Travel + Leisure Editors Share Their Holiday Travel Nightmares
Even travel editors aren't immune to hellish holiday delays.
Whether you're reading this in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Christmas Eve or entering your sixth hour of flight delays on New Year's Day, take solace in the fact that we've all been there. Here are seven holiday travel nightmares straight from the T+L staff.
"In college, I made the amateur mistake of not checking airline baggage limits before spending a semester abroad. A few days after Christmas, I showed up at the airport with two big suitcases, only to be told that it would cost me thousands of dollars to actually bring that much luggage on board. My mom and I frantically opened all my luggage on the floor in front of the check-in counter, unpacked everything, and managed to stuff the necessities into one suitcase and one (way overweight) carry-on duffel. I certainly didn't have everything I needed for six months, but luckily, Paris was a pretty great place to shop for everything I'd left at home." —Stephanie Wu, Senior Editor
"Honeymoons are supposed to be exempt from disaster... or so I thought. On our overnight flight to Rome, my new husband and I lifted armrests and got into big-spoon-little-spoon mode as the cabin lights dimmed. That's when the PA went off with an announcement about a sick passenger and a request for doctors aboard. Guess who came to the rescue? The newly minted Mister. He spent much of the flight holding a woman's legs above her head while she laid in the aisle (it helps get your blood pressure back on track, apparently) while I chatted with flight attendants about his credentials. I found romance in his heroism, sure, but the moment was ruined not too much later, when a teenager sitting near us projectile vomited over all the surrounding passengers. We were spared, but our noses—not so much." —Nikki Ekstein, Travel News Editor
"It was Christmas Eve, 2004. This was the year of US Airways’ infamous 'Christmas nightmare,' in which the carrier suffered a complete operational meltdown, resulting in planes carrying nothing but lost luggage flying across the country and tens of thousands of suitcases rerouted to the airline’s Philadelphia hub.
I was flying US Airways out of Newark that evening to go see my mom in Washington state, but the flight was overbooked and I was bumped. My new flight was at 7 a.m. on Christmas morning—out of Philadelphia. To get me there, the airline issued me a taxi voucher.
I was on the bus back to Manhattan before I thought to call my friend Dave in Philly, who told me to come spend the night at his parents' house. So at Port Authority I bought another bus ticket back to EWR. Once there, I caught a cab, presented my voucher, and explained that I was going not to the airport but to a house in the suburbs. Somewhere around Trenton, my phone died. On the Philly outskirts I directed the driver not to follow the signs to the airport. He immediately began shouting at me and demanding to be paid more money, which I refused to do on principle. Finally, I told him to just let me off by the side of the Interstate. He took me as far as the next exit.
I hauled my suitcase up a depressing commercial strip and walked into a Wawa, where I asked the clerk if I could charge my phone. He refused. The clerk at a nearby 7-Eleven was more human. He let me unplug the Christmas lights on the store’s tinsel tree without even making me buy anything.
When I finally reached Dave and explained, with the help of the 7-Eleven clerk, where I was, he said, 'I’ll be there as soon as I can. But it’s going to take awhile.'
An hour later he called again. 'Where are you?' he asked.
'I’m standing out front of the 7-Eleven,' I told him.
'Can you hear me honking my horn?' he asked.
'I can hear it over the phone,' I said.
Eventually, we determined that he’d gone the wrong way and was at an identical 7-Eleven equidistant from the Interstate. Eventually, he found me and took me to his parents’ festive, light-filled house. They fed me Scotch and Christmas cookies for dinner.
We reached PHL the next morning in the dawn’s early light. The piles of luggage were twice as high as my head and the security line was hours long. When I finally got through, I learned that my flight had been postponed. The crew was on strike.
About three hours later, replacements arrived and I flew to Seattle without further incident. I got to my mom’s house around 7 p.m. on Christmas evening. The next day the Indian Ocean Tsunami happened and I found myself feeling grateful that this was the worst that had happened to me." —Jesse Ashlock, Features Director
"This past Thanksgiving, our Amtrak train was so packed that people were standing in the aisles, chock-a-block. We had picked traveling home on Saturday at 3 p.m., thinking we'd beat the Sunday crowds. Not so much. A family of five with three sick coughing children plopped down in front of us and proceeded to cough for the entire course of the trip on our newborn son. Welcome to parenthood!" —Jacqueline Gifford, Special Projects Editor
"In 2009, while I was living in Rome, a friend had invited me to spend Christmas with her family in England. Of course, England suffered a major snowstorm and was completely unprepared for it. I was flying out of Ciampino, a tiny airport in Rome, and all the flights were delayed. Everyone was sitting on the floor surrounded by their carry-on bags and no one could get any information about when the planes would take off. The airline just kept pushing the departure time back until they eventually announced that my flight would leave the next morning. In the meantime, I had begun chatting with a young English woman living in Rome like me, and we banded together to make sure the airline put us up in a hotel and paid for our dinner. I tried to stay patient, but the next day wasn't much better. By the time I finally arrived in London, exhausted and overwhelmed, many trains were cancelled or delayed. I ended up standing in the aisle of a train for the entire 1.5-hour journey to Northampton, where my friend's family lived." —Laura Itzkowitz, Contributing Digital Editor
"My first winter back east, my flight to my parents' house in L.A. from New York's JFK was cancelled due to foreign complication called "weather," which had heretofore never put a damper on my sunny California holiday plans. My flight was rescheduled for Christmas Eve, a few days later. After some 11 hours packed with angry travelers in New York's LaGuardia, I missed my connection in Indianapolis. Then I missed my new connection in Wisconsin. I spent Christmas Eve in a Milwaukee Best Western—but hey! The airline did give me a $5 dinner voucher." —Amy Schellenbaum, Digital Editor
"In 2006, I moved from Washington, DC, to Chicago to start graduate school—in January. Though temperatures in the Washington area at that time are regularly in the 20s, and ice and snow not uncommon, they're no match for a lakefront winter in the Midwest. I was unprepared. With the help of friends, I got my possessions into the U-Haul easily enough. But the day we were to depart, the truck didn't start. After countless calls to U-Haul and a wait of about 5 or 6 hours, the truck got a new alternator. My parents and I postponed our departure until the next morning—a risk, because I only had about two days to get to Chicago before school started. All was going well as we wound our way west, passing through the Allegheny Mountains before the land flattened out. We stopped for the night in Sandusky, Ohio, went out for dinner, and went to bed exhausted. But when we crawled out of the hotel early the next morning for the final leg of the trip, the truck didn't start...again. This time, the problem was the weather—temperatures had dropped so low the diesel gas had frozen. (Why U-Haul was still renting out diesel trucks for an interstate move, I couldn't tell you.) We had to wait the better part of the day for the sun to come out and warm things up so the gas could reach its ungel point—a real term—and the truck could run again. We were rapidly running against the clock by this point. Thankfully, when we reached Chicago, I had hired local movers who had me unpacked and in the new apartment in under an hour." —Corina Quinn, Digital Travel Editor
“Two years after moving to Boston for college, I swore to my parents that I would never take a Peter Pan bus ever, ever, again. It was always an uncomfortable experience, and the hour and a half drive seemed to turn into two or three hours on every occasion. Yet somehow, on my way home for Thanksgiving, I found myself on that sad bus outside of South Street station—again. This time though, we didn't just bumble our way along. Our driver missed an exit and we ended up, for all intents and purposes, heading back toward Boston. When we finally found ourselves pointed in the right direction, thick clouds of smoke started to belch from our bus, and quicker than any other part of the trip, we ended up on the side of the road while the bus caught on fire. Much to my horror, they brought another Peter Pan bus, and asked us to board. Six hours later (which, I'd like to point out, could have easily been enjoyed on a First Class flight to Europe) I arrived in Hartford, CT. And to be honest, no one wants to end up in Hartford after a trip like that. Needless to say, my parents finally conceded that I would not take a Peter Pan bus ever, ever again.” —Melanie Lieberman, Assistant Digital Editor
“After spending the holidays in California with my family a few years ago, I took a red-eye back to New York because I had a job interview lined up for the next morning. I was due to land at 5 a.m. and my interview was at 8, so I made sure to pack a professional outfit to change into upon arrival. When I arrived at baggage claim, my suitcase did not. My baggage was lost, along with my interview outfit! My apartment was out of the way, so I ambushed a friend’s closet who lived near the interview location. Despite my stressful morning, everything worked out fine in the end—I got the job and my luggage was found a week later.” —Katie Fish, Fashion Assistant