You'd be surprised how many travelers end up in the wrong Sydney.
Airports That Frequently Get Mixed Up
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto; Getty Images

Airports are confusing enough — even when you’re at the right city. But a number of travelers have found themselves in trouble after booking a ticket to not-quite the right place.

If you're flying into one of these commonly-confused destinations, double-check the airport before you pay for your ticket.

Sydney, Nova Scotia

A surprising number of people have found themselves in frozen Sydney, Nova Scotia when expecting to enjoy the sunshine in New South Wales. Confusing Canada for Australia may seem odd (especially when the flight from Toronto to Nova Scotia is on a much smaller plane than you would need to cross the Pacific). Even so, a number of people have done just that.

Just this March, for example, Milan Schipper — an 18-year-old man from Amsterdam — booked a deal of a lifetime for a dream backpacking trip through the Great Down Under before starting college. He wound up in the middle of a blizzard in the Great White North instead.

"I saw the flight plan was going to go right, not left. It was about the time that I realized there was another Sydney," he told hosts on CBC Radio’s As It Happens.

While Schipper was annoyed with himself for the mistake, he was in good company. CBC Radio reported that a woman from the United States, who was on the same flight as Schipper, also thought she was headed for Australia.

In fact, this has happened so often that it’s surprising Sydney, Nova Scotia doesn’t have a “Welcome to the Wrong Sydney” visitors center.

A British couple flew to the Sydney of the North by mistake in 2002, as did an Argentinian woman in 2008, a Dutch grandfather and grandson in 2009, and an Italian couple in 2010.

Birmingham, Alabama

Another city-pair with the same name led to disappointment for a couple from Birmingham, in the United Kingdom. It was only when they got to the airport that they discovered their cheap tickets to a Caribbean vacation in Trinidad were useless because the £800 pound ‘bargain’ fare originated at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, in Alabama.

Cities that sound alike are easily confused, especially with the rich variants of English accents.

Auckland, New Zealand

Michael Lewis was returning home to Oakland after an extended European vacation in 1985, when he found himself lost like Odysseus on his way to Auckland, New Zealand.

Lewis had booked an Air New Zealand flight from London to Los Angeles with an onward connection to Oakland with a different airline. Most passengers on Lewis’ flight were making a short stopover in Los Angeles before continuing on the same plane to New Zealand.

Tired and groggy after a long trip (which had started in Germany), Lewis followed the crowd to the waiting lounge. When Air New Zealand cabin crew called passengers back onboard, they asked Lewis if he was flying to Auckland. But he heard Oakland and said yes. A mix-up with his boarding pass was overlooked, and so it goes. Air New Zealand flew him back to Los Angeles for free the next day, at which point he was well and truly exhausted.

Airports That Frequently Get Mixed Up
Credit: geogphoto / Alamy Stock Photo; WORLDWIDE photo / Alamy Stock Photo

Granada, Spain

What a difference an “e” makes! Granada and Grenada have also proven problematic for passengers.

In 2014, a couple from the U.S., who had planned a historic tour of the Alhambra in the Spanish city of Granada, were shocked when their flight map showed the plane heading the wrong way toward the Caribbean island of Grenada.

They were hardly the first travelers to make this mistake, either. According to court documents (the couple tried to sue British Airways for the error), other passengers had been misrouted from Granada to Grenada the week before.

In 2013, Lamenda Kingdon expected a two-hour trip from the UK to Granada, and found herself instead on a 10-hour flight to Grenada. She only discovered the error when chatting with the passenger next to her.

“After a complimentary lunch with gin and tonic, I began chatting to Mrs. King, sitting next to me,” Kingdon told Metro. “She corrected my pronunciation of Granada, saying ‘they call it Grenada’.”

Indeed they do.

Springfield, Chile, and Paris

Even if you go by airport codes, you can get fowled-up.

On FlyerTalk, travelers point to Springfield, MO (SGF) and Springfield, IL (SPI); San Jose, California (SJC) and San Jose, Costa Rica (SJO) as especially confusing destinations.

Ontario International (ONT) airport is in California — not Canada, as you might expect. Genoa Airport (GOA) in Italy can easily be confused for Goa International Airport (GOI) in India. A single typo can take you to Lagos, Nigeria (LOS) instead of Las Vegas (LAS).

And be sure to mind your Santiagos! The one for Chile is (SCL), while the one for Galicia, Spain is (SCQ).

Have you heard the one about the eclipse chaser who went to Takapoto (TKP) in French Polynesia — with no visible eclipse — instead of Tatakoto (TKV), also in French Polynesia? We’d hadn't.

Travelers should also exercise caution with Dallas and Dulles. Portland, Maine (PWM) and Portland, Oregon (PDX) can also be confused if you’re not paying attention; as can Columbus, MS (GTR) and Columbus, OH (CMH).

We tried to find evidence that someone had flown to Paris, France instead of Paris, Texas — but perhaps no one has been so lucky just yet. With due respect to the Great State, it’s a mistake booking we wouldn’t really mind one bit.