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.
Flight attendant freaks out, becomes a folk hero
It was working class meltdown of such mythic proportions it could have been the subject of a Bruce Springsteen anthem. Upset at the rudeness of a passenger, JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater called it quits, activated the emergency slide, grabbed a couple of beers from the galley, and slid down the chute. He became a household name, but he didn't escape scot-free: He just barely escaped jail by agreeing to undergo counseling and substance-abuse treatment and pay $10,000 in restitution to his former employer.
On a positive note, Slater's cathartic escape cast a spotlight on flight attendants nationwide who feel that they are unfair victims of passenger "air rage." Many Budget Travel readers have voiced support for flight attendants facing down anger mismanagement. The message? Steven Slater is guilty, but maybe we fliers are too.
Merger mania: Airlines rush to the altar
Mergers were all the rage in 2010 as airlines rushed to cut competition and fill vacant seats. United and Continental tied up, becoming the world's largest airline, and Southwest Airlines announced it would buy AirTran. These nuptials come on the heels of Delta's acquiring Northwest two years ago. Next to wed? American Airlines is a top candidate, having been flirting with JetBlue for some time. The two airlines already sell seats on some of the same flights, in a strategy called code sharing. (American also has set its sights on British Airways and Iberia, with whom it began code sharing this year as well.)
As a rule, mergers are bad news for anyone who holds miles in frequent-flier programs but doesn't fly often enough to earn elite status. The reason: Getting a seat upgrade will become much more difficult now on popular routes because there are almost no unfilled seats left.
On the plus side, mergers have fortified the airlines financially so they have glided through the economic turbulence of the past few years without going into bankruptcy, unlike during the last recession when multiple airlines ended up in Chapter 11. Stable airlines allow for more consistent service, which is a clear plus for travelers.
The biggest travel crisis of 2010? The BP oil spill
This year has seen its share of travel crises, from Iceland's volcanic ash disaster in April to the engine fire that left Carnival's cruise ship, Splendor, without power for four days in November. Neither, however, rivals the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which stretched on for months, affecting travelers, hoteliers, and small businesses en masse.
Think that these fiascoes prove the importance of travel insurance? Think again. In each case, most travel insurance policies proved useless. Condo rental cancellations spiked during the Gulf oil spill (30 to 50 percent of condos went empty during peak season), but because the beaches remained open, insurers considered the mass cancellations "voluntary"—and voluntary cancellations are seldom covered. Yes, the beaches were relentlessly cleaned, but swimming and boating were often restricted. Victims of the ash cloud and the Carnival Splendor debacles faced similar twists. In both instances the agencies (i.e., the airlines or Carnival) offered some concessions to travelers. Unfortunately, most insurance policies don't let you make a claim when you've already received compensation elsewhere. To be sure, travel insurance has its place, but it pays to be smart about it. Use our Trip Coach column for guidance on when and where it makes sense.
Bedbugs spread, appearing in hotels
As if travelers didn't have enough to worry about, bedbugs are on the rise. The infamous bloodsuckers are taking a bite out of the Big Apple, and data suggest that they're spreading across the U.S. New York tops the list of infested cities (complaints rose from 537 in 2004 to almost 11,000 at the last count in 2009), followed by Philadelphia, Detroit, Cincinnati, and Chicago. The experience is horrific, leading to red itchy sores by the dozen and hundreds of dollars in eradication fees if you bring them home. Word to the wise: Stay alert no matter how fancy your hotel is (even New York's Waldorf-Astoria stands accused of harboring the pests).