Back to: On the road #2 | Forward to: Dragged kicking and screaming into the Century of the Fruitbat

I should have known this would happen

On Tuesday afternoon, I'm due to fly out to Dublin. And on Wednesday morning, I'm due to fly from Dublin to New York, switch planes, and fly on to San Diego.

Which is obviously why I have come down with a nasty summer cold (streaming nose, sore throat, and sinus headache). And why a €5 network card has decided to enliven my life by inflicting rolling delays on all flights in and out of Dublin.


I ought to be able to throw off a cold in 72 hours, and I've got more than 12 hours between my flight into Dublin and my onward connection (I'm booked into a hotel overnight), but I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Let's see: there's going to be a terror scare and they'll ban iPods or books or something equally implausible. Or I will just miss my connection at JFK, and be condemned to wander the decrepit airside terminal for an extra six hours before making a standby slot. Or my hotel room in San Diego will turn out to be on the party floor, next door to an amphetamine-crazed drummer ...

I think I'm going back to bed. Again. Meanwhile, what are your favourite travel horror stories?



Christmas eve (December 24), flight from ABQ to ORD went fine, but then they canceled the flight from ORD to ALB due to mechanical problems with the plane.

"We can get you on a flight on to Albany on January 3, or we can fly you back to Albuquerque on December 31. Here are some coupons to get you a reduced rate at local hotels."


Lets see.... I once got food poisoning on a ferry to Ireland, and spend a week sick while the rest of my family enjoyed their vacation.

Or the time I was flying NYC to London and all but one toilet decided to break enroute. Try sharing one bathroom with a couple hundred people for several hours.


I went to Thailand and needed to head home after 8 days instead of the previously decided 14 days. I had never handled changing tickets while being abroad before so I went to a travel agency and they helped me rebook the flight at a meager sum of €5.

I was a little bit worried 'cause I didn't get new tickets. Instead they just wrote a bunch of numbers on my ticket and told me to say it had been changed when checking in. When I got to the airport that worry was laid to rest as I showed the ticket and just got a smile and "I hope you enjoyed Thailand".

Something like 700 hours later I landed in Moscow where I was supposed to spend 30 minutes and then get on another plane to Stockholm. I didn't want to risk anything so I went right for the other gate. "No, this ticket is not for today" was my answer.

Turned out they had only changed the first leg of my trip home and I was stuck in Moscow another four days.

After a few hours that airport gets pretty cold. Especially when you are wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Luckily I was given a piece of cardboard to sleep on while waiting.

Ten hours later a man walks up to me and says he has gotten me a seat on a plane heading for Stockholm. Never has sleeping in a plane seat felt so good.


"We are now beginning our descent into Houston, er, Los Angeles." ... Me, to steward: 'Please, would you close that [overhead bin].'" You can read about my trip home from Mexico here. It wasn't too bad, but the cumulative effect was reminiscent of descriptions of travel in the old Soviet Union.


This one just happened, and in your homeland, no less. Flying to Glasgow: Was supposed to transfer in Philadelphia, with a two-hour window. Great, I thought. Time for dinner, I thought.

The plane was half an hour late in arriving, and then had another twenty-minute delay on the ground while they fixed the autopilot. Which wasn't an issue, until Philly ATC issued a ground-stop for all inbound and outbound flights in those 20 minutes. An hour and a half later, we took off, to arrive about half an hour after our transatlantic flight had departed -- they got those on their way early. The line at the US Airways customer service was something to behold...

That actually got resolved fairly quickly; we managed to get onto a flight to Heathrow, and then bounce over to Glasgow from there, only about six hours late in total. The return, on the other hand...

What kind of a sadistic bastard determined that a twelve-hour layover in London -- from 11pm to 11am -- was a good idea? And transferring us from Heathrow to Gatwick in that time, to boot? On a Sunday night?

Of course the tube closed about ten minutes before we got to it. So the alternative was the rather costly shuttle to Gatwick... Where the capsule hotel was booked solid. So, four semi-restless hours on an airport floor (at least I found a quiet, secluded corner no one had staked out yet), we were one of the first in line at the customer service desk... to learn that our transatlantic flight had been cancelled. For maintenance.

I suppose I shouldn't complain too much, and be glad US Air at least keeps up with their maintenance schedule. Plus, they put us up in the on-site Hilton, whose normal rate was GBP238/night. Having experienced the room, I must say that rate was utterly unjustified, by the way.

And what is it with having to pay for the wireless in the lobby, and then having to pay extra for the internet connection in the rooms?


Not as impressive as some, but certainly surprising.

I spent the weekend in Houston, Texas with a friend, intending to fly on to San Antonio, Texas on Sunday to join my business partners (about one hundred miles). Somehow, we were seriously late getting to the airport (pre 9-11). I'm running through the airport, which has poor gate signage, and come to gate 5, except that it is 5A and 5B. I ask at the gate if I have the right one, he says "get on, get on". Both gates were boarding...the intercom on the plane says "brpp qxyno blap....". As we were ascending, I made out "jnyk nesg two hours and forty five minutes...". "This plane does go to San Antonio?" I asked the stewardess. She did her best not to be obviously amused. I ended up in Toronto, Canada (several thousand miles).

The guys at customs thought it was the funniest thing they'd heard all day.



Dan: I would never, EVER, fly into one London airport and out of another without a night booked in a hotel in between. You can't guarantee being able to transfer between them in less than three hours. And, come to think of it, I'm avoiding Heathrow this year (because of the Terminal 5 fiasco, not to mention BAA's charming attitude to passengers, i.e. that they're sheep for the fleecing).

Steve: surely it'd have been faster to drive? (Plus, I always check the number and type of engine when getting on a plane. For example, if I'm planning on crossing the Atlantic, seeing a pair of propellers is a possible hint that I'm on the wrong flight :)


I don't actually have any flying horror stories (oh, I've ended up a couple of hours late etc. but no one's impressed by that). There was a day when I seemed to be jinxing vehicles in New Zealand; while waiting for a bus in National Park Township* the manager of the hostel I'd stayed in managed to back her car into a stone wall and puncture the tire, so I and another guy helped her change the tire. Later the bus I was on broke down at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere, so we got passed on to Rotorua via a relay of three minibuses. Having finally arrived 2 hours late I walked into town to find something to eat and found some people trying to start their car. It being that kind of day I helped them push it down the road; after a hundred metres it finally started.

  • I assume New Zealand had run out of names for settlements when they got around to building resorts in Mordor (formerly known as Tongariro National Park)
Or my hotel room in San Diego will turn out to be on the party floor, next door to an amphetamine-crazed drummer ...

I would have assumed that all hotel floors were like that during Comic-Con.

At least this year we won't also be competing with Padres fans for parking and restaurants and such. No home games this week :) Is that a sign that two large bureaucracies actually learned something? Nah, probably just coincidence.


I once spent 13 insane hours on a bus from Glasgow to London, in sunny weather - it was torture on wheels. On another award-winning occasion, I was helping out with an exhibition for the 1987 Worldcon in Brighton - we left Glasgow at about 2am and eventually arrived in Brighton at 7.30pm the following evening. On arrival, we discovered that previously-agreed hotel rooms hadn`t been kept for us, and I spent the next 5 nights sleeping on room floors, in cars and vans. One outstanding moment of shame was one morning, after kipping down on a flat floor along with another dozen or more, I awoke and mentioned that someone had been snoring during the night. At which Eric Brown (for it was he) levelled an accusing finger at yours truly and revealed that I had also been guilty of similar nasal misdemeanours. A never-to-be-forgotten moment, seared into my memory....


That would be my first trip to the US.

I was flying from Glasgow to Boston, on to New York, over to SF and back to Glasgow.

The American Airlines plane broke down at Glasgow. Before they could fix it the crew went over hours. We were transferred to BA who would fly us to Heathrow, then New York and on to Boston. By this time my morning flight had turned into an afternoon flight and I was going the wrong way.

We transferred our bags to BA (Foreshadowing here. Your indicator of quality literature.) and got on a flight to Heathrow. We missed the last non-Concorde flight to New York. But our bags were slung on the Concorde. So I was stranded in London with no bag. Still, I thought I would go and stay with my then GC. I gave her a bell but she was off on a training course. So, not even a shag to show for all the hassle. Slept on a friend's floor and back to the airport. Got on a flight to Boston but no bags when we got there, they were still in New York. Oh and I had left my Filofax with all the numbers of people I was seeing in London. (This is pre-mobiles and PDAs)

The day I was due to fly to New York my bag made it to Boston in time for me to schlep it back to the airport for a flight to New York. And the presents I had brought for my Yankee cousins were broken.

After that things went quite smoothly.


Worst trip ever would probably be the one that saw me emigrating from England to Texas three years ago.

The journey was straightforward enough, although more complicated than it needed to be. Due to having to book the tickets on short notice, the only way I could do the journey was to fly from Manchester to Paris' Charles de Gaule airport, from there to JFK and then on to DFW. When I was looking at the flights, one option gave me a two hour stop in Paris and a five hour stop in JFK which seemed to leave me ample time to deal with whatever needed to be done. A slight lack of foresight on my part (read: I f*cked up but good) meant that I booked the wrong set of flights by accident and wound up with a 5 1/2 hour stopover in Paris and 2 hours in JFK.

This would have been workable had I not been waiting in the Immmigration office for an hour and fifty-three minutes. I now had seven minutes to grab my suitcases and get from one end of JFK to the other to make my connecting flight. By this point I had a very full bladder too, as the toilets at the Immigration office were out of order but stopping to drain the tank meant I would miss the flight. I hauled ass across the airport with my pair of very heavy suitcases and got to the check-in desk to discover I was literally one minute too late to make the flight. If I just had my carry-on luggage they would have let me board, but the suitcases meant I wasn't going to make it. Cue much mental anguish re: bathroom stops.

The guy offered me an alternative: if I could get to LaGuardia airport in about forty-five minutes I could take the last American Airlines flight of the day from the area to DFW. Heading outside, the taxi drivers sensed my desperation in much the same way that a shark smells blood in the water, and were starting their engines. Not feeling confident that I had enough in the way of cash on me to cover the presumably hefty cab fare, I was starting to worry a little but a glance up the road gave me hope. An airport transfer/shuttle bus was pulling up a short distance away that was heading to LaGuardia. Running up to the bus, I was the only person waiting to get on and no-one else was on board it. I explained the situation to the driver and offered him some extra cash if we made it in plenty of time. He drove like it was Nascar.

I practically dive off the bus at LaGuardia, having given the driver his tip and then some and hit the nearest store looking for replacement suitcase locks as the security guys at JFK had sliced mine off. Bought the locks, slapped them on the case and legged it to the check-in desk with time to spare. Checked in, asked for the location of the nearest restroom (which was agreeably on the way to the security passthrough) and hauled ass. Got to the restroom, the heavens opened, angels sang hallelujah, you get the idea. Got on the flight and despite getting a later flight than the one I was originally meant to be on, I actually arrived in DFW twenty minutes before it, no shit.

After that, I pretty much swore off of travelling for a while.


This isn't a horror story yet, but it feels like such a clean miss I am a bit concerned.

The travel booking system at work has us pick something from the preferred airline first; that wound up with A340 to Heathrow, seven hour layover in terminal 5, A330 flight to Edinburgh.

I didn't much like the sound of that, but there isn't much a fellow can do, so I hit the 'go' button. At which point said travel system searches for any other, less expensive way to get one from the specified start and destination cities. "Less expensive" is about the only criteria is uses; if someone starts offering stretcher accommodations in underwing pods on flights to Taipei a lot of my colleagues are in serious trouble.

Up pops the alternative -- 777 to Amsterdam; hour and a half pause, shorter flight to Edinburgh on a 737. Startlingly less expensive. I reached quickly for the "hell yes" button when asked if I wanted to do this instead.

It's hard to avoid the feeling that the trip will be interesting, all the same.


Graydon@13: An A330 on LHR-EDI? If it was BMI, then it would be an A321, or sometimes an A320 at quiet times. BA usually operates 757s on that route, but again, they have some A319 and A320s that sometimes show up.

90 minutes at AMS can be tight if they have you coming in at the end of one pier and out at the far end of another (quite likely). I have my fair share of missed connections at that particular airport, but the shopping is pretty good.


I flew from Perth->Sydney->LA->San Jose uneventfully, but then some police beat up on a guy named Rodney King and the whole country went kind of crazy for a while. San Jose had a riot between the bar I was in and my hotel. My return flights were postponed by a week because people were shooting at the aeroplanes in LA. Eventually they made direct 747-400 flights from San Jose to Sydney, but the San Jose people weren't used to dealing with those planes, so we all arrived in Australia without baggage.


We were landing at Dulles one night, a little storm, when the plane was hit by lightning and the power went out. The plane dropped, lots of people screamed, and then the power came back on. We circled around once and landed safely.

And I was delivered to a sub by helicopter via a sling and taken back the same way.


My first ever international trip on the company dollar (circa 1995). It's my last day in the US before returning to Australia.

Starting in Terre Haute, Indiana, I'm supposed to take an early morning flight from Indianapolis to LA, attend a late afternoon meeting, and get the night flight from LA to Sydney.

There's a horrible clusterfrack with the hotel checkout / freeway exit ramp / hire car return / gate number, and now I've missed my flight to LA.

The helpful gate person informs me that while there's no way that I can make my meeting, and although it's a pretty busy day, that she'll get me to LA before the approx. midnight takeoff of my international connection.

I spend the day bouncing around the US -- I think my route in the end was Indianapolis -> Chicago -> Denver -> SF -> LA -- with almost no margin for error at each transfer.

I recall a day of running. And moving footways. And more running. And more moving footways.

Ending in, of course, being packed into the horrible "old" departure area for the midnight UA to Sydney with 400 other tired, miserable people waiting for several hours due to "late arrival of equipment" (ie. the plane we could all see outside the glass!)


Travelling from Edinburgh to London on the train, Feb 14th many years ago.

Stats: Journey time - typical: 6 hours. Journey time - this occasion: 14 hours. Without food/water: approx. 11 hours. With dehydration headache: approx. 10 hours. With exhausted reading materials: 9 hours. With exhausted listening materials: 6 hours. Carriage drunkard ranted about delay: 3 hours. Carriage drunkard snored and dribbled: 5 hours. Without will to live: 5 hours.

Reason: Three separate incidents of people throwing themselves in front of trains on the same line (not my train thankfully), it was Valentines day and I am guessing they committed their final act as a result of not getting a card from a secret admirer (this I assume, being the final straw that broke the camel's back of their psyche). Either that or the ultimate act of passive-agression in a really broken relationship.

Not my worst journey, but a very unpleasant one. My worst journey involved applying pressure in order to stem the bleeding from a stranger's femoral artery, but I think it best for all concerned that I skip passing that story on...


I've just returned home to New Zealand from Canada. Everything went smoothly, but the route was: Halifax - Toronto - Vancouver - Los Angeles - Auckland - Christchurch in one hit. Thirty-four hours elapsed time, 24 of them in the air, ten of them waiting in airport terminals. Good thing economy travel is so comfortable eh?


A trip from London Stansted to Dublin. I took the airport coach from Cambridge: I can't drive, and this was before Stansted got its own rail station. Some fool rolled a tanker full of libricating oil on the motorway just outside Stansted, and the coach spent several merry hours exporing the smallest byways of Cambridgeshire and Suffolk. At Stansted, all was chaos, because flight crews were caught in the same traffic jams as passengers. They were putting people onto any old plan that was going the right way, without regard for which airline, seat class, etc., you were supposed to be using; it was just a question of getting people out of the airport before the whole place gridlocked.


You asked for travel nightmares, not flight nightmares, so I guess this qualifies.

Drove from Slovenia to Bulgaria, (through Serbia) uneventful trip, 10 1/2 hours. During my stay in Bulgaria, Serbs learn of Kosovo's declaration of independence, and burn the Slovenian embassy. My boss contacts me and tells me the insurers have just told corporate they will not be covering any damage on the cars that go through Serbia. So I need to take another route. I ask my boss if he'll authorize a hotel stay along the route. He says "Sure. But you do remember the meeting you need to be at, don't you?"

So I get a good night's sleep (best decision of the trip) and start from Sofia at 5 am Sofia time (4am at home). My Bulgarian associates have suggested a route through Romania, and even lent me a GPS with a route map of Sofia and Romania, so there shouldn't be any problems.

Except the GPS has rather interesting ideas about what routes are major roads in Bulgaria, so it takes me 5 hours on some fascinating country roads to make it to the ferry on the Bulgarian - Romanian border. An hour's wait at the ferry. Them I get on the ferry, and halfway across the Danube, my engine dies. I had the headlights on, the GPS on, and the radio on while I was waiting, so now the battery is empty.I manage to convince the people operating the ferry to give me a push and I finally manage to get the car started and up the incline on the other side - but now I'm behind everybody who has been on the ferry.

The Romanian customs seemed very interested in me (I mean, who in his right mind would take this route unless they had something to hide?) So they search me for 30 minutes. Right after the customs, my car is surrounded by Romani who want me to take a left instead of going straight like the road signs indicate. I look left, see it's a cul-de-sac, barely get away from them. To this day I don't know if they were trying to rob me or not.

Drive through Romania was uneventful, even picturesque (poverty in the villages, latest model cars in the cities). But the roads were bad. Enormous potholes, great number of trucks, and roadworks everywhere - meaning it's slow going. Finally, around 7pm I make it to the Hungarian border. I don't ever want to drive through Romania again.

I was planing to take a room in Szeged, but I need to be at that meeting next morning at eleven. So I have two choices: highway to Budapest and thence to Vienna (a FAR from direct route, but highway all the way) or try local roads to reach the highway in Croatia.

I decide I'm too fried to drive local roads, (besides, I know the route from Vienna on very well), so I get on the highway and drive through the night, only stopping for a one-hour nap (without exiting the car) at one of the rest-stops. I come home at 6am, (27 hours after departure), sleep for three hours, and make it to the meeting at 11am. I even managed to shave.

Right after the meeting, I say "Boss, I'm going home", and go home for some more sleep. Two days later I get a cold so bad I was laid up for 5 days. I'm officially too old for this shit.


Actually, I myself always have luck when traveling. No luggage lost, no unreasonable delays, no missed connections. But I have friend, Francie, who is really unlucky in that regard. She seems to be cursed for some reason :)

Take some examples from her blog:

"So before we go into the gory details, let me explain my original travel details. Anticipated total travel time = 9 hours Anticipated travel route = Orlando - San Juan - Anguilla Anticipated luggage = 2

Actual total travel time = 30 hours Actual travel route = Orlando - Hell - Anguilla Actual luggage at destination = 0"

"I for one had no desire to check out the Wyndham Rio Mar Beach Resort and Spa today. As a matter of fact, I didn't even intend on being in this country right now. But as you might have already guessed - the travel curse has struck again, starting in Dallas around 7am today when my car wouldn't start on the way to the airport."


Skye. The Isle of.

Take my advice... watch it as a backdrop in Stardust. Don't actually go and visit. That would be madness. Actually it was lovely. Big 'n empty though.


Normally I have good travel mojo, but there was one time in late 1995 ... Spouse and I had decided to take the train from Venice to Paris and stay there a week before flying back to Texas from Amsterdam. A couple of days before we were scheduled to leave Venice with four months of worldly goods, all of France's transport shut down, and we were told that if we got on the train to Paris, we'd just sit at the border. Some frantic phoning got us a week in London at a friend's, and a flight to London. That part went OK, but when we went to a London travel agent to organize a flight to Amsterdam, we discovered it was an excellent thing we had done so, because our non-presence on the flight out of Paris would otherwise have cancelled our cheap tickets back to the US. The said flight (and its connection) turned out to be an amazing chain of hurry-up-and-wait: first for the de-icer, then for a new transatlantic slot, then more de-icing, long flight with sick man coughing next to me ... get to Houston with about 40 minutes for our connection to Austin, from the other end of the terminal, with customs in between. Made it literally as they closed the doors. And then we sat for two hours, because the airline's ground computer system had chosen just then to freeze up. Finally made it back to our house, and the doorbell rang. The cabbie says, "Is this your camera?" Two days later I came down with some flu so bad I couldn't get out of bed for a week, missing Christmas entirely.


Travel nightmares? So many, so many... (shakes head)

  • Any of my trips involving La Guardia - so much runway, so much time to sit on it
  • Stalling in a 727 taking off from Tenerife
  • Arriving in ORD to find my onward flight canceled the replacement flight involving an overnight connection in Denver (thank you Mr Company Credit card for the onward flight on another carrier)
  • Misreading a arrival time as a departure time and missing a flight home
  • So many trips, so many many lost bags
  • Flying San Diego - Dallas during hurricane season

But all comers world champion was Vancouver - London a few years ago.

20 minutes into the flight the following annoucement is made, "would the passenger or passengers who have left the package under seat 16H please make themselves known to a member of the cabin crew..."

I was a couple of rows back and there, rolling around under 16H was a brown cylindrical parcel...

Needless to say we dumped fuel and did an emergency return to Vancouver.

It was drugs fortunately.


I once, many years ago, flew from Portland, Oregon to San Francisco. Via Seattle. Apparently the fog in Portland was just bed enough that planes couldn't land, only leave. So the airline put the people for SF and the people going to New York on a flight to Seattle (along with the people actually going to Seattle). And we got to spend Sunday evening in Seattle airport, with nothing whatsoever open.

Another time I was with some people flying from Burbank to Las Vegas, in July. We had to sit on the apron for a couple of hours, waiting for thunderstorms to get out of the flight path. Everyone, including the flight crew, was a bit punchy by the time we actually rolled out to the end of the runway. We got a speech involving 'designer Dixie cups' dropping down from the ceiling ....

A co-worker, several years ago, was waiting for her mother to arrive on a flight from Houston to Lubbock. The plane arrived, her luggage arrived, and she didn't. (She showed up on a later flight.) The airline never really explained what had happened.


Back in the early 90's I passed a kidney stone somewhere between Charles de Gaulle and Detroit. My memories of the flight are a little blurry, but they mostly involve whimpering and vomiting. Fortunately, I was discharged from the ER before that evening's gunshot victims started rolling in.

I've had more pleasant journeys.


Late 1980s, Nouvelle Frontiers flight from Mirabelle to Heathrow. Sitting in the front row when the front toilet starts leaking. Stewardesses go round collecting blankets and build a succession of dams as the rather noxious stuff oozes towards us.

When we eventually start our descent the creeping brownish/bluish squishy patch is less than a foot from my seat…


Kind of a travel horror story. Travelled to Antarctica on a converted Russian spy ship. Almost a week to get there from New Zealand. Threw up the entire way. Vomited so much and so aggressively I burst all blood vessels in my eyes and in my face around the eyes. Looked like I'd done 10 rounds with Mike Tyson. No whites in the eyes at all - just red. Not bloodshot, almost a solid red.

I was told later that it was the smoothest crossing of the Southern Ocean that any of the old hands could remember.

Still, worth it though. Antarctica is special.


Shane@29: You win!

"I was told later that it was the smoothest crossing of the Southern Ocean that any of the old hands could remember."



[Makes note not to travel with any of you guys]


Feòrag @14, way back up there --

All I have to go on is what the booking application says; since it also (for instance) thinks one can get Air Canada flights leaving from Union Station (because VIA Rail is an airline -- can't book a trip on it if it's not an airline -- so Union has to be an airport) or that all KLM flights are smoking, it's not filling my soul with confidence.

I'm the sort of person who remembers that the most significant preventable cause of passenger death in air travel is not wearing shoes that allow on to walk quickly over broken glass on hot aluminum, so I tend to be in footwear that allows me to move briskly. I shall certainly keep the probable need for moving briskly in mind; thank you!


Luckily, I've not had any serious horror stories (although I have traveled with a two year old, which is intrinsically horrifying). My worst is when I was returning from a few weeks at NGTE, in Pyestock.

I had to be at Heathrow at about noon. I started the day by locking my keys in the trunk of the rental car. A call to a locksmith and a few pounds later, I'm on my way. I get to Heathrow, return the rental car, and drag my luggage to check in for my flight.

The baggage handlers had chosen that day for a job action. I got to leave Heathrow about 12 hours late. BA's trans-Atlantic service was called the "BA cattlecars" for good reason ;-). The flight to New York was on a BA 707 with every seat filled.


And just as we were finishing telling his wife about it, the then-US ambassador to Mongolia walked into the room and said, "Oh my God, not the Hotel Bulgan!" (That was the trip I assured my girlfriend the semi-distant howls we heard from our tent were dogs. Wolves of course.)

There was also the time my better half had to be medevaced back to Germany from Lake Victoria.

Not really a travel nightmare as such, but leaving the trail in the Slovene Alps in search of a more direct route because there was too much snow on the trail was not such a bright idea. In the end, there was one walkable tongue down from the heights, but we definitely went down things we could not have gone back up if required.

By contrast, my distinctly frosty welcome at Heathrow in '94 (still my least favorite border guard experience, beating out even individual questioning by East Germans in a small room) seems almost cheery.

Oh yeah,almost forgot: I got to Goose Bay in Labrador because the navigation on the German government Airbus I was in went out. As did the backup. Germany didn't want us in their airspace, nor the UK. Shannon turned us down, and Keflavik was too small for the number of people on the plane. Apparently you can't go to Thule without a security clearance. So we flew back across most of the North Atlantic without navigation gear. Not that we learned any of this until later.

As for driving trips, I'll just say that falling asleep at the wheel is not nearly as scary as waking up at the wheel. On the other side of a bridge.


I do feel for all of you; the horror stories really are horrible. The worst that I've had to deal with is a suitcase that decided to go to Africa instead of New Orleans (and for some reason they couldn't find my hotel when it finally came back) and a couple of flights canceled by mechanical problems, usually involving a few hours wait before the airline got out of denial and admitted the plane wasn't going anywhere that day.

I can relate, however, what may be the silliest wait for an airplane. At the end of a trip to somewhere in the US Southeast, I forget where, I was running early, so decided to try to fly standby on an earlier flight than planned. I managed to get a seat on it, only to discover that I couldn't get an earlier connecting flight in Houston, so would have to wait about 2 hours for the flight I was ticketed on. Well, I thought, I'm inside the secure area and might as well stay here, so I got on the shuttle to take me to the other terminal for the gate to my flight. That shuttle is actually a waiting room, perhaps 20 or 25 meters square, full of seats, on wheels. I got in with a couple of dozen other people, they fired up the engine, and we rode away at about 5 kph. They carried us in this behemoth because this was Houston, in the summer. Temperature was close to 40°C, humidity was 90+%. Staying indoors and having the indoors move around is a good choice.

When we got to the other terminal, a trip of a few hundred meters, I was told that the gate had been changed. So, back in the traveling waiting room, and back to the original terminal at 5 kph. At the end of that trip, I settled in to read a few chapters of whatever highly-forgettable book I was reading (probably Piers Anthony, as I was training myself not to throw books across the room). After about an hour, someone from the airline comes running up to the gate and says, "All you people are in the wrong terminal, you have to go to the other one". So, back in the trundling waiting room, and another 20 minute trip across the tarmac. Luckily, this was the last one, I just made it to the right gate in time to get on the plane for home. That was probably the only trip I've taken where I spent about an hour moving at about walking pace, and got nowhere.


I was on a bus in turkey, as a child (family holiday). my younger brother was sitting at the window, and started insisting he had just seen the bus wheel roll by. of course I didn't believe him - but it turned out he was right.

a worse time in cyprus though - delayed on the return flight home, by 24 hours (due to heavy rain and incompetence). thompson (provider of the flights) put us up in a hotel - but only for an hour or to - then they would whisk us back to the airport, telling us we could fly out. arriving at the airport, we would wait for an hour or two, and then be whisked back to the hotel again. we would then have enough time to eat, and maybe sit down after, then they would whisk us to the airport again (and then back to the hotel)...... rather frustrating.


I should not have started this topic.

(Travel nightmare on-going. Will report later, when I stop gibbering.)


Flew over the Andes once - Cusco to Puerto Maldanado. Bumpiest flight ever. Like a roller coaster. Plane drifting from side to side, suddenly shooting up and then dropping with a bang. Lots of locals on board looking very concerned and making good use of their air sick bags. A bunch of us Aussies up the back treating it like a roller coaster ride - hands in the air and screaming. Not me though, you could not have prised my fingers from the armrest with a crow bar. The worst part though was that a number of windows and the emergency exit had been gaffer taped up.


Impulse trip from Vienna to Budapest. At the Westbahnhof* they told me we could have a free Budapest public transport weekend ticket with our railway tickets.

This caused me to make no preparations at all. We arrived at the Deli Palyaudvar** and followed a Raffeisenbank logo to get cash. Eventually we found the Budapest Hotel, a 70s communist cylindrical tower. In the room, we found a large wet patch on the bed. Later, we found a strange howling sound - half machine, half torment - in the room with us. I drew courage and opened the door...and the noise stopped.

The wind was a-howlin and the snow was outrageous, and the weatherproofing of the place was so dire that there was a vortex-like current of air in the corridors around the lift shafts, which was sucking cold air through the window leaks and then through a vent over the door. Hence the ghost. I used the Budapest Sun to jam the door slightly open, getting rid of the pressure differential.

The breakfast - grey swimming meatlikes - was very Brezhnevite as well. In Hungary, we actually had to seek real coffee.

Yes, this doesn't make sense. Yes, the train to Budapest does go from the Western Station. *Southern(?) Station. Yes, Hungarian is different. No, that doesn't make any more sense either.

Trips I wouldn't repeat: one of 50-odd hours from Longreach, Qld, to near Fitzroy Crossing, WA, on three long-distance buses. I watched Titanic three times, but I didn't want to watch it even once.


A 72 hour trip from Manchester (NH, New England), to Beijing. Planned to arrive two days early, actually arrived a day late.

On Friday, bad weather, but no problem, my flight to Newark (NJ, near NY,NY) was early, before it was supposed to hit. Delayed a bit, then board, then sit on the plane for a while. Then they cancelled, so everyone gets in line. Big problem - it was the Friday before all the local schools had a week's vacation, so everything is booked (and cancelled). Managed to drain the batteries on two phones at the same time (One on hold, then talking with the elite desk, the other online checking for available flights), while in line still in the terminal. Best option I could get, they put me on a flight from Boston the next morning (45 miles, about an hour drive).

OK, so go back home, try to arrange a last minute ride to Boston (since my return was still to MHT) - of course most of the airport shuttles were full. Get to Boston Saturday morning, and of course, the flight is delayed. Fortunately, it was solely because of crew timeout issues, so it took off when they said it would, and I didn't miss the flight from Newark to Beijing (but it was close).

Flight to Beijing was average, some entertainment problems, and seat power broke after about two hours. Up by Greenland, lots of activity in back, someone was sick. Right as the in-flight display shows us at our closest approach to the North Pole, I feel a long slow gradual bank, oh &*&#..... Sure enough, that sick person was worse, and there are no good hospitals in Northern Siberia (above Beijing), so we are diverting back to Goose Bay Canada, despite already being at the halfway point. Another couple of hours go by, and we are getting close to Canada, and more announcements - the person felt better, so we were re-dirverting all the way back to Newark. Net result for that trip, a 13 hour flight from Newark, to Newark. Net result for the day, 18 hours from Boston to NY.

Unfortunately, I didn't get a good shot, but here is a fuzzy camera phone display of the inflight display -

After an hour and a half, finally have a coupon for a hotel, and am on a shuttle bus to go get 5 hours sleep before trying again the next day (I was rebooked for the next flight - but a lot of people were rerouted all over the place, or delayed several days).

The next day, start the Newark to Beijing trip all over again - same plane, same entertainment problems (the choice of 8, no 4 channels), etc.. I also found out that shortly after I got through the line, the computers crashed (at 2 am), and the majority of the line had an extra half hour of sitting around...

I've also spent 8 hours on the tarmac at Montreal (Not allowed off because we were a diverted Madrid to Newark flight, and customs wouldn't take us), followed by spending the night on the floor in Newark with my 10 year old son (fortunately, he was able to watch all 3 original Star Wars movies, plus several others I had with me on my laptop), too many long delays to count, I was at the conference in Japan that started all the burning Dell laptop news, and having food poisoning all the way from France to NY (including going through passport control and customs trying not to lose it again).


My favorite travel horror story happened a month after you posted this:


s/: /. It's on my blog at:/



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on July 20, 2008 11:05 AM.

On the road #2 was the previous entry in this blog.

Dragged kicking and screaming into the Century of the Fruitbat is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Search this blog