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The best (of the worst) travel horror stories

Doing business usually means frequent travel, and every executive has had her share of travel mishaps and crises. Here, the best of the worst.
Seek help at the curb. If you're late, opt for drop-off at departures. There, with a $10 bill and as much grace as you can muster, ask for help. Curbside agents tend to be the fastest, most obliging airport employees; their tips depend on it.
Seek help at the curb. If you're late, opt for drop-off at departures. There, with a $10 bill and as much grace as you can muster, ask for help. Curbside agents tend to be the fastest, most obliging airport employees; their tips depend on it.John Rowley / Getty Images
/ Source: Forbes

Maureen Poschman, principal of Promo Communications in Aspen, Colo., was desperate to get home to her husband and 2-year-old twin daughters on Valentine's Day last year. What was supposed to be a quick 2-day business trip to New York had devolved into a working mother's travel nightmare.

Before she made it to the airport, she was notified that her flight to Aspen was canceled due to an incoming snowstorm headed for Manhattan. She furiously tried to reschedule her flight, even enlisting her brother to help from his home in Nashville, Tenn.

There were no flights to Aspen from any of the major airports surrounding New York, so Poschman settled for a flight to Nashville the next day. Alongside thousands of stranded and rebooked passengers, she was forced to wait for 10 hours in the terminal to board, but eventually made it to her brother's house.

The following day she took an early morning flight to Denver, Colo., and then rented a four-wheel drive vehicle that could handle the icy roads. She got about 60 miles before she discovered that a storm had closed down the Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70. Trapped in a local cafe for another eight hours, overwhelmed and exhausted, she felt frantic to get home.

Finally, once the roads were opened, she drove the final stretch and arrived home — 48 hours late.

Being successful in business usually means frequent travel, and every executive has had her share of travel mishaps, crises and downright horror stories. And airlines aren't helping. In July alone, one out of every 250 passengers reported mishandled baggage, according to the Department of Transportation — the equivalent of about two passengers per commercial 747 jet. That same month, 7,000 flights were cancelled, 79,000 were delayed and 44,000 arrived late or were diverted. The data shows you're likely to have an issue about 22 percent of the time.

Lost luggage can throw an entire business trip off course. Alex Peña, founder and president of Forums Event Design & Production, a Miami-based corporate events planning company, flew to Mexico City for a crucial product expo last year. It was held by the company's largest and most important account, and the client was evaluating whether to continue the partnership.

Pena had carefully packed all of the materials for the exhibition (brochures, surveys, badges and registration signs) in her suitcase. But when she landed in Mexico, she discovered the bag had been put on a flight to the Middle East.

She scrambled to re-do the documents, spending two days in the business center writing and printing them. Luckily, because it was such a big event, she'd arrived days early. The harried trip spurred a new company policy: All printed materials would be taken as carry on.

Inventor and entrepreneur Lori Greiner departed from Chicago for a huge meeting with JC Penney in Dallas to discuss one of her products, a spinning jewelry cabinet. With her husband and another employee, she arrived in Dallas and realized the cabinet had been put on another plane. Hopeful, they went ahead to the buyer's office. He refused to meet with them if he couldn't view the product, and the three returned to Chicago despondent and empty-handed.

The airline isn't always to blame, either. Road-weary execs are sometimes guilty of forgetting crucial items, losing passports or booking arrival times too close to meetings.

Sarah Buhr, owner of Big Star PR, a public relations firm in Salt Lake City, says her BlackBerry is her lifeline, keeping her in touch with all of her clients from the road. Two weeks ago, she took a dual-purpose trip to Washington, D.C., for business and to catch up with friends. On the plane, Buhr realized she'd left her BlackBerry on her bed.

Immediately she was panicked. A layover in Denver, Colo., gave her time to confirm with her friend by e-mail (on her laptop) to pick her up from the D.C. airport. But while her friend thought they'd meet at the carpool, Buhr waited at the gate.

For an hour and a half, Buhr searched for her friend, paging her three times. She put a notice on Facebook about where she was and jumped on the airport's Wi-Fi to access Skype and call her from her laptop. No answer. Two hours later, Buhr got in touch with another woman in D.C. who answered and came to pick her up. She discovered soon after that her friend's cell phone had died, and they'd been just missing each other for hours.

Other airport disasters are unavoidable and test the strength of the most hardened road warriors. It was weather that caused Kelly Reeves' travel turbulence. This LA-based chief executive was returning home from New York when a snowstorm rerouted her plane to St. Louis. All flights were cancelled. Stuck there for two days, she had to teleconference meetings and missed her own company's Christmas party.

Mally Roncal, founder of Mally Beauty and make-up artist of A-list celebrities like Jennifer Lopez and Celine Dion, travels constantly. A few years ago, she had a tight schedule. Roncal was touring with the Today Show doing five makeovers in five cities in five days.

The plan was to crisscross the country, and at the end of the fifth day, fly to Prague to meet performer Beyoncé. There were no direct flights from San Antonio, Texas, so the choreography would have to be perfect. She would fly from San Antonio to Chicago, from Chicago to JFK airport in New York, where she would take a car to New York's LaGuardia airport, fly to Berlin and catch a connection to Prague.

The very first leg was delayed. Roncal missed every following connection and lost all of her luggage. "Between the exhaustion and stress, I just laid on the floor in the middle of O'Hare [airport]," she describes, "crying to my husband on the phone."

She eventually made it to Beyoncé, despite "a little long-term scarring."