Wrong Airport Code Sends Passengers 6900 Miles Off Course

Whoops:

Sandy Valdivieso and her husband intended to fly from Los Angeles to Dakar, Senegal. They ended up almost 7,000 miles off-course in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

How something this bizarre could happen illustrates how a single mix-up on an airline’s part can cascade into a travel nightmare of epic proportions.

(…)

Valdivieso and her husband, Santa Monica martial arts instructor Triet Vo, 39, were heading to Africa because a former colleague of Valdivieso’s had invited them to visit him in Senegal.

At the heart of the problem was a simple three-letter airport code, such as LAX for Los Angeles International Airport or SFO for San Francisco International Airport.

The code for the airport in Dakar, capital of Senegal, is DKR. The code for the airport in Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh, is DAC.

For the geographically challenged, Dakar is the westernmost city on the African mainland. Dhaka is about 6,900 miles away in South Asia. They are on different continents.

When Valdivieso booked their December flight from Los Angeles to Dakar, via Istanbul, the $2,700 tickets issued by Turkish Airlines showed the itinerary as LAX-IST and then IST-DAC. The baggage-claim receipts showed their luggage was similarly bound for DAC.

Valdivieso and her husband are experienced travelers, but neither had ever been to Senegal or Bangladesh. They had no idea that DAC was for Dhaka, not Dakar.

The first leg of the journey went smoothly. The couple arrived in Istanbul jet-lagged but none the worse for wear. They had about four hours to kill at the Turkish airport. Then they boarded the flight for the second leg of the trip.

It’s fair at this point to wonder why they were unable to spot that they were getting on the wrong plane. Valdivieso said that, in hindsight, they probably should have done more to make sure all was well.

“I guess we were just going by the flight number on our tickets, and that DAC was printed on them,” she said. “You just assume that everything is correct.”

Even after they’d settled into their seats — 33A and 33B in economy class — they had no idea anything was amiss.

“When the flight attendant said we were heading to Dhaka, we believed that this was how you pronounced ‘Dakar’ with a Turkish accent,” Valdivieso said.

The couple quickly fell asleep. It wasn’t until several hours later that they woke up and noticed the travel map on the overhead video screen showing the location of the plane. They were over the Middle East.

It was only then that Valdivieso and her husband looked around and realized that the plane was full of people who looked Asian, not African.

From the article, it appears that the Valdivieso’s booked their travel over the phone, and that it was the airline’s agent who mistakenly put in the code for Dhaka rather than Dakar. Indeed, once they realized the error, Turkish Airlines flew the couple back to Istanbul and then on another flight to Dakar without any additional cost to them, other than, of course, inconvenience and the fact that it took two more days for their luggage to catch up with them. Now, they are trying to get the airline to compensate them further for the error and getting nowhere. At the very least, I guess this means we need to check our airport codes more often.

H/T: Ann Althouse

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Quick Takes
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    I confess to being one of those who always checks the destination with the flight attendant before I hand her or him my ticket–although I put it in such a fashion so as not to look totally idiotic, i.e., “How long is this flight to Minneapolis/Nashville/San Diego/Boston/Edinburgh/Whatever?”

    Works every time.

  2. gVOR08 says:

    Some years ago I flew to Grand Forks, GFK.My luggage went to Great Falls, GTF. Now I check tags.

  3. David Johnston says:

    Living in Portland, Oregon I have on two occasions had to correct the attempt by the airline staff to send me to Portland, Maine.

    Always be vigilant. Never trust anyone else to arrange your travel. They are far, far less invested than you are in the correctness of the booking.

  4. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Now, they are trying to get the airline to compensate them further for the error and getting nowhere.

    The mistake wasn’t the airline’s, it was theirs and their agent’s. The airline already went above and beyond in helping them out; they don’t owe them anything more.

    This is all too common. “I screwed up, but someone else is going to pay for not catching my screwup!”

  5. DC Loser says:

    Years ago when I was living in Belgium, some American colleagues (who didn’t speak French or Flemish) wanted to buy train tickets in Brussels to take them to their home in Dinant. Problem was they prononced Dinant in a way which sounded like the Flemish/Dutch name of Den Haag (The Hague). When they were on board their train to Dinant, the conductor told them they were on the wrong train to The Hague. At least they were on the ‘right’ train.

  6. John Burgess says:

    Never had a flight screw up, but State Dept would often mis-tag diplomatic pouches (which also carried FSO’s mail) so that instead of going to Bahrain, say, the pouch would end up in Bahamas. The two-weeks routing of mail turned into six-weeks. While this was usually just an annoyance, it could prove anxiety-inducing when important tax papers or contracts were somewhere in the Twilight Zone.

    But hey… State Dept in Washington can’t even keep time zones straight! If somebody’s at his desk at 8:00AM in DC, then why shouldn’t I be at my desk eight or ten time zones away?

  7. James Young says:

    Yeah. I was going to San Francisco out of Dulles once, but for some reason, the bag tag said Poughkeepsie. Glad I checked it then, and I have religiously ever since.

    Except for that time, returning from Anchorage with my family, when my mother’s bag was erroneously tagged, and we didn’t see it for a year.

    It went to Kuwait City.