Plenty of avid travelers have enough horror stories to fill online forums for weeks. But overbooked hotels and painfully long flight delays pale in comparison to things like sewage-laden cruise ships and off-key singing by a fellow flier. So as the year draws to a close, U.S. News Travel takes a look back at some of the wildest, wackiest and most outrageous travel stories of 2013. Next time you encounter a snafu while traveling, remember, it could always be worse.
An impromptu trip to Las Vegas
Most of us yearn for a hassle-free flying experience, but apparently a 9-year-old boy from the Twin Cities knows the secret to successful travel: Fly solo and without a ticket. That's what the unaccompanied minor did in October when he flew from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport aboard a Delta Air Lines flight. Though the boy eventually made it back to his parents, the incident left many travelers uneasy about holes in airport security measures. Despite having no boarding pass, the 9-year-old was screened by Transportation Security Administration officers. Then, he waited for gate agents to become distracted before strolling down the jet way and onto the plane. Eventually, in-flight crew members grew suspicious when the boy's name was missing from the roster of children traveling alone; the boy had told flight attendants that his parents were in the back of the plane.
Flier allegedly slaps crying baby
The sound of babies crying on airplanes is an irritating (and somewhat unavoidable) aspect of air travel, but most of us manage to disregard the unintentionally disruptive sobs. On a Delta Air Lines flight from Minnesota to Georgia in February, however, Idaho businessman Joe Rickey Handley couldn't seem to tune out the whimpering. Minneapolis mother Jessica Bennett and her 19-month-old son were seated next to Handley on the flight when Bennett's son, Jonah, began crying during the plane's descent, the 60-year-old man allegedly used derogatory language toward the child and slapped him. Another passenger heard noise coming from the rear of the plane, and soon flight attendants separated Bennett and Handley and requested law enforcement upon arrival in Atlanta. In October, Handley pleaded guilty to a federal assault charge from the incident, which Bennett said left her son with a swollen eye. His attorney, Marcia Shein, said in a statement that Handley was distressed at the time; he had just learned his son, who later died, was in a coma from an insulin overdose.
Complaint letter to LIAT Airline
The clever words of disgruntled LIAT Airline passenger Arthur Hicks may not have garnered quite as much media attention as other notable travel stories this year, but this perfectly sarcastic complaint letter deserves recognition. The letter was published in the British Virgin Islands' BVI Beacon newspaper in April after Hicks flew an unexpectedly indirect route to Tortola on the Caribbean airline. "Most other airlines I have travelled on would simply wish to take me from point A to B in rather a hurry," Hicks wrote in the letter. "I was intrigued that we were allowed to stop at not a lowly one or two but a magnificent six airports yesterday," he wrote, jokingly. To make matters worse, the airline lost Hicks' bag. His retort? "P.S. Keep the bag. I never liked it anyway." The full letter, found here, was picked up by Virgin Airlines CEO Sir Richard Branson, who touted it on his blog under the headline "How to Write a Complaint Letter." Branson received a similar letter from an unsatisfied flier in 2009, which went viral for its tongue-in-cheek depiction of the less-than-stellar in-flight food on a Virgin flight from Mumbai to London.
Whitney Houston songstress diverts plane
Whitney Houston's death was tragic for many fans, but some coped better than others. Take the American Airlines passenger, for instance, who forced her plane to make an emergency landing in Kansas City when she refused to stop belting out Houston's "I Will Always Love You." The flight was en route from Los Angeles to New York when the passenger's disruptive behavior interfered with the flight crew's ability to work effectively. After being handcuffed and subdued by a federal air marshal on the flight, the unruly singer was removed from the plane, detained and eventually released citing her diabetes as an explanation for the strange behavior. But she didn't exit quietly. A video posted on YouTube and taken from inside the cabin shows the woman continuing to wail the Houston hit as she's forced off the plane.
[See: 6 Common Travel Setbacks]
The "poop cruise"
In February 2013, more than 3,000 passengers aboard the Carnival Triumph found their luxury vacation dreams dashed as they sat stranded at sea about 150 miles off the coast of Mexico. For five long (and infamously smelly) days, cruisers on the Triumph were forced to endure less-than-comfortable conditions after an engine fire left the ship with no hot water, limited food supplies, few working toilets and broken air-conditioning units. Many on board were forced to sleep outside on the upper decks to avoid sweltering room conditions and pungent odors from unrefrigerated food. But things really took a turn for the putrid when toilets began to overflow and sewage control became a serious problem -- many passengers shared stories on social media of urine and excrement running along interior walls and soaking cabin carpets. (It's those public tales that helped the Triumph ordeal earn its nickname, the "poop cruise.") Originally setting sail for a five-day roundtrip itinerary between Galveston, Texas, and Mexico, the Triumph instead crawled into Mobile, Ala., where buses waited to shuttle relieved travelers to more comfortable accommodations.
Restrained by duct tape
On an Icelandair flight from Reykjavik to New York in January, an unruly passenger was duct-taped to his seat after causing a stir on board. According to passengers and authorities, the man grew aggressive after consuming an excessive amount of liquor, at which point he began spitting on and hitting other passengers. Reports also said that the man was yelling loudly and claiming that the plane was going to crash. Shortly after his outbursts, the 46-year-old man was restrained by passengers and flight attendants using plastic zip ties, and then secured to his seat with duct tape. (Icelandair spokesman Michael Raucheisen later said that it's standard practice to have such materials onboard in case of an unruly passenger.) Upon arrival at John F. Kennedy International Airport, the rambunctious man was brought to the hospital to be treated for intoxication and was eventually released without any charges against him. But the story really gained attention when another passenger's photo of the unruly flier duct-taped to his seat made the Internet rounds.
Lifting of the Costa Concordia
Nearly 20 months after the Costa Concordia ran aground off the coast of Giglio, Italy, in January 2012, engineers successfully lifted the half-sunken, 114,000-ton ship to its upright position. The salvage operation to reposition the massive cruise ship required the help of more than 500 workers and took about 19 apprehensive hours to complete. The wreckage removal effort has been dubbed the Parbuckling Project, named for the complicated and delicate method of turning the ship upright via pulleys and cables. Spearheaded by Costa Crociere and marine wreckage removal company Titan Micoperi, the project is considered the largest salvage operation in history, costing nearly $801 million (€600 million). Most recently, the Concordia has been winterized and rests stably afloat off the Italian coast in what the parbuckling team calls the "refloating" phase. The Concordia is scheduled to be fully removed by the summer of 2014 and will eventually be cut up for scrap.
-- Allison Michaels