Travel Nightmares Happen to the Most Experienced Travellers

Even seasoned travellers are not immune from travel nightmares. The best laid plans can unravel in an instant. And, as in life, one loose thread can quickly lead to a complete unravelling.

I love to travel. There’s just something about landing in a new place and seeing what life is like there. I’ve travelled to about 80 countries in the world and I have no plans to stop. One of the things I like most about travelling is getting there.

British Airway London

I love flying. It’s about the only place, nowadays, where you can just get away from it all. I have to say, I even love the airplane food. It used to be the only place where I would eat vegetables.

Earlier this year, I signed a contract to work at the inaugural European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan, for three weeks in June. A few weeks later, I was contracted to another event, the Pacific Games in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (PNG).

There was a slight hitch. The boss in PNG, I’ll call her Susan, wanted me there, halfway around the world, on the same day my contract ended in Azerbaijan. After exchanging one or two emails, we had worked out a schedule that would allow me to complete both contracts. It was going to be an exciting summer. Little did I realise at the time just how exciting.

In February, I booked a non-changeable, non-refundable return flight to Baku from London, UK. It would get me back to London on June 22 and give me time to get from Gatwick to my home, do a few chores, return to Heathrow and catch the flight to PNG.

I told Susan which flight would be the best to book for me for my long journey to the South Pacific; London, Singapore, Brisbane, Port Moresby. There was a Singapore Airlines flight out of London at 10:10pm on June 22nd that would get me to Port Moresby two days later.

My boss agreed that booking a flight from London to Port Moresby would be easier than booking it out of Baku since I already had a return ticket to London. I agreed to pay the extra cost of flying out of London to get the maximum frequent flyer miles for the flight. All seemed pretty straight forward. Summer 2015 was all planned.

Well, jump ahead to the beginning of April. My travel contact in Port Moresby, let me call her Carol, emails and states that it’s best for me to get a return ticket London to Baku because it’s easier for her to book a return ticket for Port Moresby out of London than Baku .

Fair enough, this would keep the travel plans for my two contracts completely separate AND I had already bought my London Baku return ticket. Susan and I had discussed this exact arrangement a couple of months earlier. In a return email, I tell Carol about the Singapore Airlines flight leaving at 10:10pm on June 22, the one Susan and I had agreed to in February.

Susan then gets back to me with a flight leaving London not at 10:10pm but at 8:50pm on June 22nd. I tell her that it’s too tight a turnaround for London, given that I return from Baku that same day, and that the 10pm flight is better.

After a couple of back and forth emails, I tell Susan that the 8:50pm flight is just enough time to get from Gatwick to my house, do what I have to do and then get to Heathrow. If I experience any delays on my Baku flight the entire itinerary to PNG will fall apart. So, I tell her to book me on the Singapore Airlines flight at 8:50pm on June 23rd, same itinerary, just all a day later. A few days later I hear that the big bosses approved the date change to June 23nd. By this time, it’s the beginning of June and I’m in Baku working.

Baku Games
Baku Games

My itinerary arrives by email. Susan has me leaving Baku to London on June 21st before I have even finished my duties in Baku. I calmly explain to her that I didn’t need, never needed, a flight from Baku to London, because I already have one. I was shocked by her response, “Wouldn’t it be wise to advise that you already purchased a Baku/London ticket?”

I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I had previously told both Susan and Carol on several occasions that they didn’t need to book me a flight back to London. And again Carol comes back with “You did not mention about purchasing a Baku/London ticket.” While all this is going on, the European Games have started and I’m trying to coordinate my media team’s news coverage of the gymnastics competition. Clearly, travel nightmares can begin before you even start your journey.

So, we start again, I tell Carol that I need a flight from London to PNG leaving on June 23rd and returning to London on July 25th. I also mention that the Singapore Airlines flight that leaves Heathrow at 8:50pm is a good choice.

After a few days of silence, Carol emails and asks if I can get a refund on my original ticket as she would lose the entire fare if she cancels and rebooks her ticket. After more toing and froing, I tell her that I will forfeit my ticket back to London as long as she books my flight to London, so that she can minimize her losses.

Carol then asks if I want to fly Baku via Dubai to London on June 22nd or Baku via Istanbul to London on the same day. I say Istanbul as I’m a Star Alliance member and I’ll get frequent flyer points.

When my itinerary arrives, Carol has me booked through, not Dubai nor Istanbul but, Moscow to London on the first leg of my journey. All I could do was shake my head. I like to avoid Moscow at all cost while travelling, but I bite my tongue and just asked if I need a visa. “No visa needed,” Carol told me. So, it’s Baku, Moscow, London, Dubai, Singapore, Port Moresby.

All is good…so I thought. I send my travel details to my future colleague in Port Moresby. She brings it to my attention that I arrive in Singapore on June 24th, and leave Singapore for Port Moresby on June 23rd. I am in disbelief, but a glance at my itinerary tells me she is right. The reason I didn’t notice is that the ticket came in different bits. Carol was notified of the error and replied “not to worry.” She had sent me the wrong paperwork and it would be rectified as soon as possible.

What came next was a new itinerary spelled out in the greatest of detail; London to Dubai (next day arrival); Dubai to Singapore (next day arrival); Singapore to Dubai (next day arrival). Wait a minute, I thought, ‘Dubai to Singapore should be same day arrival.’ I couldn’t believe what I was reading. It had to be a typo.

Well, contact with Carol determined that it wasn’t a typo but another mistake. So, now I had a 24-hour stopover in Singapore because of the confusion. An adventure it was going to be.

An adventure it already was and I hadn’t even started my journey to Port Moresby. It was going to be the longest trip ever. Baku, Moscow, London, Dubai, Singapore, Port Moresby. This was finally confirmed as I was packing to leave Baku. The entire journey would be three and a half days.


On June 22nd, I left Baku on an afternoon fight on Azerbaijani Airlines to Moscow. Nice plane, lots of leg room, very relaxing. Not too crowed. Good meal. I get to Moscow and the line to go through customs was very long. I asked an official where the transit area was. He pointed up some stairs and I sauntered up there. I wasn’t overly concerned as I had about a three hour layover.

Moscow Travel Nightmares

I casually approached the S7 Airlines transit counter for my flight connection to London. While the agent was sorting that out, I went to the washroom. When I returned, the agent told me I had three minutes to get to gate number six. WHAT! I didn’t even have time to ask why.

I ran to security. I fumbled with my belongings trying to hurry. I ran to the gate. It wasn’t an S7 Airlines plane but a British Airways 747. I had no idea what was going on. All I had time to contemplate was ‘Will my luggage make it?”

I wasn’t the last one on the plane, but close. I found out my S7 flight had been cancelled, and I was put on the BA flight instead. At least I had made it on to the flight. My luggage, however, hadn’t. Have I mentioned yet that I don’t like going through Moscow?

As soon as I got on the plane, the first announcement I heard was that the flight was full, which BA didn’t anticipate, so there were not enough meals for everyone. I burst out laughing. What next I thought? I had never had that happen on a plane before. It was indeed a very crowded flight. I did get my meal but my ear phone broke mid-flight, mid-Modern Family too.

Once in London, I go to lost luggage to find out when I will get my bag. The airline official said there was another flight arriving in a couple of hours and one first thing the next morning. “No need to worry,” he said, “You’ll get a text when it arrives.” He said if it wasn’t on the later flight, it would be on the morning flight. ‘Good,’ I thought, ‘I can pick it up in the airport before I get on the plane to Dubai.’ No problem. Sounded like a good plan. What could go wrong?

I woke up to a text message at about 7am on June 23rd saying my bag had arrived. ‘Excellent,’ I thought to myself, ‘I can pick it up at Terminal 5 and then go to Terminal 3 for my Emirates flight to Dubai.’ Well, not so easy.

London - Short Stopover at Home
London – Short Stopover at Home

When I got to Terminal 5, I couldn’t find the lost luggage department. When I did finally find it, getting into the office was not as straight forward as one would think. I waited and I waited for someone to come and fetch me, to get me through a secure area so that I could get to the room where I could get my luggage. Well, I waited until the last possible moment. Nobody showed up. I had to leave without getting my luggage.

Because I thought I would be picking up my luggage on the way to my flight to PNG, I didn’t pack another case. I was leaving for a month with a computer, two shirts, two pairs of underwear and one pair of shoes. I was going on a four-week work trip with virtually nothing whatsoever. I couldn’t believe it. All I could do was chuckle. Off to Terminal 3 I went. Travelling around the world with just carry-on luggage. Ready for the next adventure.

My next flight was on an Emirate Airlines A380. It was my first trip on Emirates and my first time on an A380. WOW! It was really spacious. I had an entire row to myself. I had a window seat in the aisle behind and exit door so there was no seat in front of me so I could spread out. I must say that it was a pretty uneventful. Actually, it was just what I needed.

The service was excellent. It was like travelling used to be like in North America in the 1980’s. The flight crew made you feel very special. And there was real cutlery. After we landed in Dubai, I asked the purser if I could see the second floor. He said that he wasn’t supposed to but took me upstairs anyway. First class was right at the top of the stairs. It too was spacious and first class passengers even had access to a shower. A shower on a plane. Oh, how flight travel is changing.


I had a couple of hours to kill before I boarded my next Emirates leg, Dubai to Singapore. Once again, a window seat and my own row. ”You can’t beat that,” I said to myself. After a long sleep, I got to Singapore about 3pm on June 24. I took a bus to my hotel, the Changi Village Hotel which was about 20 minutes from the Singapore airport, had a quick look around and a dip in the pool before I had a nap.

Singapore Pool
Singapore Pool

The next day, June 25th, I headed for the airport about 5pm. Finally, it was the last leg of my journey, Singapore to Port Moresby on Air Nuigini. As I played on my IPhone at the airport before the check in counter opened, I kept thinking ‘almost there.’ I also remember thinking ‘This seems a bit too easy after all that’s happened.’ My travel nightmares were over, or so I thought.


Two hours before the flight departed, the check in counter opened. I was one of the first in line and I handed my passport over to the agent. The next thing I heard was “Sir, you’re not on this flight.” “What,” I said in complete and udder disbelief. As it turned out, I was booked on the flight the previous night. A flight that Carol said didn’t exist. I quickly sent out a ‘Mayday’ email. Thank goodness for Wi-Fi. After several email exchanges, a couple of phone calls and a $250 change fee, I got on the flight. What a nightmare.

I finally made it to Port Moresby in the wee hours of Friday, June 26th, three and a half days after leaving Baku, but I did make it. After coming through customs and collecting my bag, I was greeted by a man with a sign that said, Laguna Hotel. I asked him if he was my driver, he said, “Yes.” About a half hour later I was in my hotel. I thought I would just jump into bed for an hour before I had to go to work. Just before I nodded off to sleep, my phone rang. It was Susan. “Where are you?” she said. “I’m at the hotel, in bed,” I replied. “Well,” she said, “the driver is still at the airport waiting for you.”

Port Moresby
Port Moresby

When I accepted the contract for the Pacific Games, I thought working in Papa New Guinea would be an adventure. Well, an adventure it was, and I hadn’t even started to work yet.

During my time working at the Pacific Games, I didn’t have the heart to meet Carol. I did see a name plate where she sat, but I just didn’t have the heart to go over and say hello. What would we talk about? My uneventful journey? ‘No,’ I thought, ‘best to leave well enough alone.’ I still had to get back to London remember.

James Cowling
James Cowling

James Cowling is a freelance journalist. He was brought up in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and has lived in London, UK, for 20 years. He worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation during the election that brought Nelson Mandela to power in 1994. James came to London shortly after that and has worked for the CBC, NBC and CNBC. He also worked for NBC Radio where he covered the Hong Kong Handover in 1997, the Death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997 and the Bosnian elections in 1998. James worked for press operations for the last two Olympic Winter Games covering figure skating and short track speed skating and at the last Olympic Games in London, he covered gymnastics. Since 2013, he has been freelancing for BBC World Service radio where he previously worked full time for seven years.

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