Off Topic: Travel Horror Stories

We've all got 'em. What's the worst you've ever dealt with? What tricks to you use to avoid them?

Of course, you get what you pay for, and I'm willing to accept that when I book the el cheapo flight through Jetstar, delays and such are just part of the game. Whenever there's weather, I'm convinced there's a limited amount of slots for planes to leave an airport, and Qantas is always given priority.

But my latest snafu made me pretty damn incensed.

I and a few indie devs are heading to Oman soon, to run the second iteration of a development workshop we ran back in July of last year. Flights were more expensive this time around, and I was trying to get the cheapest deal on Expedia.

Luckily, I didn't book them all at once.

For a batch of three flights out of Sydney, Expedia reserved the money as soon as I made the booking -- and then took the money out again, on behalf of the airline. I'm unsure if that's standard practice, and the reserved fee usually gets released straight away, but in my case, it wasn't released. The result was a massively overdrawn account for almost a week, during which I had to borrow money for basic things like food.

On the phone to the bank, they said call Expedia. On the phone to Expedia, they said call Expedia US. On the phone to Expedia US, they said call Etihad. And of course, Etihad said ring Expedia.

Eventually the problem resolved itself, with the money being released and me being able to eat again. No compensation was given. My understanding of Expedia is that they take your frequent flyer miles to give you a good deal, so I wasn't expecting the "budget airline" treatment from them. Their unwillingness to solve the problem has put me off more than a little bit.

What's the worst you've had, and what should your fellow Kotakuers avoid?

Image via Shutterstock


Comments

    Travel to the US a fair bit and have usually flown Jetstar as it's been cheaper. Last time Virgin was cheaper and the difference was like night and day. Made a pretty horrible trip much more bearable. Haven't flown with them a heap domestically so not sure how that stacks up.

      Virgin to US is pretty much the most comfortable way to do it in cattle class. BUT they code share with Delta, and just once I arrived at the gate in Sydney and there was a goddam delta 777 sitting there. There was something wrong with the seats on that plane they were so unconformable compared to any other plane I have ever been on. And the service was terrible compared to Virgin. Easily the worst 12 hours I have spent airborne.

        Thanks for that info, I will keep that in mind and check beforehand what plane we'll be on (if they can). I'm super tall so I'm super tall so definitely don't want weird seats.

        Last edited 03/06/15 9:09 am

          Same. I'm 6'1. People don't understand my obsession with comfy seats when I find one...

    Thanks Bob. Yes.
    Delays are one thing... until you delay for over eight hours in a regional airport, holding three hundred plus passengers in a departure lounge with no long-term stay facilities and shithouse communication.

    Eight hours while passengers watch all the possible alternative flights on the same or different days gradually being sold online, but can't be booked by the passengers on THIS flight until the airline has the fucking balls to officially cancel the flight. Those seats should have been held from public sale after the first couple delays.

    The 300-passenger bum-rush to rebook all the other flights, all in-house, meaning you can't take other flights from other airlines.

    Thanks to the busy time of year for Japan (cherry blossom season), some of the folks we were in touch with weren't able to get on a plane back home until over two weeks after the cancelled flight. People missed weddings, funerals, and graduation ceremonies, because Jetstar wouldn't book passengers on other airlines' flights.

    Another gem is you probably shouldn't tell people that you'll put them up in accommodation when they land in another country for a layover, then tell them when they land that ALL the hotels are full and they'll have to sleep on the air-port floor. Making the hotel booking in advance is probably a much better idea.

      310 seats on one of those planes mate. That is a horor story indeed. Ever flown JQ longhaul again?

        Nope, and never will. STILL got travel insurance and airline arguing with each other about who's responsible for which costs. They're defending their 'tightass' title to the bitter last.

          That's just horrible customer service. I've never had an issue with Jetstar long haulwise anyway. But then I've never traveled to Japan with em.

      Not to mention the all the food and drink sources tried to close down leaving us with nothing, not even water. And Jetstar lying to you about the status of the customs officers. And the phone customer service guy hanging up on you when trying to rebook. I took some satisfaction in handing the phone to that manager when he was about to hang up on me and listening to her go off at him. Wonder how long we would have been waiting if not for that :/

      Oh! And the $50 vouchers they issued to use for out next flight we booked through them which they then refused to honour.

        Other classics, "I'm hearing a lot of the parents are running out of baby formula and nappies, and anyone who needs to take a shower or nap or change thanks to being travelling for the last ten hours on previous connecting flights, can't because there's no towels and our bags are checked... "
        "It's an airport, not a hotel. If people need baby formula, we can see what we can do if they come ask."
        "Do you think maybe you should broadcast what facilities are available in these unusual circumstances? There are a lot of non-english speakers here, and people don't know these options are available to them so they're just suffering quietly and waiting."
        "If people are having problems with the circumstances, they're adults... they can come see us themselves."

          When I was in line to get the sandwich that I had in my hand with the voucher they gave us and after serving the person in front of me they refused to take the voucher out of my hand because they're closed now. No change or anything, just a straight swap but nope.

          Only time I've ever felt justified throwing a sandwich.

    I've only ever really had 2 "horror" stories, but they've all turned out ok in the end so I don't even consider them horrible. More just interesting anecdotes that were stressful at the time but still turned out cool.

    Biggest one was back in 2004; I was flying back to Australia after spending 5 months in the USA getting my Aus residency visa. I'd been away from friends and loved ones for a very long time, and the second I got my passport back from the embassy I was booking my flights back 'home' as soon as possible. What I failed to take in to account is that it was a holiday weekend in the USA so there was a lot of people booking flights. I booked my travel from New Hampshire via Chicago to San Francisco and then on to Sydney as 1 semi-continuous leg, with my flight transfer in Chicago being the same flight number as my originating flight. I figured at least that way I could stay near the plane rather than find a gate and transfer. I could have (at the time) picked a couple different flights that would get me to SF in time for the onward journey to Sydney.

    Except my flight was delayed taking off. Then, when we landed we were told to disembark and check the monitors for further information... O...k... I thought this was same plane. Get off the plane and discover a big fat "CANCELLED" on our flight to San Francisco, the only one on the whole board that was cancelled. So I sprint to the nearest customer service desk and I'm second in line. Very lucky as it turns out because a huge line starts forming behind me.

    Get told our plane is no longer able to make the flight (O_O) so passengers are being placed on standby based on their ongoing information. There's only 1 flight left that will get me in to SF on time so I'm told to go wait at that gate. They start calling passengers, lots of people boarding. More people boarding, more waiting. Flight attendants get on the plane, then come out and start calling Standby names and tell us to line up. I'm second in line. More discussion with Flight Attendants. I hear them say they're going to go count empty seats and figure out how many of us can get on. They come out. Point to guy in front of me. Come on board. Point to me. Come on board. Guy behind me. Come on board. That's all. Everybody else wait.

    So we make it to SF and I'm waiting around in the International area and I see the other 2 guys who got on board waiting to fly to Sydney as well, and we're all chuffed at being the luckiest people on that flight. 3 of (anecdotally) 50 odd who didn't make it. I get to Sydney and quickly place a call home, because as far as anybody checking my flights knows my flight to SF was cancelled. Laugh about it. Finally make my way home and breathe a sigh of relief that the whole ordeal was over.

      Second, and far less interesting, is in Sydney when Qantas were having the industrial relations issues. I was over for a birthday trip / concert and had booked to fly back on the (I think it was a Saturday?). We'd heard rumblings about the issues Qantas was having but nothing really looked like it would affect the flights. Get to the airport, check in, everything seems ok but there's nervous whispers around the place.

      Go to the gate, probably 5 minutes before boarding. Pilots and flight attendants get on the plane, the gate behind us boards and then... the pilots come off the plane on their mobile phones? Breaking news on the lounge TVs, Qantas are on strike. Nobody at the airport has any idea what's going on. A Qantas rep comes out and tells us to all go collect our bags and go home, call a hotline for more information. So... chaos in the baggage area, in to a taxi and off to a friend's house for a quick stopover to figure out what the next step is.

      Qantas are of course swamped with stressed callers, and they tell us that we should have been booked to a hotel by the airport staff which clearly didn't happen. Get told just to book in somewhere and keep calling every day until they can sort out flights home. Well of course because of this all hotels in the CBD are fully booked, so end up having to book in the suburbs. Eventually just turn it in to an extra holiday on Qantas's dime. Call work, make arrangements to work from the Sydney office for a couple days until arrangements can be made to go home. Rebook (eventually) at a CBD hotel the next day, spend the time doing a bit of shopping, relaxing in the city and just having a good time of it. Get flown home and then submitted receipts to Qantas who paid it all of them straight away without any questions. Made for a pretty good extra layover.

    My sister got married in Adelaide last summer. My girlfriend and I decided to drive there from Dubbo. It's about a 12 hour drive, nothing too terrible.

    On the way down, we found out that our fuel indicator was a little wonky. It showing a bit more than half a tank meant that it was closer to a third. Driving along the completely boring Hay Plaines, the low fuel warning came on about an hour away from a small town. It was Sunday around 7pm. Even if we made it, there was a non-zero chance that the only petrol station in town was closed.

    We made it just as the car started to dip into the reserve tank (which we didn't know the car even had). The guy at the servo is wandering around the pumps and walks up to us as we pull up. We thought he was about to tell us that they were closed for the day or out of fuel or something else that we really didn't want to hear.

    He was there because he was bored enough to fill up the tank for us. I could have kissed the man.

    That wasn't really a horror story, more of a prelude. Some time on the second day of our trip down, the air conditioner broke on the passenger side. No matter what we did, only hot air would blow out of the vents on the passenger side.

    We get to Adelaide and my sister's wedding goes off with a minimal amount of hitches (including the mandatory one). Getting home to Dubbo was where it turned into a horror story.

    Summer had definitely kicked in and we were driving through 40+ degree temperatures with the sun reflecting all of it's evil off of the asphalt. Normally, we would drive for about two hours before changing drivers. On the trip back, we had to stop at every single town along the way, if only so we could sit in the shade for a bit.

    To try and make things more bearable, the passenger would sit behind the driver. It was not bearable.

    There really isn't much more to this story. It was fucking hot. We melted.

    I've been lucky so no huge horror stories. I will give a tip though:
    Bring your portable console. Several times I was stuck on a long train trip or trapped in a room with a family with some incredibly annoying kids with parents not knowing how to calm them down. Each time I would just hand over my 3DS with NSMB to one of the kids and they would all calm down and be quiet the whole trip. A parent will always give you this "thank you" look of relief. It's got me quiet trips and free lunches.

      I've done this on planes before too. Stuck next to a kid that restless and noisy and wont stop moving so I gave him my Vita to play and then silence.

    I'm pretty sure many companies check the credit card with the reserve payment method the first time you make a transaction with them.
    And yes, it can take a week for the reserved payment to clear again.

    My horror story...
    I got caught up with the Air Asia direct Bali fiasco back at the start of the year.
    Lots of cheap flights were advertised with direct flights to Bali by Air Asia.
    We just missed the first list of cheapest, and got the second list of cheap flights for February.
    At the time, these were still cheaper than other carriers.
    Come Boxing day December, we hear about people who are getting their direct flights cancelled because Air Asia hasn't gotten permission to fly the route from Melbourne to Denpasar as yet.
    Most people on these flights are getting forced to fly via Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, adding 8 hours to a 6 hour flight.
    2 days later, an Air Asia (Indonesia) flight crashes on the way to Singapore.
    We called Air Asia a few days later to get our booking cancelled as the obviously cannot supply the service which we booked them for.
    We got pushed around a few times, Air Asia Australia, telling us we need to called Air Asia Indonesia to have the booking cancelled.
    We called Air Asia Indonesia, and they told us they couldn't do it.
    Called Air Asia Australia again, and got someone with some brains. We got a confirmation that Air Asia are cancelling the flights and refunding tickets, but only to those who had received an email from them. They assured us they would cancel our booking and refund us, but only when we received an email from them.
    It was mid January, and still no give from Air Asia, so I walked into my back and explained it to them, so they initiated the process to Reverse the credit card purchase. It could take a month, but previous experience with my bank assuring me we would get our money back regardless.
    We scrambled to find direct flights with Virgin Australia for the same time, they cost us more, so the credit card was maxed out on flights.
    3 weeks before the flight, Air Asia emailed us saying they were offering a refund. The representative on the phone said verbally it would take 14 business days for the refund.
    I immediately called the bank, and asked them to pause the credit card reversal. They couldn't pause it, but noted down what had changed for whoever was processing it.
    2 weeks before the flight, the bank refunded us all the money from Air Asia.
    4 days before the flight, Air Asia sent an email saying our refund is processing and would take 30 business day.
    We had a great flight with Virgin Australia.
    After our return trip, Air Asia sent message that our refund had been processed, but we never saw any money from them.
    That was fine with me, as thank god for using my CBA credit card.

    you must only be travelling to Honolulu, as Jetstar does not (and has never) flown to mainland US - are you sure you're not confusing Jetstar with someone else?

      If you're asking me, yes I have gone via Honolulu a few times. Take a break for a day or two to help with the jet lag.

    Mine is a little different, as it has nothing to do with flights, but I will tell it all the same.

    When I was about 10 I went on a family holiday with my mum and dad in Fiji. As part of the holiday we were going on a sailing cruise around bunches of small islands, eating local foods, sleeping in huts, all that sort of thing.

    Everything was going swimmingly, the islands were as beautiful as you would imagine, the huts were perfect and the food was fresh.

    However.

    There was a small branch of a peculiar looking tree hanging over our hut. It was a tight fit to get us all in the hut to begin with, 3 single mattresses basically covered the whole floor. We didn't think much of the tree branch, but this would become more relevant shortly.

    After a day sailing out to a seemingly uninhabited island and cruising about reading books, snorkling and checking out turtles we retired back to the island with the huts on it for the night as content as you could be. As we ate dinner, a gigantic, loud and aggressive tropical thunderstorm kicked off. It was visually spectacular, the lightening was breathtaking and the thunder cracks reverberated through our chests. The rain was absolutely belting down, everyone on the island remarked that they had never seen a thunderstorm as heavy, and went into their electricity-less huts to listen and eventually, hopefully, sleep.

    Well.

    The storm coincided with an event that happens once a year in Fiji for one night. Colourful, lightly hairy Caterpillars, roughly the size of a farmers index finger, crawl up to eat off the tree that's branch was hanging over our hut to become butterflys.

    There were small holes in the roof that were slanted so that though the rain couldn't get in, the caterpillars could. It started raining fat, colourful, lightly hairy caterpillars into our hut. Hundreds of them. Thousands of them. Everything changed. All of a sudden the storm outside was like armageddon. The thunder sounded like a warzone. The rain felt like someone shooting you with a fire hose. The lightening was the only thing lighting up the otherwise pitch black, and it was raining caterpillars in our hut with NOTHING we could do about it. We pulled our covers over our head and could feel the sudden thuds of these big caterpillars dropping onto us.

    It was horrific and it was constant. There were literally hundreds of them just crawling and rolling about. Regardless of whether you are scared of caterpillars or not, this was terrifying.

    At one point in the night, I decided I needed to go for a pee. As I got up I looked in the corner of the hut as I heard a scratching. The lightening exploded light into the room and there was a big rat, feasting on the caterpillars that were falling onto the roof. I screamed RAT, and we knew we were officially in the worst holiday situation we could be in. Surrounded by catepillars and rats, in a storm, in the dark, on a nearly abandoned island.

    I took the pee in the open air with everything going on around me, then like a 10 year old robot walked back into the hut, put the covers over my head as my mum and dad did the same, just tried to ignore the unigonorable mayhem, and go to sleep.

    The next day we told the organisers, who were local Fijians, about our night of the caterpillars and they laughed and said theres no way what we were saying could be true, then one of them walked back from having looked in our hut, as pale as we were. He whispered to his colleague and asked if we would like to stay on the boat where the rest of the crew sleep for the rest of our trip.

    We hastily agreed and the rest of the sailing adventure was fantastic, but, that night. That one unholy night where EVERYTHING went wrong, was the worst night of traveling I have ever had.

    A bit more than a decade ago, now, I went to the States to live and work for a while. Being a poor uni student, I went on the cheapest flights I could find out of Perth to Atlanta, which turned out to be via Johannesburg.

    The trip over was great. The planes were half-empty, the flight attendants were attentive, and I actually had a few good long sleeps. The trip back, not so much. I look back on it now with some amusement at the utter comedy of errors it was, but at the time it saw me bawling my eyes out in the arrivals lounge in Perth.

    It started when I landed in Florida, where I'd been working for the past little while. I had my entire international allotment of baggage - my 7kg carry-on, a 23kg bag containing all the crap I'd accumulated, a 23kg box plastered in fragile stickers containing my pc (in a mountain of bubble wrap) and other bits and bobs. Getting it all checked was the first hurdle - it was with some regional airline who didn't get the memo that their agreement with my main carrier said I could bring fifty kilos of crap on board their little 100-seater. But, after some arguing and going over the terms and conditions listed in my booking, it gets checked, and they assure me it's going to be checked through to Perth.

    It doesn't occur to me to check the baggage receipt until I'm through security - this was not long after 9/11, so security was godawful - and see that it's only checked through to Atlanta. I wasn't a terribly experience traveler at this stage, so I figured that this was ok, no biggie. I had a a bit of time to kill in Atlanta, I'd just pick up my luggage and recheck. Of course, it didn't quite work out that way.

    Get to the carousel, and there are no unclaimed baggage trolleys. None. Zip. I know this because my bag and box were the very last two items to be offloaded, so I had plenty of time to search. So there's me with fifty kilos of luggage standing in an increasingly deserted carousel, wondering how the hell I'm going to get it to the international terminal and, incidentally, how does one actually *get* to the international terminal if one has not used the secure transfer bus service?

    In the first of two acts of kindness that get me to my plane on time, a homeless man who'd been panhandling for change saw me looking distressed and found a cart for me from a taxi stand up the way. I gave him my last US $5 note and set off looking for a way to get to the international terminal, aware all the time that my comfortable transfer time buffer was rapidly ticking away. After some walking, I find the transfer bus stop... just in time to see the bus leave. Of course. And, of course, the next bus is late, turning up half an hour after the previous one instead of fifteen minutes. And I'm now in great danger of missing my flight.

    (Why not get a taxi, you asked? When I said I gave the homeless gent my last $5 US, I meant it. Working in the US had, shall we say, not gone that well.)

    Eventually get on the bus, get to the international terminal, blessedly find a free trolley to load my crap onto, and run down to the check-in counter with less than five minutes to spare. There is no line. My luggage is re-checked; I'm going home.

    You know episode of Futurama where the gang see the line for the Central Bureaucracy? The one where people grow old and die, and everyone occasionally has to step back a place because someone's had a baby? The security line was like that. It was a thing of beauty, and a thing of terror, and a thing that had posted wait times of over an hour.

    The second act of kindness came here, where the check-in agent saw how short of time I was, and how long the damn line was, and flagged down one of the TSA agents floating around. Said agent frog-marched me all the way through security, gave me directions to the gate and told me to run like hell. Which I did, gratefully.

    Onto the plane for the first leg of the flight. It's packed - not an empty seat in the house. And my seat has non-functioning IFE. And the man sitting next to me spends the flight getting drunk and hitting on me. But, you know, I'm just really damn glad to be there, so I read my book and do my best to ignore him.

    We land for refueling on somewhere god only knows. Armed men in military unifroms board the plane and inspect our passports. Drunk man gives me his business card and disembarks. According to his card, he works for the FAA.

    Second leg passes without incident. I still have no IFE, but my second seatmate is much more tolerable. Even the landing in Johannesburg was nice. Johannesburg airport, not so much. Which is not great when you have an eight-hour layover.

    Firstly, the airport is tiny. It took fifteen minutes to complete a circuit and see all there was to see. There's not really even anywhere open to buy food - admittedly a moot point since I had no money. So I decide I'd pass the time napping, since I'd been awake for more than 24 hours by that point. Only all the chairs have arms, so the only real option is sleeping on the floor. I also don't have an alarm, so I tear a nice big sheet of paper out of my notebook and scrawl my flight details on it, asking some kind soul to wake me up if I was still asleep and it was being called.

    Getting to sleep actually took a while. Aside from the floor not being very comfortable, every fifteen minutes, an announcement was blasted through the PA system instructing us all not to be terrorists. Eventually, though, fatigue takes its course, and I doze, waking up in time for boarding. It's a Qantas flight, so I have high hopes of a comfortable ride for the last nine hours. If you're guessing by the tone of this story so far, that this was not the case, it was not the case.

    Forward bulkhead. The one they attache the bassinets to. Zero legroom. No IFE. Middle seat of five. Mothers with babies in the other four. Crap and crackers *everywhere*. And the *wailing*.

    When I finally got into Perth and worked some life back into my legs, it's to discover they'd left my luggage in Jburg. Much like my luggage, my ride had also failed to arrive. And I don't even have enough money for a phone call, let alone a taxi. I hadn't had any proper sleep for almost two days. I sat on the kerb outside the terminal and had a good cry. And then found a payphone and made a reverse charge call to my parents.

    Believe it or not, my bag and the box containing my pc was eventually found and delivered to my home. Intact.

    Since those days, I've become a rather more seasoned flyer (thanks work!). My rules of thumb, for business or pleasure, are:

    - Book through the carrier itself, not through a deal site
    - Always carry cash for your final and any transit destinations, even if you don't think you'll spend much time there
    - More than a few lounges will let non-members enter for a fee. If you're going to be stuck in the terminal for more than two hours, it's often worth the money just for the free food, drinks and wifi.
    - No matter what electronic toys you have or what IFE the plane's fitted with, bring a book and a pack of playing cards
    - Stay hydrated, and bring your own water if you can
    - Vaseline, not chap-stick, for your lips. If you suffer from a dry nose as well, don't be afraid to vaseline that up too
    - Always, *always* be nice to the check-in staff and the flight attendants. Their jobs are harder than you would think, and they put up with a lot of crap. Politeness, patience and understanding can go a long way. I've had free meals, extra booze, and once got upped to business because I'd helped the counter staff manhandle the luggage of a large family of first-time travelers who spoke no english
    - A set of good-quality active noise cancelling headphones is absolutely worth the investment
    - Bloody Mary, full of vodka, blessed are you among cocktails: the Bloody Mary is an acceptable drink at any time of day and can make even the most terrible of cheap vodkas palatable

    Flew into Brussels in 2011, caught the Thalys high speed train into Paris' Gare d'Nord, with two pieces of luggage + my backpack. I had to catch the subway to my hotel after disembarking the train, so I went and bought a carnet of ten Paris train tickets and stuffed them (bar one) in my wallet.

    Anyone who has travelled to Paris will know that in addition to a sliding bar at the ticket gate the gate also has a shield that you push through to exit it. Well, these darned gates are also not very wide, so I had problems with getting through these gates with two pieces of luggage. A "kind" gent saw my predicament, took my ticket and inserted it through the slot, whereupon I huffed and puffed my luggage through, pushing them ahead of me.

    It wasn't until I got on the subway that I found my wallet- with 500 Euros and nine subway tickets- gone from my pocket. Apparently while advising me to push my luggage through, he took advantage of my occupied hands to slip his hands into my pocket and make off with my wallet. And on my first day in Paris too! But that isn't the end.

    Two weeks later, I was on the high speed train from Amsterdam to Brussels, prepatory to catching the flight home from Brussels National Airport. Although my holiday had been socked in by cloud for most of my trip, only at the end had the skies cleared and the sun shone. My luggage were on the racks above, me underneath, secure and in sight, or so I thought.

    With the sun shining in my face, I began to get dozy, so I thought a catnap wouldn't hurt. Just before Antwerp I could detect someone, a guy, standing above and behind me, fiddling with something in the racks. It must be a fellow traveller with his bag on the rack, or so I thought. We stop at Antwerp, and the Belgian ticket collectors check our tickets. I'm awake now, so after the ticket check, I get up and start to go to the WC, when...

    (you can see where this is going)

    My backpack had gone!!! Some filthy bugger (the guy who I felt standing behind my seat) had taken on himself to just go and grab the bag, and get off the train at Antwerp! And all while I was napping underneath!

    I was totally shocked. In there was my netbook, my camera, a hard drive with all my photos from the trip, my PSP, my Australian wallet, and an expensive collapsable raincoat from the US- all gone in a few moments. Bystanders in the seats around consoled me, and noted that a tall guy was there, but none of them had any reason to be suspicious of the guy. Belgian police got on the train at the next stop, and I explained my situation, and they told me to travel to the end of the line, where there was a police station. I reported my loss, I got a police report, and I then went to to Brussels airport, where I changed my Whirlpool and Facebook account passwords (among others).

    This is the first time I've boarded an international flight with absolutely NO hand luggage...

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