FIRST traveling nightmares

This discussions is for horror stories when traveling to/from regionals or Championships.

I’ll start

Sherman set the Way-Back machine to March of 2001.
Our rookie year. Very first regional at Grand Rapids, MI (WMR). We decide to save money on a hotel by leaving for Michigan early Thursday morning. Early, as in 0400 :ahh: We were running early, so we decided to stop at a Stake and Shake for breakfast. We had 20+ students and about 7 mentors. Our first clue for disaster was that they had only on cook and one waitress. It took about 3 hours for everyone to get their breakfast :ahh: and some didn’t get all they ordered. When the bills came, they were for each INDIVIDUAL item ordered so you had to mix and match to get the right bills. Needless to say, we got to WMR very late and we were trying to catch up all day Thursday. It did have a happy ending though. We got rookie All-Star and came in second in the finals.

August 2005. Washington-Dulles International Airport. The 2005 Capital Clash has ended, and I’m on my way back to Columbia. The event went through to Sunday, so driving to DC was out of the question–hence I’m flying Independence Air. Or at least I should be flying Independence, except the crew that’s supposed to take us to Colatown isn’t in Dulles. Their flight there was delayed, so we were delayed about two hours. This isn’t a problem, except that my ride from the airport back to USC had to bail on me due to the hour. Thankfully, my mother bailed me out of that one.

March 2006. Pendleton High School, Anderson, SC. Thanks to some connections, I succeeded in getting a lift to the Florida Regional with 845 (for which I’m still grateful). I had to get up at dark-thirty to make the two-hour drive north to Anderson, but get there in one piece to catch up with Ms. O (who’s now doing FVC as I recall). Everyone loads up the bus, and then we wait. And wait. And wait. Turns out the team trailer has a problem, which pushes back the departure time for about two hours. Fortunately, the bus had plenty of room to stretch out and plenty of movies, so it wasn’t so bad. (And it was certainly better than driving it myself.)

October 2006. San Francisco International Airport. I was on my way back from Cal Games, waiting for the red-eye flight. My flight out to SFO had been bumped over to US Airways from Delta, due to weather problems where I was connecting. That flight was mah-velous…but now I’m back on plain ol’ Delta. With a jet that I think was the one I flew back from the west coast on the last time I flew Delta. The problem is that the legroom that was plenty adequate when I was 5 years old was not quite as adequate for a 20-year-old, especially one with a bookbag underneath the seat in front. Combine that with a pretty lousy snack pack (US Airways charged $5 for their sandwich, but at least it was edible!), and a movie of The Lake House, and it was a rough night for yours truly.

If this is the worst I can come up with, I guess I’m doing pretty well.

The 2007 Championship was the first 857 has gone to since it was in Houston (so … first in four years?) Most of the kids on the team have never been on a plane before, let alone so far away from home, so there were some jitters. There are four mentors and 12 students on the flight. We leave from Houghton and land in Minneapolis - after a lot of turbulence - wait an hour, then catch our flight to Atlanta. The cool thing was, there was another FIRST team on our flight!

We land at 7:30 and both teams and the other two passengers find the baggage claim. We watch as the other team grabs their luggage. The conveyor goes around, and around, and around … and ours isn’t there. Not one single piece of luggage from our team came through. We noticed the other two gentlemen who were on our flight standing there and asked them if they had a connecting flight in Minneapolis – they did.

So we talk to the airport, they tell us “uhh … your stuff just … didn’t come in … it’s bound for Atlanta, so it’ll show up sooner or later … probably.” Okay, fine. One of our mentors spots a bright red bag that looks just like hers sitting in the United Airlines office. She asks the woman sitting there if she can check the tag and the woman assures her it isn’t her luggage, since we flew Northwest. She won’t let her touch the bag, and shoos us away. The airport says they’ll call when it comes in, so we head to the Hilton and decide to check in. Mind you, it’s about 10:30 pm at this point.

The check in desk is super crowded when we get there. Turns out they overbooked the hotel (oops) and displaced a team or two. Ours wasn’t one of them, but when we got there, they only had two of our five rooms ready! We had a crew drive down with our tools and stuff who couldn’t check in until we got there, so they had been waiting for 4-5 hours for us to show up. We gave them one of the ready rooms, and waited.

In the end, all 5 rooms were ready by midnight, we got our luggage at 6 am on Thursday (except one piece – the one with all the scouting sheets, of course – which didn’t come in until Thursday evening) and it turned out to be a good trip!

The funny thing is … our luggage came in when we did, just on the wrong plane. The red bag sitting in the united office? Yep, that was ours, and the rest of our luggage was with it. The red bag was also the scouting bag – the last of ours to show up. :rolleyes:

steps back from soapbox

Hey Schuffman!! How was 93’s trip to Atlanta this year? Or IRI 2004? :slight_smile:

I can’t say we have ever had a complete disaster while traveling. We’ve encountered bad weather, but nothing to delay us before. I’m sure that will change when we charter a bus for ATL next year.

This year, on the way back from Atlanta, about half of team 694 (including me!) was stuck behind a freak nor’easter that happened to be right in between Atlanta and New York :mad:. We spent about ten hours in the airport, and finally got the very last plane out of Atlanta to the New York area, that is, we were on a plane until 10 pm, and then on a bus until 11:30. At least we didn’t have to carry our luggage through the torrential downpours – it was lost in the process. Most of us got home after midnight, despite our original plan to be back in NYC by 10 AM. It was lovely.

St. Louis, 2002 (or 2003).

We charted a bus, of course. It was a very nice ride down until we get into St. Louis metro. BOOM! Our bus gets hit by some old lady trying to SWITCH LANES! Smacked us right in the side. How could someone not see a giant bus next to them?

We did still make it everywhere on time and we got to see the Arch (yawn).

off topic:
A couple of days ago, I watched a runner run smack into a car. We were at a light that had just turned green, bumper to bumper rush hour. This runner starts across and plows right into a car then sort of rolls off as the car is moving and just keeps running. I was the car behind this little runner hits car scenario.

It was very strange.

  1. 555 is a New Jersey team, and we decided to go to the Arizona Regional.

With the timing of our flight, we were set to get on a bus from the school to the airport about an hour or so after the end of school. Perfect, you go to school, then make a short trip home to get your luggage, and then you’re on your way. The problem was that, half way through the morning it started to snow. A lot. By the time school got out, the roads were not easy to drive on at all. I had to get a ride from my neighbor with the 4 wheel drive SUV to get back to the school to catch the bus.

We finally all got to the bus to the airport, and its ok. The problem was that the teacher who was our head mentor, who was basically was the one with all the trip information, decided that he wanted to drive his own car to the airport.(Fine, lets just all get to the airport.) So it’s all the ~15 students, and one other mentor in the bus, and our head mentor following behind in his car.

Here is another issue. For those of you who live in the general NYC area, you know that there are 3 local major aiports: Newark, Laguardia, and JFK. Newark is by far closest to us, and JFK is the farthest. Ponder a guess to which airport we were flying out of… (Hint: It’s JFK). Anyway, this bus driver didn’t seem to know exactly where he was going. He assures us he did, but it took a really long time, it’s snowing really badly, and I didn’t really believe him. Plus, we all thought we were going to die in the bus, because the roads were really slippery.
The main issue was that, half way through this eternal bus trip from the airport, we got a call from someone’s mother that she checked, and our flights had been cancelled because of the snow. (Great.) We attempt to call our head mentor, who once again wasn’t in the bus. Of course, his cell phone doesn’t work. We had a problem, because we could have either turned around and gone back home, and gotten a flight for the next morning, or we could have tried to go to the airport and book a flight for that evening. The bus driver informed us that if we did go to the airport he was going to leave right away, and was not waiting around for us… so if we didn’t get a flight, we would have been stranded at the airport for a long time. It doesn’t matter though, because the mentor who needed to be making that decision was not on the bus and was not picking up his cell phone. We continued making our way to the airport.
So, we had one of the parents trying to book us on flights to at least get us to the west coast, while we were trying to write signs to put up in the bus back window saying “CALL US”, hoping our mentor would see. So, we were trying to make things organized, and have our other mentor try to figure out what we’re going to do. The funny part was that he kept saying “Have Liz [me] do it”. But he was the adult!

Anyway, right when we get to the airport, we look, and our mentor’s car is nowhere to be found. I guess he had gone to park, but we didn’t know where he was. So we get to the terminal, and one of the parents had found that there was a flight to Las Vegas leaving shortly with enough empty seats on it. We were trying to get booked on that flight, but our mentor STILL wasn’t at the airport terminal, and we STILL didn’t know where he was, and he STILL wasn’t picking up his cell phone, and we didn’t even know if he knew that our flight had been cancelled. So, finally he got there, and he was in a good mood joking around. Everyone else was pretty upset… and after a few choice words regarding how we all should have been in the same vehicle, and how a new cell phone should be purchased, and how a certain student should not be the one who has to be in charge of booking flights, and keeping everything organized… we finally get booked on a flight to Las Vegas, which a short jump from Vegas to Phoenix.

In Phoenix though, our luggage was nowhere to be found. We went to the hotel, and were told our luggage would be delivered to the hotel when it came in. So, we waited… and waited, and about 1/4 of the luggage came in. Not my stuff, which is a problem, because I was carrying all of the team shirts (because I did all the iron ons myself), and I was the only girl on the trip… meaning, I’m probably not going to be able to borrow anyones clothes if it comes down to that. The other problem was that we had a kid who had a medical problem, and he had neglected to pack his medicine in his carry-on (which you should always do!), so he was worried about that, and wasn’t feeling well, and everyone was tired and gross and had no changes of clothes. Finally at around 2 in the morning we got the rest of our luggage. Yay! I did lose one of my bags though in the end, the one with the food I had brought for the team to snack on. Worst travel experience ever. We did end up winning the regional though.

I think it was in 2004, but for some reason people on the team put digital cameras and a laptop (someone’s personal laptop) in the checked luggage, and needless to say they got stolen. They airlines said they wouldn’t do anything about it.

Other then that it has been the usual getting to the airport like 6 hours before and being bored for a long time.

I wonder where all the lost luggage goes…ebay…?


Team 111, Wildstang has bused it to Atlanta for the last four years with no real problems. It’s about a 12 hour ride with stops for meals and different driver. This year we shaved a little time off the departing time by meeting at Motorola only and not at the school to pickup students. We leave northwest suburbs of Chicago at 4:30 in snow and limited visibility with students and some mentors. Remaining mentors have decided to fly leaving mid to late morning and arriving in the afternoon. Somewhere between Merrilville and Indianapolis the bus breaks down and can’t go faster than 20 MPH so we call for another bus. When that bus arrives 1.5 hours later, we move all the tools and luggage in the rain and get on the road again. South of Indy we get caught in some heavy traffic and a truck driver points out that there are several belts hanging out of the back of the bus. The driver continues to drive for another 30 minutes or so to meet the next driver and hopefully some spare belts. In the meantime, one of the belts feeds the alternator so the battery is dead when we pull in for lunch and driver. A couple of hours later, the belts have been put back on and the battery is charged by a truck service vehicle. (a story for another time). We get on the road at almost 3 when we should be in Chattanooga. This time things go OK, we drive out of the rain and get to Atlanta about midnight. In the mean time, those flying are stuck in the major snow storm and only make it to town a few hours before the bus.

This isn’t really a ‘traveling’ nightmare, perse, since we were only traveling about 20 miles from our lab to the San Jose regional, but it was still a nightmare nonetheless.

We had packed all our tools and supplies for SVR this year the afternoon before the event. Normally all our stuff goes in my SUV and I drive it to the event. Due to various circumstances, our tool crate had to be driven to the event this year, so we needed a truck. We had planned out months in advance that we’d borrow a truck from the motor pool here at NASA to load all our stuff into, and we’d drive it over on Thursday morning.

Murphy had other ideas, however, and we forgot to get the keys to the truck from the motor pool before they closed on Wednesday afternoon. So we decide to come in at 6 AM when the motor pool opens, get the keys, load the truck, and get on the road.

So Thursday morning myself, another mentor, and our boss show up to load all our stuff. For background, we have a few different obstacles inside our building when it comes to moving things out. One is that the most convenient area for loading (a large roll-up door at the back of the building) has a 3 foot wide chokepoint leading up to it, preventing palletjack/tool crate from making it’s way through. Two is that our only other door larger than a standard doorway is the entire front wall of the building. It’s motorized and the entire wall slides open. Sounds great, except for the fact that the motor is broken and it takes at least 4 people to push it open without giving yourself a hernia.

So we plan on using the overhead crane in our building to lift the crate over the chokepoint and to the roll up door. Then we discover our slings aren’t nearly long enough.

So the last resort is to tear down a bunch of office partitions that were in place to separate our workspace, and take the crate out the rolling front wall.

Myself and the other mentor open the wall far enough to get all our stuff out, load it in the truck, and get ready to close the door so we can leave. It’s already way later than we had planned on leaving, and we both need to be at the venue in 20 minutes for early uncrating. It takes at least 30 min to get there in traffic.

So we start to close the door, which probably weighs at least a few tons (40’ tall door x60’ long). It moves about two feet, and then gets completely stuck. We back it as far as we can and get a running start with it, as we figured someone dropped some screws in the track or something, and we’ll use inertia to get over them, and it slams to a stop again.

To make a long story short, there’s a large air vent the size of a standard door that has a sheetmetal cover that opens to let the air in the building. For some reason we had left the cover open, and not closed, so when we pushed the door closed, the sheetmetal cover folded itself almost 180* back over itself when it tried to pass through a 8" gap between a support beam and the front wall.

When the doors open, they move into the room adjacent to them in the building, so the site of this disaster was located next door, in the room we can’t get into. Once we finally round someone up to let us in, we discover this sheetmetal cover does not have standard hinges that you can punch the pins out of. Nor are the hinges bolted to the cover. They’re welded. At this point we’re 30 minutes past when we were supposed to be at the event, and we sort of have to close the front wall of our lab, so the only choice is to get the air grinder and cut the cover off the hinges, which takes another good 20 minutes.

Finally we get the darn thing off the wall, nearly throw our backs out closing the door (which as mentioned before, normally requires 4 or more people) with just the two of us, and make it to the event nearly two hours late.

Luckily everyone else who knew what needed to be done at the event showed up ontime, or else it would have been a major disaster. Turned out to be sort of an omen of how things would go the rest of the weekend too :wink:

For me, showing up at GTR in 06 to find out our robot was still in California and didn’t make it past customs wins for my biggest traveling nightmare. lol

Made quite a big curve in our schedules, but we came out of it okay thanks to very gracious teams.
(thanks again to all the teams that helped out in GTR that year!)