(eTN) – 2007 was not kind to travelers. Flights were packed and delays legion. Gas prices soared. The dollar tanked. But at least travel news offered some levity.
Crowded flights sparked tempers, igniting nastiness more often associated with barrooms than aircraft cabins. Among this year’s low blows:
•A fracas involving 20 passengers erupted in June on a flight from Lagos, Nigeria, to London. It was touched off when a passenger took exception to the reclining seat in front of him. Fliers duked it out with fists, bottles and belts, causing the captain to make an emergency landing.
•In July, a flight from St. Petersburg, Russia, to Turkey turned back after the crew was unable to break up a fight involving three inebriated men. It started, said the Russian News and Information Agency, when one of the men was “given the cold shoulder” by a woman he was chatting up and hit her in the face.
•A British couple pleaded guilty last summer to charges stemming from disruptive behavior on a 2005 flight from London to Jamaica, which included pursuit of “mile-high club” membership. After reportedly having sex in an aircraft bathroom, the couple, who had been drinking, caused additional disturbances in the cabin, and wound up handcuffed as the flight was diverted to Bermuda.
Passengers weren’t the only ones guilty of bad behavior in 2007. In April, a Northwest Airlines pilot locked himself in an airline restroom, where he had a loud, obscenity-laced conversation on his cellphone as passengers boarded his flight in Las Vegas. When confronted by a passenger, the pilot cussed at him. The flight was canceled as a result of “inappropriate language by a crewmember,” the airline said.
In other flight crew missteps:
•A British Airways flight from New Delhi to London was delayed 13 hours after the pilot refused to fly, saying he’d had a lousy night’s sleep in a noisy hotel room and needed to catch up on his rest.
•SkyWest airlines apologized to a passenger who said he was forced to urinate in an airsickness bag during a short flight in March because the only restroom was closed due to a malfunctioning light. The man told the Salt Lake Tribune he’d had two “really big beers. It was like I had no choice.” The pilot called police upon landing in Salt Lake, but the airline later gave the passenger a travel voucher in addition to the apology.
Rude and annoying people weren’t the only elements that made unpleasant flights downright ugly. Consider these:
•Toilets overflowed on an Amsterdam-Newark flight on Continental Airlines in June, causing passenger Collin Brock to tell a Seattle television station King 5 News, “I was forced to sit next to human excrement for seven hours.”
•A passenger in first class on a British Airways Delhi-London flight in March awoke to discover that a corpse, upgraded from coach, had been propped in a seat in his row.
“She kept slipping under the seat belt and moving about with the motion of the plane,” Paul Trinder told Britain’s Sunday Times. “When I asked what was going on, I was shocked to hear she was dead.”
Meanwhile, airport security personnel continued their anti-terrorist vigilance, causing the following to happen:
•A 64-year-old man was hospitalized earlier this month after chugging a liter of vodka rather than surrendering it at a checkpoint in Germany’s Nuremberg airport.
•In the Philippines in February, a German tourist displayed his annoyance — among other things — when he dropped his pants after being asked to go through a metal detector a second time. Unamused officials summoned police.
•An exasperated mother dumped the contents of her toddler’s sippy cup on the floor at Washington’s Reagan National Airport in June after officials told her she’d have to empty it if she wanted to keep the cup. She claimed mistreatment by the Transportation Security Administration and said she’d accidentally spilled the water. The TSA later posted a video of the incident on its website to bolster its version of the situation.
•Not even Vatican-backed Mistral Air was willing to appeal to a higher power when authorities confiscated holy water from pilgrims returning from the Roman Catholic shrine at Lourdes, France. The airline’s president cited rules that ban carry-on containers holding more than 3 ounces of liquid, telling the Associated Press, “These (regulations) have to be respected.”
However, keen-eyed security officers occasionally missed a trick: Ginger the cat, for one, who climbed unnoticed into a suitcase in May while her owner was packing for a flight from St. John, New Brunswick, to Toronto.
Screeners didn’t spot the cat, though they did ask the woman if she was carrying a turkey. “I was adamant: ‘Look, I have no turkey,’ ” she told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Almost 900 miles later, the cat was let out of the bag. Alive!
Other critter capers on the road this year:
•Animal expert Jack Hanna got stuck in an airport turnstile at Ohio State University Airport with an 11-month-old flamingo in September. Firefighters freed the bird. Hanna got out under his own power and quipped he’ll never again travel with any animal larger than a gerbil, the Associated Press reported.
•A stowaway squirrel on an American Airlines flight from Tokyo to Dallas in February caused the plane to land in Honolulu. An airline spokesman told the Associated Press the pilots were worried the “varmint” might damage the plane’s wiring.
•Nepal Airlines personnel sacrificed two goats on the runway in front of a malfunctioning Boeing 757 to appease the “Hindu god of sky protection,” Reuters wire service reported in September. After the goat sacrifice, the plane took off for Hong Kong.
With air travel becoming so arduous, some travelers dreamed up innovative alternatives.
•In April, a New York couple paid a cabbie $3,000 plus expenses to drive them and their two cats 2,400 miles to their new retirement home in Sedona, Ariz.
•In July, an Oregon man attached 105 large helium balloons to a lawn chair, with plans to fly to Idaho. Almost nine hours and 193 miles later, he touched down in a farmer’s field, a tad short of the state line. “It was beautiful — beautiful,” lawn-chair pilot Kent Couch told television station KTVZ-TV.
The year had its usual complement of under-the-influence vacationers doing stupid things. Two of the luckier ones:
•After a night of drinking in January, a 29-year-old man made a running leap through a window in a Minneapolis hotel and fell 16 stories. He suffered broken bones and internal injuries but survived.
•The Coast Guard rescued a 35-year-old man almost eight hours after he jumped through a window of a Carnival cruise ship. A witness said he’d been drinking.
Mistaken identity caused red faces in some tourism promotional circles. Mea culpas went out from:
•Royal Nepal Airlines for using a photo of the Incan ruins at Machu Picchu in Peru to illustrate a poster that asked, “Have you seen Nepal?”
•The Tennessee Department of Tourist Development for running a 10-year-old photo of mountain bike riders in Alaska in an advertising campaign dubbed, “Tennessee: The Stage is Set for You,” The (Nashville) Tennessean reported in February.
•New Zealand tourism officials for digitally enhancing some photos in its “100% New Zealand” campaign.
Other notable moments in travel public relations this year:
•The blogosphere was abuzz over an incident last summer in which a Southwest Airlines employee asked a curvaceous 23-year-old woman in a short skirt and tight top to exit the plane because she was too provocatively dressed.
Kyla Ebbert, a college student who worked at Hooters, made some sartorial adjustments and was allowed to remain on the San Diego-Tucson flight. The episode catapulted her to 15 minutes of fame when she appeared on the Today show in the same outfit. Southwest — which in the past made flight attendants wear hot pants — recovered from the PR stumble when its president issued an apology to Ebbert, noting, “As we both know, this story has great legs,” and launched a skimpy fares promotion.
•Icaro, an Ecuadoran airline, seized on a less buttoned-down PR scheme in June when it staged lingerie fashion shows on some routes. “It was a surprise. A nice surprise,” a passenger told Reuters. “Before the trip was short. Now it feels really short.”
•And finally, the NH Alcalá hotel in Madrid, which was scheduled for renovation, allowed 30 “highly stressed-out people” (as determined by a team of psychologists) to take out their frustrations on its guest rooms in July. True road warriors, the customers took up sledgehammers and battering rams and rampaged to their hearts’ content.
We only wish we’d been invited.