The Worst Flight Ever?

by Duncan Hollis

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.

http://opiniojuris.org/2010/07/06/the-worst-flight-ever/

4 Responses

  1. Hey…

    Let´s see if I can keep up with this:

    The flight was from Monterrey (MTY) Mexico, via Mexico City (MEX) and Amsterdam (AMS) to Munich (MUC).

    1) Our flight from MTY to MEX was cancelled, this normally shouldn´t be a problem because there a flights at least every hour.
    2) -> Rebooked on the next flight one hour later. We asked if there was any problem with our connection to AMS. Aeromexico told us not at all, you still got 1:15 left.
    3) Arriving in MEX 20 mins late. For the connecting flight with KLM we had to change from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1, that´s a 5 min train ride every 10 mins.
    4) KLM flight closed (it was overbooked, so they actually did no wait)
    5) Ticket was issued from KLM, but they did not feel responsible -> Going back to Aeromexico on Terminal 2 (they don´t even have a Ticket Counter on T1)
    6) Aeromexico is searching for possible flights (with all the flights to Europe leaving at this very moment)
    7) Found one (after about half on hour): Air France to Paris at 11:20 pm (instead of 07:50 pm) and from Paris with Lufthansa to Munich
    8) Waiting 45 mins for our luggage
    9) Going back to T1 (with the small train)
    10) Checking in with AirFrance. Our bags were too heavy, but we had a right to 4. The AF-Lady did not care, neither was she impressed by our Odysee or that Aeromexico had accpeted the same bags in MTY. “pay a 100$, leave some stuff or get a new bag (we will close the counter in 10 mins)”
    11) We bought a bag and left MEX 30 mins late.
    12) Arrival at CDG, changing the terminal from AirFrance to Lufthansa. Have you ever done this? This means a 30 mins bus ride and about 15 mins walk to this horrible Airport
    13) Airport in Munich closed because of heavy fog. Next info in about 3 hrs…
    14) After 4 hrs we left for MUC, arriving at about 01:00 am (after a 34 hour trip)
    15) No bags. The Lady at the Lost and Found said “I got no idea where they are, they are not within the system”
    16) We left MUC by car to Salzburg (Austria) an arrived after about 37 hours without even fresh underwear.
    17) Finally the bags arrived 3 days later…

    And all just because we left one hour later than scheduled..

  2. I think you may need to create volcano and non-volcano divisions.

    On the other hand, I always try to keep this in mind (caution, PG-13 material):
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8r1CZTLk-Gk#t=2m31s

    The rest is worth watching, but less on topic.

  3. I’m so sorry to hear about your experience. I’d break into a story about traveling from Italy to the USA, but Michael Totten’s explanation of his experience, chronicled here: http://www.michaeltotten.com/archives/2009/03/the-worst-airli.php

    Is perfect. Honestly, I can say this and half of my family lives in Italy. I’m half Italian and lived there for years and this epitomizes what Alitalia is about to a tee. When I first read it, I couldn’t stop laughing….it’s just such darkly humorous and true. Having shared his pain I don’t feel too guilty for laughing. 

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