How To Survive Plane Travel Gone Wrong

I’ve flown a lot in my life, and I’ve had my fair share of interesting travel stories. Recently, I had two crazy things happen to me that made me reflect on all the times that plane travel has gone wrong for me. Most of the time I don’t let mishaps ruin my plans or get me down, but I can understand how someone else might get discouraged enough to stop traveling if some of these things were to happen to them. So here are my stories and tips to survive travel gone wrong.

How to Survive Getting Bumped From Your Flight

We’ve all heard it: the airline workers come on over the loud speakers and ask for volunteers to give up their seat for a later flight for a free flight voucher. It’s a pretty common occurrence because airlines typically oversell every flight by using an algorithm to predict how many people won’t show up for the flight, thereby filling the plane to as close to capacity as possible without having to bump passengers. Unfortunately, their algorithms don’t always work, especially during peak travel times.

I travel to Fort Myers Beach, Florida every year for Christmas and have never had a problem. Usually, I check in online as soon as the check-in period opens up. I pack light so I don’t have to check bags (all you need in Florida is a bathing suit, after all). And I usually get there with enough time to get through security without a second thought. This year, for the first time, I flew with a pet.

Carrying a pet on board a plane
Pet travel isn’t easy for either of us!

For anyone who has never flown with a pet, there are a few different rules. The most major is that you have to go to the check-in counter to get your boarding pass, you can’t print it online. So I figured, why check in online when I have to wait in the checked bag line anyway? That was my first mistake.

My second mistake happened when the flight got delayed from 7:30 to 9:00. I decided, why get to the airport at 6:00 and sit there doing nothing for 3 hours? So I got there at 7:30. I thought I had plenty of time.

Travelers make note: even if a flight is delayed, you still have to be checked in 45 minutes before the ORIGINAL time! If you check in online, it’s no problem. But if you wait to check in at the desk, get there at least 45 minutes before the original departure time! So when I got to the airport at 7:30, they told me that I missed the flight.

The first employee I talked to said that I would have to get on a flight the next morning but they would give me 2 travel vouchers, a hotel room, transportation, and meal vouchers. I didn’t want to give up my seat if they could ask for volunteers because I needed to get home to work the next day, so I spoke next to a manager. The manager told me because missing the check in time was my error, they wouldn’t compensate me with anything and there were no flights out for days.

Spirit plane

Finally, after lots of back and forth, he got me on another overbooked flight from the Tampa airport, 3 hours away. The flight was at 2:00 p.m. the next day, but that I needed to get to the airport by 11:00 a.m. to make sure I got a seat. So I had to leave Fort Myers Beach by 8:00 a.m. for a 2:00 p.m. flight. At the end of the day, my cat and I got on the flight and made it home in time to work that night.

Pet travel
Finally she got out of the small cage and some freedom in the car!

Talk about plane travel gone wrong!

Moral of the story: if you miss a flight for any reason and everything is full the following day, check nearby airports. Also, you can request that the airline overbook you on a flight hoping that someone will miss the flight or volunteer to stay so you can get on it. And always remember to check in to your flight at least 45 minutes before the original departure time!

How to Survive Severe Weather and Technical Difficulties

Most recently, I booked a winter trip to Quebec City in mid January. I like to travel in off-peak times because there are less tourists, travel is cheaper, and Quebec has an ice hotel that is only available from January to April. Seemed like a great idea! Until the day to leave arrived.

Hotel de Glace in Quebec
Hotel de Glace in Quebec. Image via quebecregion.com

On my way to the flight, I tried to check in online to avoid another plane travel gone wrong situation. The Air Canada app told me that check-in closed. I immediately thought I missed check in again and they were going to bump me again. I checked my FlightAware app (one of the greatest apps I have for travel) and saw that the flight was cancelled. Nice of Air Canada to send out a notice.

Travel gone wrong: bad weather

So we called Air Canada and discovered that they cancelled all flights that night due to the impending snow storms. The agent was able to book us on the next flight out the following morning at 8:30 a.m.

We got to the airport and got on the plane and headed out for Canada. After about 15 minutes, the flight attendant came on the radio saying there was a minor technical problem. We would have to return to the airport to fix it. On the bright side, they did a good job of making light of the situation. They kept everyone calm, even during the rough descent.

Plane wing
We got up in the air for about 10 minutes before having to emergency land

It turns out that, in the event of a power outage, a door on the outside of the plane opens and a special propeller comes out. For some reason, that door had come loose and was making a very loud noise. The pilot told us we couldn’t continue the flight with it open. When we landed, they couldn’t find a mechanic to work on the issue. They wanted to wait for a mechanic from Montreal to fly in to fix it. Then, magically they found a contracted mechanic who could take a look. That mechanic found something in the plane that wasn’t supposed to be there, and they cancelled the flight all together.

We missed two flights and wasted about 20 hours of our time for a trip that never happened. Luckily, the Chase card we used to book the trip had GREAT trip delay/cancellation insurance and offered us a hotel room for two nights, dinner, money for toiletries, and transportation compensation. So what started as a disappointing trip that didn’t happen turned into a nice little staycation, thanks to Chase.

Travel gone wrong: passing the time with cocktails makes for a great little airport staycation
Passing the time with cocktails makes for a great little staycation

Moral of the story: always book travel using a special travel credit card that offers incentives like trip cancellation insurance. Though it’s pretty uncommon for something like that to happen, it’s always good to have a backup plan. Especially when Air Canada doesn’t offer any incentives or help!

How to Survive Plane Travel Gone Wrong When Terminal Fires Make You Miss Your Layover

All of the recent plane travel gone wrong has made me think about other times I’ve had plane travel gone wrong problems. During my time living in Europe, I booked a nice long vacation to see Croatia, Greece, and Ibiza. Unfortunately, the budget airline Ryanair in Europe doesn’t book anything with a layover, so you need to book your own layovers.

I had booked a flight from Dubrovnik, Croatia to Athens, Greece through Rome. Ryanair customer service isn’t 24 hours, and they close at 8:00 p.m. At 7:57 p.m. I got a notification that they cancelled our early morning flight the next day due to fires in the Roman terminal. Without being able to get to Rome, I couldn’t catch my second trip from Rome to Athens. And because I didn’t process the notification before 8:00 p.m., customer service closed by the time I tried to call.

How to survive plane travel gone wrong: night of the cancellation
Eating dinner in ignorance, about 30 minutes before the cancellation email

We were staying in an Airbnb in a room where the hosts also lived. They weren’t happy about having us stranded in their home and tried to help us find any flight out. In a country where we only had WiFi and didn’t speak the language, we were definitely in a pickle.

View from the Airbnb
View from the Airbnb. I guess there are worse places to get stranded. Until the hosts kick you out…

We found our way to an Internet café in Dubrovnik the next morning and called Ryanair. Surprisingly, Ryanair was willing to refund us for the trip from Dubrovnik to Rome. However, Rome has two airports and the second leg, from Rome to Athens, was from a different airport without a fire, so they wouldn’t refund us for a trip that was still happening. They would, however, move our flights around.

We managed to get on a flight from Dubrovnik to Brussels, Belgium. There, we stayed overnight in the airport and made this fun music video about being “All By Myself” in the airport. Then we finally made our way to Athens. We were lucky to get a sympathetic airline employee because usually I’ve found they’re not as helpful, but she rearranged our flights so we didn’t have to pay anything else and still got to hit all the places we were supposed to hit.

Moral of the story: if one leg of your trip gets cancelled and you know you’re going to miss a layover, you can still make that trip happen. Look for flights through other places that will still get you to your original destination. And don’t be afraid to sleep in an airport!

How to Survive Plane Travel Gone Wrong When a Bachelor Party Gets Obnoxious

This one is a borrowed story from James, but he tells it with such detail and zest that I had to add it to my plane travel gone wrong list.

Plane window

Las Vegas is obviously a popular destination for bachelor parties. James was heading out there for a bachelor party himself, but he wasn’t the only bachelor party-goer on that flight. A group of guys who started drinking too much too early got a little too obnoxious as they boarded the plane. They were loud and rowdy, sitting right next to James and his friends.

The flight attendant tried to get the guys to calm down. They responded that if the baby in the back didn’t have to be quiet, they didn’t have to be quiet either. Then, the group of guys, who were of African-American descent, tried to tell the flight attendant, an Asian woman, that this was a racist issue.

The plane turned around even as it was taxiing down the runway. It came back to the gate, and police and homeland security rushed on board. They swarmed the group of guys and arrested them, physically escorting them off the plane in handcuffs.

The whole ordeal held up the flight for about 4 hours. They didn’t get into Las Vegas until 4:00 in the morning! And they took all the alcohol off the plane so no one could drink on their way to Vegas.

Moral of the story: don’t drink too much before a flight or you could ruin it for everyone!

Do you have a crazy plane travel gone wrong story of your own? Share it with me in the comments! I’m always curious how people handle situations that are less than ideal.

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Travel stories can be interesting. Most of the time I don't let mishaps ruin my plans or get me down, but I can understand how someone else might get discouraged enough to stop traveling if some of these things were to happen to them. So here are my stories and tips to survive travel gone wrong.

P.S. You might also enjoy Traveling Out of Your Comfort Zone or 6 Most Annoying Pet Peeves About Air Travel