Sally Hall: How madcap travel scrape showed kindness of strangers

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It’s an easy mistake to make. Falling asleep on public transport and ending up at a completely random destination, slack-jawed and zonked-out, trying to work out how to get home.

But a nap turned into a nightmare for one American man last week after he dozed off on an airplane journey to Houston, Texas.

Tom Wagner woke up to complete darkness hours after his ExpressJet plane touched down.

All the other passengers were long disembarked, the cleaning team had been and gone, the pilot was in another time zone – and Mr Wagner was locked in.

He rang his girlfriend, who alerted the airline to come to his aid. It was a further half-hour before the hapless traveller was finally rescued, by which time he’d missed his connecting flight to California.

The airline put him up in a hotel and gave him a $250 voucher. In the end, I’d say Mr Wagner didn’t do too badly out of the whole experience. He even got a free toothbrush and toothpaste.

Because it was an airplane rather than a bus or train, Mr Wagner’s doze has led to an international media storm. Let’s call it zzzz-gate.

But there’s no reason why an air-passenger is less likely to mess up than a bus- or train-traveller. (Though a reasonable expectation of detection might have been anticipated in an industry that prides itself on its watertight security measures)

I have made some spectacular errors while travelling by plane. And unlike Mr Wagner, I doubt very much whether the airline would have been handing out free dental products to me.

Once, I was returning from New Zealand via Kuala Lumpur, in Malaysia, when disaster struck. Hobbling about in a great big walking brace after breaking my ankle several weeks previously (in itself a whole other story....), my mobility was severely impaired.

I was also numb with jet-lag and blown away by the enormity of the airport, which could probably have been twinned with a European mini-state.

I knew I had to get a train to the other terminal. But I’d expected a monorail, like in Manchester.

Instead, all I could see was some swanky looking bullet-train. As I hesitated on the threshold, a ‘helpful’ guard loaded my luggage on to the train for me and pushed me into the carriage just as the doors sealed shut.

To my horror, I realised almost immediately that this train was not going to the other terminal.

It was shooting inexorably towards Kuala Lumpur city centre – 70kms away.

Worst of all, this was a non-stop express train.

With less than 90 minutes till my plane was due to depart, I had no choice but to sit on the train until it arrived. My only chance of making it was to catch a train within one minute of arriving – pretty challenging given my hopalong gait and barely-healed fracture.

Also, I had no Malaysian money.

Although I was mortified and very scared of missing the plane, part of me relished the absurdity of it all.

Much as it might have been better to be chilled out reading a magazine at the gate, the experience gave me a chance to (yet again) cherish the kindness of strangers.

This is something that foolish individuals like me who are always getting themselves into scrapes know better than most.

Throw yourself at the mercy of the world, and more often than not the world will catch you.

The woman at the ticket desk let me through without paying. The passengers on the return train held the door for me. One travelling companion called the airline to ask them to hold the plane. Another called the airport and requested a buggy to whisk me to the gate.

Thanks to everyone else’s help and support, I made it – by a whisker. I hope Mr Wagner also enjoyed the kindness of strangers following his impromptu nap... and that he made good use of the toothpaste provided.

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