Mistaken Identity, Part 3

On May 8, 2011 · 12 Comments

I’ve called the final installment of my series on geographic mistaken identities, Baltimore, DC. A couple of comments on the earlier articles referenced people making the wrong assumptions about airports. This is another instance of that phenomenon so I won’t dwell on it for long. Instead I’ll keep it short so I have room to mention a few other mistaken identities that came to mind as I gathered my thoughts for this series.

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Not everyone in the family shares my enthusiasm for geography or related oddities. One of my sisters came to town to visit several years ago. She bought tickets to the closest airport, or more accurately what she thought was the closest airport. It’s full name is the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, which is quite a mouthful so lots of people shorten it down to National Airport. That’s especially true of people who lived in the area before it was renamed for the 40th President. My sister falls into that category so National Airport would have a much more familiar ring to it.

Except apparently, if one confuses the shortened name and asks for a ticket to "Washington International" it will lead one to Baltimore, Maryland instead. The name of the airport there is Baltimore/Washington International (officially Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport). Is it any surprise it’s often shortened to BWI?

Long-story-short, this resulted in a multi-hour traffic nightmare to retrieve said loved one from the airport rather than a much more reasonable ten minute dash. We still had a nice visit, though.

I have one other instance of airport confusion which I can’t confirm in person so it might be one of those Internet things: apparently Dulles Airport in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC kept getting confused with the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport. People supposedly would ask for a ticket to Dulles and get sent to Dallas instead, especially if they were purchasing a ticket by phone and had an accent. According to the legend, that’s why the airport is now known as Washington Dulles Airport. True or not? Who knows?

A Mistaken Identity in West Virginia

I bet many of you thought I’d mention the similarity between Charleston, West Virginia and Charleston, South Carolina. That’s a common error but no, that’s not what I’m going to talk about. It still involves Charleston, WV but you’d probably have to be a local to guess the confusion relates to Charles Town, West Virginia. Charles Town can be found in the eastern panhandle of the state in the only corner that can be considered Almost Heaven with any degree of geographic accuracy.

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This would probably have been around 1995 or so, back when the Lollapalooza music festival toured around North America and used to make an annual stop at the Charles Town Racetrack. Charles Town is fairly convenient to the Washington, DC area. In fact it’s considered an exurb at the extreme edge of the official metropolitan area. People commute into the city from here daily if that gives a decent indication of distance. Charleston, however, is not. That’s more like a six hour, 370 mile drive from Washington.

This was back during my days as a cubicle dweller. A coworker in the next cube had a teenage daughter who planned to attend Lollapalooza along with a carload of her dingbat friends one fine day, an event I could never consider attending because I had a job and needed the money and couldn’t afford to take a whole day off for something so self-indulgent, not that I was jealous or resentful or anything like that, right? All I’ll say is that it was quite amusing to overhear my coworker on the phone with his daughter throughout the day as the geographically-challenged teens who never thought to bring a map attempted to navigate their way to the correct location after a multi-hour detour.

New Mexico, old Mexico, it doesn’t matter. You’re not getting tickets.

My final example traces back to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. I remembered hearing about this a long time ago but I wasn’t sure whether it was an urban legend or not. Google actually confirms that there was press coverage at the time so I guess there’s a chance it’s genuine, although it certainly feels fake:

Wade Miller of Santa Fe, N.M., recently called the Summer Olympics ticket office in Atlanta to inquire about volleyball tickets. Miller, 31, was assured that volleyball tickets were available. Then the ticket agent asked for his address and zip code. "She put me on hold, then came back and said she couldn’t sell tickets to someone who lives outside the United States," Miller said. "She said I needed to call my own national committee."

That’s probably one reason why New Mexico license plates say (said?) "New Mexico, USA" on them.

Articles in this string:

Mistaken Identity, Part 1: Call the Inspectors
Mistaken Identity, Part 2: Invasion of a Maryland Beach Town
Mistaken Identity, Part 3: Baltimore, DC

On May 8, 2011 · 12 Comments

12 Responses to “Mistaken Identity, Part 3”

  1. David Overton says:

    Reminds me of a story a few years ago of a woman who ended up in Sydney, Nova Scotia instead of Australia:


  2. Fritz Keppler says:

    I can confirm about the confusion between Dulles and Dallas. The pronunciation is even closer when spoken with a German accent. Back when we had regular passenger service to Germany, I’d get calls requesting pickup from the airport main terminal to our building and check-in facility, about a half-mile from the main building.

    It happened a handful of times over almost 30 years that I was trying to give directions to the passenger to the place where our bus picked people up, first determining where in the airport he was. After several futile attempts I asked him to describe what he was seeing, and it turned out that he was not in Dulles at all. You guessed it. But the passenger was convinced that he was at an airport in Virginia until he either looked at the phone book (they were common back then) or asked someone at my suggestion whether he was in Texas or not. As I said, it happened a handful of times. He missed the plane that evening, and was on his own either getting to Dulles for the next flight or booking a commercial flight to Germany at his own expense.

    (It also happened on occasion that a passenger balked at walking all the way to the bus pickup place, at which time I had to explain to him that airport regulations no longer permitted us to drive our vehicles into the main terminal in order to pick people up….)

    • My Filipina mother had a travel agent in Manila book her incorrectly from Manila to Dallas, Texas, rather than Dulles, Virginia many decades ago, back when nobody really chose to fly to Dulles voluntarily, except for those of us who lived in northern Virginia. My mother fortunately found the error before she left the Philippine travel agency, but not without another few hour delay dealing with inefficient Philippine customer service.

  3. Fritz Keppler says:

    Also, New Mexico magazine, the periodical of the highway department, has for years had a humor column “One of our 50 is missing” (Originally called, of course, “One of our 48 is missing”


  4. Paul Hardy says:

    I bet a few people have ended up at Ontario airport in California (near Los Angeles), thinking that they were heading for Ontario province in Canada!

  5. William Cary says:

    Not quite the same but it is applicable to the concept, don’t anger your ticket agent at the airport or your bags bound for Louisville SDF may be ticketed as Moscow SVO. Another example is Mouse bound bags that should get MCO could be sent to MCI Kansas City. If your luggage is “lost” consider your actions to the people along your journey. It could be karma, and it could be an upset, under-tipped skycap.

  6. Lee Salawitch says:

    As a Baltimore resident, I can relate to the airport confusion, but in reverse! When telling out-of-town guests which airport to use, the order is always: BWI, Dulles, Philadelphia, and if you fly into Reagan National/DCA, good luck getting to Baltimore in rush hour traffic, I’m not coming to get you!

  7. colin says:

    One of my favourite “mistaken locations” is from failblog:
    http://failblog.org/2010/01/13/fedex-fail/ I didn’t really get it until I read a comment that the destination is Netherlands Antilles not the Netherlands.

  8. Mr Burns says:

    I heard a story many years ago about a foreign visitor in LA who mistook the announcement for the plane to Auckland as a plane to Oakland. This was before tight security, bar-coded boarding passes, etc. Of course the airline flew him back from Auckland, but he was more than a little late for his appointment in Oakland. Might be urban legend, but I seem to recall that it was reported in the mainstream news at the time.

  9. Rob says:

    Back in high school we were expecting a delivery of supplies for our wood shop class, but they ended up in Vienna, WEST Virginia instead of Vienna, Regular Virginia.

  10. Joshua says:

    I remember back in 2001 going to an American Planning Conference in New Orleans and then to visit a friend in Costa Rica (since I was heading south) during spring break. My friend’s sister worked for American Airlines and was able to get me standby tickets. Before leaving New Orleans, I called up the airline to confirm my tickets from New Orleans to San José, Costa Rica. The customer service agent on the phone looked at my itinerary and decided that I was going to the wrong place. So he routed me from San José, Costa Rica (SJO) to San Jose, California (SJC). I must have called back later and got this mistake fixed as I did end up going to Costa Rica (via Miami).

  11. Fritz Keppler says:

    I was studying in Austria back in 1966-67, and would get the hometown New Orleans Sunday paper, which came by ship as it was bulky and too expensive for air delivery. A few times the paper was extremely delayed, by weeks longer than normal. Checking the mailing label, I noticed that it had gone from New Orleans to Austria via Australia. Someone misread.

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