When Bad Weather Drowns a Business Deal

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Reader Greg recalls a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad work trip:

Back in 1999 I’m in Zurich trying to get to Brussels for an extremely important seminar that I, as a self-employed consultant, had arranged with a Fortune 500 client. It’s my introduction to their senior management from all over Europe. A huge potential contract is in the balance. Gulp.

It’s mid-August and I’m delayed three hours in a sweltering airport then two hours on a sweltering plane waiting on the tarmac for air travel in Western Europe to get over afternoon thunderstorms. I eventually fly to Amsterdam, then I’m driven to Brussels, in the heat and rain, in a full mid-size Mercedes, me middle front. Terrifying. No sleep possible.

I arrived in a Brussels hotel at 4:30am. No reservation in my name. No mention of the company I was there for. No normal rooms. I rented an extended-stay suite (very nice) for 90 minutes—enough time to shower, change, and stare at the wall, thinking WTF.

No one from the company is at breakfast. I don’t have anyone’s cell phone numbers. At 9am I finally contact a person in the Brussels office. “Oh, two days ago we moved the meetings to a hotel by the airport. Didn’t anyone tell you?"

It was supposed to start at 8am. I arrived just after 10am, introduced myself, and started my spiel. I had to finish by noon, but my head was spinning so fast and I kept wanting to faint, so I had to lose another 15 minutes for breaks.

Europe was not impressed. I was able to keep my existing work for them going, but I lost out on the huge contract.

Ever have a work trip from hell? Drop us a note.