6 Travel Mega-Mistakes: When Airlines say "Oops!"

Mega-mistakes don’t happen to airlines often but when they do, some are truly amazing – but see for yourself. Note: Mega-mistakes do not include crashes or other horrific incidents; those are tragedies and nothing to make light of. Our focus here: Mega-embarrassments, the kind of things that make airline employees say, “Oops!” and quickly hand out vouchers for free travel.

1. Wrong Airport

Earlier this month, a Southwest flight was supposed to land at Branson’s airport but instead arrived at a much smaller Missouri facility seven miles away. The most recent explanation has the pilots saying they mistook the lights of one airport for another. The investigation continues.

Southwest wasn’t the first to land at a wrong airport and probably won’t be the last but yes, it’s extremely rare – as it should be, thanks the GPS equipped planes and all the other high tech guidance and air traffic control tower support today’s flights receive. How these pilots managed to get the Branson landing so wrong is still something of a mystery or as a veteran pilot with another airline told me, “A real head-scratcher.”

2. Wrong City – Children

Do you have a child who travels alone as an unaccompanied minor? The moment she steps on a plane, train her to ask an airline employee, “Is this the flight to [the city she’s going to]?” That might have saved a couple of kids traveling to Boston and Cleveland respectively a couple of years back. Instead, they traveled to Cleveland and Boston respectively. Yes, Delta put the unrelated 8-year-olds on each other’s flights but they eventually it was all sorted out – after several harrowing hours for both families.

3. Wrong City – Adults

Think wrong destinations only happens to kids? Then you never heard about the 21-year-old German tourist who thought he was traveling to Sydney, Australia, back in 2006. Alas, he didn’t land Down Under but in tiny Sidney, Montana. Apparently a spelling error combined with the young man’s lack of knowledge of airport codes contributed to his 8,500-mile detour. Perhaps his first clue was the fact that town he landed in (pop. 5,000) had no opera house.

4. Wrong Continent

Another wrong continent, another case of airport code confusion. Last year, a couple of Californians flying to Africa on Turkish Airlines wound up in Asia. In case this ever happens to you, remember: DKR stands for the airport in Dakar, Senegal and DAC stands for Dhaka, Bangladesh. Bet those Californians will remember.

5. Sleeping Pilots

Nobody could figure out why the two pilots for Hawaii-based Go Airlines weren’t responding to air traffic controllers for 18 minutes. The tower folks really got nervous when pilots kept right on going, overshooting destination Hilo and heading out to sea. The captain was later discovered to suffer from sleep apnea but it was never quite clear what the other pilot’s problem was. They ultimately landed safely – and unfashionably late.

6. Chatty Pilots

Two Northwest pilots were vehement that they weren’t sleeping when they overshot Minneapolis by 150 miles or so. They later said they were distracted by a “discussion” in the cockpit and were also apparently on their laptops. They did not respond to air traffic controllers for well over an hour but finally turned around somewhere over Wisconsin and they too landed safely.

Again, are such incidents common? Absolutely not. If it does ever happen to you, though, and you weren’t at fault, rest assured that you too will receive a voucher for future travel with the airline (though whether you’d actually want to use it probably depends on the nature of the mega-oops).

More from Rick Seaney:

When Airlines Make Mega-Mistakes


Published: January 20, 2014