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How I managed to miss seven flights

man travelling with anxious face, with caption 'what you can learn from my stupidity', and picture of planes

Avoiding stupid mistakes is a good way of being a little happier. I’ve managed to miss seven flights in my life, through various forms of stupidity. Here’s what you can learn from it.

One of the ways you can be a little happier is to avoid being a total f***tard. It might also save you some money.

As someone who has made repeated f***tard mistakes over the course of my life, I’m arguably the best – or the worst – person to suggest how to avoid them.

My examples are all about flights. For some reason they seem to be my downfall. But there are things you can apply from these cases to other areas of life.

At the very least, I hope the story of my mishaps brings a smile 😂

(1) Frankfurt > London, or how to miss a flight despite checking in four hours before departure

The dumbest mistake was also my first. After travelling for three months in Central America, I was heading back to the UK from Panama City.

I was travelling via Frankfurt, which is what caused the problem.

My then girlfriend was German, so she was getting the train from Frankfurt to Dusseldorf, where she lived. I was getting a flight from Frankfurt to London.

After spending three months together, we weren’t going to see each other for a while. And our flight from Panama arrived in Frankfurt four hours before my flight to the UK, so we decided spend the last couple of hours together. I checked my bag, and we went to get a coffee.

Before I knew it, three hours had passed and I had to go to the gate. We said our goodbyes and I headed to security.

The problem was, one of the security gates that was open three hours earlier had closed. I went to the second security checkpoint, which was now doubly busy.

No problems – I still had 50 minutes.

I dutifully took my place in line, not thinking there was a problem. 10 minutes passed. ‘No problems’, I thought – there’s still time. But I’d better see if I can move up the queue.

When politeness should go out the window

The problem was I’m British.

I was too polite to just rush past people offering them a quick apology. I asked nicely in advance before thanking them and moving forward. One person at a time.

By the time I got through security, I had 25 minutes before the plane was due to go.

Sadly, Frankfurt airport is pretty big.

I started legging it to the gate, and made it with 19 minutes to spare. Or so I thought.

I could see the plane in front of me. There was still a flight attendant at the gate. But was she letting me onto the plane? Was she f***.

The ticket said the gate closed 20 minute before departure. And in Germany, that meant it closed 20 minutes before departure.

I had to get the train to Dusseldorf, and ended up driving all the way to the UK.

What’s the lesson here? My own black swan.

Obviously I could have got to security earlier, and I should have been more forceful getting to the front of the queue. Part of my problem was politeness.

But the underlying reason was I didn’t think I’d actually miss the plane. I’d taken tonnes of flights, and rarely known boarding to actually start and finish when it was supposed to.

I’d thought about how likely the problem was to happen (low), but not about the size of the problem (big).

So the lesson is: when thinking about risk, consider the magnitude of the risk, not just the likelihood.

I also should have done this:

Season 3 Comedy GIF by Broad City - Find & Share on GIPHY

(2) Leeds Bradford > Dusseldorf and (6) London > Amsterdam

On both these occasions, I forgot my passport.

The first time I got as far as the car park of Leeds Bradford airport, after getting a lift from a kind friend. I didn’t get a lift when I went again the next day.

The second time I got up at 4am, took a hideously-expensive Uber to get to the airport, swaggered up to the gate with 90 minutes to spare…only to get turned back and have to do the ‘walk of shame’ back through security. I had to call my boss to tell him I was going to miss our important meeting 😬

How to not forget your passport

Not everyone’s stupid enough to forget their passport. But we all make mistakes in different areas. For repeated processes where you want to avoid forgetting things, it pays to use a checklist 📝

When you’re tired, stressed, or in a rush, mistakes are more likely. Your memory might let you down. But computer memories don’t fail. So have a list on your phone of the things you need to check before you go on a trip.

I’ve experimented with various travel checklists, and found that a short one with the absolute essentials is best. If you make it long, chances are you skim through it without paying proper attention.

(3) London > Dusseldorf and (5) Edinburgh > London

These missed departures were of the ‘out the night before, didn’t wake up in time’ variety. Alcohol was undeniably a factor.

The first time, I was supposed to be going to see my then-girlfriend. I called her from my bed, by which time she was already on her way to pick me up at the other end. Unimpressed doesn’t begin to cover it.

The second time, I was heading back from a trip to see friends in Edinburgh. Instead of getting a 90-minute flight, I ended up on a 10h Megabus. I’m generally a big fan of the bus, but that was no barrel of laughs.

What should I have done differently?

There are two lessons here.

The first is to recognise how pathetic your future hungover self will be. It’s hard enough to get up early at the best of times. But if you’ve been out drinking till 3am and your alarm goes off at 6, you’re going to hit snooze. Set a million alarms, ideally on multiple different devices, and don’t put them within arm’s reach.

Where possible, it’s also best to not back yourself to get up early after a night out. Assuming it doesn’t cost that much more, just book a later flight.

The second lesson is to plan ahead. Set those alarms before you go out, and (ideally) make a plan to stop drinking by a certain time. If you can’t do that, then maybe don’t go out (depending how important the night out is, relative to the flight!).

(4) Faro > London, or why you shouldn’t trust your calendar when it comes to time zones

This one’s niche.

I was visiting my brother in Seville, Spain. It’s not too far from Faro, which is across the border in Portugal. Flights to Faro were cheaper, and my brother offered to pick me up, so I booked that.

The thing is, there’s a 1h time difference between Spain and Portugal.

The time zones should have worked in my favour. The problem was I didn’t know how my calendar worked.

The appointment had automatically synced to my calendar when I was in Spain. The departure time was 1300 in Spanish time. But I thought it was showing me the departure time in local time. So I aimed to get to the airport in time for a 1300 flight.

I only had hand luggage, so planned to get there at 1145. Sadly, the flight was at 1200.

You can sometimes get to the airport pretty late if you only have hand luggage, but 15 minutes before departure is taking the p***. I had to pay for a new ticket.

Always check the time on the ticket

I might have got away with this error if I’d just got to the airport sooner. But that isn’t really the lesson. If I’d been travelling east rather than west, that wouldn’t have saved me!

The lesson is that when you’re planning a trip to the airport, the time of your flight is the time on the ticket, in that airport’s local time.

Don’t rely on what you think your calendar’s telling you.

(7) London > Brussels, or always get the earlier train

The final flight I missed was from Brussels to London. I was supposed to get a train from Bolton to Manchester, then another from Manchester to London, then a tube from London to the airport, then the flight.

In other words, there were lots of bits of the journey that could go wrong.

The first leg was fine, but then I decided to spend a little time in Manchester having lunch with a friend (I clearly hadn’t learnt all the lessons from (1) by this point).

I took a train an hour later than the one I originally planned. But no problems – the next train to London should have got me there in plenty of time for the flight.

Sadly, that train was delayed. I had an hour cushion in my travel plans, but I didn’t have two.

To cut a long story short, I didn’t make the flight.

Sprint there, then rest

The lesson here reminds me of one from playing football.

If you’re running for a loose ball, you don’t just casually jog there, even if you’re the closest to it by some distance. You sprint there, then rest when you get the ball. That way you have more space and time.

Similarly, if you’ve got some padding in your travel schedule, you want to use that as far down the line as you can. Especially if there are lots of connections to make.

Spending a lot of time in airports isn’t usually fun. But it’s not the worst thing. So sprint there, then rest.

Lessons to take away from my stupidity

  • When thinking about risk, think about the magnitude, as well as just the likelihood of the outcome. That applies just as much to small personal events as it does to global financial collapse.
  • Use checklists to remember things that come up regularly. Don’t rely on your brain.
  • If you’re taking a flight, check the time on the ticket, rather than the time in your calendar.
  • If you’ve got somewhere to be, get there as quickly as possible, and rest there (within reason).

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