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Travel in 2009: The Good, the Bad, and the Funny

As 2009 comes to a close, it’s time to look back at some of the year’s travel news. Some of it was good, some bad, and mixed in there were also funny, weird, and wacky tales of travel.

So sit back with a cup of hot cider, or maybe something a little stronger, and mull over the year that brought lower fares, more fees, and an airline request that all passengers empty their bladders before boarding.

The Good

It’s easy to forget that not all travel news was bad this year. Indeed, travelers looking for good deals had more than their share in 2009. Here are some of this year’s travel highlights:

  • More Affordable Travel: Among its other accomplishments, 2009 claimed fewer fees from online travel agencies, lower airfare prices, more hotel sales, and to top it all off, reductions in air travel delays and better customer service. That’s going to be a hard act to follow, 2010.
  • Hotel Award Offers Galore: 2009 was a banner year for members of hotel loyalty programs. Every month seemed to turn up another stellar way to earn or redeem loyalty points, bringing the cost of hotel stays way down for frequent travelers.
  • Better Price Guarantees from Booking Sites: In late October, Travelocity announced customers could get a “refund when they found a lower price on a competing website (or Travelocity), right up until the day before check-in.” Orbitz, meanwhile, offers refunds, but only if the price of your hotel drops on Orbitz.
  • Miracle on the Hudson: Plane losing its engines after a bird strike? Bad. Incredible emergency landing on the Hudson River? Great.

The Bad

From tarmac delays to new airline fees, there was plenty to gripe about this year. Here’s a look back at some of 2009’s most frustrating travel moments:

  • Bag Fees: As fares and capacity dropped, airlines looked to ancillary fees such as charges for the first- or second-checked bag to bring in the money. It worked: the airlines made $669 million in the second quarter of 2009. Passengers weren’t, and aren’t, happy about forking over $15 to $50 for checking luggage, but it appears these fees are here to stay.
  • Passengers Trapped Onboard Overnight: Last August, 47 passengers spent nine hours aboard a small regional ExpressJet plane on the tarmac in Minnesota because of a failure in communication.
  • Unaccompanied Minors Sent to the Wrong Destinations: Over a single weekend in June, Continental Express sent two separate unaccompanied minors on the wrong flights. The child who was supposed to end up at Cleveland arrived instead at Newark, and the girl who was headed for Charlotte ended up in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
  • Northwest Pilots Miss Destination: In late October, two Northwest pilots overflew their destination by 150 miles before realizing the error. Speculation about what happened was rampant, and an investigation followed. In the end, it seems the pilots may have tuned into the wrong air traffic control frequency, and then become distracted by their laptops.
  • H1N1: In April, Swine Flu emerged as a threat and created panic among travelers. But by early May, the majority of SmarterTravel readers had assessed the situation and decided that travel was still an option. Since the flu is so widespread at this point, most people are no longer thinking twice before traveling.

The Funny

Not all of the funny things that happened in travel news this year were laugh-out-loud funny. But there was plenty of ridiculous, wacky, ironic, and unbelievable humor to keep our mouths hanging open in 2009:

  • United Breaks Guitar, Then Loses Bag: Take a musician whose guitar gets broken while on a United flight. Listen to the song he writes about the debacle. Then, a few months later, see the musician in the news again after United loses his luggage on another flight. What have you got? Infuriating, but also: Funny.
  • All Nippon Asks Passengers to Pee Before Boarding: Taking the liquid ban to a whole new level, All Nippon Airlines tested a policy asking passengers to empty their bladders before boarding, reasoning that lighter passengers would make for a more efficient flight.
  • Aruba Resort Offers Conception Credit: Funny or creepy? Why not both? This fall, the Westin Aruba offered a $300 credit for couples who conceived a child while staying at the resort. The resort offered no points for trying, either: To get the credit, you had to report back with a doctor’s note verifying success.
  • Snakes on a Plane: Snakes on a plane weren’t funny before Samuel L. Jackson made a movie about it. Now, news about escaped baby pythons on a Qantas flight brings to mind bad Hollywood action movies and very memorable quotes.
  • Barf Bags Only, Please: In the spirit of little-known and rarely enforced rules, it turns out that passengers aren’t actually permitted to use the seatback pockets to stow personal belongings. The policy got press back in September when United and US Airways were among the airlines to enforce the policy.

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