Ever accidentally pull a Home Alone and get on the wrong flight? It doesn’t just happen in the movies.
It may seem impossible with heightened security at airports these days—especially post 9/11—but people still get on the wrong flight. Not intentionally, anyways. Most of the time, passengers make it onboard the plane, take their seats and fortunately realize they're on the wrong flight before it ever takes off. (A clear indicator: when they find out they are in someone else’s seat or hear the flight attendant announce the route. But in some instances, the flight attendants even lead them to their seats!)
Often, the mix-up usually occurs because there are two flights going to a city with the same or similar sounding name (at around the same time, of course), the flight boarded from the tarmac (along with several other flights) and encompassing both of these reasons, the gate agent/flight attendant didn't do a thorough job checking the boarding pass or in some cases, let the passengers board despite scanning errors. Technology, amirite.
Greg Huang, a previous airline employee, explains how this process can go wrong:
Having worked in two airports for a major airline—SJC San Jose, CA and SFO—the answer broadly speaking, is yes it certainly can and does happen, though rarely. There are certainly things which can increase the likelihood of such occurrences: prevalent among them, inattentive and/or overworked gate agents multitasking under time pressure and passengers not paying attention to their gate surroundings or looking at their own boarding passes with [the] critical information. On top of those two major factors, add in gate changes or flight [changes] to the same or similar destinations close to one another (i.e. a flight to EWR at gate 64 next to a JFK flight at gate 65, both in the NYC area) or concourses wherein multiple gates are in the same location and voilà, a passenger can indeed inadvertently get on the wrong aircraft despite any number of our best intentions.
....It takes a lot of inattentiveness from both sides of the equation, [both] passenger and airline, to thwart those precautions....
Perhaps the most famous incident occurred in 1985 when Wrong-Way Mike ended up in Auckland, New Zealand instead of Oakland, Calif. The Los Angeles Times reported that college student Michael Lewis became instantly famous for the mishap, making appearances on The Tonight Show and signing a TV movie contract. To be clear, Lewis’ case is rare and I’m not saying, Get on the wrong flight and become a movie star! but, hey. In the very worst cases, most airlines will book most travelers on the next flight to the original destination at no charge.
But it’s a great story, no? At least it'll be a riot to tell afterwards...
At least this guy didn't end up far.
I met up with some co-workers, had dinner, and mentally checked-out. What I didn't realize was that I was supposed to be on the flight to San Jose, whereas the co-workers I was hanging with were on the San Francisco flight. Unknown to me, I missed my San Jose flight, and I simply followed my group of SFO-bound co-workers and I proceeded to get on the flight to San Francisco.
I landed in SFO, waited for my checked luggage (which had been sent to San Jose on the correct flight), and then I complained at the baggage service counter, asking (grumpily) "Where is my luggage?"
The baggage service rep replied simply "Your bag is in San Jose, which is apparently where you should be!" Cue my look of surprise and embarrassment.
But this guy definitely did. The old switcheroo, in the opposite direction...
I was once on a short flight to the Bay Area several decades ago and when we landed. The flight attendant said over the overcom, "Welcome to Oakland!"
In the row across from me a young man looking out the window exclaimed very loudly in a heavy Australian accent, very bewildered and quite upset.
"This is Oakland!!!?"
"I'm supposed to be going to Auckland!!!"
Saved by the cap!
It happened to me.
Back in 2006 I was flying LAX-BOS. I got to LAX early and my BP said the gate would be 40B. I went to the Admirals Club and ended up staying later than I expected. I went to the gate and bypassed the line there to board as a Platinum and didn't look at the departure monitor. The machine beeped "WRONG FLT" but they told me it was an error and to board anyway. Someone sat next to me in a New York Yankees hat and I remarked "that's a dangerous hat to be wearing on a flight to Boston." She looked at me like I was the biggest moron in the world and said "this flight is going to Miami."
Thankfully, I got off the plane in a hurry and still made the BOS flight.
Different kind of business here.
A Dutch guy gets into our hotel really late, approximately 11 p.m. from a small airport. We are sold out and that's always a nervous moment when someone walks up. He sleepily smiled, gave credentials, we went over his name a number of times. He was very kind and completely exhausted.
We go round and round, "This is the Doubletree, correct?"
"Yes, it is".
"This is Monterey, yes?"
We look at a print out of his info, I search the computer... nothing. It takes awhile before he says "I need to sleep. I've flown from Denmark to LA (I think he said 18 hours, can't remember), and I have a computer training tomorrow at the Sheraton Ambassador."
"There is no Sheraton Ambassador, sir, nearby?"
"But I don't understand? This is Monterrey, Mexico, right?"
It quickly unravels in a bizarre realization that he had taken an LAX connecting flight from LA to Monterey, CA... not Monterrey, Mexico. This was in 2003 or so. He insisted he had gotten on the wrong flight because he was exhausted….
Wild experience. He was a gentleman throughout, as sleepy as he was.
Or just one too many drinks?
This happened to my wife and I last year en route to Dubai. Somehow, after a couple of drinks in the lounge, we managed to board the Virgin flight to Mumbai!! When we asked why we could not find our seat we were escorted off like criminals!!
This all really makes me question the security at airports...