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The Weirdest Travel News of 2012

binoculars world globe girlWe write about the absurdities of travel all the time, usually with a mind to help readers avoid the more egregious affronts you might encounter on the road -- but sometimes, you just have to stand back and gawk. Here are this year's jaw-dropping nominations for the oddest travel news of 2012.

Not That Panic Button, the Other Panic Button
It's 3 a.m., you're nearly dead (ahem) asleep, with earplugs and eyecovers and blankets in place, 35,000 feet over the North Sea. It is bad enough to be woken up by a flight attendant announcement, but when the announcement tells you to get ready for a crash landing into the sea, that is a real sleep killer.

That's what happened on a British Airways flight back in January. Problem is, there was no emergency -- the announcement was played in error. Even worse, the same thing happened on a BA flight two years ago. Maybe if they pulled this one out every April 1, it might make sense, but otherwise, it's time to put that button behind a secret spy decoder or something so the less clever crew members can't get to it.

LAX Homeland Security: We Know Funny, and That's Not Funny
Some people think the U.S. Department of Homeland Security can be humorless -- and I know a couple of folks from England who would agree. Leigh Van Bryan and Emily Bunting were sent home for posting comments to Twitter referencing some British slang as well as an episode of "Family Guy" -- clearly some dangerous individuals.

As we reported back in January, Van Bryan posted, "Free this week for a quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America?" to a friend on his Twitter account on January 16. A couple of weeks earlier, he'd tweeted, "3 weeks today, we're totally in LA pissing people off on Hollywood Blvd and diggin' Marilyn Monroe up!"

When they were challenged at immigration, Van Bryan and Bunting argued that "destroy" was British slang for "party" and that the Marilyn Monroe reference was a quote from the American TV show "Family Guy." But even in TV town L.A., agents weren't convinced. After being questioned and -- in a stunning display of literalness that many Brits would find almost a joke in itself -- searched for shovels, the pair were put in the stir overnight, and then sent back home on a plane the next morning.

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We Could Do This Whole Story on Ryanair's CEO
Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary offers up enough manic musings on the customers who pay his salary to merit a whole column -- but for now we'll just share a couple from this past year. To wit:

1. After the airline charged a traveler 300 euros to print five boarding passes at the airport, O'Leary called her stupid and told anyone who did the same to "bugger off."

2. It's one thing to be a jerk, another entirely to be a safety threat, as O'Leary was when he declared that "seat belts don't matter" in his bid to justify standing-room-only seating areas on Ryanair planes. As someone who has seen in person the injuries to a friend who hit the ceiling of a plane cabin during a massive loss of altitude (and then the floor and then the ceiling again as the turbulence worsened), I find it hard to believe the CEO of an air carrier is actually saying this stuff. Not one to make a point without some name-calling for good measure, O'Leary then called aviation regulators who objected to the scheme "a bunch of plonkers."

At Least Someone Has a Sense of Humor
When it comes to humorous in-flight announcements, I'm not sold -- I would rather folks just state the facts and let me get back to reading -- but credit Air New Zealand for trying, and doing so repeatedly and entertainingly. This year the airline debuted in-flight safety announcements by cartoonists, the stars of the "Hobbit" movie and more. Attention-grabbing videos aren't a new tradition for the airline -- back in 2009, Air New Zealand put out a video featuring crew members in body paint and not much more, talking about the "bare essentials" -- that's one way to get people to watch, I suppose.

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monkeyAir Travel Not Fit for Man Nor Beast; Well, Maybe Beast
Airline marketing departments may routinely try to put lipstick on the pig, but this is something else entirely -- putting the pig in the seat next to you. Despite making it nearly impossible (not to mention unsafe) simply to travel with your run-of-the-mill dog or cat, the U.S. Department of Transportation is considering new regulations that allow in-cabin travel by pigs, horses and monkeys if the animal is providing some kind of support for its owner.

So we don't want fat people, or crying kids, or to have to seat people together -- but monkeys onboard are okay, and I think we need a new law to allow it. Some people say air travel has gone to the dogs -- but it looks like it skipped right over that to farm- and tree-dwelling animals.

Flight Cancellation Insurance Claim Denied Due to, Umm, Flight Cancellation
You buy flight insurance, then things go haywire: a flight is canceled and you miss your connecting flight. You're forced to buy a new ticket, but of course it will all come out in the wash when you get home. Right?

Not so fast -- your flight was canceled due to "air traffic control," which is not covered by your flight insurance.

Seriously, if flight insurance doesn't cover air traffic issues, what does it cover?

Book a Ticket with Spirit, Pay Extra for Sarcasm
Since February, whenever you attempt to book a flight with Spirit Airlines and it piles on the fees for which it's become (in)famous, it's not enough for the airline to stick it to your wallet -- it has to make snide remarks while it's at it. First you'll see a screen that shows the cost of the "Flight" listed above an outline of the "Government's Cut." Okay, I get it, they're making a point. But if you click on "Flight," there is another fee of $3 - $4 described as "Unintended Consequences of DOT Regulations" -- which is, of course, Spirit's additional cut for having to help pay for stuff like, you know, air traffic control. Spirit blames it on a law allowing passengers to cancel flights within 24 hours of booking, which it says costs the airline money.

However, whenever Spirit is pressed on the mass of fees it applies, it always falls back on the claim that we only pay fees for those things that we use. So if I don't cancel my flight, why am I paying this fee? Spirit likes to get you both coming and going, and likes even more to make snide jokes about it at the same time.

Former Senator Doesn't Understand State Department Announcements
Savvy travelers know that government travel advisories come in varying degrees of severity and don't always apply to an entire country. (For instance, some foreign governments have warned against travel to the southeastern U.S. during hurricane season, but no one would argue that they're saying traveling anywhere in the U.S. is dangerous, full stop.) But earlier this year, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum went on television to call President Obama a bad parent for allowing one of his kids to go Mexico on a school trip, citing the State Department travel information as advising against visiting our southern neighbor. The fact was, however, that the region visited by the class (Oaxaca) was not one of the regions listed in the advisory.

Maybe members of Congress should be forced to book their own travel once in a while so they know what it is actually like to travel these days.

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Free Drinks Result in Free Cruise -- for 3-Year-Old
Mixed-up servers on a Alaii Kai Catamaran cruise in Hawaii served a mixed drink to 3-year-old Michael Cai in June. Halfway through his drink, his parents noticed him acting, well, drunk, took a taste, and realized he had been served vodka in his OJ. After servers initially tried to hush up the incident, the cruise line issued an apology and a refund to the family.

We have heard of being slipped a Mickey, but this kid would have been better off with a Mickey Mouse.

"Free" Drinks and It's Anchors Aweigh
MS Ryndam cruise passenger Rick Ehlert wasn't served the vodka that made him act drunk onboard this Holland America vessel -- he had to steal it from one of the ship's bars. But boy, did he get some liquid courage from the approximately one pint of contraband vodka he downed. Ehlert proceeded to sneak into a restricted area, drop the ship's 18-ton anchor and a lifebuoy overboard -- all of which resulted in a two-month jail sentence this past spring.

Seems like the 3-year-old can hold his vodka better.

Last Drunk Passenger Story, Promise
In July, a drunken Norwegian tourist fell asleep with a beer in his hand on a baggage belt, and traveled 160 feet through security undetected until an X-ray scanner revealed a human body on the screen.

Unfortunately for the tourist, he slept through the whole thing, so he doesn't even have a good story to tell. But he does have evidence. Check out the picture -- it is worth a look.

And Finally -- This is Definitely Not What I Answered on the Survey
If you answered an airline survey this year, ask yourself: Did I request an in-airport recording studio?

Didn't think so.

Did you see any travel news of the odd that we missed? Add it in the comments! Here's to a less absurd and more sober 2013.


Go Anyway,
Ed Hewitt
TravelersEd@aol.com
Features Editor
IndependentTraveler.com

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