You are one click away from going to the wrong airport

Imagine what happens when a passenger lands at the wrong airport… even though the flight plan was followed and the pilot did nothing wrong. The cause? They booked (or were booked on) the wrong flight.

Puzzled passenger in font of a FIDS. Photo via Flickr by amateur_photo_bore.
Passenger looking at a FIDS. Photo by amateur_photo_bore via Flickr.

Recently, a recording was released, capturing the confusion and disbelief when air traffic control realized that Southwest Airlines flight 4013 had landed not at Branson Airport (BKG), but at much-smaller M. Graham Clark Downtown Airport (PLK) on January 12, 2014. The pilot proceeded visually towards what he thought was the right field. Fortunately, the plane stopped just short of running out of runway and no passengers were injured.

Now, imagine what happens when a passenger lands at the wrong airport… even though the flight plan was followed and the pilot did nothing wrong. The cause? They booked (or were booked on) the wrong flight.

You think it’s a rare occurrence? Think again.

  • San Jose, CA (SJC) instead of San Jose, Costa Rica (SJO): In December 2013, two Canadian newlyweds were looking forward to spending their honeymoon in Costa Rica. But just as the plane was pushing back, they wondered why there was an announcement about the weather in California. The man (who happens to be an acquaintance of mine) mustered up enough courage to ask a flight attendant which San Jose they were going to. It wasn’t San Jose, Costa Rica, but San Jose, California! The couple deplaned just in time.

    Screen capture of United's website, showing you are one click away from going to the wrong San Jose.
    Screen capture of United’s website, showing you are one click away from going to the wrong San Jose.
    Initially, the airline offered to fly the couple to their destination three days later and for an extra $2,000. Even though missing a flight is a source of aggravation for many, the couple was extremely patient with the airline personnel as they worked out a solution. (The couple even considered spending their honeymoon elsewhere if needed.) Their patience paid off: the airline absorbed the price difference and waitlisted the passengers. All in all, they arrived in Costa Rica only 12 hours late. One bag arrived the same day, the other one day later. Moral of the story, per my acquaintance: be kind to airline personnel; they’re only human and they have a difficult job after all.
  • Sydney, Canada (YQY) instead of Sydney, Australia (SYD): In 2002, a young British couple thought they had booked a trip Down Under through an online travel agent. After a stopover in Halifax, and one commuter flight later, they realized they were in the wrong Sydney. Nevertheless, they decided to make the most of their impromptu vacation in Nova Scotia. So did an Argentinian woman in 2008, who booked on Air Canada’s website. In 2010, an Italian couple was booked to YQY instead of SYD due to a mix-up with their travel agent, but in their case, they were rebooked to Australia a few days later (Sources: BBC News, CBC and The Toronto Star).
  • St. George’s, Grenada (GND) instead of Granada, Spain (GRX): In late 2013, a British woman booked a flight using frequent flyer miles, but once in the air, she realized she would not be seeing the Alhambra and that she was on her way to the Caribbean. British Airways upgrade her to First Class in flight and after she disembarked at St. Lucia, she was flown back to London-Gatwick and rebooked to Granada (Source: Metro UK).
  • Dhaka, Bangladesh (DAC) instead of Dakar, Senegal (DKR): In 2013, a couple booked a journey from Los Angeles to Dakar directly by calling Turkish Airlines. It’s once in flight over the Middle East that the couple realized they were heading to the wrong city. The airline flew the couple to Senegal several hours later (and their baggage two days later) but initially, it doubted that it had made the mistake in the first place. It later compensated the couple by issuing them a free round-trip (Source: Los Angeles Times).
  • Birmingham, AL, USA (BHM) instead of Birmingham, UK (BHX): Okay, this is not a case of passengers landing at the wrong airport… but trying to leave from the wrong one. Early in 2014, a British couple booked from “Birmingham” to Trinidad on American Airlines. When they tried to check in, they were told that their flight was leaving out of the United States, over 4,000 miles away. The couple drove back home and vacationed in Spain instead (Source: The Daily Mail).

And here are some other potential mix-ups to watch out for (in alphabetical order):

  • Barcelona, Spain (BCN) and Barcelona, Venezuela (BLA)
  • Charleston, SC, USA (CHS) and Charleston, WV, USA (CRW)
  • La Paz, Bolivia (LPB) and La Paz, Mexico (LAP)
  • London, UK (LGW/LHR/etc.) and London, ON, Canada (YXU)
  • Manchester, UK (MAN) and Manchester, NH, USA (MHT)
  • Melbourne, Australia (MEL) and Melbourne, FL, USA (MLB)
  • Monterrey, Mexico (MTY) and Monterey, CA, USA (MRY)
  • Panama City, Panama (PTY) and Panama City, FL, USA (ECP)
  • St. John’s, NL, Canada (YYT) and Saint John, NB, Canada (YSJ)
  • St. Petersburg, FL, USA (PIE/TPA) and St. Petersburg, Russia (LED)
  • Santiago, Chile (SCL), Santiago, Cuba (SCU), Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic (STI) and Santiago de Compostela, Spain (SCQ)

All of these airports are listed on’s Airport Codes list.

Any other potential mix-ups you can think of?

UPDATE (March 27, 2014): Sadly, after publishing this post, I found out that World Airways had ceased operations. Incidentally, World Airways was famous in 1977 for yet another airport confusion episode, when a West German tourist named Erwin Kreuz deplaned during a refueling stop in Bangor thinking he was already in San Francisco. For more on this, you’re invited to read the Wikipedia entry on Erwin Kreuz.


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