To say that I travel a lot doesn’t mean I am a particularly organised person.
In my previous life as a personal assistant, I used to think I was uber-organised. Give me multiple deadlines, a constantly ringing phone, people dropping by my desk bringing with them more work and I was all over it. I revelled in the fast pace as would simply work harder to make sure I got everything done on time.
You would think that I would be the kind of travel stress-head that had everything pre-planned.
I thought so too. Until the time I missed an international flight from Seattle to London.
One Airport, One Passenger. No Plane.
My friend, Katie, dropped me off at the curb outside international departures and after collecting my bag from the backseat of her car, a hug and a goodbye, I was alone.
Clutching my printed itinerary that had the date and time of my flight on it I scanned the departures board to find my check-in desk.
It wasn’t there.
The check-in desks were closed and there was not one single passenger waiting to check in. I walked up and down the departures hall, distress rising in my throat, until I spotted a security guard. I appealed to him to find me a member of staff that I could ask for help. He wandered off into the bowels of the airport and eventually came back with someone in an airline uniform who took a look at my paper and said, “Oh, that plane left yesterday.”
Left Without Me
I couldn’t believe it. Left yesterday?! But why wasn’t I notified? The airport staff merely shrugged and wandered off, leaving me stranded at the other side of the world with a wasted airline ticket and no plane to get home.
I had no mobile phone, and no phone number for Katie.
I had to withdraw money from an ATM, buy something in an airport stall to get some change, hunt down a pay-to-use Internet computer, log on to Facebook whereby I miraculously found a mutual friend of Katie and mine online. This friend gave me Katie’s cell phone number and then I had to hunt down a pay phone and call Katie to come back and collect me from the airport.
By this time, I was a crying mess and vowed never to travel again.
That night – and it had to be the middle of the night in America so that England was awake and at work – I created a Skype account, put credit on it and then called the airline and the travel company I had used to rebook my flight.
This was a few years ago now, when I was young and silly and before online check-in had really become popular. The moral of the story is: always, always, always check the status of an international flight. Apparently, the timetable can change, and the company won’t be sympathetic even if you’re a young, single female traveller stranded in a foreign country.
After a lot of tears and a lot of money, I made it home.
I never did get a satisfactory answer from the travel agent I booked through. They claimed to have sent me an updated email itinerary, yet couldn’t prove it. I had never seen this and didn’t have Internet access in the days preceding my flight to check its status.
My Top Tips For Preventing And Mitigating Flying Hassles:
1.) Add the airline’s email address to your safe list and check your junk emails regularly for any communication.
2.) Where possible, book flights with a credit card to give you protection when things go wrong.
3.) Check the status of a flight at least 48 hours before. If you don’t have Internet access, write down the airline’s phone number (and the number of your flight) and call them. If possible, check-in online 24 hours before you fly.
4.) Have valid visas for all the countries you are flying to and check your passport has at least six months left on it after the date of your departure.
5.) At immigration be aware that some countries require proof of a departing flight. Always print out your travel itinerary and have it to hand as you go through immigration.
6.) On a similar note, remember that some countries, such as Turkey and Bali, require visa-on-arrival fees. Be sure to know how much you’ll need and in what currency you’re expected to pay.
7.) Take a pen in your carry-on bag for filling out landing cards on the plane.
8.) Have the name and number of an emergency contact in every place you visit. For me, simply having the number of my friend to hand and a pocket of change would have cut out an hour of agony at the airport. If you don’t have a friend or relative who you can call, even having the phone number of your hostel or hotel gives you a starting point when things go wrong.
9.) Travel insurance – research your policy; some companies reimburse you for costs incurred when a flight is delayed or cancelled. Do you want extra protection for your personal belongings if they get waylaid? It’s worth taking the time to consider your options.
Have you ever had drama at the airport? How did you cope? What are your tips for preparing for international flights?