By Eric Shackle
Shortly before Sydney's 2000 Olympics, we warned, tongue in cheek: "If you plan to visit Sydney, Australia, be sure your reservations are for the right destination - there are Sydneys (and Sidneys) all over the place (20 in U.S.)
You could end up in a South African big-game lodge, or near the scene of the legendary feud between the Hatfields and the Coys. We had to wait two years for the payoff. Last month, BBC News reported that an Internet booking mix-up had left a young English couple holidaying in chilly Sydney, Nova Scotia, instead of on the sun-kissed beaches of the Australian city of the same name.
Emma Nunn, of Sidcup, Kent, and Raoul Christian, of Charlton, south east London, both 19, bought their tickets from an online travel agent for £740 each, but after a six-hour flight from London's Heathrow Airport, their flight landed in Halifax, Nova Scotia. An hour later they arrived in sleepy Sydney, Cape Breton Island, off the north eastern coast of Canada.
"Obviously it is a big disappointment," Ms Nunn conceded. "But after it sank in we both said 'let's make the most of what we've got around us.' They said they were enjoying looking at the pick-up trucks, and eating the local lobster.
Airport officials said they had sometimes received luggage destined for Sydney, Australia before - but never people.
Andrea Batten, an employee of Air Canada in Sydney, Nova Scotia, told Reuters news agency she was dropping off a friend at the airport when a colleague asked: "Can somebody go to the counter and help these people? They think they're in Sydney, Australia."
"They were obviously very surprised," said Ms Batten (that name rings an aviation bell*), who said she had never heard of such an incident in 13 years' working there. "They decided they might as well stay for a few days, having come all this way. It's going to be a trip to remember."
The BBC report prompted several follow-up messages. "Last year I booked a trip to Sydney, Nova Scotia, and ended up in Australia," said Bob Smith (Scotland). "Can you imagine how aggrieved I was? Couldn't get a decent lobster anywhere - the pick-up trucks were a waste of time and the bears were no bigger than a pillow."
Chris (UK) said "I was incredibly close to making exactly the same mistake last week. Happy to have found a flight to Sydney for £500, I was inputting my card details as quickly as possible, when I suddenly realised the second leg of the trip only took one hour from Halifax. My family and I are now flying via Singapore."
Dave (UK) said that when a Japanese tourist at London's Paddington station on her way to Heathrow had wanted to go to Turkey, the staff put her on a train to Torquay.
From the United Arab Emirate, Philip Cass told how a woman planning to fly to Dhaka, in Bangladesh, had bought a ticket for Dakkar in West Africa and had gone all the way there before realising her mistake.
Different accents can pose problems, too. Roberto Samaniego (Peru) said "I was in Miami trying to buy a plane ticket to Newark, New Jersey.
"Lacking confidence in my ability to pronounce and understand the quaint dialect of English spoken by American airline personnel, I repeated that I was going to Newark, not New York until I was blue in the face.
The sales girl was very polite and helpful, processed my request, and, after a reasonable wait and pleasant chat, triumphantly produced a ticket to... New Orleans, Louisiana."
*THE JEAN BATTEN STORYJean Batten, born in New Zealand in 1909, was a pioneer aviator in the 1920s and 1930s. On October 16, 1936 she arrived at Auckland at the end of the first flight from England to New Zealand. Her 14,224 mile journey took 11 days 45 minutes, a time which was to remain a solo record for 44 years. The Percival Gull in which she made the journey now hangs in the Jean Batten International Terminal. This little monoplane enabled her to establish herself as one of the great women aviators of all time. She died on November 22 1982, alone in Majorca where, unknown, she was buried in a communal paupers' grave. The world was unaware of her fate for a further five years.
POSTSCRIPT - WRONG INDIA! ... Arjun Bali, of Mumbai, India, writes: "The couple which reached Nova Scotia, has now joined an exclusive club first started by Columbus. He not only conned his Government to fund his trip to India and reached the Americas. He also decided to carry the gag a little further by calling the natives 'Indians' and confusing millions of generation further. It is an exclusive club."
This story was first posted in Eric Shackle's e-book in 2002.
PPS (posted 2012): We have just received this email from a reader, Louise:
I am an American living in France , and I always fly Air France when returning to the States. My sister lives near Washington, DC, and I have to be very careful when booking my flight to visit her. If I say I want a ticket to Dulles (airport), I am often offered a seat to (Dallas) Texas, and if I only say Washington, the ticket agent says "Seattle?"