8 Big Air Travel News Stories of 2012

Airlines and passengers made headlines this year – as did security officers – and here are the some of those stories. We saved the best for last.

1. American Airlines Delays, Cancelations

American spent the year in bankruptcy proceedings amidst speculation of a merger with a variety of potential partners (US Airways is now seen as the most likely candidate if a merger takes place), but the big story was all those delays and cancelations.

There were 21,000-plus delayed flights in September alone – the airline pointed to its pilots, while the pilots said they were not to blame – although they admitted they were not happy with the airline.

Now with a new contract between the two sides in place, most unusual delays are once again being blamed on the weather.

When Flights are Canceled, Delayed: What to Do Next

2. Weather Woes

Airlines faced some extreme weather challenges this year especially in late October when Hurricane Sandy started disrupting flights, quickly followed up by a nasty Nor’easter. While travelers faced numerous delays, at least the airlines were on their side as carriers proactively waived expensive change fees. The airlines continued this helpful strategy as storms battered holiday travel schedules in late December.

3. United’s Computer Problems

Everything had been going smoothly ever since United announced its merger with Continental back in 2010 – until, that is, the Continental.com site disappeared into United.com. The merged sites had trouble meshing and travelers had trouble doing anything. That old reservation tool known as the telephone made a vital comeback, and after a few recurring glitches, the computer problems eventually disappeared.

4. New Fees

Southwest still boasts two free checked-bags per passenger, but it has raised its fees for additional baggage and plans to institute a new ‘no-show’ fee in 2013. Plus the airline’s merger partner AirTran raised its checked-bag fees, bringing them more in line with other carriers.

Over at American Airlines, new bundled fee packages are being offered that can include baggage and seat selection.

Flying 101: How to Find Cheap Flights and Avoid Fees

5. Airport Security Incidents

More highs and lows for the TSA – some screeners were accused of theft, others of failure to do their jobs (including sleeping on the job) and several officers at Newark’s airport were set to be fired.

However, the vast majority of security agents did do their jobs which included finding hundreds of loaded guns in passenger luggage.

6. Strange Airline Crew Incidents

A JetBlue pilot went into a screaming ‘meltdown’ during a flight in March (his co-pilot safely landed the plane); that same month, an American flight attendant was reportedly forcibly removed from her aircraft after making comments about plane crashes over the PA system.

7. Strange Passenger Incidents

Passengers had their moments, too; some were accused of molesting seatmates while another was accused of mistaking a gate area at LAX for a public restroom. Yet another was caught attempting to smuggle live eels in his pants in Miami, though he was topped by the New Delhi passenger who was caught with a primate in his pants (a slender loris, to be precise).

A few passengers were on the receiving end of a bizarre incident in which needles were found in two different airline’s sandwiches last summer; at last report, the FBI was investigating.

8. Good News on Air Travel Safety

In December, the respected international airline trade group IATA released a report noting that according to its latest figures, 2012 is shaping up to become the safest year for global air travel ever.

More from Rick Seaney:

The Weirdest Travel Stories of 2012

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Published: December 27, 2012