Plane stupid: The most embarrassing travel foul-ups

Travel inspiration

Plane stupid: The most embarrassing travel foul-ups

By
22 May 2017

By | 22 May 2017

If you were booking a flight to Sydney you’d want to end up in Australia, wouldn’t you?

Travel problems have been much in the news recently. You’d think, wouldn’t you, that before travelling thousands of miles, both passengers and airlines would double-check that they knew exactly what they were doing. Apparently not. So here’s our step-by-step guide for how-to-not-totally-foul-up-your-holiday. Hooray!

Step one: Find your destination

Sydney, Canada, is pretty but it's not in Australia – Shutterstock foul-ups Group Created with Sketch. Sydney, Canada, is pretty but it’s not in Australia – Shutterstock

Quiz question: Where would you find the city of Sydney, famous for its opera house, iconic harbour bridge and being home to an extravagant number of dangerous animals? Is it a) Australia; b) Canada; or c) the Moon? If you answered a), you are correct. If you answered b) or c), you are an idiot and deserve everything you get, quite frankly. Yet somehow, Raoul Christian and Emma Nunn from the UK managed to book tickets to Sydney, Canada and not realise their mistake. For £740. Each.

Raoul Christian and Emma Nunn hoped to land Sydney, Australia – Shutterstock foul-ups Group Created with Sketch. Raoul Christian and Emma Nunn hoped to land Sydney, Australia – Shutterstock

The mind boggles further when, upon landing in Halifax, Nova Scotia (where Christian says he thought they must just be “going the long way round; that’s why the tickets were so cheap”), they were put on a 25-seater propellor plane to continue the journey. I’m no aviation expert, but I reckon even the ghost of Charles Lindbergh wouldn’t be able to get that across the Pacific.

At what point do you raise a quivering hand and say “Excuse me, but…?” Is it when part of your itinerary isn’t operated by Qantas or Air Asia but by Moose Airways? Is it when you hear a distinct lack of Aussie accents at the boarding gate? Or is it when you book the sodding flight? I despair, I really do.

You want to know something else? They’re not the only ones to have done it. In 2009, Johannes Rutten of the Netherlands and his grandson Nick did exactly the same thing. As did Milan Schipper this year. Crikey.

Step two: Check your spelling

Grenada is incredibly beautiful and not in Spain – Shutterstock foul-ups Group Created with Sketch. Grenada is incredibly beautiful and not in Spain – Shutterstock

Similar to the situation above, in 2014 an American dentist named Edward Gamson bought tickets from London’s Gatwick airport to the Caribbean country of Grenada for himself and his partner. Beautiful. Except – you’ve guessed it – he really wanted to go to see the medieval majesty of Granada in Spain.

Granada, an majestic medieval city, can be found on the Iberian peninsula – Shutterstock foul-ups Group Created with Sketch. Granada, an majestic medieval city, can be found on the Iberian peninsula – Shutterstock

Gamson tried to get a refund on his tickets after returning from the Caribbean – which the airline refused – and was also angry that they didn’t reroute him from Grenada to Granada (and why should they when it was his mistake?).

In the end, rather than just chalk it up to idiocy, and being American, he sued the airline for the ticket price, plus the cost of hotels and trips he’d booked in Spain. He lost.

Step three: Keep your wits about you

A foul-up by the airline meant Lucie Bahetoukilae failed to land in Paris – Shutterstock foul-ups Group Created with Sketch. A foul-up by the airline meant Lucie Bahetoukilae failed to land in Paris – Shutterstock

Lucie Bahetoukilae is French. She only speaks French. She also only wanted to fly a single journey from Newark airport in the USA to her home in Paris. Shouldn’t have been too tricky. She did everything asked of her. Arrived a couple of hours before the flight. Checked in with plenty of time to spare. Through security with no hassle. Got to the gate when instructed. Boarded. Flew. Arrived with no problems.

You would expect the staff to check the destination on the ticket – Shutterstock foul-ups Group Created with Sketch. You would expect the staff to check the destination on the ticket – Shutterstock

In San Francisco.

Let’s back up a bit and find out how on earth this happened. This was not a case of having booked a flight to the wrong airport by mistake; she genuinely did have a fully-paid-up, legitimate ticket to the actual Paris in actual France.

However, while waiting at the airport she didn’t realise that her flight had had its gate changed. It was announced over the PA system as she was walking to the gate, but not speaking English, Lucie never understood. It was just another in the long line of PA announcements that even people who understand the language eventually sort of block out.

Lucie arrived at the (now incorrect) gate where a plane from the same airline was waiting, so she was clearly feeling that everything was going well. But here’s the thing. It seems that not a single member of staff actually read the destination on her boarding pass throughout the entire process. Even – and this bit really gets me – at the point when, finding someone in her seat, she gestured to the flight attendant that there was a problem.

The attendant must surely have looked at her boarding pass to check the seat number, right? So surely they’d also have seen the word “Paris” where the words “San Francisco” should have been? Nope, apparently not. They just sat her in a free seat. Top work all round.

Step four: Once on board, try to relax … It might take your mind off things

The pilots couldn't punch the right numbers into the sat-nav for Kuala Lumpur – Shutterstock foul-ups Group Created with Sketch. The pilots couldn’t punch the right numbers into the sat-nav for Kuala Lumpur – Shutterstock

Our final story is genuinely scary to me. In 2015, an AirAsia flight from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur got into bother as the pilot had entered the incorrect location coordinates into the plane’s onboard navigation system.

Thankfully AirAsia has implemented new procedures to stop planes bound for Malaysia from landing in Melbourne – Shutterstock foul-ups Group Created with Sketch. Thankfully AirAsia has implemented new procedures to stop planes bound for Malaysia from landing in Melbourne – Shutterstock

A catalogue of errors – faulty headphones meaning the pilot and co-pilot had to switch positions for the pre-flight procedures; ignoring warning lights and alarms, and not actually realising the initial error until they were airborne, meant that they had to fly not to Malaysia, but to Melbourne.

A report into the foul-up cited that the crew had “numerous opportunities to identify and correct the error”, but realisation, when it eventually came, was far, far too late.

At least some good came out of the story. Every single AirAsia aircraft has now been totally upgraded to prevent this ever happening again. “AirAsia would like to stress that we have in place robust management systems to monitor and prevent similar incidents from reoccurring,” said a spokesperson some months later.

It’s lucky we’ve got the Kiwi.com Guarantee.

David Szmidt

David Szmidt

David is a writer for Kiwi.com, as well as a football-watcher, music-listener and beer-appreciater. @UtterBlether