It’s safe to say I’ve traveled quite a bit in the past 7 years. When I started vet school in St Kitts, it was my first ever international trip. I either traveled back home to DFW or internationally 3+ times per year during that time. And just in this past year I’ve traveled internationally 5 times. So I’m pretty confident in saying I’ve gotten pretty good at the whole flying experience. But with anything, practice makes perfect, and I’ve had some pretty terrible, but mostly funny in hindsight, travel horror stories. Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes. Buckle in; this is a long one!
At the age of 18, a baby Jessie took her first flight ever. I was flying from Corpus Christi to Dallas for the holidays. It was a short flight on an incredibly small plane – a tiny jet that seemed to lurch with every gust of wind. It was on this flight that I discovered I get motion sick while flying. Seriously, who gets motion sick on a freaking plane?! I spent the entirety of the flight on the verge of vomiting. But that didn’t turn me off from flying, thankfully. Fun fact: I also vomited the first time I watched a cat spay. And now, I’m a doctor! I like to say I push myself past my fears, but really, I just push past my nausea, ha!
Something you should know is that I’m as blind as a bat. If I’m not wearing my contacts or glasses, I can’t even see the big E on the optometrist’s chart. The morning of my flight to South Africa, I put on my old glasses, grabbed an unopened pack of contacts, and headed to the airport.
At the layover in Puerto Rico, I popped in my contacts for the day…and they were blurry. Sometimes there are duds in a pack, so I tried another. Still blurry. I began to panic. I looked at the contact box, and just as I feared, it was my OLD prescription. My new contact box, I remembered, was lying on the bathroom counter back in St Kitts. There was no way I could wear my crooked, slightly blurry glasses for two whole weeks chasing wildlife in South Africa. It would be awful!
So I decided I would try to get new contacts in Puerto Rico. I called the closest Walmart – and no one spoke English. I had a long layover, and was panicked, so decided to just take a taxi over there. Big mistake. Apparently, the optometrist informed me, they do not accept stateside prescriptions. And he would not let me pay for an exam, because I had put contacts in that morning, which according to him is not acceptable prior to an exam. Is that even a rule?! Defeated, I walked into the clothes section, called my mom, and cried. A real low point in my life, ha!
Plan B was to track down an optometrist in New York City. I had my doctor fax my prescription to a Lenscrafters in Queens, and relaxed. My flight landed at 6pm, and the store closed at 9pm, so I had plenty of time. Until the pilot came on the intercom saying there was bad weather, and we would be stalling until we could land. 30 minutes passed. Then an hour. At one point the pilot considered going to New Jersey to refuel. I was losing my mind as the plane circled JFK again and again. We finally landed around 8pm; I ran to an overpriced taxi and told him to punch it to Queens. I arrived at Lenscrafters at 8:50pm and FINALLY THANK GOD got my contacts. It was the most stressful travel day of my life!
Early on in my flight career, I traveled to Peru. It was 100 degrees in Texas before departure, and I assumed, being August, it would be fairly warm in Cusco. Wrong. I arrived to a freezing airport in a t-shirt, cropped leggings, and flip-flops. I had a thin zip-up hoodie I used until my transport arrived 2 hours later to pick me up (close to frostbite I’m sure).
I had an amazing birthday weekend in Montreal before I experienced the worst airline delay of my life. Normally, I’m not one to get upset over delays. It happens. There’s no reason to get upset; it doesn’t change anything. But this experience tested even my patience.
My flight from Montreal-Toronto-Chicago was originally scheduled for 3pm. It kept getting pushed back for some unknown reason (the weather was great in both cities). I wasn’t too worried because the next flight was on the same plane, so it couldn’t be missed. We finally left around 8pm (!) to Toronto, where we simply got off and back on the plane. Then we sat. And sat. There was a technical issue, but were assured that we would be on our way soon. We sat on the plane for TWO hours. And then came the announcement: “Ladies and Gentlemen, the good news is that we have fixed the technical issue; the bad news is that it is now 11pm and due to airport regulations, we cannot fly out after 11pm. Please get off the plane and contact customer service for rebooking.” Everyone was LIVID.
I then had to stand in line for another hour to be rebooked. Unfortunately the next flight to Chicago was 2 days later. I had to be at work, so they booked me to Boston where I had to pay out of pocket for a separate flight to Chicago. Problem solved? Yea right! The next morning I came to the terminal to find my Boston flight DELAYED. Indefinitely. I was close to tears with frustration. Luckily there was a slightly later flight that I made standby on. I then MISSED my next flight in Boston because immigration took ages. I once again got on a later flight and was home in Chicago finally at 10pm. Phew, I’m tired just re-hashing that story!
I forgot to mention on that same trip to Montreal I forgot my wallet in Chicago. I luckily had my passport in a separate bag and met my boyfriend in Montreal who paid for everything. However, I didn’t have any money for the unexpected delays. I lived on 1 bag of peanuts and a coke handed out on flight from 3pm until 8am the next morning when I had the continental breakfast. The airline “graciously” gave me a sandwich coupon for lunch the next day. I was definitely HANGRY the whole time, which made things way worse.
I flew to Paris last year from Chicago. There was a short layover in Atlanta, which is usually fine, unless your flight gets delayed. I arrived in Atlanta midway through boarding of my next flight, 3 terminals away. The tram was taking too long, so I sprinted about ½ mile to the gate, arriving just as they announced last boarding call. I was the last person on the plane, red-faced, gasping for air, and sweating like a pig. Very embarrassing.
I’ve slept in a few airports, but this was my most hectic. I got off a 14-hour flight from Johannesburg to NYC at 8am. I then spent the entire day exploring New York, and headed back to the airport at 9pm, exhausted. My flight didn’t leave until 6am, and being a broke student, I decided to sleep on a bench in the terminal. I hooked my arm through my backpack, used it as a pillow, and covered my head with a jacket. It was a very long night to say the least. Thrifty as I still am, I can no longer bring myself to sleep in airports. I’m getting old, I think.
This technically isn’t about me, but a scary experience nonetheless. Midway across the Atlantic on my most recent flight to France, I was watching a movie and suddenly heard screams behind me. I turned around to find two women yelling “Mama” and shaking an elderly lady who was unconscious, and who frankly looked dead. Luckily, there was a (human) doctor nearby who stabilized the woman who was diabetic and likely had some sort of hypoglycemic/seizure event. I’m glad she was ok, but it was very scary nonetheless!
I recommend these compression socks for all flights greater than 2 hours!
In spite of these travel horror stories, I’m even more of a travel addict now. These bumps and hiccups in the road have only made me a more patient, easygoing person.
So here’s my mantra: Things will go wrong, even if you try your best to avoid it. There’s no changing it, so you just have to make the best of it. Don’t be that lady of viral fame screaming at some poor airline worker because you didn’t get your way. Just remember that you are privileged to even be traveling, whether it’s a hop over to a nearby city or a far away country; many people do not ever get to leave their hometown. So just take what life throws at you and enjoy your trip!