Workers share their business travel blunders

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A friend of mine used to get mercilessly teased at work for an unfortunate business travel mishap she’d made. As a junior associate at a public relations firm, she’d sat next to the firm’s managing partner on a flight to meet with a client. About an hour into the trip, she’d fallen asleep — right on the shoulder of the managing partner — and proceeded to snore for the duration of the flight. From then on, every time someone at the firm went on a business trip, they’d (jokingly) be reminded not to snore on the executives’ shoulders.

As it turns out, my friend isn’t the only one with an awkward business-trip story. According to a new CareerBuilder survey on business travel, lots of people have had bizarre or embarrassing experiences while traveling for work. Below are some of the stranger incidents that respondents shared:

  • “A client mooned the plane.”
  • “Fell asleep in the airplane restroom.”
  • “Woman next to me asked me for a drink from my water bottle.”
  • “A drunken passenger next to me insisted my headphones were a bomb.”
  • “After waking up, I accidentally walked into the hotel’s hallway instead of the restroom in my underwear. Got locked out and could be viewed by the elevator which was all glass windows.”
  • “Our plane was stormed by the Colombian military who thought there was a drug lord on board.”
  • “A naked guy tried getting in my cab in Indonesia.”
  • “U.S. marshals arrested a passenger when the plane landed.”
  • “A guy next to me had a carry-on bag filled with candy, which he kept offering me over and over and over again.”
  • “Manager punched a co-worker on the plane.”

Luckily, though, most workers don’t have to worry about making these embarrassing mistakes — 68 percent of those surveyed said they never travel for business.

Those who do, however, might want to brace themselves. Employers who responded to the survey said that, for the most part, they have no plans to cut back on business travel this year, with 77 percent saying that their business travel levels will stay the same, and 11 percent planning to increase the amount that employees travel for business.

While this may mean more chances for awkward travel situations, it also means more chances to create strong business relationships. Of employers who cut back on business travel in 2010, 37 percent said that the lack of face time with clients and colleagues in other cities hurt their business overall, citing less effective internal communication, fewer sales and less customer loyalty as common repercussions of travel cutbacks.

Although 42 percent of companies surveyed did said  they used tools such as Web and video conferencing in lieu of traveling to meetings, there doesn’t seem to be a substitute for in-person meetings, meaning business travel will still be a necessary part of the job description for many.

Have you had an embarrassing or strange experience while traveling for work? Tell us about it in the comments section.

25 Comments
  1. I was in Brazil traveling and the door handle fell off of the bathroom. I kept hoping for my roommate to come back but she was a bit chatty and stayed at the bar for a while. I finally had to call security (No I know why that phone is there) to come and get me. Thankfully since I had a roommate I had taken my pj’s in the bathroom with me for my shower. It was not easy explaining to 2 very large Brazilian men who didn’t speak a word of English that I was ok.

  2. Took my wife and then 1 year old son to the airport in Honolulu to board a flight to Los Angeles on Western Airlines. While walking in the line to the plane (40 years ago) I noted a man whose appearance suggested he was very high on something. I told my wife if she got seated next to him to request a different seat. Ultimately she was seated directly behind him with our 1 year old in her arms. 20 minutes into the flight the man stood and swung hard and hit a man seated next to him. In a few seconds the flight crew had the man in a strait jacket (yes) and had given him an injection. He was almost immediately asleep and upon landing was met by sherrifs deputies who escorted him off the plane in fornt of all other passengers. Guess the airline crews had a very wide latitude in those days to do what was necessary to keep order on their aircraft.

  3. I got stuck in a toilet stall in the middle of one of those sprawling London parks! I was on a business trip and hauling along behind me a rolling case that contained my computer, a LCD and LOTS of paperwork, heading to a meeting. There was no handicap stall (more room) and my equipment was too expensive to let out of my site. Somehow I managed to squeeze it into the stall. When it came time to reverse the trip there was budging either the door or the bag! Finally I stood on the toilet (lovely in my business suite and heels) and managed to pull the bag loose enough to get the door open a little. Ended up taking me half an hour to get out of that stall.

  4. While in Australia to conduct a training class, my hotel room door malfunctioned and I was locked IN my room. The locksmith could not undo the malfunction so they brought in a man with a grinder to try to cut off the doorknob. I JOKINGLY said to the manager on the other side of my door that I was getting claustrophobic and was contemplating jumping out of the window. He went into a PANIC and started talking me out of it when I reminded him that (1) the windows do not open AND (2) THE ROOM WAS ON THE GROUND FLOOR!. The man with the grinder was having technical problems, so I figured that since the door opened IN, I tapped out the pins on the hinges , removed the door and handed it to the manager and ran off to conduct my training. I didn’t have to pay for that week’s stay.

  5. A dear friend who relys heavily on his glasses and also has sleep walking issues (a bad combo already)…was on a business trip recently. He mistook the unlocked connecting door in his hotel room as the bathroom door, In the middle of the night walked through, used the restroom of the other room and went back to bed. The next morning a gentleman approached him and told him what he had done…even described the boxer shorts he was wearing. Turned out to be a business associate of the company he was there to meet with.

  6. Once when I was traveling to DC for a conference I sat directly behind an older women on the plane. At some point during the flight, the women fell asleep and suffered some bladder control issues. Guess who’s carry on under her seat received a golden shower?

    • My experience was similar to Sara’s, except I was in the window seat and the elderly lady with the bladdar problem was seated next to me. Ever try to get out of your window seat and into the aisle without any part of you touching the middle seat?

  7. While in San Juan, I was staying at a hotel/condo. It was my luck that the unit i was in was a condo. I loved it until one day I was going for a walk along the beach, when I slammed the door shut, I forgot the keys to the door. I was in my bathing suit, but the desk did not have keys to the room. I had to call a lock smith and have him open the door. He could not pick the lock so he took it apart and open the door. I could not speak spanish and his English was not that good.
    He was late for his child’s birthday party, I gave him a little extra that call.
    All in all, I love the trip to San Juan,.

  8. Being hard of hearing staying at hotels is usually never an issue for me. On one trip I woke up 3-4 am because I felt something or someone in the room. I slowly opened my eyes to see it was a hotel staff member trying to do something with the tv. I immediatedly jumped up in my boxers and started asking her what the hell she was doing in my room. She walked out of the room and wouldnt respond to me.

    The next morning I left the hotel without saying anything since I was in hurry. Thinking back I think my hotel neighbor probably complained about the tv since it was next to the wall. From that point on I always make sure the door is key-chained.

  9. , I have had a few strange experiences too. I woke up once to realize the man sitting next to me was kissing my hand and licking my fingers! (that little incident got me moved up to first class lickity split! The flight attendants were as grossed out as I was!) I also sat next to a man who sold tortillas for a living. He spent 4 hours talking nonstop (in a very loud voice I might add) about the manufacturing and distribution of tortillas (he even kept talking when I put my headphones on and tried to read a book!) As a matter of protest, I did not eat a tortilla for a couple of years after that. Another time I sat next to a man who seemed to be having an erotic dream while he slept. I also once fell asleep in first class on a flight home from Honolulu, only to wake up when I heard loud laughter. We had landed in Fresno to pick up passengers and as they were boarding they were laughing at the snoring, drooling (yes, full drool!) woman asleep in first class. That woman would have been me! What’s worse is the friend I was travelling with was laughing the loudest and making sure none of the boarding passengers missed the sight! You see some real weirdo’s out there!

  10. once when I checked in the holiday inn the lady at the front desk was a littler confused about her new job. Gave me a room key and I went to the room and open door and there before me was a naked man a really hairy naked man. I don’t know who was more surprised.
    so I went down and explained that I would be needing a room with out a naked man and she told me that he should not be in there. But she gave me another room any way.

  11. I used to travel a lot for business, so have many stories, but will limit this to just one.

    I was on a flight from Japan to the States when we hit really rough weather. All passengers were advised to remain seated with seat belts on and that there were barf bags in the pocket of the seat in front. The instructions were given in both English and Japanese.

    For some reason a number of Japanese passengers did not follow instructions. As the plane whipped backwards and forwards they panicked. They began to move out of their seats.

    One woman climbed out of her seat and crawled in my direction. Just as she got to me she threw up at my feet.

    The plane was crowded as all flights from Japan are. I could not get another seat.

    We passed through the rough weather and meal time arrived. The last thing I wanted was to eat a meal with vomit at my feet.

  12. On my return flight from Australia, I was in the window seat, seated next to a brother and sister who were returning from their mother’s funeral. At some point we all agreed that if one person was going to get up and roam, we all would get up. Soon, she needed to use the restroom, so we all got up. I went to use the restroom, and upon opening the door, realized it was occupied. A women reached for the door with one hand, and the other to cover herself. After returning to my seat, I soon came to the realization that it was the women seated next to me that didn’t lock the bathroom door. It made a long flight home even longer….

  13. will on my way home frome miami florida back to california for the vacation(which was fantastic i might add) my brother and i seats were seperated and somehow i found my self stuck between an olf fat guy wqith bad breath from what ever it was that he was eating and and a woman with her baby. now at first thing seemed fine untill the man fell a sleep. He dint snore but he was a mouth breather wich wasent any any better. so as things got bad the got even worse the baby beggings to cry because of the turbulence of the plane and insted of giveing the baby a pacifier she pulles out her breast and breast feeds the baby she was so comfortable with it i had never seen anything like this well not in person anyway when i tell people this story i dont really belive but i know its true.

  14. While driving my company car thru lower Alabama on business, I stopped at a small convenience store, in a town with no stoplight, to get some gas. Somehow I ended up locking my keys in the car with the engine running, in front of the gas pumps. I went inside frantic about how long it might take to get AAA there to unlock the car. The girl behind the register said “no problem, my boyfriend is the county sheriff.” She called him and in less than ten minutes he was there and had my car unlocked. Southern hospitality lives on.

  15. Back in the mid-eighties i was gifted by an organizaton the pleasure of a trip to puerto rico for a week long convention and 25th anniversary of the organization. i had helped them raise a ton of money. When I arrived in san juan at the hotel it was discovered that my room was never booked but the pool suite for the three women I was with was booked. there were 2 queen beds and one queen sofa bed. two of the women were married as was i and the third was single. the larger woman slept in the one bed alone as i did on the sofa bed and the single lady and other married lady slept in the other bed. everyone acted appropriately however one day coming out of the shower in my towel they did snap a picture for fun. no harm done and we all laughed. on another trip i wound up short sharing a room with a friend from another organization i was helping raise funds. because i was working another job at night i wasn’t able to sleep so i went to the hotel which was 30 miles away and slept a few hours and then get up, attend the conference, and then leave to go to work. she also shared this room with her 16 daughter and her friend. apparently one day her daughter forgot to make sure the hotel room door closed all the way and locked. with little sleep i didn’t notice, showered, and then layed out my clothes on the bed. the friend came up to the room to make sure i was awake and was able to walk right in as the door was ajar. by that time the towel was off and i was “just there” . she looked for what seemed forever, smiled and said “oh, i’m sorry!” and closed the door completely. she never said a word about it afterward nor did i. a similar thing happened to me at a hotel in the middle east where the cleaning lady (30′s/attractive) walked in on me without knocking. her response was the same (both backing out) but in that case i was in a more “interesting” way. it’s the kind of thing that all one can do is say oh well and forget it. they were innocent accidents and nothing more. looking back though one does have to laugh!

  16. I was headed to Kansas on a business trip with one of my co-workers, we approached the security point and they pull her aside.. she is an avid hunter and had a huge bowie hunting knife in her purse!! Fortunately they let her mail it to herself and we were on our way, but that is an ongoing joke to this day! We are headed to Toronto next month and I have already told her to clean out her purse!

    • A similar thing happened to me on a flight from Butte, MT to SLC.
      A girl from TX was flying with her Dad. They both tried to go thru security with knives in their pockets but she also had ammo in her makeup bag. It was hysterical to see the TSA guy go thru this pink makeup bag pulling out bullets.

  17. Our travel mishap happened on our wedding night. We arrived at the hotel in our wedding clothes…so EVERYONE noticed us. About an hour into our stay, housekeeping barged in to replace the broken microwave (which we hadn’t noticed was broken…nor did we care!) Then a few hours later the door opened again, this time we had the chain-lock on…but the hotel guests still had a clear shot from the door to the bed. The front desk clerk had “double-booked” our room apparently and gave the keys to another couple. Needless to say it was a wedding night to remember.

  18. I hasn’t traveled much with my supervisor when we were sent to a town a couple of hundred miles away. The only place to stay was their Holiday Inn. We arrived early and he asked if I wanted to go down to the pier where a boat was docked and have an early dinner. Not really wanting to, but not wanting to decline, I said sure. I quickly freshened and started to leave to meet him downstairs but, for some unknown reason my door would not open. I tried everything but it wouldn’t budge and he was waiting for me. I finally started looking for my room key (I had forgotten the room number and needed the key with the number to call the front desk and ask them to send someone up to get me out). I could not find that key any where. Finally I called the front desk told them who I was and explained I had lost my room key and my door would not open from the inside. Between giggles she explained that if you left your key in the door you could not open it from inside,and she would send someone up to open the door and give me my key. Knowing my supervisor had heard everything the desk had said and would guess it was me, I followed the help downstairs only to hear them laughing along with my supervisor. After they had all had a good laugh, my supervisor and I finally walked a couple of blocks to the boat to eat. I was very impressed when I went inside and saw all of the tables decorated with fresh flowers and candles. The waiter brought me a huge menu and left to allow us time to decide. Most of the things on the menu were things I hadn’t heard of. I was so wrapped up in trying to figure out what I could pronounce AND eat that I didn’t pay any attention to what was going on around me when I heard a commotion. About that time I saw my supervisor reach up and put his hand over the corner of my flaming menu and say “I don’t think it is supposed to be like this” The waiter was at our table by then and gave me a new menu that I quickly picked out something on and just pointed to it.

    The next day we finished our meeting and started home. My supervisor had a very small sports car which was hard for me to get into and out of since I have very long legs, but I managed and I thought I had done so gracefully. Everything was ok until he decided to roll down his window instead of using the air conditioner. I think (hope) he was unaware that I had hair extensions in my hair that were now tryihg to have a life of their own as I grasped them. Luckily, they never did manage to escape but later we stopped since he wanted a malt, and I ordered a coke. I was slightly surprised when he figured out how much I owed him including tax. Thankfully this was the last trip we took alone.

  19. Back in the early 90′s I had an aisle seat on a domestic flight in China. We were about a half hour from landing in Beijing when the crew made the fasten seatbelts and remain seated announcement. That’s when this rather ancient little man stuggled out of his seat and was immediately greeted by a flight attendant who instructed him, in chinese, as she helped him back into his seat. As soon as she returned to her duties the old guy was on the move again. She nabbed him once again before he even got two rows and sternly instructed him as she helped him back into his seat. It was obvious he was trying to get to the lav before landing and the flight attendant was having none of that. So now the ancient little guy takes out the airsick bag and pees into that. For the next few minutes he’s sitting there with his bag-o-urine on his lap, as if the flight attendant will be by to collect it, when that doesn’t happen he decides to put in the seat pouch. Upon placing the bag-o-urine in the seat pouch, he lets go of the pouch and it snaps shut on the bag resulting in a geyser of pee exploding all over him, the people next to him, across the aisle and a few behind him….luckily I was just out of range….What a commotion!!
    I have to give him two thumbs up for innovation but sadly two thumbs down for execution.
    Good times….Good times

  20. I was on my way to a National sales meeting in Florida. It was a full flight but the aisle seat next to me was vacant. Right before we departed – the stewardess escorted an elder foreigner to the seat next to mine. He did not speak English. But he knew enough to say – you…me…money???? He then proceeded to rub my bare leg – yes I was wearing a dress! There was no seat to move to on the flight so I finally just begged the passenger next to me for help. I did my best to turn my back to him but it was an uncomfortable 3 hour flight. I did learn a valuable lesson and that was no more short dresses when flying!!!!

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