Top Travel Stories of 2010
Travel dominated the headlines in 2010, from mergers to volcanoes to those controversial scans. And what about all those new fees at the airport? There were major advancements as well, from high speed rail in China to a giant leap forward for space tourism. Here are the top ten travel stories of 2010.
AP Photo/U.S. Navy, Seaman Mikesa R. Ponder
10. Delta Becomes the World's Largest Airline
When Delta and Northwest officially merged in January 2010, 821 airplanes were flying under the Delta name. However, the biggest air merger in history also proved to be the smoothest and put out the possibility that future airline mergers might prove to be as fortunate. In October, United and Continental took a chance on such a deal and created one company to fly under the UAL moniker (the airlines will continue to fly as independent carriers until late 2011). However, these mergers see the rise of ticket prices as larger companies with less competition gain a wider berth for raising costs, cutting benefits and imposing restrictions. "Travel will inevitably suffer from these types of mergers, necessary as they may be," says Maria Polk, CEO of Tours.com. "It gives everyone, from tour companies to travel agents to the travelers themselves much less leverage when it comes to prices, services or even decent treatment, and it makes the travel business that much more difficult for everyone. On the bright side, though, at a time of a depressed economy it's keeping planes in the air and an inventory of available lift to get you where you want to go, when you want to go. And as long as there are the means to move around, people will travel."
9. Volcano in Iceland Grounds Travel over Europe
Iceland has about 35 active volcanos and Eyjafjallajökull, a sub-glacier volcano, is not even considered a major volcanic player. However, the explosion in April 2010 sent a plume cloud of ash into the jet stream and grounded more than 63,000 flights in 23 European countries. Airlines were back flying within a week and the volcano proved to be an excellent laboratory for volcanologists working with airlines to come up with solutions and safety measures for future geologic events. "Travelocity conducted a poll in the weeks following the ash cloud incident to find out what, if any, impact the disruption had on traveler attitudes," says Genevieve Shaw Brown, senior editor at Travelocity. "What's really interesting is that despite the mass disruption caused, travelers are still committed to taking their vacations. They prove time and time again that they're resilient."
Sir Richard Branson inside VMS Eve; Virgin Galactic
8. Space Tourism Takes One Giant Step
Tourism's race to space has been making quiet headlines this year from the remote fields of the New Mexico desert. The $209 million Spaceport America is soon to become the world's first facility dedicated to the comings and goings of commercial spacecraft. A nearly two-mile-long main runway was completed in October and the rest of the facility should be ready to run next year. Successful manned test flights from the pad took place in July and October 2010 sending a capsule that will eventually carry six passengers -- each spending $200,000 for their window seat -- and two pilots into space. So far, more than 400 people have signed up for the opportunity and seats are booking briskly for space flights beginning in 2015.
7. Spirit Air Charges for Carry-on Bags
Passengers have been long-frustrated by baggage fees, and in August 2010 Spirit Air became the first airline to charge for carry-on items that need to be put in the overhead bins: $45 at the airport, $30 online. So far, no other U.S. airline has followed in Spirit's lofty footsteps. But it was a Treasury Department ruling last year that opened a loophole encouraging airlines to add fees rather than raise rates, as fees collected by the airlines for non-essential services are non-taxable. American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, United Airlines, and US Airways, however, all went on record promising not to charge fees for carry-on bags. And lawmakers have gone so far as to propose legislation that would block Spirit's actions by reclassifying carry-on bags as a travel essential.
6. JetBlue Flight Attendant Makes Dramatic Exit
All was not aces when a JetBlue flight from Pittsburgh landed in New York City in August 2010. Flight attendant Steven Slater decided he had had just about enough of polite customer service after an argument with a passenger who tried to remove luggage from the overhead bin before the airplane had come to a complete stop. New York can be a testy place in the best of times but Slater decided that an emergency evacuation was the solution for him, and down the chute he went carrying two cans of beer from the drinks trolley to the tarmac and his new life. What can passengers learn from all this? Probably very little except to beware of things that may have shifted when you reach into the carry-on bin.
5. China Debuts Record-Breaking Train
In December 2010, China announced speeds of 302 mph for the CRH380A, a new generation of high-speed train that exceeds the speed of Japan's bullet trains. The 16-car model is set to take the rails on the popular Beijing to Shanghai line in 2011, where it will cruise at an average cruising speed of up to 236 mph, making the 909 mile-trip in four hours (it now takes 10). China boasts the world's longest high-speed railway network totaling more than 4,600 miles, and the country plans to expand the system to nearly 10,000 miles by 2020. Not only does the technology make travel for everyone in this region more accessible, convenient and fast, it offers a model for the rest of the world in developing cost-effective high-speed transport that could have lasting effects on populations and their economies.
Per Rasmussen, POLFOTO/AP
4. New Cruise Ship Barely Clears Bridge
The 26 feet that separate Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas from its sister ship, the Oasis of the Seas, makes it the largest ship in the world. It also meant that the ship came close to not clearing Denmark's Storebaelt Bridge as it made its way to the home port of Port Everglades near Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in October 2010. The world held its breath as the Allure lowered its retractable smokestacks and inched along with barely a 20-inch clearance. Still, concerns linger over the largeness of cruise ships with questions of expense and safety. The bigger the ship, the fewer ports that are able to handle ships of such size, or manage thousands of passengers in short spurts of time. It also means fewer shipyards that can fix and refurbish these vessels in dry-dock. Similarly, it does not take much -- a fire in the engine room (see #2), a terrible storm or a flu epidemic -- to create a floating mess at sea.
3. Qantas A380 Makes Emergency Landing
The new A380 planes, the world's largest commercial aircraft, debuted with much fanfare. That is, until an engine on a Qantas plane disintegrated in flight over Indonesia in November 2010. The incident caused half of the casing to fall off in midair and damaged the jet's electrical wiring, hydraulic system, flight controls, and fuel system components. Thankfully, the pilots were able to make a safe landing. But it called into question major flaws in the Rolls-Royce-machined engine and caused Qantas and Singapore Air to ground the aircraft series. Qantas put its A380s on a limited flight schedule pending inspections while suits are launched against Rolls-Royce. The planes were not pulled entirely, though. Qantas expects to have four of the planes back in service and are expecting the delivery of more.
AP Photo/U.S. Navy, Seaman Mikesa R. Ponder
2. Carnival Splendor Stranded in the Pacific
Also in November 2010, a fire in the engine room cut power to the Splendor, which was carrying 3,299 passengers some 150 miles off the western coast of Mexico. Lacking electricity to run air conditioning, kitchen facilities, pumping equipment and other necessities, passengers endured long days and dark nights before being towed back to San Diego three days later. While the incident was singular and passengers were given a rain check for their troubles, the unexpected effect from this event is deals. The ship is selling space on their weeklong sailings to the Mexican Riviera for departures in late February for as low as $439 per person. Passengers might be wise to pack some power bars and battery-powered reading lights for the trip.
1. Full-Body Scans Cause Controversy
Full body scans and enhanced pat-downs were the other story in November 2010, inciting the ire of air passengers and dominating the headlines. New scanners that can see clear through clothes are now in operation at some 68 airports around the U.S. Passengers who do not want to risk being "seen" can opt for an aggressive pat-down that promises not to miss important targets as well. American sentiment seized the opportunity as a chance to say the TSA was going too far. Protests at major airports over Thanksgiving, however, failed to materialize. Most passengers just wanted to get to their gates. An Airfarewatchdog.com survey showed that more than half of travelers supported the added security these invasive measures provide. Only 36 percent of those surveyed said the scanners are a "gross invasion of privacy" and only seven percent would opt for the pat-down alternative. And full body scans are not going away. Air travelers will have to get used to these practices and know what's in store both before and after they purchase an air ticket.
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