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updated 11/26/2007 3:52:53 PM ET 2007-11-26T20:52:53

As millions of Americans take to the highways, skies and rails for the holiday, we invited Gut Check America readers to share their worst travel nightmares, either the recurring kind found in daily gridlock or the ones that ruin vacations or spoil holidays. Here are some of their stories:

As millions of Americans are home or nearly home after the busy Thanksgiving holiday, Gut Check America readers share their worst travel nightmares. Here are their stories.

Who said Tahiti is relaxing?
Heading to a conference in Tahiti two years ago, our flight was delayed. We arrived in LAX about 15 minutes before our flight was scheduled to leave from another terminal. Since I was traveling with my 3-year-old son, my first assumption was that we should rebook our flight. The next New Zealand Air flight was 3 days later, so we RAN. The child pulled a regular, adult-sized carry-on the whole way to the gate and I had a backpack with books and toys, and a briefcase with a laptop and more books. We elbowed, begged, and apologized our way through all sorts of lines and MADE IT to the gate!

During the flight we had everything we needed — food I'd brought and very adequate airline food, our toys and a packet for little travelers from the airline, considerate flight attendants ...  everything seemed great.

When we landed in Tahiti, however, we found that our luggage had not made the connection and would be arriving 3 days later. I had tucked an extra swimsuit into the carryon at the last minute because I was too lazy to open the suitcase, but my son had no swimsuit along. Our luggage arrived very early the first day of the conference. In the meantime we hung out at the beaches and my son got NO tan lines! Good thing he was only 3!
— Jennifer Kopf

Unhappy Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving morning, albeit one of the worst traveling days of the year, was absolutely horrific this year.

Traveling from Bloomfield, N.J. to Philadelphia normally takes 1 1/2 hours. It took almost 4 hours. Five accidents on the N.J. Turnpike and the merge between exits 8a and 7a caused the backup. That merge is the cause of most of the traffic tie-ups on that road. While New Jersey has spent millions of dollars and half of my life (I'm 55) fixing route 46, the rest of the states' highways are in shambles. The only reason that I travel that road is that it's the shortest distance between New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
— Kathy Black, Bloomfield, N.J.

Loooong trip home
Years ago, I was taken off an American merchant ship with chest pains in the port of Doha, Qatar in the Middle East. After a few days in the hospital, the doctor said I could fly home to New Orleans.

The flight was late arriving in London so I missed my connection to New York. When I arrived in New York, I was too late for my plane to New Orleans. The airline agent said I couldn't get a flight for three days because it was a holiday weekend. I kept bothering them for about six hours until they put me on a flight.

Further medical test revealed it was only a  hernia.  Advice: Don't eat too heavy when traveling.
— James McDaniel, New Orleans

Unhappy camper
I work in the hotel industry and hear never-ending stories about airlines and the hell they put passengers through (delays, lost luggage, etc). I experienced this myself traveling to my brother's wedding in Toronto.

I'm up at 2 a.m. to arrive at the DFW airport at 4 a.m. for a flight at 6 a.m., as directed by a family member whom I'm flying with. Once we arrived however, we find Air Canada had without warning canceled our flight and decided not to notify anyone despite asking for our contact information so as to notify us.

It turns out that the plane had mechanical issues in another city the previous evening, and apparently no one had thought to do anything about the flights it was supposed to have flown the next morning. Only after we and other passengers prodded them did they rebook us on American, whose flight to Toronto didn't leave until 1 p.m. With no in/out privileges for our prepaid discount parking, we, like everyone else, languished around the international terminal from 4 a.m. until 1 p.m.

Needless to say we were much less than happy.
— Kevin Blanco, Carrollton, Texas

From bad to worse
My husband and I were delayed an hour on our initial flight, missed our connection, were rebooked on a flight entailing a six-hour layover (which turned into a ten hour layover for supposed mechanical difficulties), and then no crew standing by. Finally, we had one piece of luggage lost. It did show up the next day.

Our trip was supposed to take 10 1/2 hours and that was with a poor itinerary, but actually took 18 hours. I think we got to experience each and every one of the problems of which airlines are guilty.
— Doris Bucholz, Roanoke, Ind.

Scary Christmas
Christmas of 2006, my flight was scheduled for 8 a.m. Friday which was two days after the big snowstorm that closed DIA on Wednesday. So, I was running short on time to see if DIA was going to reopen. My intel reported that the snow had let up that Thursday night. I checked the UA Web site all night Thursday, and my flight status never changed from 8 a.m. I thought I was going to catch a break and make it home.

Since I'm no morning person, I stayed up all night packing and prepping for a 5 a.m. departure from the house to the airport. So the night passes and still no indication that my flight has been canceled, so I'm left believing that DIA will be all plowed and scraped off by morning to let my flight come right on in.

4 a.m., still no word whether DIA is going to open by morning, yet UA's Web site still hasn't changed my flight to canceled. I starting thinking my intel wasn't as fresh as it should be.  After checking the Internet, I get UA on the phone. I finally get a live person on the end to have the customer NON-service rep tell me he couldn't determine the status of my flight and advised to call the airport UA desk.

By this time I'm getting the "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" feeling. The cab was already waiting out front. So I loaded up and headed straight to the airport. I get to the airport and flagged a UA rep, and they tell my flight is canceled. I then asked him when was the earliest flight that I can get to Denver. He looked at me like I just passed gas and stated Tuesday. I guess he didn't know that Christmas was on Monday.

Now I'm analyzing options.
— Angelo Miller, Parker, Colo.

Trapped on a plane
Coming home from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, we left the airport knowing there was a major snowstorm in Minneapolis. As we got closer to home, the airport was shut down and we were diverted to Milwaukee, Wisc.

By the time we got there, it was late at night and the Customs agents had all gone home. We spent the night in the plane on the runway. There were over 300 people on the plane (lots of kids too). They gave us no food or water and would not allow anyone to access their baggage to get medications, etc.

The crew got off and let us fend for ourselves. The toilets filled up (we were coming back from Mexico after all!) and, best of all, a sheriff waited outside the plane to make sure no one entertained any ideas of getting off the plane without going through Customs. By the time we finally disembarked in Minneapolis, we had been on that airplane for almost 24 hours. 
— Amy Jorgenson, Minneapolis

A sauced up seatmate
I was on a flight sitting next to a man who reeked so badly of alcohol that I was afraid the plane might explode because of the fumes coming off of him! He was clearly intoxicated, yet the flight attendant served him more alcohol!

My non erbal signals to try to alert her not to serve him went ignored. Worried, I went to the back of the plane and told the flight attendant that he was drunk. She said she wouldn't serve him anymore drinks. 

But when I went back to my seat, he had vomited all over himself and my seat as well.  Despite my pleas not to have to sit next to him (or in vomit) for the rest of the flight, the plane was full and I was stuck there. The man and the seats were cleaned up as best as could be, and I was given newspaper to sit on so I wouldn't ruin my clothes, but that was the worst flight of my life.  I avoid airplanes now.
— B. Christine, Albuquerque, N.M.

Brush with disaster
My nightmare (or maybe my salvation) started with a phone call that my mother was in the hospital at the University of Kentucky Medical Center with colon cancer. ... For the first time in my life, I got on board an airplane and flew to Kentucky as fast as the Boeing could carry me.

... I spent several days with her, she went through her surgery and recovery and I thank God for that every day. I only had a given number of days to stay and it was time to return home. ... It's a tiny little airport there in Lexington, Ky. There was a couple headed for their honeymoon, another on vacation for retirement, young, old, male and female traveling at that early hour. We talked since we had all gotten there the customary two hours early and it takes all of 10 minutes to get through check-in at Bluegrass Airport. Finally, 6 a.m. arrived and they boarded my plane for Chicago.

The plane that left 6 minutes later headed for Atlanta is one of legend now, Comair Flight 5191. Landing in Chicago, I turned my cell phone on to have it flooded with calls from everyone who had my phone number. The plane that left right after mine is the one that crashed. I was a young woman, traveling alone, just having an emotional visit with my mother almost dying and to get the news that the people I had talked to less than an hour ago had just exploded and died put me on my knees right in the terminal. 

I've flown since then, I'll fly again, but I'll never take for granted those chances to say  hello to the person next to me, wish them a happy and safe trip and try to treat them well, I may be the last person they have the opportunity to speak with and I want them to experience someone who cares.
— Lisa Williams, Lancaster, Pa.

Not all travels are terrible
My wife and I traveled Tuesday from Detroit to Raleigh-Durham nonstop on Northwest Airlines and had no problems at all.

Crowds were light. Security check took only 10 minutes. Our flight left and arrived on time. The ride was smooth. The plane was mostly full. So, not every experience of travelling in the U.S. is a nightmare. Just to keep the balance!
— Phil Muir, Quincy, Mich.

A Christmas to forget
Last Christmas, I decided to fly to Oklahoma. We were flying out of Denver, and of course our flight was delayed. ... We finally landed 8 hours later only to find out that they put our luggage on a different flight since we were delayed. So here we are in Oklahoma with 3 kids and no luggage two days before Christmas and no Christmas presents!

We drive three hours to my sister's house with the hopes that our luggage will arrive first thing the next morning. After two days, Christmas has came and gone ... still no luggage. We call the airline AGAIN for the millionth time and find out that the driver was lost and couldn't find the small town of Adair, Okla., and when he finally did couldn't find my sister's house so he took our luggage back.

... We finally get the airline to make another trip 3 hours from the airport. They finally make it at 3 a.m., but they call saying they can't find my sister's house again, even after we gave them step-by-step directions. My sister finally tells them to stay put will drive to them to get our suitcases. I called the airline ... and got a rude person on the phone sayign 'We are short handed and there was nothing we could do about it!'

Flying back, there a blizzard in Denver. ... After calling to make sure we are on schedule and driving to the airport ... they tell us 'sorry your flight is delayed!!!' We finally leave two days later. Get to Denver, stranded because all flights have been cancelled. We can't get a rental car because they're all gone.

... We end up there for eight hours, sleeping in the chairs, moving from one gate to another cause they keep changing our flight trying to get us home. We finally make it to Colorado Springs and guess what, NO LUGGAGE. They lost it because of all the changes. We finally get it three days later and had to wait three hours while they looked for it in the back because it had all been separated.

My advice: Don' travel during the holidays. Stay home or drive!
— Melissa Galbraith, Fountain, Colo.

Weekend getaway gets extended
It seemed simple: a Delta flight from Gulfport, Miss., to Orlando via Atlanta so I could meet my husband for a weekend getaway. The only problem was that at the scheduled departure time, the plane had not yet left Atlanta on its trip to Gulfport due to mechanical problems.  Finally the plane arrived, two hours later than it had been scheduled to depart. I was starting to worry, realizing that I would have little to no time to meet my connecting flight in Atlanta.  I politely asked the attendant at the gate if there was anything that could be done to ensure I made the next leg of my flight. Her answer?  "I guess you'll have to run for it."  Nice.  Landing in Atlanta, I had less than 15 minutes to run across two terminals to make my connection, but somehow I did it. 

Flying back, we left Orlando almost 2 hours late again, this time due to unspecified delays — they wouldn't say it was weather, but they wouldn't acknowledge mechanical problems either.  Here we go again. There's nothing like the panicked mad dash through the Atlanta terminal to meet a connection. We asked the gate attendant as we were running off the plane if we would make our connection, and she said "yes, they were holding the plane for all the latecomers from our flight." 

We arrived just in time, but the attendants had closed the gate and wouldn't let us board.  It was the last Delta flight home for the evening, and because Delta wouldn't acknowledge that it was a mechanical delay, they would neither put us on another airline or pay for a hotel. We spent the night at a dirty Ramada near the airport, where we ate dinner from a snack machine (restaurant was closed) and slept in our clothes because the sheets looked brown.

Delta put us on a 6 a.m.. flight home. To top it off, Delta misplaced our luggage and we didn't see our suitcases again for 3 more days. The Delta employees we dealt with were surly, obviously unhappy and completely unwilling to right their wrongs. I wrote a letter to Delta detailing our ordeal but never had a response. My blood pressure still rises when I think of that experience.
— Erin Thomas, Biloxi, Miss.

Searching the soldiers
Dear Mr. and Ms. John Q. Public, have I got a true story for you. 

This happened at the Philadelphia airport as myself and a group of soldiers were returning from Iraq after our first deployment in November 2005.

We had already received a through shakedown before we left Kuwait International Airport, traveled 16 hours before being held up at Fort Dix while we received our coordinating tickets for our remaining journey.

We arrived at Philly airport in our uniforms, received our boarding passes and proceeded through the checkpoint after we checked our weapons and baggage at the counter. We had three female soldiers and seven male soldiers with us. It just seemed a crock that my fellow soldiers were searched at the checkpoint especially since only the female soldiers were given the pat down search. I could not believe this!

A civilian passing by said it best when he saw this: "I can't believe we are searching our soldiers who are returning from a combat zone."
— Ken Heise, Copperas Cove, Texas

Luggage gets lost, lubricated
Travelling to D.C. from Columbia, S.C. via Atlanta-Hartsfield should have been an easy trip.  However, upon arrival in Atlanta, I was advised that my flight as well as two others destined for Reagan National had been canceled and I wouldn't be able to get to D.C. until the following night at the earliest. ...  After six hours of dancing the reroute rumba, I was able to get a flight on a different airline to Baltimore-BWI. I was advised, however, that my luggage had somehow made it to Reagan and would be waiting for me.

The airline refused to deliver the bags to my hotel so I had to get a cab from BWI to Reagan to pick up my luggage.  Upon arrival at Reagan, I discovered that the airport, to include the glass-walled area where I could see my luggage, was closed for the night (Reagan closes at 2300). Arriving at my hotel, sans luggage, I was informed that despite my confirmation a mere three hours earlier, they had assumed that I was a no-show (it's going on 0200 now) and given my room to another guest. 

The desk clerk was happy to provide me the only room available: a putrid smoking room complete with mildew in the bathroom and a heating system that was always set to "furnace."  As I need to get some sleep prior to a full day of class, I took what I could get. That night, after calling the airline, I was assured that they would, indeed, deliver my luggage to my hotel the following day.

After sitting in class all day, I expected to find my luggage waiting for me at the hotel.  Unfortunately, the hotel desk clerk had only booked my "new" reservation for one night and hotel staff thought that I had checked out (the personal items throughout the room must not have clued them in). Not only had the hotel refused receipt of my luggage from the airline courier, but they had cleaned my room and removed the few personal items that I had with me from my carry-on bag. ... After tracking down the various missing belongings from my room, I was forced to take yet another cab ride out to BWI, which somehow became the new home to my luggage to retrieve my bags. Upon retrieval of my luggage, I noticed something rather odd:  my bag was SOAKED. It was actually dripping water (or whatever other fluids I would rather not think about). Of course, the airline and courier service both refused to take responsibility.  Just to add insult to injury, my boss gave me an incredibly hard time for "excessive taxi expenses" and hasn't really trusted my expense reports since.
— John Cox, Columbia, S.C.

Ice delay on a summery day
My mom and I were flying American Airlines from LAX to London Heathrow on Christmas Day 2006. I'd flown that exact flight several times before and flying on Christmas Day would mean less crowds.

About an hour before we would board, an announcement comes over the PA — "The plane is going to be delayed due to ice." Christmas Day in Los Angeles, the air temp outside was 84 degrees. Ice? 

Because it was Christmas Day, no one seemed to know how to get the ice out of the belly of the plane. The flight was not "canceled" but "delayed" until 1 p.m. the next day. Except, now there were two Flight 135s to London Heathrow and no one seems to know about the mysterious "delay."  There was no compensation for the locals. My dad had to come pick us up from LAX and return us the next day...and when you leave Los Angeles at 1 p.m., you arrive in London at 7 a.m. the next day. So a day lost and we really needed to start our holiday running.
— Pam Buck, Aliso Viejo, Calif.

'On-time flight' wasn't even close
I had an American Airline flight with my family the day before Thanksgiving to fly out of Chicago to DFW. There was a lot of snow that day so there were a ton of accidents on the way to the airport and we were stuck in traffic. The trip that normally took two hours took closer to five. While stuck in traffic, we continuously called the airline to see if our flight was delayed.  The lady on the other line repeated told us that our flight was going to continue on schedule. 

We arrived at the airport 30 minutes before our flight and rushed to get our tickets. Many flights were delayed at that time but we were told that our flight was still on track. Since we had arrived late, we were told that we could not check our luggage so we rushed through security and ran to our terminal dragging our luggage behind. As we were frantically arriving at our terminal, a flight attendant asked us what our rush was, because our plane had not even landed yet. Due to the terrible weather conditions, the plane had been flying in circles waiting for the opportunity to land. ...

We were told our flight was delayed an hour so we waited around.  Then we were told that our flight was going to be delayed until Thanksgiving morning. We arranged our new flight and got a hotel next to O'Hare. Because of the problems we had, my mother found it necessary to call and make sure the airline had everything in order. When she called they claimed we never booked a flight. So we had to rebook.  he next morning we called to check AGAIN and they told us that we would now be leaving from Midway instead of O'hare. So we quickly got ready and went to Midway. When we arrived at Midway they told us that our names were listed for the flight but we had no itinerary. When we asked what that meant, they told us that although were were scheduled for the flight, there were no seats for us. Since we were planning on going to the Bears vs. Cowboys game in Texas that year, we ended up having to split into groups and only half of us made it to the game while the other arrived in Texas later and didn't make it to the game. It was a terrible mess and influenced me to never fly American Airlines again!
— Stephanie Bailey, Chicago

On a cancellation streak
Four of my last five flights have consisted of a cancellation on one of my legs and/or a delay so long that I missed a connecting flight and was forced to sit in the airport for an additional three to five hours.

I generally attempt to fly direct or at odd hours, but at this point its become basically impossible to get anywhere out of New York without some sort of delay. JFK and Laguardia have the direct flights, but are so overbooked with flights and sensitive to problems at other airports, you are almost guaranteed a problem there. Islip is much better in that respect, but you almost always need a connecting flight, so again, the problems at other airports end up trickling down.

My worst was trying to go to Hawaii for a wedding. There was a problem in Atlanta, so my flight from JFK to Salt Lake City was delayed so long I would miss the connecting flight. ... In the end, I couldn't go, as the only ticket they could guarantee was six days later (the day of the wedding) and I wouldn't have arrived in time. Meanwhile, without my ever leaving JFK, they lost my bags, which did end up going to Hawaii and weren't returned to me for four days.
— Jason Miceli, Sayville, N.Y.

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