My 7 most horrifying public transportation stories and how to ease the pain


plane at night

Today skytrax presented the annual World Airline Award, the most prestigious of the airline awards. While I never had the pleasure to use one of the top 10 airlines, I continue to use cheaper means of transportation. Not because of budget, but because you get the greater stories out of them. I rated my personal stories in categories discomfort, delay-factor, and unbelivibility from 0 (none) to 10 (outstanding). Here are my top 7 public transportation stories:

  1. DB reservation (discomfort: 9, delay-factor: 0, unbelievibility: 7 ) I travelled with my girlfriend. We returned from a short vacation from Amsterdam back to Berlin, where we lived. We used the train, because Icelandic vulcano ash made the airways impossible to use. The train was operated by Deutsche Bahn (which is famous for enable ridiculous stories). On full trains you can make reservation for seats. Anybody sitting on a seat reserved by you has to surrender the seat to you, and usually people obey this rule. It is actually common sense, because you pay extra for the reservation. Unfortunately, on this particular train ride (which was sold out to the last quantum of space) I encountered a particular stubborn lady. She admitted that she has no reservation for the seat that I reserved. But she insisted to stay in that seat. After a few minutes the whole coach was in the discussion and everybody was on my side. But what do you do? Physical actions are out of question and authorities on trains are sparse. In the end it cost the intervention of two stewards and the trains captain to get the lady of the seat. Most funny, the reason she stated several times: “I have to get home too”.
  2. Multiple DB reservations (discomfort: 0, delay-factor: 0, unbelievibility: off the chart) This happened on a Deutsche Bahn train, again. Its about reservations, again. The trouble is that Deutsche Bahn issues reservations independently of holding actual train tickets. Which is useful for example to rebuy reservations for missed trains. But there is a possibility to abuse reservations. It happened on a particularly full train that a (slightly overweight) couple bought two tickets (ca. 400 €) and four reservations (ca. 10 €) in order to occupy a 4 man stall with 2 people. Soon people come on to them asking if the empty seats were free. The couple blocked the seats. The first few applicants for the empty seats could be dismissed with the non-existing passengers being at the restrooms. But soon the crowd grew suspicious. Being asked directly, the couple admitted to have bought additional reservations. They kept claiming the seats.  Soon the whole coach was involved and everyone was against the seat blockers, which kept insisting on their point. No elderly, pregnant, or hurt person was allowed in “their” seats. Finally it took two interventions of a train steward.
  3. Icy plane (discomfort: 3, delay-factor: 6, unbelievibility: 2) Flying outbound from Newark to Paris. It was the first real winter night on the east-cost this year. For my taste of winter it was blizzard time. After the boarding was already delayed  several hours because pilots haven’t arrived from the nearby airport hotel in time (I took a 200km drive through snow and traffic jams and was on time), I was stuck in the plane and on the ground for 5 hours. For 5 hours I was watching de-icing fluids put on one wing, than the other, than the first wing again, than the other. Finally, they used two de-icing-cars to de-ice both wings at once. Finally, enough to start. I never hold tighter to airplane armchairs again.
  4. sitting upright (discomfort: 6, delay-factor: 0, unbelievibility: 4) This is actually a very very common story that happens to all tall passengers of Ryan Air. The seats are to upright to let your head fall back to sleep. If you try to let your head fall against the front seat, you realise that this seat is to close to actually let your head fall against it. Sleeping made impossible.
  5. stairway car accident (discomfort: 0, delay-factor: 4, unbelievibility: 9) Flying back from a beautiful vacation on Cuba, landing in Leipzig. Nine hours worth of flying with no incident and a good landing. But: “please have your seatbelt on until the plane reaches its final parking positions”. Prior to reaching this final position the plane’s wing touched a stairway car and made it flip to its side. As a result everything under and around the wing, including the luggage boxed where sealed of by security and policy for further investigation. I had to wait for 4 hours to get my luggage.
  6. Hatrick – 3 connection flights in a row (discomfort: 8, delay-factor: 6*, unbelievibility: strictly coincidental) They lost my luggange on three consecutive flights. One year, three transatlantic flights, loosing my luggage every single time. Different connection airports and airlines. True story.
  7. Mid way turnaround (discomfort: 6, delay-factor: 10, unbelievibility: 7) Flying from Madrid to Miami. After sitting 4 long hours in the plane it suddenly turned around. Living in post 9/11 times every one on the plane was already scared to sweat and blood when the captain finally explained engine failure to be the reason. It didn’t really lowered the level for fear in the cabin. Eventually the plane lost all its fuel and landed safely. It took the airline additional 6 hours to find a solution. After a night in a cheap (and airline paid) hotel, we flew to Miami the next day. Side note: there was a severe forest fire starting in the night of our turnaround, but no connections to dispersing kerosene could be proofed.

Ok this was my pain. I am sure you experienced worse and have your own great stories (please share below). But what can you do to ease the pain? Here is what I do:

  • I always carry my own water (nowadays you have to by it for triple the price  in the boarding area due to absurd security restrictions).
  • I always have a blanked with me on longer flights. Airplane cabins are cooled down to 7 degrees Celsius, especially during night flights. Better be prepared.
  • I always have a deflatable neck pillow with me. You know the things you put around your neck, so you can let your head fall to sleep, even if seats and their position don’t normally allow it.
  • I always carry ear pieces to create my own little silent place. You can shut your eyes from unpleasant views, but you cannot shut your ears from baby screams and couples fighting (or worse things couples can do, especially if they carry blankets).

I encourage you to share your own stories and tips.

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