Failed Engines in Athens, Floods in the UK and Stranded in Barcelona: My Travel Nightmares

I have the worst luck when it comes to travel. When I need to catch a train, chances are a tree will have fallen on the track somewhere in Cornwall, delaying my train by 90 minutes. If I need to get somewhere by car, you can guarantee gridlock on the roads. If I’m crossing the channel by ferry, the weather will be so stormy that I’ll bottle it and not even get on the boat. Think these events are hypothetical? Think again. And they aren’t even the worst of my experiences…

I was once on an EasyJet flight, I think we were flying back from Athens, when the plane veered off the runway during takeoff. Apparently, one of the engines didn’t fire up properly, causing us to go juddering into the grass. The pilot then told us that we had missed our slot and would have to get off the runway and wait for the next available slot… in over an hour. Have you ever been in a plane with an engine that played up the first time you tried to take off? Not a pleasant experience!

I once arrived at Frankfurt Hahn airport for my Ryanair flight back to the UK, already distraught because I was leaving my then-boyfriend behind, only to find that the baggage check-in system was down and staff were doing everything manually. Fair enough and kudos to them for not just cancelling the flight. The irritation – and the delay – came when we actually attempted to board the aircraft. We were repeatedly told that our bags were being lined up next to the plane and that we needed to pick up our bags and place them on the trolleys, ready for loading onto the aircraft. This was an additional measure factored in to ensure that all bags were getting on the correct plane. Every passenger managed to do this… except one. His name was called out five, maybe six times, before he realised they were talking to him. Confused, he confirmed it was his bag and we could finally get on our way. On landing in the UK, I ran through the airport, cursing the queue at passport control, impatiently waited for my bag, rushed to get the train out of the airport to my connecting train. Which I missed, by a matter of minutes. I tried to reason with the frosty-faced National Rail employee at Paddington, but she was not having any of it. I ended up on the next train, considerably poorer after having to buy a ticket to Plymouth at full price. When the train conductor came to check my ticket, I explained the situation to him. Guess what he said? He would have let me on the train with my original ticket. Lesson learned!

When I worked in Luxembourg, I caught a Luxair flight back to the UK. I almost ended up spending Christmas on my own in mainland Europe though, because the plane failed to take off… twice. The first time, we taxied off the runway, engineers came along, we hear a lot of drilling and screwing and we were given the green light to go. But alas, the same thing happened again. Back to square one, screwing, drilling, sweating, imagining the depression of spending the holiday season alone with a ready meal… What felt like an eternity later, we were on the runway again. Fingers, toes, legs and every other limb were crossed as we finally took off. That was another uncomfortable flight spent hoping that whatever work the engineers had done didn’t undo itself mid-flight.

You would be wrong to think that my bad luck was restricted to flying. When I quit my job in Luxembourg, I flew back to the UK without a problem. However, several parts of the UK had been suffering from flooding. Our train got to Castle Cary (I think), where it stayed for what felt like an age and was ultimately cancelled. We were told to all get off the train with all of our luggage and wait for the next train, which was apparently able to travel through flooded train tracks. Luckily, a friend of mine drove up from Plymouth to rescue me. I can only imagine the chaos that ensued.

On a trip back from Italy with my mum, we were quite dismayed to see that many flights listed on the departure boards had been cancelled. We were wondering what had happened and whether our flight would follow suit, but thankfully we boarded without problems. It was only when we heard the pilot’s announcement that we realised that France’s air traffic controllers were on strike, causing chaos for any plane entering their airspace. Fortunately, our pilot was experienced, and he knew that if all of his passengers were boarded on the plane and waiting to go, the flight was more likely to be given the go-ahead. Clever man!

Speaking of Italy, I recently flew from Rome Fiumicino to London. There was chaos at the airport. People were sat on the floor wearing surgical masks and there was a smell of sawdust in the air. There were massive queues to get through airport security with airport staff directing certain passengers outside onto buses marked with a different terminal. My boyfriend and I were two of those passengers, certain that we were being sent the wrong way because our tickets clearly said our plane was going to take off from the terminal we were currently stood in. We were nevertheless herded like sheep onto this bus and led through the seemingly wrong terminal. It wasn’t until we were sat on the plane listening in on a fellow passenger’s conversation with the in-flight attendant that we realised there had been a fire in the airport and ours was one of the only flights to head for the UK that day. So perhaps my luck isn’t so bad after all!

This leads me to my last, and by far the worst, travel nightmare. In 2010, I was on holiday in Barcelona when Eyjafjallajökull erupted. There was chaos on the streets of Barcelona. Every hotel was fully booked and had hiked their prices in the process, French train staff were on strike and my then-boyfriend and I needed to make our way back to Frankfurt. After almost being mugged in the metro, we called his parents who happened to be holidaying in rural France. They didn’t seem to grasp the severity of the situation at first. We had to get them to turn on the television or radio or computer for the penny to drop. They were extremely reluctant in agreeing to come and get us from Montpellier and we were very lucky in booking the last two tickets for that bus. On arrival in Montpellier, we were denied the chance to look around and stretch our legs; we had to get straight back on the road to rural France. What ensued was a few very awkward days spent with the then-boyfriend’s parents, who were kind enough to drive us back to Germany. I have to say, though, that although that trip was a nightmare, we were lucky enough to be able to make it work. On our travels through Europe, we saw tonnes of people sleeping rough in bus terminals and train stations because they had absolutely nowhere else to go.

Some might say I have the worst luck when travelling, but I still travel regardless. It’s the experiences – both good and bad – that turn into memories and stories to tell friends, family and anyone who will listen. What’s your worst travel story? Share it in the comments!

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