By: Ilana Reichert
We asked you, and you told us: We asked you to submit your worst business travel experiences for our contest, and you delivered far beyond our expectations.
Of the hundreds of stories that could curdle the blood of even the most experienced traveler, it was hard to select a winner. In the end the Grand Prize of an Amazon Kindle 2 goes to Rob S. of California, who has certainly earned it.
While all the stories were horrifying, below are the Top 5 World’s Worst Business Travel Experiences—the ones that got to us the most. We gave points for humor and originality. Highlights (or lowlights!) of the stories include an electronic breakup, bed bugs, a highly unusual marathon, and a gentlemanly Parisian robber.
Grand Prize-Winning Story: “Hell in 100 Words”
Rob, 37, submitted his story to us under the title “Hell in 100 Words” and told us a pithy little tale of horror. We spoke with Rob to hear more of the story, which took place in 2006. It began with dysentery during one of Rob’s business trips to India. He had been careful about food, but he believes it was a cup of chai tea that got him in the end.
“You really have to boil the water for ten minutes to kill the bacteria,” Rob told us. “I became extraordinarily sick.” A conference in a hot, filthy tent two days later only made matters worse. Rob managed to give his presentation—he’s a partner in a company that manufactures water testing devices—but the temperature in the tent was about 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
But nothing compares to what took place when Rob finally tried to go home. The flight to New Delhi was uneventful, but then, “The red tape and security at the New Delhi airport were an absolute nightmare,” says Rob. “We ended up arriving there three hours early, yet even with that amount of time I was still in danger of missing my flight. I was in a security line with about 200 ahead of me.”
In this instance, Rob was able to overcome the situation by asserting himself. “I started making a big fuss because I really wanted to get home, so the airport personnel brought me on the plane with about ten minutes to spare, and I was happy.”
That happiness was short-lived. After the plane had safely touched down in Newark, New Jersey, it seemed like nothing else could go wrong. Rob boarded his connecting flight to Los Angeles, and that’s when it happened. “The plane was sitting on the runway waiting to take off, when suddenly the entire plane shook,” Rob recalls. “The pilot got on the PA system and said, ‘We’re not sure what has happened.’ Turns out, we were in a plane crash.”
Another plane had crashed into Rob’s plane on the runway. “The damage was so severe that both wings were completely messed up—and this was a 747!” says Rob. So the passengers had to wait for a new plane—and even that became a nightmare. “Four hours later, the crew was MIA. Every 45 minutes we’d be told ‘We think it’s coming, we should be leaving in 5-10 minutes so don’t leave the area,’ so we couldn’t go anywhere,” says Rob. “We finally got a new plane, but crew was gone and nobody had any idea where they were…they showed up two hours later.” And all this, mind you, while Rob was still sick to his stomach.
At last the passengers were able to board the plane, and the story seemed to have a happy ending at last. Until, four hours into the flight, the pilot announced, “Folks, you’re not going to want to hear this, but it turns out we’ve burned too much fuel. We have to make emergency fuel landing in Albuquerque.”
By the time Rob finally landed in Los Angeles, he probably needed a hug. But that was not to be. He turned on his Blackberry and discovered that his girlfriend had broken up with him via email while he’d been away. And when he returned home, his kitchen was infested with mice.
Rob sent a complaint to Continental Airlines for all that he’d suffered on their flights…and received a $75 voucher. He has vowed never to fly with them again.
Today, Rob has put the harrowing experience behind him, and we hope the Grand Prize will help with that as well. He has been to India many times since the experience, and when we spoke, he was planning a trip to Japan.
The Top 5 Stories
In their own words, here are some of the best stories that made the cut:
“Efficient Handling of Overbooking—the African Way” by Tom M.
I was traveling on business in Nigeria. I had to take a flight to Kaduna, Nigeria on a local airline. When we were returning to Lagos, at the Kaduna airport, we were made to walk out to the plane, walk AROUND the plane two times (while a guard with a machine gun blocked the steps) and then, on 'lap 3' everyone broke into a run and the guard stepped aside while everyone bounded up the steps.
The reason: the flight is regularly oversold and only the first 100 or so passengers up the steps get to go. (There is some poor guy on crutches in Kaduna who is probably STILL there...)
“Welcome to Chile” by John H.
I flew from Vancouver to Santiago, Chile via Lima Peru. The flight was very good and when I landed in Santiago nature was calling (it had been a long flight).
Standing in front of the urinal I was suddenly surrounded by three fellows—one on each side and one behind me. In their broken English they proclaimed, "We want your stuff"! Well they took my brief case and coat and left. I zipped up and was after them but they were quick and I lost them.
I immediately went to the police and she was gorgeous and her only words in English were: "Welcome to Chile.” All I had left was about $1, no passport, airline ticket, etc., but I did have my sense of humour! To make a long story short, the Canadian Embassy was no help whatsoever—no monetary or moral support: “Look after yourself buddy for ‘losing’ your passport.”
I was told I had to find my own way to the embassy and with no money that was impossible. Well, after talking to America Airlines and getting a new airline ticket, talking to the police and my business associates in Chile, I managed to get on a plane to my final destination in Puerto Montt. After arriving the Canadian Embassy wanted me back in Santiago so they could re-issue me a passport. I tried doing it via Fedex but since the forms were in English and French (not Spanish) no one would notarize my signature.
Off to Santiago I went with a letter from them stating who I was (no ID, no getting on the plane). Hired a taxi and off to the embassy, I had money now from my friends. Four hours later I had my passport and case closed. It cost me alot of money and time but the best part is that I was later invited to the embassy for a wine and cheese reception. I told the consular general my story and he apologized for the way I was treated. I doubt if things have changed, but who knows.
The moral of the story is, go through security before hitting the can! I do not blame Chile for this could happen anywhere in the world and if it does happen I hope the Canadian embassy looks after you better than they did me!
“The Polite Parisian Robber” by Ed T.
In a two day period, I had flown from St. Louis to Paris, worked a meeting for a few hours, and then hustled off on the TGV to Rotterdam where I worked another meeting. At the end of this second day, I took a train to Brussels where I would be meeting and working with a distributor. I exited the Brussels North station, laden with luggage and samples required for my three week journey.
Unfortunately, as my hotel was only a few blocks away, none of the taxis would give up their spot in the queue for such a meager fare—I was forced to walk. About half way to the hotel, I heard a voice behind me speaking in French. I turned, said "Pardon me", and the now embodied voice brandished an automatic pistol in my face and demanded, "Give me your money or I will kill you now."
I gave him my money—US dollars, French francs, and Dutch guilders—and the thief inquired, "What is this?"
"Money,” I replied. "They'll change it for you at the station."
He took my passport and then began to reach for my wedding band when I protested: "Please do not take that, it is my wedding ring."
"You are married?" he said. "So am I! Do you have children? I have two boys." If not for the gun in my face, I would have thought he was going to start showing me family photos. He was extremely polite, even apologizing for his actions. "It's my family—I need to feed them,” he explained.
The US Embassy (where I went to replace my passport) was amused by the polite gentleman bandit. Somehow, though, the bloom was off the rose for me.
“Bed Bugs!” by Anonymous
On a one night visit to my company's West Coast office, I was booked into a no-frills hotel. I woke up the next morning covered in itchy bites. I peeled back the sheets-- bed bugs! I packed and fled the premises. Later, I caught a redeye flight back east and went right to work, toting my luggage with me.
I didn’t know my little bloodsucking bedbug friends had hitched a ride, infesting my entire office within days. The company spent hundreds of dollars on exterminators, and, when that didn't work, new carpeting and couches. I’m itching just thinking about it.