My worst involves landing in the wrong Middle East country during a time of hostility, staying awake for more than 3 days solid, and the spending Christmas Day snowed in at an airport. This is a long story, but a flight nightmare.

I was in the Air Force in the late 1990s, and back then Saddam Hussein made a game of threatening one country or another during Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays every year ... his way of messing with US troop morale, because each of his little games caused some form of deployment, which takes people away from their families for a while. Most of these ended up being deployments for a few weeks, but you could get caught for 6 months.

Anyway, the second time I got the call for a holiday deployment, I drove to the airport in Lubbock, TX, about 2 hours from my base ... my job (public affairs) was on the specialized side, so I rarely (never) deployed with the regular troops ... typically flew commercially.

I didn’t have a passport, as those aren’t required for military orders. However, my orders were marked secret, and most of the paperwork was redacted in some way. All I was told is “you’re going to Camp Doha, get on a plane.” So after a quick yessir, I was on my way to Lubbock and a long flight to the Middle East.

The good part of this story is that nearly everytime I flew commercially back then … which was a lot … the airline would generally check my weapon and upgrade me to first class. It. Was. Sweet.

 

So I’m flying from Lubbock to Chicago, then on to London, where I stayed the night for some reason, and then on to … Doha. Here’s the rub: what I didn’t know, and what the base travel people didn’t know, is that there were two Dohas in the Middle East. One is in Kuwait, called Camp Doha, and was center of a lot of Air Force and Army deployments. The second is Doha, Qatar.

 

My orders apparently had me going to Qatar. Anyway, on the first class ride from London to Qatar, I sat next to a nice young guy who was studying at King’s College and flying home … just a nice young guy like me, so no big deal. We chat it up (I’m not allowed to disclose I’m in the military on deployment), and he offers his office number … I took it, thinking nothing of it. We land in Qatar, and the plane stops in the middle of the runway, and we’re surrounded by limos and a couple of cop cars. My seatmate gets off the plane here. Not know what’s going on, I ask the flight attendant what the deal is, and she tell me he’s the crown prince of the country. Allright, that was weird, but whatever. This will come back.

 

Next, the plane pulls into the regular parking spot and I get off, expecting some kind of US presence or greeting. It’s like 1 am, and there’s nobody waiting for me. Not knowing what to do, I try to clear customs. Without a passport, this is a problem. With redacted US orders, this is a problem. I’m not allowed though, and I can’t leave either. I’m stuck with no way of know who to call or where. I offer the card given to me by my seatmate (the prince), and ask if there’s something that can be done. They immigration people talk to whomever’s at the office, and I’m given permission to enter the country and stay at the Sheraton. OK. We’re in business.

 

Sleep through the night, and contact my base to see what went wrong. They don’t take long to figure out I’m supposed to be in Kuwait, not Qatar, so they give me the number in Kuwait … I call them, and they plan to arrange a military flight to pick me up.

 

Get a call back from my home base, and they say the deployment is cancelled, come home. Cool. But Kuwait is sending a plane for me, and I call to make sure they cancel it. They don’t want to cancel … a guy in my career field on semi-permanent deployment (as opposed to my conflict time deployment) really wants to go home. He out ranks me, and starts making moves to have me take up the rest of his time.

 

I don’t want that, and my base doesn’t want that. So they tell me to book a flight … any flight … home.

 

Last minute international flights are expensive, and they cost beyond my P card limit (Uncle Sam’s AMEX card) will take. So I have to get permission from my base commander to up my limit, and file a letter with AMEX.

 

Long story shorter, I finally book a flight home, spending something close to $10,000 in total. Head to the airport to leave, at which point I’d been up for two days solid trying to coordinate my trip home, avoid getting stuck in Kuwait, and the red tape in between (it isn’t easy booking a flight with no passport).

 

At the airport, I’m asked to pay a tax to leave. Fine. I pay something like $50 and expect to move on. Except it’s Ramadan, and the security guys don’t like that I have US military orders. I’m alone, and what am I going to do. They make me pass through the tax line twice more, which requires another trip to the ATM. Make it though, finally, and have to pay more tax for my weapon. Whatever … after two days, I’m through security and on a plane toward home.

 

I can’t sleep on planes to save my life. No idea why. But I suffer through the ride from Qatar to London (no first class upgrade for the ‘Murican here), then from London to Chicago.

 

So exhausted. I land in Chicago, and it’s snowing and most of the flights are starting to get cancelled. I call my mom to tell her that I’m in the US, and I distinctly remember hallucinating at the phone booth. It was one of those jobs with lots of dots punched into a stainless steel background … anyway, those dots were talking to me like a ticker tape machine. It was bizarre, and I felt truly awful.

 

I manage to get one of the last planes in the right direction of home, from Chicago to Dallas. I land in Dallas, to be told that this will be the last flight in or out for at least 12 hours, probably more.

 

Did I mention it’s now Christmas Eve? I’ve been up for 3 days. I’m snowed in at Dallas with no way out. There are no hotels available because everyone booked them.

 

I guess I looked as bad as I felt, because an American Airlines gate agent took pity and asked what she could do … I explained my situation, and it turns out she could help after all. Airlines hold over a few extra rooms for international customers, and I was one. I got a room, and slept like the dead though most of Christmas Day. I caught a flight out of Dallas that evening, flew to Lubbock, and drove home.

 

And so endeth the worst possible flying journey I could have.