IN THE KNOW
Top Travel News of 2010
A lot has happened in 2010, from airline fees spiraling out of control to innovations in cruising and theme parks. Here are the most noteworthy stories from the past year.
Oil spills. Ash clouds. Plus, every hotel guest's worst nightmare: bedbugs! It would be easy to cast 2010 as "The Year of Freaking Out." Facing such panic-inducing travel hazards, many of us had to fight the urge to follow the lead of former flight attendant Steven Slater by jumping on an inflatable emergency slide and racing home to hide in bed.
Not so fast. We could just as easily call 2010 "The Year of Industry Revival." In reinventions worthy of Cher, two of the industry's longest-running acts—theme parks and cruises—became hip again. In Orlando, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened in June, and families queued up for a little levitation. Meanwhile, the December 1 launch of the world's largest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas, was a high note for the cruise industry.
Through it all, Budget Travel was there for you, covering these and other hot topics, including vacation-rental bans, a victory for fliers' rights, and the news that TripAdvisor was in the hot seat. Here are the most memorable stories of 2010.
Royal Caribbean launches world's biggest cruise ship…again
On December 1 Royal Caribbean launched the world's largest cruise ship, the Allure of the Seas. The behemoth is only 50 millimeters longer than the previous titleholder (and sister ship), Oasis of the Seas, which debuted last year. It sleeps 5,400 people, weighs 225,282 tons, and is one and a half times the size of the Queen Mary 2, the ship that held the "world's largest" title prior to the Oasis. The supersizing of cruise ships is a trend that Budget Travel has been following (see our Mega-Cruise Smackdown, which pits the Oasis against the Norwegian Epic, another heavyweight).
But is bigger better? It's definitely not more affordable—today's mega ships often lead to mega bills (the typical passenger spends hundreds of dollars more onboard than on other ships). To its credit, Royal Caribbean has included many freebies in its ticket price, from surprising activities (free zip lines!) to over-the-top extras (free synchronized swimming shows!) on both the Allure and the Oasis. The company's focus on customer satisfaction must be a key reason why BT readers' picked it as their favorite cruise line in our Readers' Choice Awards.
Airline fees just keep rising
Airlines would make you pay for using their seat belts if they could. For years, they've been adding dollar signs to services that used to be free. But this year, carriers took à la carte pricing to the extreme. Spirit Airlines started levying from $20 to $45 each way for the privilege of carrying luggage on a flight. (Thankfully, other airlines haven't copied Spirit's move, partly because of the public shaming the company was given by U.S. Senator (and Extra Mile Award winner), Chuck Schumer. Most gallingly of all, Irish carrier Ryanair insisted it is serious in its plans to eventually charge £1 or €1 to use a lavatory mid-flight.
Overall, U.S. airlines soaked passengers for $3.9 billion in surcharges during the first half of the year alone. The nickel-and-diming will continue in 2011—unless travelers revolt.
Tarmac delays lead to a victory for fliers' rights
This spring, the U.S. Department of Transportation began enforcing its new requirement that U.S. airlines return their planes to the terminal after three hours on the tarmac or face fines of up to $27,500 a passenger. In more welcome news, travelers bumped from planes can now be compensated up to $1,300 for the inconvenience.
BT readers cheered these regulations, which have been effective so far. Between May and October, there were only a dozen tarmac delays of more than three hours (compare that to the 546 tarmac delays during the same period in 2009).