Holiday Travel Horror Stories
When the holidays roll around, you can do your best to plan the perfect meals, gifts, and activities. Unfortunately, you can't account for unexpected travel nightmares. From flat tires to stomach viruses, these horror stories might just encourage you to spend your next holiday cozied up at home.
Just before Christmas in 2014, 10 families showed up to a port in Miami with vouchers to board a Carnival cruise ship bound for the Bahamas. But cruise staff couldn't find their reservations. It turned out they had been scammed out of thousands of dollars by a shady travel company called Caribbean Cruise Line, which has an "F" rating with the Better Business Bureau. Caribbean Cruise Line was later sued by the Federal Trade Commission and 10 states for making illegal robocalls.
Hundreds of people found themselves spending Christmas Day at the Roissy-en-France airport outside Paris after snow and ice delayed some 400 flights in 2010. Travelers were understandably angry, but airport authorities tried to make the best of the situation by providing the stranded passengers with food, beds, Christmas toys, and even a costumed Santa Claus for the kids.
Over the 2012 Christmas holiday, about 5 percent of the people on a 10-day Caribbean cruise aboard the luxury ship Emerald Princess contracted what was suspected to be norovirus. This highly contagious bug causes stomach pain, diarrhea, and vomiting. In total, 166 passengers and 30 crew displayed symptoms of the virus. To make the holiday nightmare even worse, sick passengers were reportedly ordered to stay quarantined in their rooms or else face unnamed "consequences."
A few days after spending Christmas with family in Denver in 2010, Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan told Gizmodo she arrived at the airport only to learn her flight home to New York had been canceled because of an impending snowstorm. She rescheduled for the next morning through Chicago, but when she landed there, she learned her flight home had again been canceled. She spent the night with her sister who lived nearby, and it was snowing the next morning when she got into a cab bound for the airport. The cab spun out on the highway, crashing against a guardrail and leaving both her and the driver unconscious. Luckily, neither was injured. The following morning, she was finally able to fly home after "four days of misery." "I don't think I've ever been happier," she wrote on Gizmodo. "Everyone on that plane was so full of joy — it was actually an incredibly fun ride."
Dave Doster, a contributor at Roadtrippers.com, arrived in Florida with his family late on the night before Thanksgiving only to discover the minivan they were driving had a slow leak in one of its tires. Doster tried and failed to patch the leak. "So our Thanksgiving Day was filled with turkey, dressing, pumpkin pie, and trips to the local gas station every four hours to fill that damn tire up with air, so that it wouldn't deflate and leave us stranded," Doster told Expedia's travel blog. "My wife and I took shifts through the night on 'Flat Tire Watch.'"
More than 100 flights came to a standstill at London's Gatwick Airport after flooding and a power failure on Christmas Eve 2013. With only one operational toilet and no heat in the airport, chaos ensued as many travelers learned they wouldn't be traveling home to see their families for the holiday. Photos taken in the airport show travelers packed together and looking angry, and one shows a policeman attempting to calm a crowd. "It was like an underdeveloped Third World country," Josh Newton, a 29-year-old shipping broker at the time, told The Daily Mail. "This is London. This is supposed to be a hub of global air transport. It was an absolute shambles and so embarrassing."
Jennifer Jedow, owner of a website design company, told AOL Travel about piling into a Caprice Classic station wagon with her parents and her three siblings and heading to Vermont to spend Christmas with family. Her dad had tied loads of stuff — suitcases, gifts, a computer — to the roof of the car, and as they traveled down the highway at 55 mph, things started to fall off. "All of a sudden, from my seat in the back, I saw stuff from the roof flying into the highway behind us," she said. Her dad pulled over, then kept running back to retrieve fallen items, including one of Jennifer's nightgowns that was now ripped, dodging cars as he did. "It was absolute chaos," she said, adding that he managed to find most of the items. "I held onto the torn nightgown as a memory. It was certainly a holiday adventure, but it also brought perspective to be thankful for what we did have."
When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in August 2005, the Category 5 storm forced thousands of New Orleans residents to evacuate the city. Months later, many evacuees were living out of hotels and motels across the country. About 2,000 traveled to New York, including Beneta Davis, 34 at the time, who came with her family of eight. Although they ended up staying for weeks at a drab motel, they were glad to find a temporary place to live. Still, Davis and her family weren't quite sure how to spend Thanksgiving in their strange, temporary surroundings. "I guess we'll go to the parade, have a piece of pizza or something. We hardly have any money left," she told the New York Daily News. "I always cooked a big supper on Thanksgiving."
As one reader told Gizmodo, traveling with a toddler in the midst of potty training can be a challenge. On a Christmas trip from San Francisco to Milwaukee, explosive diarrhea struck twice before takeoff. "You don't know fear until you've got a toddler sitting on your lap who can erupt at any second and you don't have extra clothes and only one diaper," the beleaguered parent wrote. After a change of clothes and diapers were procured during a stopover in Minneapolis, the chaos continued. "Our son choked on cracker while we were eating in the food court and vomited all over his new pants. I wasn't paying another $25 for sweatpants, so I took them to the bathroom and washed with soap and water and tried to dry them under the hand blower."
A Jalopnik reader driving from Iowa to Wisconsin to see family for Christmas in a Mazda RX-8 soon realized a compact sports car wasn't up to the task of driving in an ice storm. After the car spun out repeatedly on the freeway, it seemed wise to grab the last available room at a nearby Super 8 — until the power went out. That's right: "No heat. It got down below freezing in my hotel room." No restaurants in the area were open either. The next day the weary traveler, fortified only with some vending machine cookies, continued the journey, arriving in Madison only after several more challenges, including a snow-blocked freeway exit. "What would normally be a 3-hour trip took nearly a day and a half."
Laura Itzkowitz, an editor at Travel + Leisure, was invited to spend Christmas with a friend's family in England while living in Italy in 2009. She found herself stranded at an airport in Rome after all flights to London, which had suffered a snowstorm, were delayed. "I tried to stay patient, but the next day wasn't much better," she said. "By the time I finally arrived in London, exhausted and overwhelmed, many trains were canceled or delayed. I ended up standing in the aisle of a train for the entire 1.5-hour journey to Northampton."
Just after Christmas in 2016, a small plane carrying four people over central Alberta, Canada, started to have engine trouble. As it approached the airport, the pilot considered landing on the highway but decided against it because there was too much traffic. He instead opted for an emergency landing, gliding toward the nearby runway, but landed short, narrowly missing a power pole and a berm. "It was a Christmas miracle, because the plane had basically run out of power," a local official told the CBC. "God knows what would have happened if they had hit all those things."
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