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The Year of Infamy

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The economy may have been in a nosedive, but 2009 was a high-flying year for travellers. Cirque de Soleil founder Guy Laliberté spent $35-million to orbit the Earth wearing a red clown nose. And the Sultan of Brunei laid out more than $25,000 to fly in his favourite London barber, seating him in a private cabin so he wouldn't catch H1N1 from other passengers.

But it was also a year of high-flying hijinks for ordinary holiday makers, road warriors, airlines and the hospitality industry. To honour 2009's crop of wacky travel tales, here are the 25th Annual Travel Hall of Infamy Awards.

The Big Bang Award … to a model, her boyfriend and an heiress, all first-class passengers on a Kingfisher flight from Bangalore, India, to London. Model Sarah Hannon fell asleep en route after drinking with boyfriend Daniel Melia. She allegedly awoke to find Melia fondling and flirting with a scantily clad neighbouring passenger, Guinness heiress Clare Irby. Hannah threw a tantrum and had to be calmed down by cabin attendants. Armed police boarded the flight on arrival and arrested all three. Commented a police source: "They certainly put the bang into Bangalore."

The Spelling Counts Award … to minions in the office of Stephen Harper. They issued a press release intended to say the Prime Minister would be making public appearances in Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut. But they mistakenly added a U, spelling the name Iqualuit. The PM's office later issued an apology when it was discovered the new word translates as a "Place of Many Excrement-Covered Bottoms."

The Gene Pool Award … to a Polish mother whose 13-year-old daughter returned home pregnant after a family holiday in Egypt. The girl didn't meet any boys on the trip, the mother asserted. So she sued an Egyptian hotel, putting the blame on its swimming pool, which is used by both males and females. The woman alleges the girl conceived because of stray sperm in the pool.

The You Can't Please Everyone Award … to British tourists whose whines and beefs were compiled by the Association of British Travel Agents and Thomas Cook. One woman complained she returned pregnant from a holiday trip because she and her fiancé were given a double-bedded room instead of one with twins as requested. One woman griped that her soup was "too thick and strong." Turns out she was dipping into the gravy boat. Other grievances: "No one told us there would be fish in the sea; the children were startled."

The Rude Awakening Award … to an inebriated Australian tourist in Queenstown, New Zealand. In a groggy state during the night, he got up without dressing and somehow wandered into a bedroom where a couple was sleeping. "He was a bit surprised that there were two people in his room and he was butt naked," said Sergeant Steve Watt. The startled woman fled to the bathroom while her husband called hotel staff.

The Pretty Please with Pepper on Top Award … to the American border guard who questioned Desiderio Fortunato as the B.C. man was about to drive into the U.S. "Turn off the car," the guard barked. The Canadian man asked him to be polite and say please. As a thank you for the manners lesson, the guard pepper-sprayed Fortunato in the face, pulled him from the car and threw him on the ground. He was then handcuffed and grilled for three hours.

The Honeymoon's Over Award … to a newlywed Saudi man who took his wife on a honeymoon trip to Malaysia. At Kuala Lumpur airport, the bride left him to visit the toilet. She returned to find her husband missing. It turned out he thought she was taking too long, so he flew home without her. At last report the woman was seeking an immediate divorce.

The Monkey-Business Trip Award … to Davor Ivanovic, who had to spend his birthday all alone on a business trip to Zagreb, Croatia - or so he led his wife to believe. As a surprise, the wife arranged a live call to his hotel room from his favourite radio station. The phone was answered by a woman. Listeners heard the wife scream, "Who are you with?" The husband's reply, also broadcast live: "Why have you done this to me? We have kids."

The Close But No Guitar Award … to United Airlines. It was bad enough when its baggage handlers smashed the custom-made $3,500 guitar of Halifax musician Dave Carroll. It was worse when the service department gave his complaints the runaround. Only when Carroll composed a song called United Breaks Guitars and posted it on YouTube - where it became a viral hit - did United promise to do better. It failed. Just over three months later Carroll flew United again. He arrived safely. His bag did not.

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