The Worst Flight Ever?
Surely one of the great things about a career in international law is the travel. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have found a profession that afforded me opportunities to visit (or even live in) a diverse set of destinations, whether it was Nairobi or Geneva, Buenos Aires or Jakarta, Osaka or St. Petersburg, and, yes, even Doha in the summer (and those of you who’ve been to Doha will understand my “even” reference). This June was no exception as I returned to Rome for five weeks to teach international environmental law to U.S., European and Japanese law students (an ironic subject given what the flight does to your carbon footprint). It was a wonderful trip with great students and a fantastic perch from which to enjoy one of the world’s great cities.
The flight home, however, reminded me that sometimes you have to pay the piper for all this travel. Together with my wife and three young children (all under the age of 10), our return trip managed to check almost every item in the list of annoying-but-fortunately-not-dangerous-things that could go wrong on an international flight. Consider the following:
- Delay boarding of the plane by 30 minutes and then rush boarding to make up for lost time — check.
- After loading plane, sit on tarmac for an hour and a half as maintenance crew works to fix malfunctioning air-conditioning while outside temperatures approach 90 degrees — check.
- Fix air-conditioning 5 minutes after Air Canada loses transatlantic flight slot, leading to another hour and twenty minutes sitting on the tarmac — check.
- Arrive in Montreal 3 hours late but with slim hope of making flight to Newark that leaves within the hour — check.
- Have Air Canada lose checked bags for all passengers with connecting flights to the United States — check.
- Have Air Canada locate bags an hour and a half later, after all possible connecting flights have departed — check.
- Make passengers fight for space on series of small shuttle buses to Quality Inn Airport hotel — check.
- Have all Quality Inn rooms filled and direct family to walk, with their luggage, to a neighboring Hilton Garden Inn Hotel — check.
- Put family of five in small single room as local time approaches 11 pm with warning that to ensure space on the shuttle bus back to the airport, a 3:30 am departure from the hotel makes the most sense — check.
And you get the idea. Of course, we all made it home safely with no permanent scars from the experience (my kids were great, with the only real tears arriving when we were told we couldn’t get a room at the first hotel, and then again at the second hotel when they initially refused to let my seven year old eat her Subway sandwich in the restaurant while we waited to get a room). I should also say that virtually all the Air Canada staff we encountered were great — patient, good-humored, and kind (the systemic problems that produced this series of errors were a bit more maddening, especially when I learned that the Rome-Montreal flight the day before had encountered similar delays).
As I recover for the jet-lag, however, my recent experience made me wonder. Putting aside the true airline tragedies, how bad can an international flight get? I’m happy to open the comment thread to get others’ experiences. I look forward to hearing the (hopefully therapeutic) recitation of how you survived worse.