5 Disastrous flight mistakes I made
Updated: Mar 5
I was just in Rome for a long weekend. We are posted in Armenia, which means I had to take several flights to get there.
To be on the safe side, I arrived at the airport the recommended two hours in advance. However, I had already checked in online and the bag drop-off took only a minute. As a result, I sat at Yerevan airport at 4:30 in the morning with way too much time on my hands.
My brain works best in the morning so I started thinking. I wondered why the hell I had come so early. Why—after so much travel experience—was I still so overly cautious? Then, memories of some of my past flight mistakes started flooding in.
Those memories include attempting to board the wrong flight, having too much luggage to carry, forgetting my luggage and passport, accidentally stealing someone else's luggage, and being heckled by fellow passengers.
RIGHT TIME, WRONG FLIGHT
One reason I show up at the airport early is, obviously, to not miss my flight. However, it is still possible to show up early and miss your flight, as I proved a few years ago when I traveled from Amsterdam to London.
You might not know this, but London has four different airports. I was going to Stansted together with my husband and toddler son. As we entered the airport, I quickly scanned the departure board so I knew where to go.
We still had two hours, so we took our time. We checked in, had a sandwich, and wandered over to the gate. We even chatted about how conveniently short our travel time was going to be for this trip. Everything was going so smoothly and the flight would take less than an hour. It wasn’t until twenty minutes before takeoff that I realized something was wrong. The plane we were about to board did not belong to EasyJet—the airline we had booked with—but British Airways!
Yup. There was another airline flying to the exact same airport at the exact same time. Our flight, unfortunately, departed from the opposite side of the airport, which was a 30-minute walk (or a 20-minute run) from where we were. We arrived at our gate just in time to see the airplane taxi away.
How we solved it: we paid about 90 dollars and took a plane three hours later. Not too bad, all things considered.
HECKLED BY OTHER PASSENGERS
The most embarrassing flight mistake I made was during my return from a sunny vacation in Greece. I was a student at the time and, like many women before me, had fallen hopelessly in love with a local Adonis. I was so in love I forgot to board my plane.
Granted, it was chaos at the airport. Several flights were delayed and the tiny departure hall was jam-packed with rowdy Brits. The signs were saying my flight was delayed and I was enjoying every extra minute by kissing my Greek lover. SoI didn’t pay much attention to what was going on around me.
What was going on around me, however, was that the entire airline crew was looking for me. Apparently, my name had been called over the loudspeaker numerous times and flight attendants were asking random people if they had seen me.
How I solved it: an airline lady eventually found me in the arms of my blue-eyed beau. She was furious and personally drove me to the plane by car. When I entered the plane, all the people who I had kept waiting heckled me. I covered my eyes with a baseball cap and pretended to be asleep for the rest of the flight.
LEFT WITHOUT LUGGAGE AND PASSPORT
Another classic mistake that almost made me miss my flight was forgetting my carry-on luggage at home with my passport in it.
When we leave a country after finishing a diplomatic tour we’re always stressed. There is so much more to worry about because we’re not just traveling—we’re moving. I also tend to have more luggage than I can keep track of. Typically, after the packers take our household goods, I have a surprising amount of stuff left that doesn’t quite fit into our suitcases. The only solution is to have lots of carry-on bags and hope nobody notices.
Leaving Uruguay back in 2012, we had just arrived at the airport when I realized I forgot my most important piece of luggage: a carry-on with all of our passports and the paperwork for our dog. We had overlooked it because it had been standing right behind the front door which had been standing open the whole time.
How I solved it: I had no other choice but to race back to the apartment while desperately phoning the embassy’s housing coordinator who had our front-door key. Thankfully, we made it just in time.
STEALING SOMEONE ELSE'S LUGGAGE
The most confounding flight mistake I ever made was actually my husband’s fault. He took someone else’s luggage home without realizing it until we already arrived in another city.
The strange thing is this: his bag was pretty unique. It was not a standard blue Samsonite like all of our other suitcases. Nope. The bag he grabbed was a blue/grey/black duffel bag-on-wheels, purchased in the 90s. And the one he took home was the exact same model.
The other weird thing was what was inside the bag we took home. While my husband's bag was packed to capacity with custom-made suits, dress shoes, neckties and electronics, the bag he took home contained nothing but junk. It was just a bunch of scrappy clothes and cheap toiletries thrown together. Salaciously, the ‘stolen bag’ also contained a Ziploc full of lacy (used!) thongs. Weird.
How I solved it: I found the name of the bag's owner written on one of his items and contacted him through Facebook. Thankfully, we found out that he never took our bag, which was still at the airport.
STUCK WITH UNWIELDY LUGGAGE
The most frustrating flight mistake I ever made was traveling with a huge bag without any handles on it. I mean, the bag had handles when I bought it, of course, but it didn’t when I needed them—when I was en route from Montreal to the Netherlands using several different airlines.
I can’t remember what happened to my original suitcase, but the one I bought to travel home with after a semester of studying in Montreal was enormous. And it was shaped like a square, which is just dumb. The handles came off even before I reached the airport. One tore off when I carried the thing on my back, and the other one followed suit when I tried dragging it through the airport corridors.
The bag was very heavy and, to make matters worse, I also had two heavy carry-on bags. This is what happens when you try to move all your stuff by plane. At some point, I simply couldn’t move forward anymore. I had pushed and shoved my bags for a long time already and I was seriously tired.
How I solved it: someone else solved this one for me. Some gentleman offered to pay for a luggage cart. The cart cost three U.S. dollars, something I didn’t have on hand (I had only Canadian dollars because I came from Montreal).
The guy who helped me out was one of many kind people I have met during my travels. With all the mistakes I have made during my treks around the world I have always received tremendous help when I needed it the most. So I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of those wonderful strangers. I live by your example.
I could share several more stories like the ones above. Maybe I will tell you one day about how I convinced the British TSA to let me bring perfume and nail clippers onboard, or about that time I thought it was a good idea to save money by taking a flight that included three transfers and a ferry-ride. But I gotta end this thing somewhere!