Bad trips

Wanderlust readers relate some of their worst travel tales.

By Brett Harris
Published April 9, 1998 7:00PM (EDT)

RIDERS IN THE STORM | Unlikely as it may seem, my worst travel experience occurred during one of my best travel experiences. While honeymooning in Portugal, my husband and I were driving north from the Algarve. Suddenly the terrain changed from rocky greenery to flat plain. "It looks like Kansas," I commented. At that moment the sky darkened ominously to a grayish blue, and out of the corner of my eye I spied something not too far off that resembled a tornado.

"We are in Kansas, and there's a twister," said my husband. We watched for a moment as it touched down and lifted up again, leaving clouds of dust and debris in its wake.

"Let's get the hell out of here," I said. Bear in mind that we were sitting in a flimsy compact car on a straight and treeless road. Jeremy put the pedal to the floor and we sped away, praying that we would be spared. Next thing we knew, the tornado passed in front. The heavens opened as hail stones the size of golf balls pelted our little car. Two minutes later it was all over. We were terrified, and the car bore the pockmarks of the storm, but we had survived.

When we reached our destination, we discovered others had not been as fortunate. The tornado had killed four people on the same road.

-- MINDY ALTER______

___WOULD YOU LIKE THAT ON THE ROCKS? | Nearly 20 years ago we were traveling on a Yemen Airways flight from Rome to Sanaa in what was then the Yemen Arab Republic. Our daughter was a baby at the time and so we got the best seats in the plane, right up at the front.

Sometime during the night, somewhere over Saudi Arabia, the steward came out of the cockpit, rummaged around in the crew baggage, extracted a bottle of Scotch and returned to the cockpit!

I managed to convince myself that I had dreamed this. However, we discovered later that this was a reasonably regular event with the American pilots.

Sanaa airport looked good that morning when we arrived!


___WE HOPE YOU ENJOYED YOUR FLIGHT | I flew Tower Air from New York to Miami a couple of years back. The flight was an early morning departure and getting from New Jersey to JFK through morning rush hour was a killer. The plane was horribly overbooked and the airline was asking customers to take one of their flights at a later date in return for free tickets. There were not many takers.

Boarding began two hours after the plane was scheduled to depart. The aircraft was parked on a remote apron with no jetway, so they herded us onto a bus that you entered through a jetway-like opening. While grabbing a seat I saw this old dear across from me fumbling around. I asked her if I could help her and she asked, "Is this seat 26B?" Poor thing thought she was on the plane!

The bus shuttled on over to the aircraft and loaded us through the main door, then repeated this procedure a few more times. We were all boarded -- and another hour passed. They couldn't get the cargo hold door to close.

It was real hot on board with no air-conditioning. Just to fray everyone's nerves a little more, this tremendous banging noise started below. You could feel the shudder through your seat. I could just picture this frustrated ground worker with a huge sledgehammer belting away at that door. It went on forever. People were asking if they could get off.

Eventually we taxied for takeoff. The flight itself was fairly uneventful except that there was not one empty seat. Then came the landing!

I've flown into Miami airport countless times and I can't ever recall being at such a high altitude. We made a sharp left turn and dive-bombed to the runway. It was awesome! Following this steep descent, we "flared" before touchdown and then glided upward interminably. I remember saying to my seatmate, as we neared 57th Avenue, "They better get this thing down soon."

Boy did we hit hard! Tons of oxygen masks came flying out of the ceiling. There was a big collective gasp, and then everyone broke into spontaneous applause! Maybe they felt lucky to be alive.

I wish that was all -- but remember the stuck cargo door? Well, now they couldn't get it open! Another hour elapsed before we got our luggage -- just in time to hit rush-hour traffic.

Point-to-point from my friend's house in New Jersey to my house in Florida took 14 hours. I have flown door-to-door from Europe in less time.

Brett Harris

Brett Harris is an economist who recently finished a two-year stint with the East-West Center in Honolulu.

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