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We can't think of another year with as many head-scratching moments: From pay-per-pee toilets and crash-landing false alarms to standup seating and overly intimate airport security, 2010 will certainly go down in infamy. Read on for the full list, but be warned: It's only funny if it didn't happen to you!
Worst Security Development - Enhanced Pat-downs
When you see the words "molestation" or "forced groping," do you immediately think, "Flying to Florida to visit family"? Well, you probably do now, thanks to the TSA.
Late this year, the TSA decided to implement a new pat-down procedure that is far more invasive and intimate than its previous pat-downs. It's fair to say the move has not exactly been popular. Pilots refused to fly, passengers lashed out, and protests were planned. The new procedures, which involve thorough touching of the groin, chest, and elsewhere, have fundamentally transformed airport security from a nuisance to an invasion, and the TSA's faux-sympathetic but unrelenting response to the backlash has earned it few new fans. George Orwell would be proud.
Funniest Moment In Travel - Ryanair Gives Passengers The 'LOST' Experience
A group of strangers, left to fend for themselves on a strange island in the middle of nowhere. Sound familiar? Dodging a thunderstorm, Irish carrier Ryanair gave passengers the LOST experience when it delivered them to a different island than their intended destination—and then left them there. Yup, that really happened. After the passengers disembarked and were led into the terminal on the island of Fuerteventura, the plane simply turned around and took off again. The castaways wound up having to take a ferry to complete their journey. Good thing the in-flight movie wasn't Lord of the Flies.
Most Tasteless Promotion - Spirit's 'Oil On Our Beaches' Sale
Let's face it: This prize was Spirit's to lose. The airline has demonstrated a knack for tasteless, tacky, tone-deaf marketing campaigns over the years, and this summer's Oil on our Beaches sale was no different. Announced as the Gulf region was reeling from one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history, the ad featured images of bikini-clad women slathered in tanning oil. It implored customers to "check out the oil on our beaches," while promising "you won't be disappointed." Spirit claimed the ad was meant to bring people to Florida, where there was no oil on the beaches. But the sale covered Spirit's entire route network, including places with no beaches and certainly no oil. Exploiting a national tragedy to sell a few airline tickets? You stay classy, Spirit.
Strangest Thing Smuggled On A Plane - Disguised Passenger Boards Plane, Changes Face
For all the uproar over full-body scans and enhanced pat-downs here in the U.S., at least the TSA hasn't been duped quite like its counterpart in Hong Kong. That's where a twentysomething Chinese national boarded a Vancouver-bound flight disguised as an eightysomething Caucasian man—and totally pulled it off. In true Scooby Doo fashion, he would have gotten away with it, too, if he hadn't removed his silicone mask, brown leather cap, glasses, and cardigan halfway over the Pacific Ocean. We're officially adding him to our list of Weirdest Things Smuggled on a Plane, but he should get a nod for "Best Special Effects," too.
Worst Airline Fee - American's 'Your Choice' Seating
When this fee debuted, we called it "not the stupidest fee ever, but close." So, having said that, it should surprise no one that American's Your Choice collection of perks takes the cake as the worst airline fee of the year. Starting at $19 for short flights and going up from there, Your Choice includes priority boarding, a seat toward the front of coach, and … that's it. Really, that's it. You get to sit on the plane the longest, exit a little sooner than people toward the back, and get better access to overheads (the only meaningful benefit). $19 or more for that? Thanks, but no thanks.
Worst-Behaved Airline Employee - Steven Slater, JetBlue
Some people call former JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater a "working-class hero," but what's so heroic about criminal mischief, reckless endangerment, and criminal trespass—all charges that were filed against him after he publicly resigned, deployed a plane's evacuation slide, and fled the airport? And if you think he got a bad rap, you clearly haven't heard Mr. Slater's actual rap song. (Yeah, for real, he got paid to rap in an advertisement.) Anyway, moral of the story: Slater seems to be doing OK for himself these days, and the friendly skies are just a tad bit friendlier without him.
Worst Idea We Hope Never Happens - Standup Seating
Our legs ache just thinking about it. When photos of a standup seating prototype emerged this year, it was like seeing a giant man-eating shark for the first time. Our eyes bulged at the sheer menace of it, and yet, we almost admired the graceful efficiency of the design. It seems hard to believe that standup seating could ever become standard at a major airline, but stranger things have happened. Probably. Well, maybe standup seating would actually be the strangest and potentially worst thing to ever happen to air travel. So let's hope it never does.
Worst Publicity Stunt - Ryanair's Pay-Per-Pee Toilets Scheme
Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary has long dreamed of charging passengers to use the bathroom. It might just be the worst idea an airline has ever had—and given the current climate, that's saying something—but was it all just a publicity stunt? Last year, O'Leary said "yes." He may not have been telling the truth, though. Ryanair has since reportedly gone so far as to actually ask Boeing to install pay-per-pee toilets in its planes. (Boeing, thankfully, declined.) So that leaves us with just two possibilities: It's either the worst real idea ever or it's the worst fake idea ever. Either way, Ryanair must be very proud.
Worst Moment In Airline Customer Service - Spirit's Pilot Strike Communication
Days before a pilot strike appeared all but guaranteed, Spirit said it had alternate service arrangements in place to minimize disruptions, though no details were given about what passengers should expect. (This would become a running theme.) On the eve of the strike, Spirit reversed course and said it would "suspend" flights to its Ft. Lauderdale hub, but again, provided no details. How many flights? Which flights? No one could say. Finally, the strike began, and Spirit cancelled all flights. The next day, it cancelled all flights again, and ended up cancelling all service for nearly a week. The airline offered cash refunds (customers had to call the airline), but steered passengers toward flight credits instead. So: Broken promises? Check. Horrible communication? Check. Minimal regard for its stranded customers? Check. Epic fail achieved.
Worst Use Of An Automated Messaging System - British Airways Accidentally Terrifies Passengers
In August, a British Airways crew accidentally told 275 Hong Kong-bound passengers to prepare for a plane crash into the North Sea. Only one problem: The plane was just fine. Someone in the crew apparently hit the wrong button and played the panic-inducing automated message instead. Sorry, false alarm! And believe it or not, this isn't even the first time it's happened. About a year earlier, an Aer Lingus crew managed to terrify half the passengers on a Paris-bound flight by playing a similar "prepare to crash" message in French while the English speakers heard the proper "prepare for slight turbulence" message. Ah, well. C'est la vie, right?
Worst Fee Justification - Spirit's Carry-on Bag Fee Is Good For You!
How do you know when an airline is desperate to prove a point? When its CEO climbs into an overhead bin. This is exactly what Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza did in a bizarre attempt to prove that his airline's new carry-on bag fees were actually good for consumers. See, Spirit claims that by paying more fees, you, the customer, actually save money. That's completely illogical, you say? But the CEO is in the overhead bin. Spirit said the added fees would allow it to lower fares and make tickets cheaper overall. In our own tests, however, Spirits post-carry-on-fee fares were hardly ever the cheapest, and even then only slightly. So much for that.
Worst Volcano - Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull
However you pronounce it—and we're not even going to try—Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano sounded like bad news to travelers and airlines alike this summer. The ash cloud resulting from Eyjafjallajokull's eruption shut down airspace all across Europe and played havoc with the plans of millions of flyers for days or even, in some cases, weeks. Not to say Eyjafjallajokull's effects were all bad. Personally, we wouldn't have minded being forced to stay in Europe for an extended vacation this summer—if only Eyjafjallajokull’s timing had been better!
(Editor's Note: SmarterTravel.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns Expedia.com and Hotwire.)