The best worst travel story ever

We were four hours into our journey when they made the announcement: we were turning back and returning to Paris. We all pulled up the location map on our monitors and let out a collective groan. We were HALF WAY THERE! They have to be kidding, right!?! Our flight still was going to be 8 hours, except now we were going to end up the same place where we started.

How to get jelag without actually going anywhere.

I knew weather delays could be an issue. This is just not how I expected it to unfold. My mom‘s wise words came in handy: I worry about the things I have control over, I don’t worry about what I have no control over.

Truth be told, I think some of my Facebook friends were more mad about the situation than I was. The way I see it, you can either complain, or make the most of the situation. I mean, how many people can tell the story of how they traveled halfway over an ocean, only to turn back to where they started?!? I tell everyone I meet now. 😂 I’ve found it’s a good conversation starter, and makes other people feel like their day hasn’t been so bad after all.

Thursday night I had questioned the fact that we were even departing, but I also was relieved to know the worst of the blizzard cyclone storm was supposed to be over by then. Alas, despite different previous messages, our pilot announced that JFK had indeed closed, and they tried everything but no other airports had space to accept us due to the crazy weather. (We also needed an airport with a long enough runway, and one that was still open at midnight).

At that point I also realized how much worse it could have been. I didn’t go swimming in the ocean. We didn’t skid on ice when landing. I’m not traveling with kids or a baby (but my seat mates were!). And I didn’t have to deal with wet luggage from a water main break (that really did happen the day after we arrived at JFK and an hour after I departed for my next flight).

On the bright side, we were put up in a hotel at the airport and had free meals. And we – the self proclaimed “Norwegian [airlines] refugees” – had a common story. It made me realize one of the realities of living in Paris: I don’t talk to strangers like I do in the U.S. And I admit, I miss that. On the plane, no one could use turn to their phones – our new normal force of habit – so instead we had to talk to each other. I’ve never heard such chatter on an international flight, let alone at was 2am.

The conversations with strangers continued as we waited in line to check into the hotel, and to pick up food vouchers, and ate meals together. Each step of the journey we continued to bond. Suddenly our new 2pm departure later that day (by the time we got our bags and checked into the hotel it was around 7am), became a 7am departure the following day. The story kept getting “better” and better.

Through it all I chatted with people throughout the day with interesting stories I would never otherwise met. More than complaining, we laughed. A lot. In one case I met someone waiting in line for a dinner voucher, but when someone else joined the conversation an hour later, they assumed we’d known each other for years. Ha!

Waking up at 4:30am was not the most fun. Neither was the disorganized wait in the airport. Or the two hour late departure. But we had a bigger plane and empty seats, so that wasn’t so bad. When we FINALLY landed in NYC ~50 hours later there was applause. Then we we sat on the tarmac for 4 hours. It only added to the best worst travel story ever. It could ALWAYS be worse. 😉 Between hearing/seeing stories of friends trying to travel and social media, there was another dose of perspectivel. I’ll take 4 hours vs. the 13 hour wait on the tarmac we spotted on Twitter any day!

You can’t make stories like these up. So, yes, I’m telling the story about a plane turning around halfway to our destination. But it’s also a story of perspective and making the most of what comes your way.

From these adventures, I learned a few valuable lessons:

  • It’s all about attitude. You can either be the bad attitude in the room, or the good one. Being pissed isn’t going to do much. It made my day when other passengers thanked me for helping put things in perspective for them.
  • If you’re traveling in winter know that weather delays are real and your plans may be affected by them. The people you yell at are human too, and it’s not their fault. (I’ll give the Norwegian airlines flight crew props for being so lovely and professional through it all.)
  • Be patient + set low expectations. I often joke that through living in France I’ve learned to set my expectations low, and that way it only gets better from there. We had a few naive moments – like when we landed and then waited on the tarmac forever (it’s not over until it’s over 😉). One look on twitter showed that some other flights waited seven or thirteen hours that day. Perspective.
  • Pack carry-on only in winter. That ensures you don’t have to deal with waiting for baggage on top of flight delays. If you are checking a bag, move a couple pairs of underwear and some makeup (or whatever will make you feel human) into the bag you’re traveling with – just in case!
  • Buy a liter bottle of water once you’re through security. This is a result of my traveling budget airlines who keep you less hydrated (for free), than most, but I never regret it. Staying hydrated is also my secret to combatting jetlag.
  • Go to the bathroom before you land. You never know how long you’re going to be sitting on the tarmac, and they may not let you go to the bathroom for the first hour!!
  • Bring snacks. Again, you never know when you’re going to be sitting on a tarmac for four hours. The airline doesn’t have enough extra meals for everyone, so instead you get nothing. Hungry, frustrated people are no fun! You can make friends too if you share your snacks.
  • Share the humor on social media as it unfolds (well, when you’re back on land). Tell a story. Your friends will be rooting for you! And it’s a good way to laugh at the situation.

Ok, everyone has some travel horror story? What’s yours? Share them in the comments!

5 comments

  • This made me sweat and my heart beat fast just reading this! So very happy we left NYC before the cyclone hit.

    I’m basically never traveling internationally with a baby again (even though we just did for the 2nd time, lesson finally learned!!) In July, when our babe was 4 months old, we had to travel to a wedding from Paris to CA. We only got 3 hours of sleep. We were met with a 2 hour delay. OK fine. Baby was handling it well.

    Then the flight…. oh the horror! Baby slept only 30 minutes in about 17+ hours of total travel. At this age, should have been at least 5 hours of sleep! She couldn’t sleep bc she had a cold. Held/carried her most of the 11+ hour flight. Cried/screamed the last hour of the flight.

    Then we landed in heatwave LA, carried our crap on the shuttle bus to the car rental place. All the while she’s crying and screaming. Get to the car rental place, just screaming at this point, and hop in as soon as we could. She finally napped in the car ride to our airbnb.

    That’s our travel horror story. If I we were you in your situation and we turned around, we would have just stayed in Paris with the babe.

    Kudos to you for making such light of the situation, for you and for others. I love the quote from your mom: I worry about the things I have control over, I don’t worry about what I have no control over.

    It should be my new mantra!

    • Eek! Live and learn. You did it though!!! … I think it’s a small miracle we did not have a riot on our flight. All the kids on the flight were the real champions!

      Enjoy the new mantra :)

  • Oh my goodness Anne…I love the positive attitude you have about it. I feel extra bad for anyone traveling with children – but what a nightmare for ALL. I would lose it on a tarmac for that long, and would seriously contemplate making such a scene they’d have to forcibly remove me, lol.

    • I don’t know. Outside was the coldest cold I have ever felt. And SO windy. Inside was actually better than the chaos of much of the airport.

      The children were the real champion’s of this escapade.

  • I heard about that flight, sorry you had to deal with this… but you’re right… nothing you could do about so it’s not worth stressing or getting upset, just gotta roll with it and yes it could have been a lot worst!

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