People used to love to travel. You would go to the airport, have a smoke and a drink while you waited for your flight. Then you’d get on the plane and be treated like a god. Personal service, a smoking section and food that rivaled stuff served in better restaurants. The same held true for cross country train travel. To a lesser degree bus travel as well. The one thing all three had in common was that happiness of the traveler was sacrosanct. The transportation companies wanted to get you from point A to point B as quickly and as comfortably as possible. A friend of mine is a professional in the tourism industry. She claims, loudly after a couple of vodka gimlets, that the worst thing to happen to humanity is Southwest Airlines. She claims that they have single-handedly destroyed the tourism industry. By allowing people who have no real spare spending money to get from city to city, to show up in foreign lands (big cities tend to be foreign to them) and purchase nothing but $5 T-shirts, she claims they are creating a nation of Wal Mart patrons. They want the cheapest and easiest everything without regard to anything else. Having flown on Southwest a couple of times I can see her point. It’s like riding a train in Calcutta but without the customer service.
However, cheap flights have nothing to do with these travel nightmares. John Flin tells us all about people who did not have a good day when they got to point B.
We’re not saying the apocalypse is upon us. Yet. But the signs are ominous: This was the year sunbathers began bursting into flames on the beach. It was the year mighty Carnival Cruise Lines capitulated to outraged drag queens. And it was the year that Richard Branson found yet another way to haunt our nightmares.
Here are some of the strangest stories in travel from 2012. Apocalypse? You be the judge.
So that flaming dude in the aloha shirt wasn’t a tiki torch?
Protecting yourself from the sun’s harmful rays seems like a prudent thing to do – until you burst into flames.
The maker of Banana Boat sunscreen was forced to recall some of its products in October after six users in North America semi-spontaneously combusted.
The aerosol spray takes longer than a lotion to dry, according to the company, and until it does, a cigarette, lit match or other ignition source can spark a personal conflagration.
One more unbelievable yarn from the Yukon
Extreme knitters in Whitehorse, Canada, this summer created what they believe is the world’s first full-size airplane cozy.
Using donations of yarn and knitted swaths from throughout North America, the knitters covered the old DC-3 plane that has stood on a pedestal outside the airport as a weathervane since the 1970s, CBC News reported in July.
There’s a name for this activity: It’s called “yarn bombing.”
Worst part was walking by Cinnabon 27 times a day
Think your layover was an ordeal? A Japanese tourist this fall was stranded in the Taipei International Airport – for six weeks.
Masaaki Tanaka, who had run out of money, managed to subsist on soy sauce and wasabi packets from a sushi restaurant and whatever he could buy with the loose change he found on the airport floor, CNN reported in October.
Tanaka, 42, might still be there had he not blogged about his ordeal and drawn enough donated cash from well-wishers to buy a ticket home and pay his fine for overstaying his visa.
You sure that rat-infested lot isn’t Strawberry Fields?
Befuddled Beatles fans have been wandering around a gritty industrial neighborhood in east London on a mystery tour that is anything but magical.
They’re searching in vain for the famous crosswalk where the Fab Four posed for the “Abbey Road” album cover outside the studio of the same name. Unfortunately, the tourists are off by almost 10 miles, the Associated Press reported in November.
The trouble began when London opened a new station on its DLR line for the recent Olympics and decided to name it “Abbey Road.” There are at least 11 Abbey Roads scattered around London – the name recalls the locations of medieval priories – and transit officials apparently didn’t think this would confuse anybody looking for the more famous one.
A transit spokesman said there were no plans to change the name, and that it was up to visitors to do their homework.
For the record, the stop for the Beatles’ Abbey Road is the St. John’s Wood station on the Jubilee Line.
I’ll toss in five bucks, but I call shotgun for the whole ride
Flight attendants aboard an Air France flight walked up and down the aisle asking for gas money after the plane ran low on fuel during an unplanned stop in Damascus, Syria.
The flight from Paris had been unable to land in its intended destination, Beirut, because of a demonstration at the airport, so the flight was diverted to Damascus, Online Travel Review reported in August.
Because international sanctions against Syria made it difficult to pay for gas with credit, the crew began asking passengers to chip in some cash. Eventually Air France found another way to buy fuel, and the donations were returned.
Just be grateful it wasn’t the theme from ‘Bruno’
Gold medalist Maria Dmitrienko of Kazakhstan managed to keep a straight face – well, mostly – on the podium as her national anthem was playing at the Arab Shooting Championship in Kuwait in March.
The problem was that it wasn’t the actual Kazakhstan anthem; it was the spoof from the movie “Borat,” CBS News reported.
Instead of such lyrics as “sky of golden sun” and “legend of courage,” the Borat version praises the country for its potassium exports and for having the cleanest prostitutes in the region.
Kazakhstan demanded, and very quickly received, an official apology.
Now we know why the Brits prefer their drinks lukewarm
Passengers on some Virgin Atlantic flights in May were subjected to – er, we mean treated to – the sight of the airline’s owner, Sir Richard Branson, grinning back at them from their gins and tonic.
According to the Telegraph (UK), a team of four designers spent six weeks using “detailed photographic techniques and laser scanning technology” to create an exact, scaled-down replica of Branson’s head in ice cube form, goatee and all.
“Now,” said a Virgin spokesman, “all passengers will be able to enjoy some chill-out time with Mr. Branson.”
And while you’re at it, knock off those nil-nil football scores
The manager of a tourist attraction in Devon, England, is threatening to sue the local weather service because it forecasts rain more frequently than he’d like.
“I just want some accountability, because when they make these pessimistic forecasts people start canceling their holidays,” Rick Turner, manager of an animal-themed family attraction, told the Daily Telegraph in October.
The local weather office noted that its “pessimistic” forecasts are right 87 percent of the time. “Devon,” a spokesman said, “is one of the wettest counties in England, and (we) cannot stop it raining.”
Disturbingly, the ice looked just like Richard Branson
When the wings of an SAS plane iced up during a colder-than-usual stop in Alicante, Spain, a fast-thinking pilot de-iced them by dousing them with whiskey.
The airport lacked the usual de-icing equipment, reported Online Travel Review in November, because temperatures there rarely dip below freezing.
The resourceful pilot opened three bottles of whiskey (presumably the full-size kind from the duty-free shop, not the little plastic ones they charge you six bucks for) and sprayed them over the wings, quickly dissolving the ice.
The plane returned to Stavanger, Norway, just an hour late, smelling like a dive bar at closing time.
We’re guessing it was the Pamela Anderson model
As beachgoers at a popular Black Sea resort pointed to a woman apparently drowning in the water, Turkish lifeguards sprung into action.
What they found thrashing and sputtering in the water was a blow-up sex doll. As the Sydney Morning Herald reported in September, the lifeguards hauled the doll back to shore, deflated it and tossed it into the trash.
Even worse, the X-ray showed he had a cracked molar
A Norwegian tourist who fell asleep on a baggage conveyor belt took a 15-minute ride through the bowels of Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci Airport, including a pass through an X-ray machine, before being discovered by security.
The 36-year-old man, who appeared to have had a cocktail or two under his belt, according to an August report in La Repubblica, had arrived for a flight home to Oslo. He dumped his backpack on the conveyor belt behind an unoccupied check-in desk and decided it wouldn’t be a bad place to catch 15 winks.
After he was discovered amid the Samsonites and American Touristers, police said his unauthorized journey presented no security risks.
A giant Snoopy balloon could shut down the entire country
The Chinese are credited with inventing the kite 2,800 years ago. Unfortunately, no one appears to have told the country’s air traffic controllers.
A China Southern Airlines flight was ordered to circle the airport in Dalian, in northeast China, for more than an hour and was ultimately diverted to Quingdao after a child’s kite was spotted flying over the airport. According to a report on the website Travel Blackboard, 22 more flights were diverted to other airports before the all-clear was sounded nearly five hours later.
Keeping America safe, 140 characters at a time
Alert Homeland Security officers intercepted two British tourists at Los Angeles International Airport, handcuffed them, locked them up for 12 hours with Mexican drug dealers and finally denied them entrance to the United States.
Their crime: One of them had sent his pals a poorly phrased tweet.
“Free this week for quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America?” tweeted Leigh Van Bryan, a bar manager from Coventry, England, to his friends before his vacation in January.
After being held overnight, Bryan and his traveling companion/accomplice Emily Bunting were put on a plane back to London, the Daily Mail reported.
There goes all the work I put into my Kathy Lee Gifford look
Carnival Cruise Lines reversed course and decided to allow passengers aboard its Dec. 2 sailing of Carnival Glory to dress in drag.
Which would sort of make sense, since what they had signed up for was the “Drag Stars at Sea” themed cruise.
As the website Gawker reported in November, the Caribbean cruise was billed as “the largest gathering of drag stars in history.”
But a few weeks before the sailing, Carnival sent ticket holders an email warning that only performers in private events would be permitted to don the wig and heels. “Guests,” the letter said, “are not allowed to dress in drag for the performances or in public areas at any time during the cruise.”
After being bombarded by negative comments on its website, Carnival blamed the mix-up on the event promoter and relented, as long as the passengers carried – and resembled the picture on – a government-issued ID.
In that case, good luck with your makeup, guys.
I am friends with a couple of professional drag queens who had tickets for that cruise. One of them is a lawyer. Not to wish ill on any of my friends but I really really really wanted this to go to court. The pretrial motions alone would have been the stuff of legends.
Anyway, as to the rest, regular readers already know that I think Homeland Security and the TSA are run by petulant 10 year olds, so there’s nothing they do that shocks me anymore. All they accomplish is to make me think that staying home is the best call.