One of the great things about traveling is visiting places you’ve never been. Part of what makes it great is winding up in the place you intended to go.
Sandy Valdivieso and her husband Triet Vo, a couple from Los Angeles, booked a trip to Dakar, Senegal (airport code DKR) on the west coast of Africa connecting through Istanbul, Turkey. So, the flight from Los Angeles to Istanbul went okay. On the connecting flight out of Istanbul, they took a nap. When they woke up and saw the moving map display, they discovered they were on the way to Dhaka, Bangladesh (airport code DAC) about 6,885 miles to the east…on another continent. They also realized the plane was full of passengers who looked Asian, not African. Their words. Not mine. (I’ll leave this one alone.)
So how did they get into this mess? Poor situational awareness, assumptions and language barriers that led to administrative errors.
“I guess we were just going by the flight number on our tickets, and that DAC was printed on them,” one of them told the Los Angeles Times. “You just assume that everything is correct.” That a big assumption on a ticket that costs between $2,800 and $5,600 for an economy round trip (ouch!). Then there’s the obvious language barrier that contributed to this…”When the flight attendant said we were heading to Dhaka, we believed that this was how you pronounced ‘Dakar’ with a Turkish accent.”
Once they landed in Dhaka, Bangladesh, it took several hours for Turkish airlines to confirm their mistake. Turkish airlines had to track down the phone recording of the booking to confirm their claims. Ultimately, they were flown back to Istanbul about 12 hours later. They did finally make it Senegal, but their luggage took two days to get there.
This incident occurred in December of 2012 but didn’t hit the press until April, following the couple’s lengthy battle to win compensation. They had to call the airline every week for four months. They were always told “[we} will review [the] case and get back to [them].” Finally, Turkish Airlines relented and offered them two free economy class tickets to any destination it flies. So the airline screws up, delays responding to them and then offers them yet another flight…in economy class, by the way. Gee. Thanks.
So who’s to blame here? The answer is both, but most of the burden lies with the passengers (just my opinion).
Sure, the administrative error on the part of the airline was likely the result of the language barrier. But, when they received their tickets, the burden was on them to read them. When they checked in at LAX, the desk agent would have asked them where they were going and reviewed their passports. Granted, the names sound similar. Like Auckland (New Zealand) and Oakland (California). Or maybe the sound the same, like Paris, France or Paris, Texas. Moscow, Idaho or Moscow, Russia. Rome, New York or Rome, Italy. Even a simple keyboard typing error like DAX versus DAC would have sent them to Daxian airport in China (lots of Asians there).
When they were sitting at the gate in Istanbul, they should have looked around at the other passengers. If you fly to destinations where you’re concerned about terrorist activity on the flight, as you wait to depart, be a “people watcher.” Observe the things people are carrying with them and be vigilant with your personal carry-on. Consider sitting in another gate area that is empty, but still allows you to see and hear information or announced changes at your assigned gate. Maintain the body language of “Don’t Disturb.” Wear your headphones or move frequently, for example. Sit with your back against the wall and near a corner where you can see the crowd. Look for people that appear to be communicating with each other, but not sitting together. Also, look for passengers that appear unnecessarily nervous or out of place. If you see something unusual, report it.
By now, you get the point. Pay attention to what’s going on around you.
In the end, things sometimes go sideways when you travel. Luggage gets lost, you wind up on the wrong continent, or whatever.
Be flexible. Think about and plan ahead for the “what if?” We’ll talk more about that in a later post.
For more than 23 years, Steve was an intelligence community professional who traveled and lived throughout Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Central America. He now uses his experiences and formal training to help people overcome their reluctance to travel by giving them the solid, reliable information they can use to plan effectively, reduce risk, react to danger, and return home safe.