30+ Things to go wrong when Flying

Don’t freak out. This isn’t a post to tell you how horrific flying is and why you should avoid it at all costs. En contraire, I love air travel. And I’ve had my fair share of flights over the years. Probably more than most. At the height of my business travels, I would do 80+ flights a year. Therefore, I guess it is unavoidable that some things go wrong when flying so much. Some problems were minor, others messed up my plans a bit more. But I thought I might as well share them with you. If only, to show you that even if things go wrong when flying, it isn’t the end of the world. There is usually a solution to the problem. And who knows, maybe you have some own experiences to add to this list?

Missing your flight

I mean, this is probably the ultimate thing to go wrong when flying. You can’t quite recover from that. Well, obviously you can. You will just have to book a new flight (or see if the airline gives you the option to simply rebook to the next one). Luckily, this one has never happened to me… so far. 

Going to the wrong airport

Another one that hasn’t happened to me. But to a colleague, unfortunately. I know, this might seem completely bonkers to some of you. But let’s not forget that London has six airports. And if you have multiple trips booked for the foreseeable future, things can easily get mixed up. In her case, it was a simple case of two airport trains leaving from the same train station… and her boarding the wrong one on autopilot. Unfortunately, it meant she missed her flight and had to rebook. Fortunately, there was one available that same day from the airport she already was at. So overall, she arrived at her destination with minimal delay. Albeit at an additional cost.

Whenever I had an early morning flight, I would get a cab to the airport (as it was too early to go on public transport). And the first question the cab driver would ask was ‘Which airport are you going to?’ 

And every time I would get my phone out and check my itinerary… just in case. Even if I knew exactly where I was going. But at 4am with little sleep and no caffeine in my system yet, I don’t trust my memory.

Not hearing the alarm and oversleeping

Sheer luck that this hasn’t happened yet. When I need to get up super early to catch a flight, I tend to set three alarms five minutes apart. Just in case. And so far, this has always done the trick. By the second alarm, I am up. 

Having your return flight cancelled

Well, this has actually happened to me… twice. But for different reasons.

The first time this happened, it wasn’t the actual flight that got cancelled. Just my ticket for the flight. I had a return trip to Vienna booked. The plan was to fly out Monday, have a couple of work meetings Tuesday and Wednesday, then fly back Wednesday evening. However, when a second business trip came in for the week before in Slovenia, I decided to change my plans.

Instead of flying back from Bratislava late Friday evening or Saturday morning, then back to Vienna on Monday morning, I decided to spend the weekend in Vienna. But since I knew my flights were non-refundable, I just let the flight from London to Vienna laps. Not knowing, that this would automatically cancel my return flight. Well, needless to say, I wasn’t too impressed when I eventually found out (at some point on Monday). I then had to book another flight at short notice and exorbitant cost. Lesson learned. Next time I would definitely inform the airline of my changed itinerary.

More recently, it was the actual return flight that got cancelled. Shortly after arriving in Geneva, I received a message that my flight back to London two days later was cancelled.  The airline automatically rebooked me for the next morning. Under normal circumstances I would just enjoy an extra night in Geneva, maybe finally get to actually see something of the city and fly back the next day. But I already had a three-day trip and needed to get home. Since the airline in question had all flights cancelled for that afternoon, I ended up booking my return flight with another airline. I later managed to claim back part of the money for the cancelled flight. But unfortunately, they refused to pay for my new flight, since the cancellation was due to air traffic strike and out of their hand (apparently).

Things to go wrong when flying: Getting stuck en route

Most of my flights are direct flights. But a couple of times over the years, I did book connecting flights. Which wasn’t a big deal. Apart from this one time. Coming back from Trondheim in Norway, I had to change planes in Stavanger. Unfortunately, there was a severe snowstorm in Oslo that day. And even though my flight didn’t go via Oslo, the plane I was supposed to board, was stuck there. After hours of waiting around, our flight was eventually cancelled. So here I was. Late in the evening, on my own, nowhere near home. At the time, the airline wasn’t very helpful, but luckily my company booked me on another flight in the morning and I found myself a hotel to spend the night. 

Missing your flight connection

This goes along the same lines. One of my constant worries when taking connecting flights is delays on the first flight and subsequently missing my connection. I had a few near misses, where there wasn’t much time to change flights, but have never actually missed a connection. Let’s hope it stays that way. 

Things to go wrong when flying: Arriving late for boarding

Generally, I tend to be at the airport far too early. I do factor in delays on the way plus allow sufficient time for security. This is just how I am. But that doesn’t mean things can’t go wrong. On occasion there have been very long queues at airport security, resulting in a much longer time to get airside, than you would generally expect. But even if you make it through security well on time, there is still the risk of getting distracted or underestimating the time needed to reach the gate, resulting in some very late arrivals at boarding. I had a few near misses in Vienna, where I effectively went through security and straight onto the plane without any stop. But I have yet to reach the point where they start calling me out by name. 

Forgetting your passport (or misplacing it)

Ever since I was a kid, I have memories of my dad checking (well, confiscating) all passports the moment we set out on any holiday trip. Just to ensure they were all there when we reach the border.

Fast forward a few decades and I do the same with my husband. I will be the one carrying the passports when we set out to the airport. And even though I know exactly that I have put them in my bag, I will check before I leave the house. Without fail, every single time. Just because I am that paranoid of arriving at the airport without a passport.

Before Brexit, not packing my passport wouldn’t have been such a big issue. Thanks to dual nationality, I have a German ID card. And to this day my ID card will always be in my purse. Regardless of whether I am planning on leaving the country or not (old habits die hard, it is a legal requirement in Germany to carry your ID card with you). However, since the UK has left the EU, travelling on an ID card is no longer an option for me. 

A couple of years ago, I arrived at the airport border control (Vienna again), only to search my bag over and over without finding my passport. In the end, I passed border control with my ID card. Luckily not a big deal back then. After more searching, I did eventually find my passport. Stuck in my coat pocket, where it had been for the entire three-day trip. Without me noticing. Sheer luck that I didn’t actually lose it. As that would have been quite a big thing to go wrong when travelling.

Packing the wrong passport

When travelling with Mr T it is easy. I just grab all passports I can find. However, if I am travelling on my own, I tend to pack both my passports. But it is advisable to open that German passport and ensure it is mine. I’d rather not find out at border control that I did indeed grab the wrong one.

Queuing for the wrong flight

Depending on airport, there is a chance of several flights departing for the same destination at roughly the same time.

I can’t remember which airport or route, but a couple of years ago, I was queuing at my gate. As boarding started, several customers were turned away. They were at the wrong gate. Turned out that there were two flights departing at the exact same time for the same destination. Unfortunately, they queued at the wrong gate. Their flight with a different airline departed elsewhere… which happened to be the other side of the terminal (obviously no such luck as having the two flights side by side). Whether or not they made their flight, I do not know. Ever since, I check not just the destination and flight time on the board, but also the airline.

Things to go wrong when flying - Travel for a Living

Things to go wrong when flying: Too much luggage

Whether we are talking hand luggage or checked luggage, it is always worth checking the requirement for your specific airline. As they vary quite dramatically. 

My go-to airline is British Airways. They have a fairly generous hand luggage allowance on all their flights. As long as it fits into a hand luggage suitcase and you can lift it into the overhead locker by yourself, your hand luggage can be as heavy as you like. The same can’t be said for other airlines. Some are very strict on weight. Others on size. Or both. And it can be expensive if you exceed it. But that doesn’t mean people don’t try anyway.

On a recent Easyjet flight from Geneva back to London, what would normally pass as hand luggage with British Airways had to be checked in as luggage. Which I was fully aware of and had booked it as checked luggage accordingly. However, as I queued at the boarding gates, several people were approached by staff, had their hand luggage suitcases checked and ended up paying through the nose to have them checked into hold there and then. How they did not check beforehand, I do not know. But I know that this is money wasted, so best to be prepared. 

Phone running out of power

OK, at first glance, this doesn’t quite sound like a serious thing to go wrong when flying. But what if you didn’t print your boarding pass? To be honest, I almost exclusively rely on mobile boarding passes nowadays. With ONE exception: Ryanair.

With most airlines, if your phone battery goes flat just before the flight, you just show up at the gate with your passport and they will print the boarding pass for you. Not so Ryanair. Yes, they will print your boarding pass for you. BUT they will charge you. 

So, even though I use a mobile boarding pass on the odd occasion I do have to use Ryanair (can you tell I avoid it like the plague?), I will always have a printed version in my bag. 

Forgetting to collect your luggage before leaving 

Never happened to me. But I had some near misses. Most of my flights are hand luggage, so I don’t have to worry about checked luggage. And the chances of me getting off the plane, parking my hand luggage suitcase somewhere and then wandering off are relatively slim.

But on the odd occasion that I did travel with a checked suitcase, I had to remind myself, not to head straight for the exit. Especially on late evening flights after long days.

Things to go wrong when flying: Changing the aircraft before take-off

Usually, the moment you board the aircraft and sit down, this is when you can relax. At least for me that is. But every now and then, the actual departure might be delayed due to some technical problem. Usually this isn’t a big deal. Some warning light goes on in the cockpit, an engineer comes out to check it and you eventually take off. Maybe with a 30 minute or 1 hour delay, but you will take off.

However, if the fault isn’t this minor and can’t be fixed on the spot, you might have to de-board again, wait for the airline to source a new aircraft, head to the new gate, and start all over again. This happened to me twice over the years. Not the best experience. But then again, I guess I would rather change plane than set off with a faulty plane. Even if it means a lengthy delay.

Having a flight diverted to another airport

Luckily that hasn’t happened to me yet. Although there was the possibility once when I got stranded in Paris. Due to bad weather at London City Airport, all landings were suspended. Since we hadn’t started yet, we were told to stay put at Paris Orly. But in an attempt to get us to London that evening, there was talk about diverting the flight to London Gatwick instead. But in the end, we stayed in Paris for the night and headed back to London City the next morning. 

Having your seat neighbour invade your space 

Well, I don’t know about you. But generally, I am not too keen on cuddling with strangers I don’t know. And most times, people are respectful of each other’s space and try and not intrude too much. I tend to book myself a window seat, so if I want a snooze, I can rest my head on the wall. 

A couple of years ago, I had a young girl sit next to me. Having connected from a long-haul flight, she was on the last leg of her journey, and she was very exhausted. During the flight, she kept dozing off and every time, she would then just automatically snuggle up to my shoulder. Regardless of how many times I gently tried to push her back into her seat. In the end I just gave up and let her sleep on my shoulder. As we deboarded, her dad (who sat behind us) apologised. As it was only a short one-hour flight, no harm done really. 

Things to go wrong when flying - Travel for a Living

Having your laptop test positive for explosives

Sounds like a very random thing to add to my list of things to go wrong with flying? Unfortunately, this is one that actually happened to me. A couple of years ago, when flying back from Tel Aviv for the first time.

After a week of visiting various car dealerships throughout Israel, my colleague and I were flying back from Tel Aviv to London. We had heard horrendous things about security at Tel Aviv airport and ensured we arrived well in time. Which turned out to be a good thing, as we needed the extra time, when my laptop tested positive for explosives. Since it was only the laptop, not my bag or myself, I was allowed to board the flight and so was my laptop. But instead of me taking it on board, it had to be packed into a separate box and was loaded into cargo. 

Getting stuck in traffic on the way to the airport

Although I am a seasoned flyer, I am always overly cautious when it comes to arriving at the airport. Even if I am only flying hand luggage and I know exactly where I need to go and what to do, I will allow more than enough time between me arriving at the airport and my flight taking off. 

However, this does not necessarily allow for massive delays along the way. 

On a recent work trip through Switzerland, the client was taking me back to Geneva airport, after our meeting. From Lausanne to Geneva is a 45-minute drive and I still had plenty of time before my flight. Since the client knew the route well, he didn’t bother using his sat nav. Which unfortunately meant, we were both blissfully unaware of the full road closure ahead of us, until we drove onto the motorway and right into stationary traffic.

Since turning around and going back isn’t an option on the motorway, all we could do was wait it out and hope that we would at least make it to the next exit to find an alternative route. Had we known of the road closure before, I could have easily taken the direct train from Lausanne to Geneva Airport, which takes less than an hour. But it was too late for that now.

Luckily, by the time we made it to the next exit, the police re-opened the motorway, and we could continue to Geneva airport as planned. And I did make my flight.

Things to go wrong when flying: Long delays

Maybe one of the most common things to go wrong when flying and I guess we’ve all experienced this one before. Flight delays. There was a time, when most of my flights would be at least 30 minutes delayed. These days it is a little better. But every now and then, things go wrong, and I’ll end up with a couple of extra hours at the airport. Since I have my laptop and phone with me on business travels, delays aren’t usually a big deal. I will just find myself a comfy spot to sit, have a coffee and get some work done.

However, on evening flights after a long day, you do get to the point where you really just want to get home. And having a flight delayed doesn’t just mean you’ll depart later. It also means you arrive much later and might have to find alternative transport to get home. I had it before where I then needed to book a cab to get me home from the airport, since it was too late to make the journey by public transport.

On European routes, if your flight is delayed by more than three hours, you are entitled to compensation. A small bonus for the additional wait time. However, this only applies to delays that are caused by the airline. So, if your flight is delayed due to bad weather, you won’t get compensation.  

Delayed luggage

Touch wood, this has never happened to me yet. Although I am already a little anxious about my connecting flight to the US next month. Since most of my flights are hand luggage, the risk of losing my luggage is fairly minimal. However, on long haul or connecting flights, this is a different matter. Unfortunately, this has happened to two of my friends recently. One was taking a connecting flight to Spain and whilst she managed to sprint across Madrid airport to catch her second flight, her checked in luggage wasn’t quite so lucky. It wasn’t loaded onto the aircraft. Therefore, my friend ended up spending half the evening at the airport, waiting for the next flight arriving from Madrid AND her suitcase.

Another friend flew to Tokyo to see her family. As she was staying for quite a while, she had packed two big suitcases. But when she arrived in Tokyo, only one of the two arrived with her. Luckily, this meant she at least had some clothes. But it took a couple of days for the airline to locate her suitcase and get it to her.

When Mr T and I fly together, I tend to pack at least one outfit for me into his suitcase (and vice versa). And for our upcoming connecting flight to the US, I will be packing half and half; just in case one of the suitcases is delayed. In addition to bringing at least one change of clothes as hand luggage.

Things to go wrong when flying: Lost luggage

I don’t even want to think about this one. Having a suitcase delayed would be bad enough. But the idea of actually losing my luggage altogether? I’d rather not think about it. 

Forgetting your passport at check-in, security or on board the aircraft

If you forget your passport at check-in or security, you will probably notice latest when you try and board the aircraft and the ground crew want to see your boarding pass AND passport. And with a bit of luck, before then staff would have found your passport and handed it back to you. 

As to forgetting a passport on board the aircraft? I am always amazed how many people will board the aircraft and rather than put the passport back into their bag, they will just put it in the storage pouch in front of them. I guess, the idea is that they will the passport again as soon as they land and get off the aircraft, so what is the point of putting it away. 

But as people get off the aircraft, there are regularly passports left behind and handed to the cabin crew by de-boarding passengers. For that reason, I will always pack my passport back into my handbag, as soon as have reached my seat. 

Things to go wrong when flying: Changing flight times

This has happened a few times. And usually, it isn’t a big deal. So, your flight is changed to an hour earlier or later. Not necessarily a big deal. Since this is something that happens in advance, not on the day, it just means that you’ll need to adjust your itinerary accordingly. However, if the change is more than just an hour or two, it can cause issues. A few years ago, my parents and aunt came over to attend a Queen & Adam Lambert concert with us. The flights were booked months in advance. They would arrive here the day before the concert and fly back the next evening.

However, a week or two before their trip, Ryanair suddenly changed their flight time. Instead of Saturday evening, it suddenly was a very early 7am flight on Saturday morning. Given that we didn’t make it back from Wembley until well after midnight, that made for a very short night for everyone. Needless to say, no one was delighted. But since they couldn’t extend their stay, there wasn’t another option, they just had to agree to the time change.

Having a smelly seat neighbour

Well, I guess I don’t have to go into detail here. You get the issue.

Having a very chatty seat neighbour 

I guess this isn’t really a serious thing to go wrong when flying. It can be quite entertaining, and I have had plenty of good conversations with fellow travellers. When I got stuck in Paris, I ended up chatting with my seat neighbour for hours (whilst waiting to hear whether we would be flying back that evening). And eventually continued that conversation in the hotel bar until they shut, once it was confirmed that we were stuck for the night. 

But if you are trying to catch up on sleep or try to get some work done, having a very chatty seat neighbour can be quite annoying. You can’t really avoid them, since you can’t just pack up and leave. Especially when they start quizzing about the work you are trying to finish off. On occasion the only way to shut up my seat neighbour was packing the laptop away and forcing myself to spend the rest of the flight with my eyes shut, pretending to be asleep.  

Having a bumpy flight (and a scared seat neighbour)

A couple of years ago, Mr T was flying over to Germany (I was already there). And it was a very bumpy flight, thanks to a massive storm. He’s not really one to scare easy. But unfortunately, he had a young girl sitting next to him who was absolutely terrified of flying in general and of the bumpy flight in particular. So, he and the guy the other side did their best to calm her down during the flight and offer their hands for her to hold and squeeze (and in the case of the other guy, also scratch). Glad to report, they all made it back down more or less unharmed.

Waiting for a departure slot

Usually, you board an aircraft, you settle down and within 15 minutes or so, you will start your journey. But occasionally things go a little pear shaped. With busy airports like Heathrow or Frankfurt, if there is a hic up with departing flights, it has a knock-on effect for the few hours. But to get things moving, airlines might have you board your flight as usual. It might well be that once you have boarded, the pilot will inform you that the departure slot isn’t for another 30 minutes (or even 90 minutes, if you are unlucky). But because the aircraft is all ready to go, there is a chance that you might be allowed to leave earlier. If another aircraft misses their slot, your flight might be pushed forward to that slot. 

So, you see, there is a logic behind airlines doing this. But if you don’t get an earlier slot, you might end up sitting in the aircraft for 90 minutes, waiting for your 60-minute flight. Believe me, been there, done that.  

Queueing forever at security

When I was a silver member of the BA executive club, I was allowed to use fast track security as one of my perks. Unfortunately, those days have gone now. I now have to queue at security like everyone else. Luckily, most days security isn’t too bad. 

But if you are flying at particularly busy times (at the height of summer or just before Christmas), queues can be longer. So, allow sufficient time. And rest assured, that if there is a risk of you missing your flight, you might be allowed to jump the queue.

Some airports offer a paid fast track security option. Whilst I personally find it unnecessary at most airports, I will quite happily purchase fast track at Stansted Airport, should I travel early mornings.

Things to go wrong when flying: A flight being overbooked

Despite hundreds of flights, I’ve only experienced this particular issue once. As I was trying to check in online the day before, it came up with an error message and told me to see the check-in desk at the airport. With my meetings over early that day, I was at the airport well ahead of my flight (facing a six hour wait for take-off). When I went to the check-in desk, they told me that the flight was overbooked, and they were looking for volunteers to move to another flight. Since there wasn’t another one that day, it would have meant staying the night and taking a flight the next morning.

To make up for the inconvenience, they were offering to pay for my hotel and give me 150 Euro in addition. I did briefly think about it, but in the end decided against it. If it would have only meant a few more hours delay and boarding a later flight the same day, I would have probably done it. But I already had a lengthy business trip behind me and wasn’t really fancying another night away from home. 

Losing your earphones in the seat

Sounds like a very random thing to go wrong when flying? I agree. Only, this has actually happened to me quite recently. I still don’t know how I managed it. But shortly before take-off, I somehow managed to knock my wireless earphone out and it fell down the side of the seat. Trying to get it out with my fingers didn’t work, it just kept going down further. Eventually, I informed the flight attendant. Who unfortunately also didn’t have a clue what to do. She brought me a fork from business class, to try and get it out with. But no such luck. In the end, I gave up and mentally prepared myself for buying new headphones when I get home.

Shortly before landing, the flight attendant came back and asked me to stay put until the other passengers had de-boarded. She would then come to help me get the earphone out. Once everyone else was off the flight, she came back, took off the seat covers and eventually managed to reach the missing earbud. Happy days. 

I hope I didn’t freak you out with this lengthy list of things to go wrong when flying? Believe me, this wasn’t the purpose. Far from it. I didn’t mean to scare you. I just wanted to show you, that even if things go wrong when flying, there usually is an easy way out. A little mishap doesn’t need to spoil your trip or make you go into panic mode. Just sit back and relax. 

Tell me, any more things to go wrong when flying that should be added to this list? What did I miss?

Leave a Reply