Pilot Lifestyle
Sixteen things that can go wrong at a hotel
January 14, 2014

Pilots and flight attendants spend an abundance of time in hotels.  Over the years, I’ve enjoyed the benefits of spending half my nights in hotels and resorts.  I’ve also learned most of the pitfalls.

Therefore, without further hesitation, here is my list and some accompanying stories of sixteen things that can go wrong during a hotel stay…

1) Noise

Noise is a tremendous problem in hotels.  As pilots, we require adequate rest.  That can be interrupted by…

  • Elevator noises
  • Ice machine clunks and clanks
  • Kids running up and down the hallway while their parents assume they have no responsibility to control them since they are on vacation.
  • Housekeeping knocking on other doors with hard objects.
  • Maintenance personnel with the handheld radio volume turned all the way up.
  • Parties in adjacent rooms
  • Other crews arriving yelling, “See you in the lobby in 15 minutes!” with no regard for others trying to sleep.  Ironically, those same crew members whine and moan when people yell in the hallway when they are trying to sleep.
  • A couple in the next room engaging in private acts.
  • A group of people in the next room all engaging in private acts traditionally reserved for couples.

2) Key malfunctions

Anything other than a green light and a click when I swipe my key card causes my blood pressure to rise.  Sometimes, it’s a long journey from the lobby to the room.  Arriving to discover an inoperative key can be very frustrating.  There are several things that can cause a key to fail:

  • The key card might be bad for numerous reasons.  If the clerk asks how many cards you want, always request at least two.  One numerous occasions, one key has failed and the other one works just fine.
  • Your key may have timed out.  Most “non-airline” guests checkout of a hotel around noon.  If the clerk forgets to program the key correctly, the blinking red light welcomes you back from lunch.  If I head out for a meal or workout after noon, I usually test my key to make sure it is still working.  If not, I can resolve it before coming back upstairs.
  • You might be at the wrong room or even the wrong hotel.  Think that could never happen?  Read this story.

3) Hair

Lots and lots of hair… other peoples’ hair… particularly in the bathroom.  If I collected it all, I could probably assemble a full wig about once a year.  The quality of the hotel doesn’t matter.  I’ve stayed everywhere from hotels with numbers in the name to five star resorts.  All receive a failing grade for hair cleanup.

4) Stains

I’ve seen every kind of stain and blemish imaginable in hotels.  Like the hair, finer hotels are not exempt.  Although, to be fair, there seems to be more blemishes going uncleaned at the lesser establishments.  If it’s white, yellow, brown or red, I suggest you don’t touch it and cover it up with a towel.  If there’s too much of it, get another room.

5) Odors

The odor possibilities are endless.

If it stinks like cigarette smoke, do not fall for the “we have a special machine that gets the smell out of the room” promise.  Yeah, maybe if it runs for a week.

6) Used protection

At a hotel in upstate New York, pulling back the sheets revealed a used condom lying on the floor at the base of the bed.  I called down to the front desk and requested another room.  The clerk was as surprised as me.  How does housekeeping miss THAT!?

When I checked out the next day, the same guy was working the desk.  He apologized for the umpteenth time and said, “I’ve got to be honest with you, sir. We have a policy that if you’re not satisfied with your visit for any reason, the stay is free.  We have all kinds of people trying to take advantage of that policy.  However, if you’d asked, I would have comped your room.”

I had already checked out and thought it was nice that he mentioned the comp.  Since he swiftly and courteously resolved the problem, I was not comfortable taking the stay for free.

7) Belongings stolen

I hesitate to say this… but, I’ve never had anything stolen from my room.  However, it happens all the time to crew members and other hotel guests.  In addition to dumb luck, here are some precautions I’ve taken to keep my things safe:

  • Always use the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door.
  • If available, always use the safe to lock up valuables.
  • Hotel staff can spot an airline crew member from a mile away.  They know we stay alone.  So, if anyone is in the hallway when I leave, I turn and say “I’ll see you later…” into the empty room.   Creating the impression that someone is still in the room will keep a dishonest housekeeper out.  It may sound cheesy… but, I’ve never had anything stolen.

As a side note, personal security is also paramount in hotels.  Never put yourself in a position to be stuck on the wrong side of the door with a person who intends to harm you.

8) Window washers

During the day at a high rise hotel, I leave the shades open.  One morning, after showering, I walked back into the main part of the room to find a window washing crew reaching my floor.  Something to think about if you like to sleep with the shades open.

9) Walking in on someone

Over the years, I’ve opened the door on three customers who were already occupying the room.  One other time, I entered a vacant room but left when I saw suitcases on the floor.

The scenario never plays out the way it should in the average male’s mind.  It is never a barely dressed attractive woman who extends an invitation to come in, enjoy a few cocktails and laugh about the the misunderstanding.  My “victims” have been very large, hairy men who were extremely peeved by my presence in their supposedly private space.

I apologize, state that the staff gave me the key and suggest they always lock their door.  One guy came out into the hallway and kept screaming at me as I walked hightailed for the elevator.  I suggested he call the front desk and stop yelling at me.  When I returned to the lobby, the clerk was already holding the phone receiver a few inches from his ear.

10) Room not cleaned

I’ve stepped into rooms that revealed an obvious breakdown in communication between housekeeping and the front desk.

If the trash isn’t emptied and the beds aren’t made, I go back to the lobby and request another room.

A few times, I’ve been in rooms that housekeeping cleaned but forgot to put sheets back on the bed(s).  In those cases, I’ve waited for a someone to come up and make the bed(s).

Once in Miami, the room looked clean until I entered the bathroom.  On the top of a closed toilet, a handwritten note read “SO SORRY… IT’S CLOGGED.”

Dummy me succumbed to curiosity and lifted the lid to confirm the message on the note.

I promptly made my trip back to the lobby.

11) Fire

Although almost always false, alarms in hotels need to be taken seriously.  To learn more on my thoughts on fire alarms, feel free to read this story.

12) Malfunctioning heaters

It is not uncommon to have an environmental system in the room that doesn’t cool or heat.  Often, maintenance can perform a quick reset.

One winter night in New York, I fell asleep with the heater running.  I started dreaming that my room was on fire.  In the dream, I could smell the smoke but couldn’t see the flames.  Then, I woke and realized the burning odor was real.  I flipped on the light fully expecting to see smoke in the room.  No smoke, but the heater was malfunctioning and emitting the pungent nauseating odor.

I had to open a window to help clear the smell.  Not wanting to change rooms in the middle of the night, I tried to go back to sleep.

13) Water not draining

Sink and tub drains are often clogged in hotel bathrooms.

The sink doesn’t bother me as much as the tub.

It’s hard for me to enjoy a shower while standing in ankle deep water full of who-knows-what.

14) No hot water

I was reminded of this problem over the recent holidays.  During the slow season, there are few guests in the hotel using any water.  It takes a long time for fresh hot water to reach the rooms.  I’ve turned the shower on “full hot” for as much as ten minutes before the ice cold stream mixes with any hot water.

I’ve also stayed when the hot water has been shut off during renovations.  To be fair to hotels, management usually publishes a notice and turns it off in the afternoon.  Unfortunately, when this happens, I usually miss the memo and need to shower that afternoon precisely in the middle of the shutoff period.

15) No cold water

Believe it or not, this happened once to my family while visiting Denver.  All the water in the room was scalding… including the water that filled the toilet.  According to the maintenance guy, an air pocket on a lower floor caused the issue.  He went to the room below and flushed the toilet to resolve the problem.  A day later, the hot water returned to all the fixtures and we repeated the process.

16) Nowhere to sleep

One busy night in downtown Denver, the hotel staff forced us to wait for rooms.  It was during my 727 days, so three rooms were needed to accommodate us.

Being the flight engineer, I received my key last.  It had been a full day of flying followed by a long van ride downtown.  Waiting for the room added more time to the day.  I was exhausted and frustrated.

The key worked on the first try and I stumbled into the odorless room.  After fumbling with the light switch, I took a good look in front of me.  I saw a bar area, a conference table and a bunch of chairs.  Upon further exploration, I found the bathroom and a closet.  But, no bed.

I called down the the front desk.

“Hi.  I’m one of the crew that waited for a room.  The one you gave me has no bed.”

“Excuse me?  All our rooms have beds.  We’re a hotel.”  She sounded as annoyed with me as I was with her.

“Well, all I can tell you is I see a bar and a table and chairs.  No bed.” I countered.

“I’ll send security up to check on it.”  Apparently, in addition to breaking up disturbances in the hotel, the security guard could also produce missing beds.

“Okay.  But, could you please send him with a key to another room?”  I was trying to be proactive and save myself a trip back to the lobby.

A few minutes later, a gruff security man joined me in the hallway outside the room.  After opening the door, he looked around, shrugged his shoulders and keyed the mic on his handheld radio.

“He’s right… there’s no bed.  I’ll send him over to the other room.”

“Okay… we’ll have to see what’s going on there…” I heard the clerk say from a speaker that was turned up way too loud.

I’d love to hear some of your stories.  Please comment below on anything I may have omitted from this post!

Thank you for reading.  As always, if you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read, please use the social media buttons below to share with your friends.

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About author

Renewed Pilot

I've endured a roller coaster career in the U.S. Aviation Industry. Currently flying the 737 on my third try with the same legacy carrier, I have also flown for a regional, fractional and start-up carrier. My piloting experience includes the 737, A320, 727, Citation Excel, Citation Bravo, Saab 340 and many light singles and twin engine aircraft. I reside in the suburbs of Nashville, Tennessee.

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There are 18 comments

  • stefan t says:

    As I have worked in the hotel industry for years, I could fill this box with loads of crazy stories.

    Two quick tips- almost all hotel employees can accept tipa…a little something will improve your stay immensely(a $20 bill to the front desk agent=room upgrade valued at way more than that). Also, never sleep on/put your face or clothes on the top blanket runner…they are rarely washed and are a veritable petri dish.

    Check out the book Heads in Beds(I have no relation to it but it is the most accurate book on hotels I have read).

    Ps. Love your blog. Always keeps me entertained while working at my hotel :p

    • Thanks for the comment. The way the contracts are setup between the airline and hotels, I’m afraid a tip wouldn’t get a pilot very far… Nor could we afford it three to four nights a week.

      Where do you work in the hotel industry?

  • James says:

    The most frustrating thing that consistently happened to me on overnights was upon stepping out into a long hallway in the morning after a short overnight, the complete inability to remember which way the elevator was. It’s a 50/50 chance, but it seemed like my success rate was slightly less.

  • Bob says:

    Friends came up with these, also…

    -bed spreads and the fat naked guy that way watching tv on it the night before you got there.
    -curtains that don’t close all the way
    -maids trying to get into your room….sometimes even with the do not disturb sign up
    -van drivers that should not be legal to drive
    -carpet so dirty that when you walk around in your white socks, they end up brown on the bottom
    -pillows that are thin and lumpy or so over full that leave you with a sore neck
    -clocks that are super complicated to set
    -clocks that are set to AM instead of PM or vis versa and you don’t know
    -alarms that you don’t know are set for mornings that you get to sleep in
    -front desk forgets wake up calls
    -phone calls when trying to sleep
    -poor or no free wi-fi
    -no ESPN to watch Monday night football
    -$5-$6 dollar tap beer at the hotel bar
    -bars or restaurants that close early or open late
    -the price of food in hotel restaurants
    -no free newspaper
    -room keys not ready to go
    -waiting for rooms to be cleaned before they have enough
    -construction outside the hotel your room faces
    -fire dept on the side your room faces
    -vans with the back-up beeping on the side your room faces
    -hotels in areas you are afraid to walk in
    -long stays in hotels with nothing near them
    -bugs, rats or other critters
    -being at the hotel the same time as weddings, sports events, weird events (swingers conventions)
    -hotels under construction

  • George says:

    A couples of months ago, Gizmodo had a post on how to put the most common line of hotel thermostats into their unrestricted mode, which bypasses time-outs and temperature restrictions. Seems like it might be useful for somebody in your line of work.


  • shannon says:

    Hey, I know else that can go wrong at the hotel, sometimes the hotel staff can be rude, pools and hot tubs can be dirty, broken beds, bed bugs, rip off from a customer service, dirty bathrooms, bad food, broken tv and other worthless crap. It happened to me once.

  • Under noises, you can add malfunctioning in-room appliances. A fridge that squeaks periodically. TV that makes an electrical buzzing sound. Air conditioner that wakes the dead every time it turns on or off.

  • Brad says:

    I love this. Especially since I can relate to each and every one. One of my favorite hotel stories is one of being the one walked in on. Yes, yes…I should have dead bolted the door. Trust me, I’ve learned my lesson. I was in bed watching TV wearing nothing but my boxers when I heard the door open and close. A few moments later, a tall, attractive blonde woman walked into the room and looked down at me. Her reaction still makes me laugh. Absent of any emotion and without cracking a smile, she said “hi” as if we were passing in the hall. “Hello” I responded. “I guess this room is taken” she said…and turned around and left. I’m glad she didn’t offer to stay. She was pretty cute and I don’t need the temptation!

  • Ben Vaughan says:

    Once, when staying in a hotel in Nice, I got into bed and the thing collapsed. I phoned reception and they kindly informed me to wait until the morning. I slept about 10 minutes that night – every time I moved something fell off. In the morning me head was at normal height, my body was on the floor and my legs were bolt upright. Thankfully after management had a giggle at me they replaced my bed…

  • Pilotman says:

    So true! Last week I was in Malta and I entered my room. What I found was an angry women behind the door. She couldn’t beleive it… Sad for me, she was not naked… hihi But the hotel offered me a drink while they were looking for a new room.

  • TX737GUY says:

    We had a hotel near Times Square we used to call the “Mildew Plaza.” It was a typical New York hotel where it seemed like you could do everything from one position on the bed. Open the door with one hand, control the heat/air with the opposite, and control the TV with your toe. After a two-year hiatus from the “Mildew”, I returned to find the same charm I remembered. I opened the door, some 20 stories up, to see the lower sash of the window with copious amounts of duct tape holding the severely cracked window together.

    My last stay at the Mildew had all the windows intact. All seemed well–I got in, changed, went out for a beer and dinner, and returned to the room for an exciting night of television (yeah…the only reason we get into the airline business is the sex and the crew meals–NOT!). Well, after sitting on the bed watching TV for an hour or so, I decided to get ready for bed. Brushed my teeth, stripped to my skivvies, and turned down the bed and sat down. On wet sheets. And it wasn’t a completely damp “we forgot to dry the sheet after washing” wet. It was a very dampt “the last guy in the room peed the bed” kind of wet. A call to the front desk resulted in an apology and a 0100 room change… Ah the glamour of the airline industry!

  • Andrew says:

    One time in BKK, we (wifey and I) arrived very late due to a transfer not showing up. The only room available was a single. So they produced a trundle bed (camp bed, call it what you will)
    I’m six foot. The bed was only five five >:(
    They did upgrade us to suite the next two nights though.

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