A Dutch student wound up in the wrong Sydney this week. He wanted to fly to Australia before starting college, and the flight to Sydney on Cape Breton Island’s East Coast in Nova Scotia was US$225 cheaper so that seemed a great way to get there.
The teen was planning on spending some time in Australia before starting college — backpacking along the lush coastal landscapes, and maybe working a little.
But instead of heading straight to the beach, as he had planned, he found himself in near-blizzard conditions.
He arrived in Canada on Thursday and Air Canada sent him home to the Netherlands, sadly they didn’t help him get to Australia (he’d have had to come out of pocket US$1600).
Passenger ferry in Sydney, Nova Scotia, copyright: simplyzel / 123RF Stock Photo
This happens more frequently than you’d think, and has even made the news when it’s happened to Dutch passengers before. The dead giveaway is always boarding the Embraer E-175 in Toronto.
Schipper told CBC he knew something was amiss when he had a layover in Toronto, and his connecting flight was in a small Air Canada plane.
“The plane was really small and so I figured, would that make it to Australia?” He boarded it anyway. Then he saw the map on the screen on the seat in front of him.
“I saw the flight plan was going to go right, not left. It was about the time that I realised there was another Sydney,” he told the broadcaster.
Embraer E-175s Serve Sydney, Nova Scotia
At least he can take consolation in not being the first to make this mistake, here’s just a small sample of those who came before:
- In 2010 an Italian couple wound up in Canada instead of Australia on a ticket issued by their travel agent.
The couple’s travel agency in Italy is correcting the booking error, and the couple hopes to be on their way to Australia soon.
In the meantime, they are being treated to a warm welcome in the city of about 23,000 on Cape Breton island. A local restaurant is providing a lobster dinner, and the couple will stay at the Day’s Inn for free.
- In 2009 a grandfather and grandson also booked travel through an agency and wound up in the wrong hemisphere. Air Canada returned them home to Amsterdam.
- In 2008 it happened to Argentinians and they decided to stay in Canada for their trip.
- In 2002 a British couple spent several days in Sydney, Nova Scotia by mistake but made the best of it.
When I see these sorts of stories, my first instinct is to lament the shift from travel agents to online booking sites. You type in ‘Sydney’ and don’t realize there’s more than one. The sites are largely ‘dumb’ and innovation in the space has stagnated more than I ever would have expected. From the time that Google bought Frommer’s (before selling it back), it seemed like the perfect opportunity to marry travel advice, data, and mass customization to offer real advice to travelers that was lost in the shift away from human booking of air. That hasn’t materialized thus far.
Yet some of the mistaken bookings were made by travel agents and that’s a reminder both of human fallibility and that there’s huge variance in the quality of travel agents. While customers lose great advice about which connections are advisable, or which flight experience best matches what a passenger is looking for, in booking on the web rather than with a person not every agent was actually any good at doing that in the first place.
(HT: René S.)