If you’re a planner, chances are you’ve thought about nearly every worst-case scenario or uncomfortable situation you might find yourself in while traveling. Stranded on a cruise ship, stuck on a roller coaster, delayed on a flight, unexpected illness — anything can happen when you’re thousands of miles from home.
But for some travelers, these types of nightmare situations aren't just fears — they're memories.
From being attacked by real pirates on a luxury cruise ship, to sitting next to a smelly pot-bellied pig on a plane, here are 15 of the worst and wildest (non-fatal) travel calamities to ever happen.
"Poop cruise," anyone?
Snake on a Plane
Travelers aboard an Aeromexico flight in November 2016 might have felt like extras in the movie “Snakes on a Plane” when a real live snake dropped down into the cabin. The plane was traveling from Torreon, Mexico, to Mexico City when a snake began slithering out from an overhead luggage compartment. Once the snake, which was reportedly a venomous green viper, dropped down into the cabin, the plane was given top priority at the Mexico City airport and made a quick landing.
In viral social media posts showing the snake, passengers don’t seem overly concerned. Still, we have to imagine the experience was unnerving, if not a little horrifying.
Crew members were fortunately able to grab the snake from the plane once it landed in Mexico City. It’s still not entirely clear how it ended up there in the first place.
Engine Cover Explosion
United Airlines Flight 1175 was on its way from San Francisco to Honolulu in February 2018 when suddenly, passengers heard something alarming: a loud bang followed by a high-pitched whine. The plane then started to shake violently.
Turns out, the outer casing on one of the plane’s engines had ripped off, sending shards of metal debris everywhere as the airplane flew over the Pacific Ocean. The plane was forced to make an emergency landing; luckily, all 363 passengers and 10 crew members were unharmed by the incident.
Passengers kept their cool during the ordeal, taking photos and videos that later went viral on social media.
The ‘Poop Cruise’
Sometimes, a travel mishap is so bad that it warrants its own nickname. Let’s not forget the “poop cruise,” a now infamous 2013 journey aboard the Carnival Triumph.
Three days into a cruise from Galveston, Texas, to Mexico, a fire broke out aboard the ship, causing it to become stranded at sea for four excruciating days. While the 4,200 passengers and crew waited to be rescued, things got bad — really bad.
Toilets stopped working and began overflowing, sending waste out into the halls. Some passengers reported using plastic bags instead of toilets. As you can imagine, the odor was overwhelming. Plus, passengers reported water shortages and long lines for food.
The ship was eventually towed to Mobile, Alabama, but Carnival's woes were far from over: 31 passengers would go on to file a lawsuit against the cruise line, alleging that the company was liable for the dismal incident. One 74-year-old grandmother suffering from Parkinson's disease said in her testimony, "I did not get physically injured. I got mentally injured."
A judge ultimately decided that Carnival did not have to pay punitive damages to the plaintiffs, but the cruise line has yet to fully live down this unfortunately named disaster.
37 Hours Stuck on a Train
Traveling by train can be a wonderful way to see the sights — but only when everything goes according to plan.
For 183 passengers on board an Amtrak Coast Starlight train in late February 2019, what was supposed to be an easy and relaxing trip quickly turned into a nightmare when the train ran into a tree that had fallen onto the tracks.
Passengers were initially told they'd be delayed for just a couple hours. Instead, the train was stuck outside of Oakridge, Oregon, for more than 37 hours. Making terrible matters worse, train employees decided not to let passengers off the train because of heavy snow and local power outages.
Not surprisingly, disgruntled passengers quickly took to Twitter. “We have accepted our new life on the train,” posted one Twitter user, @Tracy27. “Tribes are forming.”
Eventually, an engine was able to tow the train back in the direction it came from — meaning the passengers still had to find another way to reach their final destinations.
When Pigs Fly
Emotional support animals have grown in popularity in recent years. But where should airlines draw the line? Passengers made their opinions very clear in November 2014 when a woman brought a 70-pound pot-bellied pig on a US Airways flight.
The pig, which the woman said was an emotional support animal, reportedly became disruptive before takeoff and began pacing back and forth in the aisle. Passengers were also uncomfortable with the pig's, shall we say, strong smell. Oh, and he also howled loudly and pooped.
Though they initially thought the pig was a duffel bag, they later realized what it actually was.
Passenger Jason Skolnik told the "Hartford Courant" that he thought to himself, "Oh my Lord, where is she going to put that animal? I am burying my face in my sweater to hide from the stench."
Another passenger told CNN, "Everybody was trying to surmise what it could be, because no one thought it was a pig. Other than a Fellini movie, where would you see a person with a pig?"
Crew members eventually asked the woman and her pig to leave the plane before it departed.
Tilting Cruise Ship
Passengers aboard the "Norwegian Escape" ship were in for a wild ride in early March 2019 when 115-mile-per-hour winds hit the ship. The force, which is equivalent to the winds in a Category 3 hurricane, caused the ship to tilt and sway, prompting bottles and furniture to crash to the floor.
There was no damage to the ship, though several people were treated by the ship’s medical staff on board. Ambulances also met the cruise liner at Port Canaveral, Florida. Videos and photos of the insane incident quickly went viral online.
"I remember thinking about how calm it was for sailing out of New York in March and suddenly we got hit by a large gust of wind and the whole ship kind of just tilted to the side for about 30 seconds," said passenger Aaron Black in a video from the ship. "Suddenly everything around me was starting to move."
Though you can prepare for lots of potentially bad scenarios while traveling, here’s one you likely couldn’t predict: your airline going out of business before your flight. But that’s exactly what happened to passengers of budget airline Zoom, which suddenly closed up shop in August 2008.
Thousands of travelers were stuck in Britain and Canada, and another 40,000 people had already paid for upcoming flights with the airline. The first clue that something was wrong was when a flight from Paris was grounded because the airline hadn’t paid its bills. One of the companies leasing airplanes to Zoom seized the plane, which started a chain reaction.
"Clearly, you can't run an airline without aircraft,” said Jonathan Hinkles, UK managing director for Zoom.
Though crews tried to deal with the situation on the fly (pun intended), a smelly deposit in an airplane toilet ultimately forced the pilot to turn the plane around.
The British Airways flight was traveling from London to Dubai when passengers became overwhelmed by a disgusting smell emanating from the plane’s lavatory. The pilot called the senior cabin crew to the front, then later announced that “liquid fecal excrement” was the culprit for the smell. (On Twitter, @CllrAbhiSach was more blunt in his assessment, tweeting, "Our BA flight to Dubai returned back to Heathrow because of a smelly poo in the toilet!")
Just 30 minutes into the seven-hour flight, the pilot turned the plane around and headed back to London. Passengers were given hotel vouchers for the night and put on a flight the next day. Which certainly seems like a better option than spending hours next to a stinky toilet.
Long Roller Coaster Ride
Two dozen people got a little more excitement than they signed up for when their roller coaster got stuck in midair at Six Flags America in Maryland. The 24 people riding the Joker’s Jinx coaster in Prince George’s County were trapped for more than three hours on a Thursday evening in April 2017 after the ride malfunctioned. Riders were reportedly stuck at a 30-degree angle about 80 feet in the air.
Many people on the ride initially assumed the pause was all part of the fun — until the coaster didn’t start moving again. “We thought it was going to start shooting off again,” said 15-year-old Julia Valverde, who spoke to News4. “After a good 30 seconds, the realization hit that no, we were really stuck.”
Firefighters had to remove the passengers one at a time using a hydraulic crane. Despite the scary situation, no one was injured.
A massive winter storm caused flight cancellations and delays up and down the East Coast in March 2018. But for those passengers who were able to get off the ground, it was even more of a rough day.
An early morning flight from Charlottesville to Washington, D.C. battled the high winds caused by the storm to make it to its final destination, but it wasn’t pretty. According to the pilot report for the flight, “Pretty much everyone on the plane threw up. Pilots were on the verge of throwing up."
The same thing occurred on a flight from London that same day. “My entire flight threw up while trying to land in DC because of the Philly weather. Hell on earth,” one passenger tweeted.
Avalanche on the Highway
Skiers and snowboarders are used to heavy traffic on Colorado’s Interstate 70 — the road is notorious for getting backed up on weekends during the winter. But some travelers were stranded for more than six hours on a Sunday in March 2019 after an avalanche covered the busy interstate with snow.
Though plows were able to clear the road of snow within 90 minutes, the closure caused a massive traffic snarl. Incredibly, no one was injured and no cars were buried by the wall of snow that engulfed the road. Several motorists saw the natural avalanche coming and pulled over. Unsurprisingly, their photos and videos quickly went viral.
"All of a sudden, me and my dad just saw a big white cloud to the left of us and we instantly noticed the avalanche," Jacob Easton told FOX31 Denver. Yikes!
Sick at Sea
It’s no secret that contagious illnesses can spread like wildfire on cruise ships; last year alone, there were 11 outbreaks of gastrointestinal illnesses (primarily norovirus) on cruise ships.
Just this year, in 2019, a cruise ship actually had to cut its journey short because so many people got sick — an incredible 592 people in total, or 7 percent of all those on the ship.
Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas started out for a week-long trip to Haiti, Jamaica and Mexico on a Sunday. But just a few days into the journey, passengers started to report having gastrointestinal problems. By Thursday, 277 passengers and crew members were ill — and the number just kept climbing.
While many of those infected stayed in their rooms, others continued to wander the ship — though as the "Orlando Sentinel" put it, they "didn’t skip the line for hand sanitizer at the buffet."
The ship returned to Port Canaveral, Florida, a day early, and everyone got a full refund. As they very much should have.
Attacked at Sea
Though you may enjoy the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie series, being attacked by pirates probably isn’t something you expect to happen during your own cruise vacation. So passengers aboard the Seabourn Spirit in 2005 were understandably alarmed when actual pirates in speedboats opened fire on their ship, pointing rifles and rocket launchers at the cruise liner.
Luckily, there were no fatalities and just one crew member was lightly injured during the incident.
The luxury cruise ship was sailing about 100 miles off the coast of Somalia with 302 passengers and crew members on board. Cleverly, the ship’s staff made loud banging noises on board the ship to convince the gunmen they were returning fire.
Collision at Sea
In March 2012, deep fog caused the "Silver Shadow" luxury cruise ship to collide with a local commercial boat off the coast of Vietnam. Though passengers were knocked to the ground, thankfully no one was seriously injured.
Passengers reported hearing their ship’s foghorn blast several times, which caused them to look out the window. There, they saw the container ship and braced for impact. “And it was as if our ship was perfectly lined up to hit it in the side,” passenger Andrew Lock told CNN. “It was a horrifying moment. And in less than about five seconds after the ship appeared, we did in fact collide right in the side of it."
Stuck at SeaWorld
It’s easy to imagine spending several hours — or even an entire day — exploring SeaWorld. But for 16 unlucky people visiting the San Diego theme park in February 2019, all the attractions and shows were just out of reach. When a strong gust of wind blew through the area around 7 p.m. one night, five gondolas on the Bayside Skyride stopped working, trapping visitors inside for roughly four hours.
All told, there were nine adults and seven children stuck in the gondolas. The San Diego Fire Department had to rescue the stranded tourists using lifeboats and safety harnesses. The mission was successful thanks to careful planning; as the Fire Department Batallion Chief put it, somewhat disturbingly, "Something like this, we want to be slow and methodical. A fall from that distance can be catastrophic."
Though it was a bit chilly that night, there were blankets inside to keep everyone warm while they waited — thank goodness!