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What is Your Best “I Can’t Believe I Made That Flight” Story?

What is Your Best “I Can’t Believe I Made That Flight” Story?
Jeff Edwards

A FlyerTalk member recently posed the question: “What’s your best I can’t believe I made that flight story?” The frequent flyers of Flyertalk came through in spades, with responses ranging from embarrassing to nearly unbelievable (and with tales of victory involving everything from unlikely strings of misfortune to strokes of luck at just the right moments).

“I was looking for an opening, some kind of access road, some lane across the runway to the terminal. We were five miles past the last stoplight and there wasn’t enough time to turn around and go back to it. There was only one way to make it on time.”

– Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

Although Flyertalkers didn’t share any gonzo stories about speeding across the tarmac at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS), responses to the question “What’s your best I can’t believe I made that flight story?” were, in many cases, only slightly less dramatic. Some of these tales of nearly missing a flight might leave us shaking our heads at our fellow air travelers’ questionable decision-making skills, while others stories might just remind us that “but for the grace of god …” but in nearly every case, the successful (albeit unlikely) outcomes may give us that ray of hope we need the next time any one of us is running impossibly late to the departure gate.

Murphy’s Law

The Flyertalk member who kicked off the whole discussion told the harrowing story of a short trip to the airport in which absolutely nothing went according to plan. The unfortunate series of events included a late subway train that inexplicably went from express to local mid-journey, no cabs where the intrepid air traveler decided to abandon the subway, standstill traffic once a cab was finally obtained, extra attention from the TSA, a last-minute gate change and only a few slow-moving transport options to the new gate. But at least the story has a happy ending.

“So a 30-minute outing to the airplane terminal transformed into an 80-minute excursion and everything turned out badly, however despite everything I made it,” the Flyertalker with the aptly named handle “NYCommuter” wrote.

Living the Life of Riley

If everything goes wrong for some passengers, then every once in a while the planets are in alignment and the impossible can happen for a lucky few. Take for example the passenger who made it from midtown Manhattan to LaGuardia Airport (LGA) in under 30 minutes, just in time to catch a Delta Shuttle flight to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA).

“We were making good time on the BQE so I picked DL and made it,” the charmed passenger wrote. “I was the last passenger on board and they closed the door behind me.”

Never Give Up, Never Surrender

Other passengers appear to have made their flights through sheer grit and determination – like this stubborn flyer who overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles to catch a plane. A lost wallet, near-total gridlock, a cash-only motorcycle taxi ride (even though the passenger had no cash) and unexpected red tape couldn’t keep this stubborn flyer from making it to Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport (DIL) in the nick of time. Of course, a little bit of good luck and creativity didn’t hurt either.

Once again, the Flyertalker writes that all is well that ends well, “As he [the ticket agent] printed and handed a boarding pass to me, he said to me, ‘You’re very lucky that you did online check-in. I can reprint your boarding pass now, but I wouldn’t have been able to check you in. You should come earlier to the airport next time. You have 10 mins to get to the gate. I would recommend you run.’”

A Whole Other Zip Code

The International Terminal at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) is so far away from Terminal F, where regional jets normally land, that a county line actually separates the facilities. The international terminal isn’t even technically in Philadelphia. Under perfect conditions, this can make for some tough connections, but when things don’t go according to plan, the chance of making up lost time at the airport is extremely unlikely (but, apparently not entirely impossible).

“The regional flight was almost two hours late and we were still in the air at boarding time for the London flight,” this Flyertalker who flies through airports shared. “Furthermore, regional flights there land at terminal F. I made it from F to A-West in 12 minutes, with luggage. The gate agents said that when they saw that my inbound flight was at the gate, they kept the door open for me.”

Sophie’s Choice

When fog grounded a seaplane, this Flyertalker was faced with an untenable decision. Only by surrendering a stash of booze did this brave frequent flyer manage to make a connecting flight back home.

“He drops us off up front, it’s too late to check bags, but we can gate check them,” the light-traveling Flyertalker recalled. “Get the bags through TSA by dumping all out all out leftover liquor in bins. We get through the tiny security area right as they start boarding the plane. We take off 5 minutes later at 11:30 in total shock that we made it.”

Take the Long Way Home

After storms canceled this Flyertalker’s planned Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) to Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) to Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (BOM) itinerary, the discouraged passenger was rerouted on his ATL/EWR/BOM trip with a new stop added at Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD). After an unplanned tour of nearly every major airport in North America, during severe weather no less, the flyer eventually found himself on his way to his final destination.

“Somehow, despite two ground stops, I managed to make it to Mumbai that day,” the grateful flyer wrote about the journey with a seemingly unlikely chance of success.

Captain of the Same Boat

Misery loves company, but sometimes it doesn’t hurt if people in high places are sharing your pain. This is especially true if it happens to be someone the plane won’t be leaving behind.

“Flying out of JFK and there was a massive accident on the Van Wyck — car service was traveling inches per hour,” ArtTravel explained. “Resigned to missing the flight, but did not as pilot was stuck in a transport van further behind.”

Have a tale to share of daring, outrageous fortune or the kindness of strangers (and airline employees) that led to making an important flight just moments before departure? The conversation continues here.

[Image Source: Shutterstock]

View Comments (6)


  1. bayswater1944

    April 17, 2019 at 4:55 am

    Think about it, London 1973. I was invited to a wedding in Paris, so I booked a flight from the then London Airport. The flight was at 16:30. I was not a frequent flyer, and being English-speaking, not used to the 24 hour clock.I took 16:30 to mean 6:30PM. At about 4PM I had a brood on the ticket, and the penny dropped: the flight was in 30 minutes time! I was in Bayswater, not near the airport at all. I dashed out, hailed a cab: “Get me to London Airport in 20 minutes!”. Well, miraculously, he did. No X-ray machines or any of that security stuff in those days, just a rapid ticket check, a dash down the jetway just as the door was closing. Oh for the old days…

  2. bluemeansgo

    April 17, 2019 at 4:12 pm

    It was our belated honeymoon to Hawaii from YVR. Only the night before I had realized that my passport had expired. I had misread the month as 05/03 and not 03/05. Too late that night to do anything about it… but I went online and filled in the online form. This made it easier to input the information into the system, apparently.

    They had JUST introduced mandatory passports for Canadians flying into the US (2009). It was still optional by car/boat. Our flight was at 6am the next morning and was a bargain basement ultra-cheap milk-run YVR-SFO-LIH-HNL. I think it was ~$200 USD on UA. Passport offices opened at 6am, but since the new regulations JUST required passports, there was a chance they’d let me through customs ( which happens in YVR, not the US ). Turns out, they couldn’t. My options:
    1) drive to Seattle and change my flight there, for an additional $400…
    2) get my passport and fly stand-by for any flight within 24 hours.

    There were flights at 1PM and 3PM that would work.

    I sent my spouse on the flight and promised I would find a way to Hawaii to meet her there.

    Passport office opened at 7am. I was there at 6:30. Was first in line and asked for a rush on my passport. Had to provide proof of future travel… which i did NOT have… as my flight left at 6am. After a signed statement that I was flying stand-by, they guaranteed a passport in 24 hours, but they said they’d try by noon. I went home… and came back just after 11am just to see… I’d taken transit in. Turns out, it was done! Jumped on a bus ( should have taken a taxi ) and was at the airport in 42 minutes. at about 12:20. I figured I’d make one of the two flights. Went to check-in and they said… the flight is 100% full… good luck. You’ve got 10 minutes to get to the gate. They didn’t seem happy about allowing me to fly stand-by and I found out why later.

    Turns out… someone gave up their seat for me… and I think it must have been a United Employee. Maybe a FA. I got the last seat on the plane and a better routing. YVR-SFO-HNL. ON the SFO-HNL they upgraded me to premium economy.

    Meanwhile, my wife had her flight turn around half-way to HNL from SFO due to someone who was drunk and puking (this was during peak swine flu… so more paranoia). So, despite leaving 7 hours earlier, only ended up being there 1 hour before me.

  3. Justin026

    April 17, 2019 at 6:06 pm

    Back in the day, we got off one-stop flights to use pay phones while waiting for the next leg of the trip (and leaving a SEAT OCCUPIED sign on our seat cushion). Once, I talked and talked at SFO, carefully watching the gate where the Alaska flight marked “Portland” was sitting with the boarding door open. But then, a sudden fear came over me. I was coming FROM Portland and was going TO LAX !!! My eyes pivoted left to the next gate, where a boarding door marked “Los Angeles” was SWINGING SHUT.

    I raced to the door and started banging on it. And thankfully, a gate agent came back and allowed me to sprint down the jetway.

    The jetway was pulled back, but another agent got the pilot’s attention, who was looking back rather skeptically out of his slightly-open cockpit window. I yelled “my carry-on is still at my seat!.” (which it was).

    And he let me on.

  4. ckfred

    June 22, 2019 at 10:14 am

    I had always put the bags in the car by myself. For some reason, my wife told our brooding teenager to help. All of the bags to be checked were in the trunk. So, we left our house for the drive to Chicago-O’Hare, roughly 45 minutes.

    Just south of Balmoral Avenue, on I-294, it dawned on me that my carry-on bag, with camera, cruise documents, and passports, was sitting on a kitchen chair.

    We turned around, drove home, got the bag, and drove back. I went to the primary economy lot, where despite my pleas, the City of Chicago, overpaid bureaucrat would not let me park, claiming the lot was full.

    We had to go to another lot, find a spot, and run about 1/4 mile to the airport train station.

    We managed to check in, get through TSA Pre, grab lunch at McDonald’s, and get to the gate for our flight to Houston as AA AAdvantage Gold was being called.

    The moral of the story. I pack the car by myself from now on.

  5. flyingsaucer

    June 24, 2019 at 3:44 pm

    Racing across Ireland to catch a flight from Belfast, we were held up by roadworks in Omagh for over an hour. We arrived just as plane was about due to leave, I rushed in to check-in, husband was left to return the hire car. He appeared beside me almost immediately, “Where’s the car?” I asked. “I left it outside and gave the keys to some guy in a uniform” he replied. The flight, luckily, had been delayed just long enough for us to catch it, but I spent the next few weeks anxiously waiting for a phone call from the car hire company wondering where their car was.

  6. sethb

    July 11, 2019 at 9:42 pm

    Arrived at the LAX terminal at 6:59 PM for a 7:00 PM scheduled departure with a reservation but no ticket. The flight left on time. I was on it. So was my checked suitcase. That’s a record that I expect to stand.

    This was 1978, Golden West Airlines. The terminal was the size of a large hotel room. There was a short line of people waiting to buy tickets on a later flight; I told an agent that I had a reservation on the 7 PM, she brought me to the desk and kerchunked my credit card. She took my suitcase to the window, pushed it out (onto a slide) and yelled that it went on the Santa Barbara flight. She then pointed at a line of people walking out the door onto the tarmac, and said that was my flight.

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