The Worst Travel Nightmares of 2019

This year has seen its fair share of travel nightmares—from stranded passengers in scary situations to plane crashes and unexplained deaths. Here's the worst of the bunch.

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Man with shoulder bag and hand luggage walking in airport terminal
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When travelling goes very wrong

Billions of people travel every year without a problem. In fact, there are an average of 1.4 billion international arrivals annually, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization. Sure, some travellers experience bumps in the road (or sea or sky) on the way to their destinations, but it’s usually a minor occurrence, even when it feels major at the time. But then there are the headline-making travel nightmares that make you wonder if you ever want to leave your house again. Thankfully, those incidents are rare…but that doesn’t make them any less aggravating, concerning, or downright terrifying. Here’s what happened in 2019.

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ethiopian airlines crash

Ethiopian Airlines’ fatal crash

A deadly crash aboard a Boeing 737 Max aircraft in Ethiopia this past March killed all 157 people on board. This happened five months after another 737 Max crashed in Indonesia. Now dubbed “the flying coffin,” the 737 Max has been grounded, and manufacturer at Boeing is being questioned as to why these planes continued to fly, knowing their issues.

Luckily, flying is safe overall—these surprising airplane facts will calm you down.

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wow air
Mauritz Antin/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Wow Airlines stopped operating

Suddenly and without warning, Wow Air ceased operations in March, canceling flights and leaving passengers stranded. The budget Icelandic airline said that some people were entitled to compensation, but in the meantime, passengers gathered in airports waiting for their flights—some of which were cancelled just 20 minutes before their scheduled boarding. The no-frills Wow Air was founded in 2011, and it became popular due to its relatively inexpensive fares from Iceland across the Atlantic.

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germania air

A number of other airlines shuttered as well

It’s been a rough year in the sky. First, we lost Wow Air. Next, we said goodbye to Germania, the European airline that couldn’t keep up with the price of fuel. Flybmi, based in the United Kingdom, soon followed. In February, the Dutch Caribbean–based Insel Air declared bankruptcy, followed by Saratov Airlines, which couldn’t survive its reputation after a flight crashed and killed 71 people last February. Finally, California Pacific (an American regional airline that struggled with its certifications, fleets, and routes in addition to other logistical issues) perished, though it has promised to return. Fingers crossed.

Check out the scariest moments pilots have experienced on the job.

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thomas cook travel nightmare
Geoff Robinson/Shutterstock

Thomas Cook’s sudden departure

Thousands were stranded in airports around the world in September after one of the oldest tour companies announced that it was shuttering. A whopping 150,000 travellers needed to find alternate plans when Thomas Cook said that all of its flights and bookings were canceled—effective immediately. Thankfully, nearly everyone was refunded for their travel.

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viking sky cruise ship travel nightmare

A Viking cruise stranded passengers in rough seas

In March, a Viking Sky cruise ship suffered an engine failure due to low oil levels off the coast of Norway, and more than 1,300 people were stranded in very rough seas. Passengers were posting traumatic videos on social media showing overturned tables, furniture sliding, and other scary scenes. Dozens were injured, and hundreds needed to be helicoptered off the ship. Of course, cruise problems, like flight problems, are rare.

Wondering what to pack for a cruise? Consider following these cruise ship packing do’s and don’ts.

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dominican republic travel nightmares

Mysterious deaths in the Dominican Republic

Tourism in the Dominican Republic took a sharp dip this year after 11 Americans died between June 2018 and May 2019 for no apparent reason in resorts there. Some believe that tainted alcohol was responsible, but that theory has not been confirmed. That said, shortly after drinking from their minibars, many of the guests at varying hotels became sick or had heart attacks and never woke. This situation was declared a “tourism crisis,” although the United States maintained a level-two advisory to the DR. The FBI conducted toxicology tests but didn’t release the results, so the causes of the deaths are still under investigation.

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royal caribbean cruise ship toddler falls to death travel nightmare
Mike Derer/AP/Shutterstock

A toddler fell to her death on a cruise ship

An 18-month-old girl fell to her death from a Royal Caribbean ship in July after the toddler’s grandfather held her against an open window in the ship’s play area, thinking it was closed. The grandfather was later charged with negligent homicide, though the family maintains that it was a tragic accident. The attorney representing the grandfather said the security video—which has not yet been released—will show that the fall was an accident, not a crime.

Take a look at what turnaround day is like on a cruise ship.

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amazon rainforest fire burns in brazil
Leo Correa/AP/Shutterstock

The Amazon rainforest burned in Brazil

Thousands of fires were set in Brazil’s rainforest in August to clear the land in a controversial move that many declared an environmental disaster. Airports were closed and clogged, and the Brazilian government declared it an emergency situation. People were told to live indoors while the forests—which are essential to soaking up carbon dioxide, helping with climate change—burned to the ground. The majority of the fires were started by ranch owners who wanted more land for their cattle to graze.

While awful on a variety of levels, this also directly affected travel to Brazil and the surrounding areas. It kept tourists away, since they were unable to visit due to the environmental hazards, though Brazil’s Tourism Board doesn’t have official travel-cancellation figures. This came at a time when Brazil’s government had been urging visitors to travel there, even waiving visa requirements starting in June. This was part of a planned government initiative to increase the South American nation’s visitor numbers. Brazil hosted 6.6 million visitors in 2018, and they had hoped to bring in 12 million by 2022.

Here’s what could happen if the Amazon rainforest disappears.

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grand canyon deaths 2019

A trio of deaths in the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon National Park witnessed a slew of deaths this year. In a single eight-day stretch in April, in fact, three people died: A Japanese tourist’s body was found, though he was not a victim of a fall; a Hong Kong man slipped off the Grand Canyon’s rim while trying to take a picture; and then a 67-year-old California man fell from the edge (more details on his death aren’t known). The park has an average of 12 fatalities per year, which range from heat-related issues to drowning, but this cluster of deaths brought a lot of negative press to the Grand Canyon, leaving many to question how safe it really is to visit.

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tiger sharks in bahamas, Jordan Lindsay travel nightmare
SeaTops / imageBROKER/Shutterstock

Shark attacks in the Bahamas

The Bahamas aren’t having a good year. For starters, there were two shark attacks, one of which was fatal. Jordan Lindsay, a 21-year-old visiting from Los Angeles, was snorkelling in the Bahamas when she was attacked by a group of tiger sharks in June. Earlier, an American man was bitten by a shark, but he survived. While shark attacks in the Bahamas aren’t common, scientists believe that increases in wind speed and sea-breeze activity may be playing a role in bringing more marine life closer to the shore.

Fear not! Don’t miss these reassuring facts about sharks.

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hurricane dorian bahamas
Ramon Espinosa/AP/Shutterstock

Hurricane Dorian decimated the Bahamas

The Bahamas were torn apart after Hurricane Dorian arrived in late August, creating a travel disaster. It was the most intense tropical cyclone ever to hit the islands, and it was recorded as one of the most powerful hurricanes in the Atlantic in terms of 60-second sustained winds, which peaked at 296 kmph. As a result, nearly 3,000 flights in and out of the United States were cancelled, and several airports in Florida were closed. The relentless hurricane struck islands throughout the Bahamas and caused catastrophic damage, flattening most of the structures and leaving more than 70,000 people homeless.

Here are the islands you can still visit in hurricane season.

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airbnb scam travel nightmares 2019

Airbnb hosts scammed travellers

Airbnb has dominated the lodging industry for the past few years, but it hit a hurdle in November after a scathing article published in Vice described a scam affecting hundreds of listings—that was largely ignored by the company. “It seemed as if one person or group might have created numerous phony accounts to run a much larger Airbnb operation,” wrote Allie Conti in her article. What happened, exactly? She had booked a nice home via Airbnb, only for her hosts to re-route her to an unsavoury spot, blaming an apparent plumbing issue. Her money was not refunded. Turns out, the same “hosts” were running this scam throughout the world. While Airbnb didn’t respond to her requests for comment or to her article, the FBI did—and investigated the situation. Later, Airbnb agreed to verify all of its seven million listings.

Watch out for these bad Airbnb listing signs.

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united airlines travel nightmare 2019

United passengers were stranded in freezing temperatures

In January, passengers aboard a United flight from New Jersey to Hong Kong were stranded on the ground for more than 15 hours. The flight had been diverted to Canada due to a medical emergency, and when the flight went to take off again, it experienced unexplained mechanical problems. Officials said they couldn’t take the passengers off the plane because there were no customs officers on duty, as it was the middle of the night. The weather was negative 29 celsius and the plane’s door was broken, so it was freezing inside—and the flight was running low on food. Finally, after 15 hours, the passengers returned to New Jersey and were rebooked. A small silver lining: They received a full refund and travel credit.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest