Strange Travel Stories of 2011 – and How to Avoid Them in 2012

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In 2011, it was proven once again that truth is stranger than fiction. If we can learn a few lessons about these bizarre travel stories, perhaps we can reach our destinations without generating new ones.

Depending on who you believe, Alec Baldwin rudely refused to turn off his electronic devices in flight last year, or a particular American Airlines employee was  just trying to make an example out of the blameless actor. Either way, actors being thrown off airplanes is one of many strange travel stories of 2011.

But are these just amusing anecdotes, or is there something to be learned here? I say both, so let’s take a look at some of the weird things that happened last year in travel news, and what we can learn from other people’s misadventures…

Baldwin being booted

I wasn’t on that flight, so I don’t know exactly what happened. But the one thing that I do know: The airline business is extremely competitive and not very profitable right now, and that can make for some ill-mannered staff.

In fact, it may not have been a coincidence that “Baldwingate” took place the same week that American Airlines declared bankruptcy – and many flight attendants discovered they might lose their pension. So remember, no matter how crabby or unreasonable you think your flight attendants are, just do as they say when you’re on the aircraft.

Federal law requires all passengers, even famous actors, to comply with crew members’ lawful instructions. The best time to take up the matter is after you land. Complain the right way and you could receive free miles. The wrong way? Get slapped with a fine or even jail.

Quit kvetching

In September, Rabbi S. Binyomin Ginsberg made news when he successfully sued Delta Airlines.  Apparently, this religious leader was so unforgiving that he wrote 24 complaint letters to the airline within the span of just seven months. In retaliation, Delta actually closed his frequent flier account and revoked all of his miles.

Was this legal? Not according to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the second-highest court in the land. So while Delta might not want to hear your whines and protests, they can’t just divorce their customers and keep their SkyMiles. Nevertheless, travelers should probably keep at least some imperfections to themselves rather than make federal cases out of them. As I reported last year in 3 Lessons From Travel Reward Gurus, travel experts say they’re always “super nice” when traveling – because it costs them nothing but a minute or two, and it gets them all sorts of valuable perks.

Airlines puking over fees

From reservation fees to seat fees to baggage fees, airlines seemed to have no problems imposing every kind of fee imaginable on their customers this year. Yet in 2011, the airlines picked the most interesting place to complain about the fees they have to pay.

The Air Transport Association actually printed out barf bags with messages to passengers  encouraging them to fight on their behalf against proposed tax increases on the airlines. Many found their hypocrisy so nauseating, they immediately had to reach for the bag. So go ahead and join the airline industry in lobbying against new fees being applied to their member carriers, knowing that these companies would never impose unreasonable fees on you.

Who’s watching the watchers?

As if the TSA’s reputation couldn’t get any worse, screeners were caught stealing cash from carry-ons in New York and heisting electronics from checked bags in Miami. There are two lessons here.

First, never pack anything valuable  in your checked luggage, such as electronics, medications, or jewelry. Between loss, theft, and damage, there are just too many things that can go wrong. Second, even when you do put your valuables in your carry-on luggage, keep them in your sight at all times.

Stacy Johnson

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