Comedy Of Errors Causes Man To Fly To Wrong Arctic Airport

Filed Under: Travel

Every so often there’s a story in the news about someone who accidentally boards a flight to a completely wrong destination. Sometimes it’s because they somehow got confused and accidentally boarded the wrong plane, and other times it’s because they booked a flight to the wrong destination (like Sydney, Australia, instead of Sydney, Canada).

People are surprised when this happens, but the reality is that hundreds of millions of people fly every year, and stuff will go wrong every once in a while. It’s only natural.

Still, taking a flight that’s different than the one you’re booked on requires a lot of things to go wrong — the gate agent has to incorrectly scan your boarding pass, there has to be no one in the seat you’re assigned, you have to miss the departure announcement stating the destination of the flight, etc.

For once there’s a story of someone who booked a flight to a completely wrong destination, yet he has a great attitude, and quite a story to tell. It even ties in my fascination with the Canadian Arctic, which I recently wrote about.

A man from Winnipeg accidentally ended up on a First Air flight from Yellowknife to Iqaluit on Sunday, when he was really supposed to be flying from Yellowknife to Inuvik. For those of you not familiar with Canadian Arctic geography (*raises hand*), below is a map of the airports.

As you can see, they’re in almost exactly opposite directions, and are almost 1,800 miles apart.

So, how did this happen? As you might expect, a lot of things had to go wrong:

  • At Yellowknife Airport the computers were down, so airline staff were doing stuff manually
  • At the departure gate there were three flights boarding around the same time, and all were on final boarding calls, so there was a sense of urgency
  • The staff checked his ID and sent him on the tarmac, where he saw a bunch of people headed towards a plane, so he followed them
  • When he boarded the flight he asked the flight attendant if he was on the right flight, and if it was going to Inuvik; the flight attendant responded “yeah, eventually”
  • He was texting before departure and wasn’t paying attention to what was being said in the announcements
  • The plane made a stop in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, enroute to Iqaluit; at that point he asked the crew how long it would be to Inuvik; he had flown around the Arctic before, and knew there are often “milk runs” with intermediate stops

That’s the point at which both the crew and the passenger realized that he was actually on the wrong flight. It also explains why the flight attendant said they were in fact going to Inuvik. As it turns out, it was a joke (I guess that’s Arctic humor for you):

“The woman who told me that we’d be arriving in Inuvik eventually, she felt horrible. She was like, ‘Oh my God I didn’t take you seriously, like, I thought you were joking,” he said.

“In fact the person who had boarded previously, I later learned … had got on the plane and said, ‘When do we arrive in Hawaii?'” said Paetkau.

“So she thought I was joking, so she responded back with a joke.”

The guy ended up flying back to Yellowknife the same day, and seems to have had an awesome attitude about it. Rather than being annoyed he had fun, even if it was a very long day.

So yeah, talk about a comedy of errors, though it sounds like he had a hell of a story to tell in the end.

  1. Ha, that’s pretty good. I’ve always wondered how people do it at big airports, what with barcoded tickets, TVs with destination names, etc., but I see how computers down + tarmac boarding could bring on a situation like this.

  2. Why didn’t he just ask for the flight’s number or destination to the gate agent taking the boarding passes?

  3. There has been several occasions in recent years in which people flew to Sydney, Nova Scotia by accident instead of Sydney, New South Wales… they bought tickets online and didn’t notice they chose the wrong Sydney, didn’t look much at maps, and just turned up at the airports and followed their connections until they found themselves in an unfamiliar place.

  4. I just had a look at YZF on google maps satellite view. Looks like they have four ground loading stands all reached from the same terminal door. That makes it a lot easier to understand how he could have gotten on the wrong plane, especially if three of them were boarding at once.

    However, I imagine that management might have a quiet word with the FA that let him on the wrong plane without checking the boarding pass properly. It ought to be standard practice to double check flight number/destination on boarding at airports where it is possible to walk to the wrong plane after going past the gate.

  5. What are you going to do in arctic anyway? Time to kill.

    This is a story he will tell his grandkids how he survived a day traveling the arctic while they use their teleportation devices.

    Lucky are you going to slow down with your reviews after marriage?

  6. Lucky, how about another thing that had to go wrong: what are the odds of his assigned seats not already having another passenger assigned to it.

  7. The boarding pass scanner caught me once. I was running late and went directly to the gate printed on the boarding pass. It was a 5:40pm flight MCO-DCA on AA and I heard some kind of announcement but didn’t catch it (turns out later they were changing my gate). I got to the gate and the computer started beeping. Turns out there was an earlier AA flight to DCA that was delayed until 5:40pm, and both DCA flights were now boarding simultaneously. Fortunately the new gate was just next door and I made it right before they closed the door. Not like I would have ended up in a different location, but it’s confusing, even to experienced travelers, to have 2 flights going to the same destination at exactly the same time (especially when they swap gates with one another last minute!).

  8. On smaller aircrafts it can be confusing sometimes. Like for exemple one time I flew out of Toronto going to Québec city and it was in the regional terminal. They scanned my boarding pass correctly and then I ended up outside to board my plane but there was 4 AC Express planes boarding at the same time going to different destinations. We didn’t have the same gate but we all end up at the same door to exit the building… Usually there are airline representative and they ask: Going to Québec? or Going to Montréal, etc… Ok so it’s the third aircraft… to guide you to the correct plane. So I can see this happenning in a situation like this… I usually ask: Which one goes to Québec? And I try to listen to the FA announcements..

  9. sometimes i wish Canada could get a whole new set of airport codes instead of a bunch of Y-something-something that’s totally indecipherable.

    like you can type out the full name of “Toronto Pearson International Airport” and still can’t locate any one of Y-Y-Z within its spelling.

  10. @LongWayAround : there are also those perpetual errors for San Jose CR vs San Jose CA , London UK vs. London ON, and Birmingham AL vs. UK, Portland OR vs. ME ….

    (i was actually on board a B6 flight bound for SJC when the FA joked is everyone going to SJC and someone actually realized he wanted to go to SJO)

  11. @Lucky:
    If you are going to visit Yellowknife, you should probably check out Buffalo Airways. You probably have heard of them; they are an airline flying cargo and charter routes out of Yellowknife using WWII era planes such as the DC-3 or DC-4. A whole documentary series (Ice Pilots) was made over them! Buffalo Airways offers tours of their hangars, and charter flights are available on their old warbirds. They used to offer commercial flights on the DC-3 to Hay River, though unfortunately they have been canceled due to safety concerns.

  12. Reminds me of that time I was trying to board the DXB-HKG Emirates flight and I almost boarded the DXB-BKK-HKG flight which was boarding at the same time.

  13. Multiple regional AS/Horizon flights board from the same gate at SeaTac. You need to locate your aircraft on the tarmac once you scan your pass. There are electronic signs to guide passengers, but even I have been confused more than once. I can only imagine how an inexperienced traveler might handle it.

    Same thing at PDX, but on a smaller scale. A couple weeks ago I was on a PDX>SEA flight. Almost everyone was aboard and they made a final announcement about the destination. At that point a woman freaked and jumped up and said something like “I’m going to Spokane!” and promptly got off the plane.

  14. @keitherson
    The last time I was there, Canada was still in America. But point taken about how the situation described might play out in the U.S.

    A rational and even pleasant post from you. Thanks.

  15. My favorite: Oakland vs Aukland.

    (Not sure if any real passenger ever confused the two, but there was an episode of some sitcom in the 80s that featured this specific form of confusion.)

  16. What a hoot! Did he get the miles for both flights? 🙂 I was traveling internationally at an airport I was not as familiar with and the board listing flights/gates only had one listed for my destination, and I was late so I ran to that gate without checking the details too much (it kept changing the airline, for code share reasons so I assumed it was correct). I got to the gate breathless and checked the destination, and saw the airline staff didn’t seem to be wearing the right uniforms but then I thought maybe I had been booked on an “as operated by” so I went to the gate sweating from running… and they said nope. Not this flight. Your flight to XYZ city is in the other terminal. I was flabbergasted! How could they not have it listed? In any event, happy ending in that I ran to the other terminal and got there just in the nick of time.

  17. @Lara S
    You beat me to the question! There are 2800 Aeroplan miles potentially at stake, so it would be nice if he got them.

  18. I’m in the USA and live within sight distance of Canada and love Canada and Canadians. Great place to visit (except for between November and April, which is Leafs get eliminated from the Playoffs Again season).

    Funny story that this guy will be telling for years.

  19. I got MLB and MEL mixed up once while booking from PDX. Luckily, the flight to Australia was outrageously expensive. 🙂

  20. Many years ago I was flying from Minneapolis to Newark. I usually went to LaGuardia, but on this flight it was to Newark. In the age of paper tickets, I inadvertently boarded the LaGuardia flight.

    No one on that flight had my seat so no heads up. Realized that I was going to the wrong airport when we got over NY. But, weather issue caused plane to divert to Newark.

  21. a few decades ago I was a student in London and I went to change the date of my printed AA ticket to the airport (Heathrow). In the AA desk, I gave my ticket to MTY (Monterrey, Mexico) and asked to change the date. When I got the ticket back, it was to MRY (Monterey, CA). Even though Monterey CA is a nicer destination, my parents wouldn’t have approved the change. I was about to take the train back when I spotted the mistake in my printed ticket and ran back to the AA front desk. The guy at the AA desk was not that happy and blamed my Mexican accent for the mistake – even though I gave him the printed ticket!

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