What to Do When Everything Goes Wrong While Traveling (A Survival Guide)

Paula Froelich
Editor at Large
May 12, 2014

(Photo: Wavebreakmedia Ltd. / Thinkstock)

Sometimes you just have a no good, very bad day.  When that day involves airports, travel, a lack of oxygen, satan’s spawn, a lot of vomit, and diverted flights, it’s all that much more horrid.

It happened to me on Saturday.

The day started off on a weird note. I woke up at 6 a.m. in San Francisco for my 9:10 a.m. flight to New York.

At least I thought it was my flight. 

Apparently, I was looking at the wrong reservation and my flight was actually at 1:10 … in the afternoon. I didn’t realize that until I got up with the sun and went to the airport.

Thank God for Andre the Awesome, the Virgin America front desk man. He took care of me. “Oh, I’ll get you on that flight,” he said, even though it was full. He did. 

Andre the Awesome from Virgin America.  A very lovely man. (Photo: Paula Froelich)

So, the first crisis was averted. I made the flight. It was packed.

It was packed full of really angry and disgruntled children with very healthy lungs. One of whom, a cantankerous 2-year-old who was clearly trying out for the kung-fu Olympic team, sat two rows behind me and started screaming bloody murder. Sadly, her parents had not read our article on How To Bribe People on a Plane [when your kid is freaking out], and the kicking and screaming went on for three of the five-and-half-hour flight. 

We finally got to New York City—or at least above it, and hovered for about an hour, before being told that JFK was closed due to weather, so we were being diverted to Albany. Which was fine. These things happen, right? We were supposed to refuel and go back to New York. 

Waiting on the plane in Albany. (Photo: Paula Froelich)

And that’s when it became a perfect storm of bad luck. While the plane was refueling, several of the children onboard (not the kung-fu kicker … she had finally fallen asleep) starting vomiting. And the smell prompted others to start vomiting. “It’s like that scene from ‘Stand By Me’,” the guy next to me said. 

And it was. Just on a plane instead of a pie-eating contest. I wrapped a scarf around my face and tried to breathe through my mouth.

Trying not to smell anything. (Courtesy: Paula Froelich)

An hour later, just as the plane was taxiing out onto the runway, the pilot informed us  there was a mechanical failure and we’d have to go back to the gate. Normally that would be okay.

Here’s the thing: Virgin doesn’t run out of Albany, so there was no one to fix the plane. Nor was there another plane. And apparently, the last flight out of Albany airport on a Saturday is at 8 p.m. It was 8:20. Everyone trudged off the plane.

An Albany airport rep explaining to passengers of VX22 that the airport is closed and they were trying to call us a bus to take everyone to JFK.  (Photo: Paula Froelich)

At that point, everyone headed for the rental car area. I saw a guy I used to work for. He was at the front of the (very long) rental car line. I said hello. He awkwardly said hello back. Then, after a long pause (I kept staring at him), he said, “Um. Wanna ride back to the city?”

“Sure!” I said. “But I checked a bag. It’ll be out in like 10 minutes.”

“Oh, hey, sorreeeee,” he said making a face and inhaling in that weird way people do when they are super uncomfortable. “I gotta go … gotta get back, you know. Byeee!”

I hate that guy. A lot. I always had a bad feeling about him, but now, he’s DEAD to me. I swear. Then my luck turned. Three guys next to me turned and said, “Hey, you can ride with us. We’ll wait for your bag.” I snapped a picture of them and posted it on Facebook for photographic evidence, just in case they turned out to be psycho killers (at least there was a chance they’d be caught). After my bag arrived on the conveyor belt five minutes later, we got in the car.

Charles, Jason and Brad, my road trip buddies. (Photo: Paula Froelich)

Turns out Charles, Jason, and Brad weren’t psycho killers …and Brad was a friend of a friend who, seeing my post on Facebook, said “Is That Brad Hargreaves from General Assembly?” (It was.) We made it back to New York City at around midnight. Twelve hours after we’d left San Francisco.

The crew (we picked up Dave, another passenger on the way) back in NYC. (Photo: Paula Froelich)

It was a hell of a trip. But, puking, kicking, screaming, and a former d-bag of a boss aside, it wasn’t that bad. Virgin America is still one of my favorite ways to fly (they can’t control acts of God, even though sometimes we’d like them to) and the best airline for your money. But I learned a few things, including:

• Always bring earplugs and/or noise canceling earphones on a plane.

• NEVER fly without a scarf—you just don’t know how useful it can be until the time comes.

• That old boss of mine better not ask me for anything. Ever.

• The shnooks of the situation? The rental car companies. As we were booking our car, in a span of 15 minutes, the price went from an initial quote of $350 to $550, due to “demand.” Thankfully, our Budget rental car woman was a compassionate type and gave us a huge SUV for the price of a compact ($550).

• Keep calm and carry on. In a situation like the one I just went through, where no one is to blame, what can you do? Screaming, ranting, and crying will get you nowhere. Take a deep breath and rely on the kindness of strangers. Some of them might just become your friends.