FareCompare Picks Top Five Air Travel News Stories of 2010

Passengers started flocking back to the nation’s airports this year after the recession-fueled doldrums of 2009, where they met up with a whole new set of challenges including: more airport security and more airline fees, two of the biggest players in the industry–Southwest and United Airlines–decided mergers were in their (and hopefully the passenger’s)  best interests, and one now-famous flight attendant added new meaning to the term “bail out.”

Here’s the top five air travel news stories of 2010:

1. The TSA’s Enhanced Airport Security

We saw a lot more body scanners in U.S. airports this year, and increasing fears about these airport security devices. The big issues: modesty and safety. And there was a lot of anger, too – surely you remember the fellow who yelled, “Don’t touch my junk!”

I admit it – I am a little troubled by some of the potential health concerns that have been raised. However, given my choice of going through the body scan or undergoing the alternative “enhanced” pat down, I’ll choose the body scan every time.

Watch this intimate experience with the pat down in the video below:

2. New and Increased Airline Fees

Fees didn’t start in 2010 by any means, but oh, how the money rolled in. There were some new fees for extras like front-of-the-plane seats in coach on American (starting at $19) and Continental’s Fare Lock (which allows travelers to book and change tickets for a few days without paying the high change fee), and there were scattered increases for other fees.

For some U.S. airlines, the fees were a true bonanza:

  • In the first 3 quarters of 2010, airlines took in $4.3 billion in bag and change fees
  • Delta led the pack, taking in more than $1.26 billion in bag and change fees

Note: It’s important to remember these fees are optional; if you can live without certain amenities, you don’t have to pay. See the FareCompare Domestic Airline Fee Chart for specific airline fee costs.

3. JetBlue Flight Attendant’s Famous Exit

Somehow, JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater’s story touched a chord in a lot of people; the flight attendant’s angry exit from his plane via the emergency chute, beers in hand, became the viral sensation of he summer. He lived out a lot of people’s fantasies, I suppose, by metaphorically telling his employer to “stuff it”.

But it really wasn’t much of a happy ending: the flight attendant and JetBlue parted company and Slater appeared in court and was put on probation. On the bright side, he’s writing a book so perhaps we have an “inside the airlines” expose to look forward to.

4. Southwest Acquires AirTran

Another big story was the news that Southwest will soon get bigger; the popular discount carrier is acquiring AirTran, and the two competitors will soon fly under the Southwest name. For Southwest and passengers who admire its policies and airfares, the acquisition brings its share of
benefits:

  • Southwest breaks into the Atlanta market and enlarges its footprint in New York City
  • Passengers have been assured the new Southwest will continue its “bag fly free” policy

One thing travelers should be aware of: Southwest’s acquisition of AirTran also means the disappearance of yet another low fare airline, and less competition can lead to higher ticket prices.

5. United’s Merger with Continental

The deal was sealed in September as the shareholders for both United and Continental approved the merger; the United name and its Chicago headquarters will prevail, though Continental’s globe logo will decorate the merged airline’s planes.

The new United will be larger than Europe’s biggest carrier, Air France-KLM, and overtakes Delta as the largest U.S. carrier, a spot Delta held briefly after its own union with Northwest. If you think that the merger means an increase in airline ticket prices, then read my previous discussion about the merger’s perceived impact on airfares. Merger mania is likely not over yet; the only question that remains is, which carriers will join forces in 2011?

How have the major air travel news events of the year affected your own itineraries? Please share below.

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Published: December 16, 2010