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The Travel Adviser: Top 10 travel stories of 2011

People love to make lists – what to do, what to buy, where to go. So what better
time than the first day of 2012 to present you with my list of the top 10
airline stories of 2011. Odds are high I’ve missed something; just let me

Number One: American Airlines files for bankruptcy

Goes to
American Airlines, which filed for bankruptcy on November 29.

known as AA throughout the travel industry, she has been around for 82 years
originating as a conglomerate of 82 dinky carriers. AA grew to be one of
the largest airlines in the world, swallowed up TWA when it went belly up, and
survived the post 9/11 shakeup of so many other US

Headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, AA’s business acumen and
aggressive marketing programs kept it on the straight and narrow, but
commitments to an antiquated pension system forced it to file under Chapter 11
on November 29.

AA management is correct in calling it “reorganization”
and assures fliers and creditors that they are conducting business as

Many airlines in the past have entered this nether zone of Chapter
11 to refinance their debt, and the vast majority have also exited. Some,
like TWA Pan Am, are simply memories in the minds of seasoned

Often during this process, predators go after the airline and
market conditions may indeed create a merger. Both US Airways Southwest
have been mentioned as suitable partners who may end up linking with

Number Two: Bag fees

If you’re planning on flying this year, then
kindly add at least $70 to your budget if you’re planning on checking in more
than one bag when flying to North America. Almost every airline has
cancelled the privilege of checking in, for free, two bags. Smart airlines
exempted their frequent flyers from this dramatic change, and even smarter
airlines, like El Al, permit one to use 140 points to pay for the second bag.
When asked by your humble columnist, other airlines were aghast at the concept
of using air miles to pay for an extra suitcase. It’s the lucre they desire, and
if charging you for an extra bag will fill their coffer, then so be it.

Number three: Dreamliner finally takes flight

Boeing decided back in 1957 that
all their aircraft would carry 7X7 designations, starting with the 707 and
continuing to their 787 airframe which entered service only three years later.
The last plane in this number game will be the 797, a model only Boeing
engineers can dream about.

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is designed to fly
long-range routes, using two engines. Seating configuration is between 210-290
passengers, although I’d wager that if El Al ever gets one, it’ll push the
seating to 300 passengers. Built with composite materials, mainly carbon
fiber, for the airline the savings on fuel are significant. For the
passenger, the much bigger windows and roomier overhead bins are proving to be a
big hit. There’s a good chance that we’ll see Dreamliners landing at Ben-Gurion
airport by the end of this year.

Number Four: Airfare hikes

I tell this
story purely for educational purposes. I have been told that when one
cooks a lobster, it’s put in a pot covered by a tight lid, as the lummox will
thrash around. As the water gets hotter, however, the lobster simply adapts,
figuring it’s not that hot and he can cope. The water gets hotter, and the
lobster keeps on “adapting” until finally he’s cooked.

So it was with
airfare hikes; rather than dramatic raises of hundreds of dollars, airlines
successfully raised prices in $10 and $20 increments, with most clients adapting
to the higher prices. Fares kept climbing, and most airfares increased over 15
percent last year. Expect this pattern of small increases to

One piquant point – United/Continental tried seven times to
raise fares inside the US – they only succeeded once! When no other airline
matched their price increases, they rolled them back. Most successful airline in
raising fares – Southwest! Just goes to show that you can charge more if you
permit two checked bags, which Southwest still does.

Number Five:
Anniversary of September 11 terror attacks

Ten years have passed since that
fateful day. Several airlines went bankrupt; breezing through the airport
became a thing of the past. Flying is no longer the unadulterated fun it used to
be. Thanks to all that security, it can be at times be a heavy burden. We shake
it off, accept all invasions of our privacy and board those planes. The
terrorists did not win.

Number Six: Travel Leisure World’s Best

Global Traveler Magazine in its Readers’ Choice survey awards lists the
best in airlines, hotels and more. Here’s the list:

Best North American Airline:
Air Canada

Best North American Domestic Airlines: Virgin America

International Airline: Singapore Airlines

World’s Best City: Bangkok

Best Island: Santorini, Greece

Number Seven: World’s Safest Carriers The list,
compiled by the Air Transport Rating Agency, found that the safest carriers in
the world were mainly those based in Europe and the US. While European and
American airlines rarely feature in the top 10 rankings for best customer
service, airlines from these regions have dominated the new list of the world’s
safest carriers.

Air France-KLM, British Airways and Lufthansa are the
safest airlines in Europe.

The safest US-based airlines are AA, United/
Continental, Delta, Southwest US Airways, while the safest from Asia is

The safest airline based in the Middle East, no surprise, is El

The agency based their classifications on 15 criteria, ranging from
the age of the aircraft to the homogeneity of the fleet. The agency explained
that to understand airline safety, one need not only look at accident figures
but also technical, human, organizational and external elements.

Top 10 airlines based on passengers carried

Delta Airlines: over 160
million passengers



American Airlines

Group (includes Swiss/Austrian BMI)

China Southern Airlines



China Eastern Airlines


Number Nine: Latin America’s largest
airline, LATAM, is approved

The merger of two major Latin American airlines has
been approved, creating the largest carrier in the region. TAM and LAN together
will fly to 115 destinations in 23 countries and serve over 45 million
passengers. Unfortunately Israel isn’t on their list, and as El Al no
longer flies to South America, flying from Israel will be a lengthy

Number Ten: Why it’s a Bad Idea to pee off a cliff

The World’s
Unluckiest Traveler contest is sponsored by Travel Guard, a company that insures
travelers while abroad. The recent winner was Dr. Gary Feldman (no relation)
from California. Gary was touring Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and went to the
edge of a cliff to take a picture. Feeling “nature’s call,” he moved a little
closer to the edge.

The edge of the cliff gave way and he fell 30 feet,
breaking his leg. It took several guys to put him on a board and drag him out.
Fortunately he had taken out a travel insurance policy, which covered his
medical expenses and transportation home. When he received the reimbursement,
included was a flyer about the contest, which he entered. Gary ended up winning
and received a $10,000 travel voucher.

May 2012 be a year of no lost
luggage, no airline delays, no overbooking, no airport strikes, no volcanic ash
and no bumped passengers.

And if it happens I’ll give each of you a free

Mark Feldman is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem. For questions
comments, e-mail him at

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