Passengers Wind Up in Cold Sydney, Canada Instead of Sydney, Australia — Again!

A Dutch student wound up in the wrong Sydney this week. He wanted to fly to Australia before starting college, and the flight to Sydney on Cape Breton Island’s East Coast in Nova Scotia was US$225 cheaper so that seemed a great way to get there.

The teen was planning on spending some time in Australia before starting college — backpacking along the lush coastal landscapes, and maybe working a little.

But instead of heading straight to the beach, as he had planned, he found himself in near-blizzard conditions.

He arrived in Canada on Thursday and Air Canada sent him home to the Netherlands, sadly they didn’t help him get to Australia (he’d have had to come out of pocket US$1600).

Passenger ferry in Sydney, Nova Scotia, copyright: simplyzel / 123RF Stock Photo

This happens more frequently than you’d think, and has even made the news when it’s happened to Dutch passengers before. The dead giveaway is always boarding the Embraer E-175 in Toronto.

Schipper told CBC he knew something was amiss when he had a layover in Toronto, and his connecting flight was in a small Air Canada plane.

“The plane was really small and so I figured, would that make it to Australia?” He boarded it anyway. Then he saw the map on the screen on the seat in front of him.

“I saw the flight plan was going to go right, not left. It was about the time that I realised there was another Sydney,” he told the broadcaster.

Embraer E-175s Serve Sydney, Nova Scotia

At least he can take consolation in not being the first to make this mistake, here’s just a small sample of those who came before:

  • In 2010 an Italian couple wound up in Canada instead of Australia on a ticket issued by their travel agent.

    The couple’s travel agency in Italy is correcting the booking error, and the couple hopes to be on their way to Australia soon.

    In the meantime, they are being treated to a warm welcome in the city of about 23,000 on Cape Breton island. A local restaurant is providing a lobster dinner, and the couple will stay at the Day’s Inn for free.

  • In 2009 a grandfather and grandson also booked travel through an agency and wound up in the wrong hemisphere. Air Canada returned them home to Amsterdam.

  • In 2008 it happened to Argentinians and they decided to stay in Canada for their trip.

  • In 2002 a British couple spent several days in Sydney, Nova Scotia by mistake but made the best of it.

When I see these sorts of stories, my first instinct is to lament the shift from travel agents to online booking sites. You type in ‘Sydney’ and don’t realize there’s more than one. The sites are largely ‘dumb’ and innovation in the space has stagnated more than I ever would have expected. From the time that Google bought Frommer’s (before selling it back), it seemed like the perfect opportunity to marry travel advice, data, and mass customization to offer real advice to travelers that was lost in the shift away from human booking of air. That hasn’t materialized thus far.

Yet some of the mistaken bookings were made by travel agents and that’s a reminder both of human fallibility and that there’s huge variance in the quality of travel agents. While customers lose great advice about which connections are advisable, or which flight experience best matches what a passenger is looking for, in booking on the web rather than with a person not every agent was actually any good at doing that in the first place.

(HT: René S.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Frustratingly, Melbourne, FL will freequently come up before the Melbourne in Australia, that I live in, when using the Qantas website. So I can see how this might happen

  2. My luggage almost went to Darwin, Australia instead of Barrow, Alaska USA located above the Arctic Circle when a gate agent wrote DRW instead of BRW on a manual bag tag.

  3. This used to happen all the time with people wanting to go to Dulles but wind up in Dallas. Usually tickets booked with agents or over the phone. Generally before E-tickets and Internet.

  4. Like the give away wasn’t the email he would have got showing he is flying from Amsterdam to Toronto to Sydney on Air Canada.

    This kid doesn’t have a map?

  5. Maybe the pax had visited a ‘smoke shop’ on his way to AMS before boarding his flight. This can get a bit hasy and initials get confusing!

    Wonder what he intends to study at college – World Geography?

  6. I really can’t understand how someone would not be aware of where they’re going until they’re actually inflight. Come on. Even if a mistake was made in booking, I what — they never looked at the boarding passes at check in? As if flying Air Canada wasn’t enough of a clue that you might not be going to Australia?

  7. Been there
    I wanted a ticket to San Jose Costa Rica (sjo) bought one to San Jose California (sjc) I realized I made the mistake at the airport at check inn jajajaj

  8. Europe and east coast Australia are antipodes, so going either way is a possibility.

    Same thing with West Coast US and South Africa, plenty of flights via Europe but Cathay flies that route too for approximately the same travel time

  9. @Ken A and @Randy: I was trying a case in, and commuting to Charleston, WV in the ’70’s (days of manual bag tags). I had to be very careful to be sure the tag said CRW rather than CHS (Charleston, SC).

  10. Something similar as the first commenter… I had flown into Melbourne Australia and I went to the Hertz counter to pick up the car. The gentleman in front of me was having issues as they couldn’t find his reservation. When they pulled it up by number it was to Melbourne FL. I laughed. Well when it was my turn they couldn’t find minr either. Guess what? I also reserved a car for Melbourne florida!!!! You click so quick and don’t realize it. Sure enough at Hertz that’s the first option that shows up. Instead of Australia. You think they will correct that. I feel bad for the location in Florida as I’m sure half their reservations are cancelled due to this.

  11. I once caught a check-in agent printing IAD bag tags instead of IND for my bags, that saved me some grief…

  12. There have been reports of people wanting to go to Oakland but ending up in Auckland. How that happens is baffling. Need passport and tickets are vastly more expensive.

  13. Regarding the San Jose error, I can foresee someone creating their own multi city trip from San Jose CA to San Jose Costa Rica, but booking the ticket from San Jose CA back to San Jose CA on something like Alaska or Southwest. I know the popular booking engines prevent this, but for those creating their own, optimized itinerary, where all of the pieces of the trip are created on different sites, i.e., using their points, using Southwests website, using Chases website, and maybe a leg of the trip requiring a phone call to redeem points, I could see someone staring in SJC and landing in SJC and not SJO.
    Of course, we will never read about it because they would never admit it. At least I wouldn’t.

  14. There was one lady in Germany who got quite famous.

    She wanted to travel to Bordeux (in France) but due her strange east-german accent, the agency understood Porto (in Portugal).

    It was like
    “I want to book a Flight to Bordeaux on Saturday”
    “Yes, I will book you now on a plane to Porto”
    “Bordeaux is so nice. I have relatives there”
    “There is still a seat on Saturday from Stuttgart to Porto. Shall I book the flight to Porto for you mam?”
    “Yes, I want to fly to Bordeaux please. Here are my details…”

  15. One Asian carrier had a prompt to alert airlines and travel agents of the problem with Dulles and Dallas by putting a note under their flight availability DFW is Dallas and IAD is Dulles (Washington).
    Many reservations and ops people would call Charlestown, WV ” Charlie West” .
    I also remember working overtime in reservations back in the early ’90s. I got a call from a frantic woman who had gone online and needed a ticket from SEA to Norfolk and had found a very cheap fare. She bought the highly restricted ticket only to find that the German online agency had booked her to Norfolk, Nebraska . She, of course, was going to Norfolk, Virginia and the agency only replied to her in German. Unfortunately, even though it was on our airline but the problem was caused by the agency and her thinking there was only on Norfolk!

    hen online

  16. Hi there,

    I live in Jamaica and I’m always VERY careful when booking flights to or from Kingston, Jamaica and make sure it’s not to or from Kingston, Ontario, Canada. The most random things can go wrong when you’re booking travel, I normally go as far as to wiki the airport codes just to make sure. The Canadian Kingston and the Jamaican Kingston are pretty different…


  17. A fellow I worked with bought a ticket in Boston while on a multi-stop business trip. He was supposed to go to Portland OR, but ended up in Portland ME. He got a lot of teasing at work over that.

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