HTBR 2k10: Question #1 – Travel nightmares

Contests — By Rachel Greenberg on December 2, 2010 at 3:00 pm

What is your most heinous holiday travel nightmare?

Answers can be in the form of a real experience. Example:

Last year I flew from San Francisco to London during winter vacation to visit my girlfriend who was studying abroad there. I decided to be a cheapskate and fly on Christmas Eve since the flight was much cheaper. What I didn’t take into account was the other type of people flying on Christmas Eve. During the entire flight, the woman next to me proceeded to tell me about her bitter divorce, and ended up sobbing on my shoulder for the entire Atlantic Ocean leg of the trip. Worst. Flight. Ever.

Or in the form of a real experience with some much-needed embellishments to increase the LOL or <ZOMG> factor. Example:

Last year I flew from San Francisco to London during winter vacation to visit my girlfriend who was studying abroad there. I decided to be a cheapskate and fly on Christmas Eve since the flight was much cheaper. What I didn’t take into account was the other type of people flying on Christmas Eve. During the entire flight, the woman next to me proceeded to tell me about her bitter divorce, and ended up sobbing on my shoulder for the entire Atlantic Ocean leg of the trip.

And when I finally got to London my girlfriend saw the smudged lipstick on my collar and the clearly single and desperate middle aged woman who walked out with me, and my GF broke up with me on the spot. I spent Christmas homeless and alone in a foreign land. Worst. Trip. Ever.

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    15 Comments

  • I can’t win (darn being employed by this fine establishment) but I thought I’d lead us off.

    Coming back from Christmas to go back to college on Jan 2nd 2005, I had a layover in Vegas on my way back east. Stupidly, I checked my bag, and put my laptop with my un-backed up junior paper on Piracy in Elizabethan English Theatre in that bag. The due date was three days from then.

    That bag was lost. Then found. Then took a week to get back to me, upset and paper-less. Needless to say, it wasn’t the happiest of new years for me.

  • anne says:

    Love this! So – my fave Holiday disaster-adventure was going to the Dominican Republic. Which was all good until my bags didn’t show up. They decided to go to Haiti instead. As i’d flown in from Boston in December, my wardrobe was: 1 pair boots, 1 pair wool socks, 1 wool sweater, one turtleneck, 1 pr jeans.

    So – for the 5 (!) days it took my bags to make it cross-island from Haiti to the DR, i wore: 1 pair bare feet, 1 former-turtleneck-turned-into-sleeveless-tank (via scissors) and 1 pair cut-off jeans (via same scissors.) This outfit, plus some flops and a few touristy DR tee’s held me over – except for the day i played golf on a course that required shoes. Snow boots + tropics + 5 hours in the sun = train wreck. :)

  • Sharon Miro says:

    Some years back my daughter and I flew to Medford Or from Los Angeles for a quick holiday visit to the Grandparents. Not only did the tickets cost more than flying to Paris, but then there is that heinous stop in San Francisco that we all know and love. this is going to be a quick trip, just 2 days beacsue both of us HAVE to be back in LA on Monday. Me to fly somehwre else, and her to be back at work.

    I rented a car at the Medford. airport. I could have bought the same car in Los Angeles for half the rental fee. A small aside about the Medford airport: ONLY Alaska and United fly there–and there is only ONE security gate–but it’s guarded by armed guards. No slackers here.

    After a really lovely and uneventful family visit we started our return to Los Angeles. We had a 2pm flight, so drop the car at 12:00, then check in. I decided to check in first, good thing.

    What? The fight is delayed? How long: 2 hours. Hmm. Back to car and off to lunch, as I had been banned yeasr befroe from the only cafe in the airport for actually demanding that the food taste somewhat like, well, food.

    Lunch over, we returned to the airport at around 2:30 and dropped the car off. Standing in line to check in, I hear the people in front of me muttering that there has been another delay and they don’t know if any flights will leave at all. I look at my daughter. She stays in line for check in and I rush to see if we can get the car back that we dropped off a scant 4 minutes earlier.

    Nope. I go back to the line, and manage to wheedle some answers from a desk person–who by the way DOES NOT work for the airline–and they tell me that all flights have been canceled. I politley ask for themt o hold that thought and direct my daughter to find a car ANY car to rent.

    Back to the desk, where we are whispering . Not only have the flights been caneled, but there is NOTHING AVAILABLE FOR 2 DAYS.Huh. TO ANYWHERE. BUT if I wnat he can put us in the LAST TWO SEATS on the LAST FLIGHT scheduled out of SF that night, if we can get there. It’s 3:30 by now.

    I feel the people behind become restless. I know theye are gonna be stuck in Medford and not happy when they find out. I say yes. What the hell. I grab the tickets and go to find the kid, who has secured a car. I tell her we are driving to SF to catch that flight.

    She mentions the blinding snow storm over the Cascade summit. Looks good here I reply, maybe it will clear.

    We drove and it snowed, and as we hit the higher elevations it snowed more. We laughed in the face of growing odds against success. I tucked that sedan in behind an 18 wheeler and shushed down from 4500 feet–all the while looking at the clock. Would we make that flight or be stuck in the SF airport?

    We didn’t stop–we drove. Fast. We made the SF airport at 9:30, and the plane just as they were closing the doors. I have never booked another holiday flight to Medford.

    It’s faster to drive.

  • Craig Given says:

    I can’t win either b/c I work here, but I might have to go buy that sumo wrestler coffee table on my own anyway. Wow that thing is…stunning.

    I went on a holiday trip one year to Costa Rica. I was having so much fun, I decided to extend my holiday and head south to Panama. The night before I was to leave for the border (from Cahuita), I let my guard down briefly and my passport was stolen along with all of my money, credit cards, and other ID’s! All I had left was a photocopy of my passport and $40US!!!

    I took the cheapest, slowest, bus (if you can call it that) back to San Jose and made $40 last me a few days (hint: arroz con pollo and crowded hostels) before being able to wire myself some emergency funds and get my passport replaced.

    The US Embassy was not sympathetic. Do not lose your passport. Ever.

  • 1) Last year my girlfriend and I were all set to leave for Guatemala on the morning after Thanksgiving. The day before, while packing (just before heading over to some friends to stuff our face), she realized she had lost her passport. We had to move the entire trip back, re-book our flights and hotels, and get in line at 7am at the SF passport office — amazingly, they were open the Friday after the holiday. They turned it around in 6 hours and, surprise surprise, we were off to Guatemala by Saturday morning.

    2) I was supposed to spend New Years 2006 climbing Mt. Aspiring in New Zealand (“the Matterhorn of the South”). A freak summer snowstorm (massive low pressure system) blew in over from Antarctica and parked itself over the South Island for a week. We couldn’t get the helicopter to fly into base camp. We were planning to fly in and hike out. We could have hiked in and flown out, but only if we knew the weather would be OK so we wouldn’t be stranded for days. And I didn’t have time to hike in AND out. So I ended up just hanging around Wanaka for a few days and then escaping to the North Island, where I found slightly better weather and managed to summit the volcano they used as the basis for the big one in Lord of the Rings.

  • I’m also an employee, and this story didn’t actually happen during the holidays. Nevertheless….

    Back in 2007, I got married. Of course, I planned the most romantic, 5-star honeymoon to Tulum, Mexico, because I’m a great guy. We left our home town the morning after the wedding, naively anticipating 2 weeks of glorious memories.

    So, we arrive at check in, and inform them that we had booked the honeymoon package, to which the lady at the desk offers us an upgrade. How awesome is that! Instead of a standard room, we’ll be moved to an ocean-front suite… for an extra $1,500. No deal.

    The bag boy directs us to our standard room, and stands patiently beside our bags waiting for a tip. Not knowing the going rate, I give him $10 and thank him. He pulls out a wad of bills, which I’m sure had about $1,000, and assures me that “it’s a pleasure.” But, I’m pretty sure he wasn’t impressed with me.

    We examine our room, and discover the ‘honeymoon fruit platter’ in the advertisement turns out to be an apple and a prune saran-wrapped on a dessert plate. Starving after a full day of travel, this simply doesn’t satisfy. So, we order room service, taking full advantage of the all-inclusive status. My wife orders the spaghetti. She gets half-cooked noodles in margarine. Despite the weirdness of the day, we think it tastes “amazing.”

    Sadly, as often happens after times of intense stress, I get sick and have the worst sore-throat I’ve ever had. So bad, in fact, that I can’t even swallow anything. My diet consists of Gatorade purchased at the gift shop. My wife, as understanding as ever, nurses me, despite my lack of energy. We spend most of our days watching Sony Entertainment Television marathons of Scrubs. My fever gets higher, and my dreams turn into Scrubs related nightmares. My days become terrifying. And, my night sweats turn our bed sheets a pale Gatorade-red.

    Meanwhile, my wife gets sick, and both of her ear drums rupture overnight. In the morning, we go to see the resort’s “doctor,” who only comes on site from 9am-12pm, every other day. He examines us and recommends we go to the hospital. So, he calls us an ambulance. We wait for 30 minutes until the ambulance arrives. It’s a minivan with the word “ambulance” painted on the side. We’re certain he’s the “doctor’s” buddy. We get in and sit in the middle row. It’s a 45 minute drive into Playa del Carmen. My wife is in extreme pain. But, we’re delayed because the “ambulance” needs to fill up its gas tank at the busiest gas station on earth. Fortunately, our insurance covers the bill, because his “ambulance” charges us $325.

    Finally, we arrive at the hospital. The “doctors” can’t agree on a diagnosis, so they bring in the “ear specialist.” He decides to give her a nasal spray and a injection in her buttocks. You know, the usual for ear pain…

    The ambulance doesn’t wait to take us back, so we take a taxi back. Costs us $80, and it doesn’t stop for gas.

    We decide it’s best to go home early, but it turns out flights only go out on Saturdays, and it’s now Sunday. We’re stuck on our honeymoon for another week!

    We start to get better, but the weather gets worse. It’s cool, though, because we experience some incredible storms. I’ve never seen rain clouds quite like this. We’re stuck in our rooms, but now that we’re feeling better, it’s not so bad…

    … until our roof starts leaking at 10pm. We call the front desk, expecting to be moved to a better room. They tell us that help is on its way. Five minutes later, we get a knock on the door. I answer. Two non-English speaking men walk right into our room. My wife hides herself under the covers, as they begin to duck tape the ceiling back together. After 10 minutes, they figure it’s stopped leaking, so they throw a towel on the wet floor and leave. We don’t get upgraded. I should mention that even though it’s been a week, we’re still sleeping in our Gatorade-red bedsheets.

    As we begin to get out to the resort’s restaurants, we notice that nothing is edible. The other guests seem to understand our frustration implicitly, and we have a few hearty laughs with strangers, who know what we’re thinking without our saying anything. I order a “cheesecake” for dessert. It’s partially frozen, and there are noticeable saran-wrap marks all over it. Fresh.

    We go to complain about some of these issues, and the friendly, bi-lingual staff immediately forget how to speak English. This happens multiple times.

    Finally, our honeymoon comes to an end. We go to the bar for one last spend-off. We each ask for a watermelon martini (I don’t really know a lot about alcohol, and martini was the only drink name I could think of… don’t judge me…). The bar-tender is a trainee, and his manager is on a break. So, we get our drinks, and both begin to feel drunk after only a few sips. I don’t know what he gave us, but it was powerful… but, of course, it seemed fitting.

    And, we decided to travel to Australia/New Zealand as a second honeymoon. You’ll have to wait for that story, though, until next week.

  • A couple of years ago, I missed Christmas (and my Mother’s birthday) in the US because my flight from Geneva was delayed into Frankfurt and I missed my connecting flight to San Francisco. Banal reason? Not quite. It was due to the discovery of undetonated World War II bombs discovered under a runway that was being repaired. The good side: I had dinner at our overnight hotel (I always wanted to see an NH Hoteles property) with an Olympic Gold Medal winner who also missed the flight and she had her medal with her to show me. The bad side? OK, missing Christmas and your Mother’s birthday is high on the list, but worse than that I found out that this was not the first time undetonated World War II bombs have been discovered at Frankfurt airport (January 2010 was the latest). In fact it’s happened several times over the years and in more places than just Frankfurt. I just made a connection last night at Frankfurt from Beijing and I had another flashback.

  • Rachel Greenberg says:

    Ok this didn’t happen over the holidays but it is my BEST travel nightmare.

    My mom and I planned a two week trip to Guatemala with my aunt and cousin. My aunt is my mom’s sister, and my cousin is my dad’s niece (point being they’re from opposite sides of the family).

    My mom and I were flying from San Francisco, while my aunt and cousin were coming from Oregon and the East Coast. We finally found a way we could all meet in Houston, and then the four of us could fly together on the same flight into Guatemala City.

    Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. My aunt and cousin’s flights were earlier than ours, and they made it into the airport before a massive thunder/lightening/epic rainstorm hit Houston. Although the two of them had only met a few times before, they were able to find each other and got on the plane.

    We weren’t so lucky. After circling for hours, we finally landed and then sat on the tarmac for another TWO FULL HOURS. We obviously missed our connecting flight. My aunt and cousin had to get on the flight that we missed, because all the other flights to Guatemala were fully booked for the next week (except for two seats on a flight out the next day which they reserved for us, thank goodness). I was the only Spanish speaker in the group, my mom had all our hotel information, and no one brought their cell phones since they weren’t going to work in Guatemala anyway.

    Once we realized they had left on the flight without us, my mom literally had a panic attack that they were going to be lost, alone, unable to speak the language, didn’t know each other, and would never be able to find the tiny hotel we had booked in Antigua, an hours drive from the airport. Although there’s discussion about it to this day (my mom says she got food poisoning, I think it was the stress) my mom became super sick, and could barely make it to the INCREDIBLY CRAPPY hotel the airline had booked for us.

    I had never been to Houston before, and I really hope never to go back. It was hot and humid, and storming the entire night, and our filthy hotel was so dirty there was hair all over the bed and in the shower, and this whole time my mom is throwing up. She didn’t want to go to Guatemala with a “stomach bug”, but since we had no way to reach our family already there, we had to go.

    LUCKILY, we were able to get on the next flight out because of my aunt and cousin’s foresight, and magically my mom felt a lot better once we were on the plane and on our way. Cousin and Aunt had been totally fine and had figured out how to tell the cab where our hotel was, and we only missed 12 hours of a 10 day trip.

    Moral of the story: Guatemala is amazing. But don’t fly through Houston.

  • Jason says:

    I tend to drive home to Minnesota for Christmas from where I currently live – Denver. The drive is usually about twelve hours and quite boring, as I pass through the great plains of Nebraska and Iowa. Last year’s trip was so crazy, though, that I couldn’t even take the occasional glance at a cow standing fixedly along the side of the road. The snow storm I tried to get ahead of was blowing sideways, making it impossible to do anything but really focus on the road during my second and third days of travel. The first night I made it all the way to Kearney, where I thought I could safely spend the night ahead of the oncoming blizzard. Unfortunately, I woke up to a foot of snow on my car and even worse roads. Cars were in the ditch everywhere. And then in got worse. A second wave moved in on top of the first, and the storm really picked up. I made it all the way to Worthington, Minnesota, but I couldn’t go on. I had to stop for the night again, and take my chances the next morning. I didn’t heed the storm’s warning, though, when I woke up to find my car frozen to the ground. Yes, my tires were frozen to the ground. I needed a jump start in the cold weather anyway, so thankfully the tow truck driver was nice enough to help my dislodge my car. The snow storm continued all the way to the Twin CIties from southwest Minnesota. It was unlike anything I had experienced in all my years growing up there, and am not sure I’ll ever see again. It was so bad actually, that snow snuck its way into my engine, thus creating a block of ice. I had to take it to a mechanic to get it fixed when I finally arrived, and he said he was surprised I could drive at all since I nearly hydro-locked the car – yes, hydro-locked it in a blizzard, not by trying to drive through a creek or river.

    SEE PICTURES: http://www.jasons-travels.com/my-travels/christmas-snow-driving

  • Zain Iqbal says:

    The year: 1986. The location: Lagos, Nigeria. I’m with my parents and sister and I’m about to visit family and friends in Pakistan over the Christmas holidays for the first time, flying upper deck business-class for the first time on an Pan Am 747 no less. We arrive at the airport in a torrential West African downpour with a number of other Americans flying out and I remember feeling queasy. As my parents are checking all of us in, a wave of nausea hits me like a freight train and I quickly cover my mouth, but it’s to no avail as I get sick all over the Pan Am desk, covering that famous blue logo with, well. you know. My mom whisks me to the bathroom, cleans me up, and we head to board the plane. Of course, I missed the excitement of flying business class because I immediately fell asleep on the plane. What’s worse? The fact that my mom, in the rush of herding us into the car to the airport, realized she left all of our Christmas presents in a suitcase by the door of our house. Santa didn’t deliver that year, my friends. :(

  • Ivan Terzic says:

    Belgrade, 31st December, 2005, New Year Ev. My colleague somehow avoided celebration with his wife and her parents that night with an excuse he must go to Paris, a business trip or something… 4:00 pm, he walked down the pedestrian zone in downtown, peaking at the stores and showcases. He stooped by to see some of the new watches collection, standing there for a while, turned around to keep on and rammed on his mother of law.
    -What the hell are you doing here? Arent you suppose to be in Paris? – she asked. All mess up and confused he just stood there with no single word to say. -Are you ok? Youre not looking so good!- another bomb exploded in his face. Finally, he spoke about he couldnt book any flight for Paris and he is very concerned if his boss find out he messed up.
    -Oh poor guy! Dont worry, my good friend work at the airport, she could probably find some solution. Come on, I’ll drop you by!
    So, they went to airport, his loving mother of law take care he still get on the plane for Paris (business class) and wish him happy new year.
    He arrived at 10:00 pm, spent New Year Ev at the airport lobby and booked first flight back to Belgrade.
    I know he was not lying, cause I am the one who was waiting for him at the Belgrade airport next day.

  • Howard James, Southwest Florida says:

    I am new to Nile Guide, but it appears this is where I am to enter the Battle Royale.

    Howard James
    Southwest Florida

    Experience #1

    I married my wife (a widow with four children) on New Years Day, 1972, ignoring the potential tax advantage of getting married on December 31. Since I had spent the better part of 1971 living and working in Switzerland and traveling throughout Europe, from Skagen, Denmark to Kastelli, Crete, traveling in a Volkswagen Bettle, we decided to spend our monthlong honeymoon in South America. As we sat down in our seats on a plane in New York a uniformed male from the airline came down the aisle, stopped in front of me, said the plane was overbooked and I had to get off. First I protested quietly, and then, as he insisted that I leave I became bit more vocal — explaining I did not intend to let my bride begin our honeymoon alone in South America. I was suddenly escorted off the plane and was taken to a private room where I was told it quiet down. I pointed out we had booked our trip with a travel agency several weeks earlier and that they needed to find another solution for their overbooking problem. I may have threatened a lawsuit. My wife also began making it clear to the flight attendants and everyne around her she was very upset at being forced to fly to South America alone. I don’t remember my exact words now, more than 38 years later. Others with clearer heads came into the room to talk to me and someone higher up the airline food chain finally agreed that my bride and I should travel together. After about 20 minutes they did find another solution (I was never told what it was) and I was able to settle down beside my worried new wife and I held her hand as she rested her head on my shoulder on our flight to Rio and a month long (and now 38 year) adventure.

    Second event

    While on our South American honeymoon in 1972 we made a pilgrimage to Machu Picchu. On the way our train from Cuzco was stopped by a landslide of tumbled trees, piles of boulders and oozing mud. We had to climb and crawl over the 10 or 12 foot high pile of debris, carrying our luggage, to board a train that had appeared on the other side. We still remember the attractive woman, wearing a fancy pink and white mini skirt and bright pink high heels as she struggled to cross the gooey mess on her hands and knees, showing those behind and below her more than they had ever wanted or expected to see. Except for the flea that nipped my bride in our bed we found the rest of our visit to Machu Picchu delightful. When we returned to Cuzco we boarded our flight back to Lima. The airport is 11,500 feet above sea level, and our plane had to quickly climb over the higher surrounding mountains. Our plane reached an altitude of several thousand feet when it suddenly idropped straight down towards the craggy peaks like a rock tossed off the edge of the Grand Canyon. Passengers were screaming in Spanish, while the pilot tried to say what we hoped were some calming, reassuring words, also in Spanish. Since we knew little of their language we quietly prayed to a God we hoped understood English.

  • I went to Austin on exchange and at the end of the exchange program, it was time for me and my bf to split and go our separate ways. When there was a huge line at the Austin airport, I asked if I could cut and get priority check in. The woman at United said no maam i’m serving other customers get back into line.

    15 minutes prior to my flight departure time I asked her if I could get priority check in again because I have an international connecting flight to catch. She said I needed to get back into line.

    5 minutes prior to my flight departure time I said that I was going to miss my flight – she said well too bad, looks like you missed your flight then.

    I missed my flight and did not get back to Hong Kong for Christmas.

  • First things first, it really isn’t a horror story if you get delayed in Oahu an extra 12 hours, but it is a story.

    I was flying home after Christmas break from Maui to San Jose, CA to head back to college. I had caught my island hopper to Oahu, and was waiting for the 2 pm flight to the mainland out of Oahu. The announcer came on the loud speaker alerting us that our flight would be delayed a couple minutes for cleaning. We waited. Another announcement came 30 minutes later… “Alright folks, hold tight, this plane is actually brand new and we at Hawaiian Airlines are waiting for a Hawaiian priest to bless the plane before we take off.” I knew something was off, and I didn’t buy this excuse for a second. Of course all the tourists ate it up. I looked at my full blooded Hawaiian high school friend I was traveling with, and we both rolled our eyes. “Hawaiian priest? Come on!”

    After an hour of passenger complaints, we saw the crew exit the plane and were alerted we were all delayed indefinitely. We were herded into a bus and taken to Waikiki for a gourmet buffet dinner until further notice. Thinking on our feet, we called up some friends that lived on Oahu and they took us to the Waikiki Yacht Club for drinks. We didn’t end up returning to the airport until around 3 am. I can’t imagine what the rest of the travelers did all night at the restaurant, but for me, any extra time spent on the islands is a Christmas miracle.

    I ended up landing in San Jose with about 1 minute to spare before heading to my first classes of the quarter. Brutal!

  • Lauren says:

    When the power went out on the 22nd we thought it was quaint and fun to think about experiencing Christmas the old fashioned way. When it still wasn’t on Christmas eve day, we started to think the holiday might not be as much fun as with all the modern amenities. Try cooking a ham on the grill outside while its snowing. We used up the generator trying to leave on only the tree Christmas lights and fridge. At least we’ll have cold egg nog, damnit! Thats the holiday spirit.

    Eventually, Christmas rolled around and we all slept in (no alarm clocks) and awoke thinking it was freezing in a house with not heat. While it wasn’t that much fun while it was happening, it was a good experience in the end. We stayed warm by all snuggling under one blanket on the couch while singing Christmas carols and drinking lukewarm egg nog.

    So many people don’t have power around the world, don’t have stoves or fridges or warmth, so really it was a learning experience– learning about Christmas empathy.

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