my flight home. Worse, right before I was to fly home, Delta announced that it had received a bomb threat against its trans-Atlantic flights.

Then to top it off, the night before I was supposed to leave on a 9:30 a.m. flight the next day, my mother got very ill with a high fever. I took her to the emergency room at the U.S. Army Hospital in Heidelberg at about 10 p.m. I stayed with her there all night long. (One detail I remember is seeing a plaque in the hallway outside a room indicating that this room was where General George Patton had died back in December 1945.)

Around 7 a.m., the doctor finally came around for his rounds, and indicated that my mother “just” had the flu. She had been on an IV since being admitted, and seemed much better. She said that I should try to make my flight, but implored me to switch to another airline if possible.

I left my mother at the hospital and headed back to the house. I packed in about 10 minutes, and left the house just before 8 a.m., bringing my sister (who was to be dropped off at a soccer game on the way), and a neighbor (who would drive the car back home). The airport was 90 km away.

I got on the Autobahn at 8:05 a.m. on that Saturday morning, and pulled into the airport 30 minutes later. The car was a 1985 Audi Quattro, and I took it up to 500 rpm below the redline for most of the trip (which worked out to about 125 mph). Fortunately there was no traffic, but I still got passed a couple of times!

I got to the airline counter, and asked if they could change my flight to a different airline. They asked me why, and I mentioned the bomb threat that they had announced. Those were evidently the magic words, because I was promptly rebooked on a Lufthansa flight instead. The only problem was that the flight was already boarding, and I still needed to get through security. After a mad dash through the airport with all my luggage, I gate-checked my bags and made it onto the plane right before they closed the doors.