The Worst Mistakes We’ve Made When Flying

Paul Stocker/Flickr

Plane delays. Lost luggage. Middle seats. So much can go wrong when you’re flying. You can blame some of those things on the airline, the airport, or inconsiderate travelers. But other snafus come from your own mistakes, which can bring on the biggest headaches. Even the travel pros can get it wrong -- and boy, have we ever. From TSA blunders to missed connections, we’ve done some dumb things when catching a flight. Here are six of the most foolish things we’ve done while flying, so you can avoid doing the same.  

Taking Too Long on a Starbucks Run

Lali Masriera/Flickr

“This is very embarrassing, but my sister and I once missed a flight for no better reason than we were getting Starbucks. We walked up to the gate in no particular hurry, lattes in hand, and just sort of watched them close the door. The worst part was that the flight was from Atlanta to Birmingham -- a connecting leg that lasts about a half-hour from wheels up to wheels down -- and we had to wait several hours to get two spots on the next available flight. In the meantime, we missed a bridal luncheon that was part of our cousin’s wedding festivities. The situation was utterly idiotic, but hey, we made it to the church with time to spare.” —Anne Olivia Bauso, Editor

Ditching the Immigration Form

Mexico City/Oyster

“Let me start by saying it was my first time in Mexico. I was flying back to New York from Manzanillo and had a six-hour layover in Mexico City. I spent the first five-and-a-half hours reading Amy Poehler’s “Yes Please” and grabbing lunch at Maison Kayser. Then, as boarding was about to begin, the gate agent announced for everyone to have their passport, boarding pass, and immigration form ready. I immediately remembered the bottom part of the form that the officers had given to me when I arrived, and I remembered throwing it away a few days earlier. Cut to me in a panic having to go to the immigration office, rushing to exchange U.S. dollars for pesos (you must pay for a new form in pesos), returning to the immigration office and waiting in line, then going back through security, and finally sprinting through the airport to be the last one on the plane, narrowly avoiding missing my flight. This was completely my error, but fortunately, it only cost about 390 pesos and some adrenaline.” —Lara Grant, Editor

Missing Out on Bonus Miles

Nicky Boogaard/Flickr

“The biggest mistake I made while flying was not signing up for every single airline’s frequent flyer program. At best, I didn’t quite understand frequent flyer miles, and at worst, I was being lazy. I squandered so many accumulated miles! Today, I keep a spreadsheet for easy access to all of my frequent flyer numbers, and I have a travel credit card that helps me earn miles faster. Learn from my mistakes and take 30 minutes to get your miles game together -- it’ll pay off in free flights down the road.” —Megan Wood, Editor

Losing a Passport in the Security Line

Tiffini/Flickr

“My airport mistake nearly cost me my entire vacation to France. After I flashed my boarding pass and passport to the TSA agent, I joined the security line. I plunked them both into a tray together with a jumble of other things. On the other side, I did my whole reassembly: shoes back on feet, toiletry bag back in suitcase, you know the drill. I strolled away picturing all the magazines and candy I was going to collect from the newsstand when I realized in a flash -- I didn’t have my passport! With my heart in my throat, I raced back to the security checkpoint with one thought: Please, please let it be there! I wouldn’t be able to board a plane, let alone wander around Paris and eat mountains of Brie, without it! I had to dig through stacks of TSA trays, but thank goodness it was still there, flattened on its side against the rim of the plastic tub, which is how I’d missed it. Now I never go through security without firmly putting my passport back into my purse in a designated pocket.” —Maria Teresa Hart, Executive Editor

Heading to the Airport on the Wrong Day

Takahiro Hayashi/Flickr

“I travel a lot. But I am 100 percent not immune to making some fairly epic mistakes when it comes to actually arriving at my destination. One time, while in grad school in Chicago, I was incredibly excited to be heading back east to see my boyfriend at the time. It was just before the holidays and I’d been sleepless for a couple of days. The morning of my flight, I woke up early, packed everything I needed, and began my slow commute to O’Hare. Standing at the self-check-in counter, I repeatedly entered my credit card, only to be told that they could not find my booking -- over and over again. I started sweating, getting red -- maybe I kicked the machine. An attendant came over to try and help me. After tapping a few buttons, she graciously informed me that my flight was the next day. Entirely embarrassed, I took my things and made my way back home. You might think that this kind of move may happen only once in a person’s life, but rest assured that I pulled the same genius maneuver again in Mumbai a decade later while trying to get to Goa. That time, though, I just pulled out the credit card and paid for the flight-change fee. Navigating the journey from Mumbai’s airport back to the apartment where I had been staying wasn’t a thing I could stomach twice in one day.” —Kyle Valenta, Manager of Editorial Operations

Leaving Too Little Time for Connections

Nicola/Flickr

“Have you ever been sitting on the tarmac or gate, watching the minutes move forward, as your plane’s departure gets delayed further? Does the panic set in as you realize you’ll miss your connecting flight? Commence: the scramble to figure out alternative arrangements. This scene sounds all too familiar to me -- or, I should say, the old me, who booked tight connections and was forced to sprint through the airport (bag and baggage in hand), sometimes missing the second leg of the journey. Now, I make sure to pad my schedule -- a minimum of 90 minutes for domestic connections, and at least one-and-a-half to two hours for an international layover. Whether or not your plane is delayed, it’s wise to give yourself ample time to deplane and re-board. If you have a close connection, you may want to sit near the front of the aircraft, so you can swiftly disembark. You might also want to research the airport -- the bigger the layout, the more time you should allot. And finally, avoid the last connection. If you miss your connecting flight, you’ll be put on the next plane, but no one wants to be stuck somewhere overnight, missing out on precious vacation days.” —Alisha Prakash, Senior Editor

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