IN THE KNOW
Top Travel News of 2011
Travel was a hot topic this year, from the U.S. government allowing Americans to visit Cuba again to Groupon revolutionizing the way vacations are sold. Here are 2011’s most memorable stories.
For travelers, 2011 was the year of the shake-up. Old certainties were challenged; former ways of doing things, rethought. Travelers saw Southwest merge with AirTran. Deal-a-day site Groupon gave online travel agencies their first serious competition in ages. The year's other online travel sensation, Airbnb—a site that offers lodging in people's homes—dealt with news that one renter had trashed and robbed a site member's home, renewing questions about the kindness of strangers.
Looking abroad, the revolts in North Africa and the Middle East shifted travel patterns—most dramatically in Cairo, where famous museum halls echoed emptily for months. Cruise lines suspended stops at a couple of Mexican ports, prompting local officials to introduce measures to better protect passengers. Meanwhile, some international travelers took advantage of opportunities to fly the new, high-tech Dreamliner 787 from Boeing.
Back at home, the government tested new ideas in airport security and permitted Americans to visit Cuba as part of licensed educational tour groups. Finally, officials opened Manhattan's oft-debated memorial to the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Here, a chance to cap off 2011 and learn (or remember, in some cases) the biggest stories of the year that affect how we travel and see the world now—and in years to come.
Flying Started to Get More Comfortable
Anyone who swears that it's just about the journey, and not the destination, has never logged hours crammed into an economy-class seat on an airplane that feels as dry as the Sahara. But a new era in comfier cabins dawned in 2011, thanks to the debut of a high-tech aircraft design. In October, Boeing's latest jumbo jet, the 787 Dreamliner, took its inaugural flight. (See Budget Travel's post "The 787 Dreamliner Debuts This Month.") The 787's cabins maintain higher humidity levels than traditional ones, sparing passengers from dry eyes and mouths. The 787s also pressurize their cabins to a more earth-like level than older planes, avoiding the altitude sickness some fliers feel in the air. They're quieter machines, too, and sound like you're riding in a hybrid car instead of a gas-powered one. The first airlines to use the aircraft are in Asia; United will bring the plane into U.S. service next year. Boeing's aerospace rival Airbus plans to launch similarly designed planes, dubbed the A350 series, within a year or two. It looks like high-tech cabins will soon be commonplace. Sure, no matter what a plane is made of, flights remain nasty, brutish, and not short enough. But we applaud every aircraft improvement travelers can get.
Cruise Lines Become Wary of Mexico
Mention Mexico, and some Americans think of violence linked to a government crackdown on drug trafficking and turf battles between various narcos. Case in point: In Mazatlán, two visitors were shot in the parking lot of a hotel frequented by foreign tourists, prompting cruise lines to suspend port calls. In the first half of 2011, the number of cruise-ship passengers to Mexico dropped from about 500,000 to 58,000. Puerto Vallarta faced similar security concerns after incidents there. (See Budget Travel's post "Puerto Vallarta Says It's Safe, Despite Princess Canceling Calls.") Yet nearly all of the violence has taken place far from cruise ports. Cancún, for instance, has remained safe, except for an attack in August on a bar in an outlying residential area. At Mazatlán, officials have put into place additional security measures, too, such as beefed-up police patrols and strict supervision of tour buses as passengers board them for day excursions. So expect more cruise lines to return to full itineraries soon. Princess Cruises Lines, for one, will begin calling on Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta again in 2012.