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Travel hall of shame for 2012 Add to ...

Here are The Globe and Mail’s 28th annual Travel Hall of Infamy Awards.

The No Armrest for the Wicked Award

… goes to two men who were given seats beside each other on a WestJet flight out of Calgary. While the plane was taxiing for takeoff they started arguing over who would use their shared armrest. Verbal sparring escalated to threats and police were called to remove the combatants from the plane. The pilot refused to let them reboard, even after they admitted they were being silly. They were moved to later flights, but on separate planes.

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The Smoking Gun Award

… goes to Bev Oda, who started the year as Canada’s minister for international co-operation – a.k.a. minister for aid to the world’s poor. She quit politics after a furor over her expenses at a London conference. Not only did she move from the delegates hotel to the luxurious Savoy at more than double the price, she billed taxpayers $1,000 a day for a car and chauffeur, plus $16 for a glass of orange juice. Opposition charges that she changed hotels to get a smoking room were never proved. But it was later revealed that on an earlier trip to Washington she was assessed a $250 (U.S.) penalty for lighting up in a non-smoking hotel room (which also showed up on her expense account).

The Blow Me Down Award

… goes to thrill-seeking tourists on St. Martin’s Maho Beach who delight in clinging to the fence outside the international airport while zooming jets land and take off. Those who do battle with winds of more than 100 kilometres an hour aren’t always successful. One hapless French man suffered a broken leg. And a YouTube video showed a teenage girl flying headfirst into a concrete barrier. Still, the nearby Sunset Bar offers encouragement by posting flight times and pouring a Jet Blast shot for survivors. Reviewing the bar on TripAdvisor, one traveller calls it a “great place to watch crazy people.”

The Writing is on the Wall Award

… goes to Mathew Davis, a British Airways steward who hoped to win a promotion by performing calmly in a crisis. During a flight to Tokyo from London, he scribbled a bomb threat on the back of a toilet door, then alerted fellow crew members. After the plane had landed safely, the captain asked Davis to submit a written report on the incident. His handwriting matched that on the door. He was fired, arrested and sent to jail.

The Read the Fine Print Award

… goes to a police officer in Stoke-on-Kent, England, who thought he had discovered a gang of illegal immigrants. He detained four men for questioning after studying their passports and determining they all shared the same name: Abu Dhabi. The men were eventually released after a fellow officer realized Abu Dhabi was not their name, but the point of origin for their flight. The first policeman blamed his mistake on having forgotten his reading glasses.

The Go Fly a Kite Award

… goes to British billionaire Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways. On a trip to Vancouver to launch new flights to London, he met with B.C. Premier Christy Clark and invited her to go kitesurfing with him. On a blog posted later, he added that she would have to be naked. The Premier called his remarks disrespectful. “Someone said to me as a joke,” she quipped, “that if that’s his best pickup line, then maybe there’s a reason he called his company Virgin.”

The Make Yourself at Home Award

… goes to two women in Stockholm who innocently rented out their apartment through the website Airbnb while on a four-week vacation. They returned to find a note from police saying the premises had been raided the previous evening. The temporary tenants, it turned out, were prostitutes from Ireland who had converted the unit into a brothel. Airbnb put up the rightful occupants in a luxury hotel while having the apartment professionally cleansed.

The Juiced Up Award

… goes to Alii Kai Catamaran, an operator of dinner cruises in Honolulu. After a staff member mistakenly added vodka to an orange juice order, a passenger began to mumble, run, stumble and act wildly. Servers, who were notified of the incident, asked the passenger’s party not to make a fuss for fear of disturbing others on board. The out-of-control drunk, by the way, was a three-year-old boy accompanied by his parents. The company later apologized to the family and refunded the cost of the cruise.

The What the Blazes Award

… goes to Colin Jones, 24, whose prank aboard a Monarch airlines flight led to an emergency landing. One of a group of English friends en route to a bachelor party in Majorca, Jones tried to liven things up with a practical joke. Smelling smoke, the flight crew investigated. They discovered that Jones had singed a friend’s hair by setting it on fire. He was charged with negligence likely to endanger an aircraft.

The Brew-Ha-Ha Award

… goes to Lateisha El, a TSA screener at New York’s JFK International Airport. She was chatting with colleagues at her work post when an off-duty American Airlines pilot walked by and asked the group to clean up their language. After El gave him a cursing, the pilot tried to grab her name tag. She responded by drenching him with a cup of steaming hot coffee. That was grounds enough to get her arrested.

The All the President’s Men and Ladies Award

… goes to U.S. Secret Service agents and military personnel who took time to sample the local nightlife while accompanying President Barack Obama to the Summit of the Americas in Bogota. The men were put under investigation after allegedly bringing prostitutes back to the President’s hotel. “We let the boss down,” said Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “We’re embarrassed by what occurred in Colombia, though we’re not sure exactly what it is.”

The Clothes Don’t Make the Man Award

… goes to John E. Brennan, a high-tech consultant based in Oregon. Planning to fly to San Jose, Calif., on business, Brennan became fed up with pat-downs and body scans at airport security. He stripped to the buff and was promptly charged with exposing himself in public. Fortunately, his trial took place in Portland, where the World Naked Bike Ride is a major annual event. A sympathetic judge accepted his argument that nudity was a legitimate form of protest. Case dismissed.

The Biting the Hand that Hides It Award

… goes to the owner of a Kuwaiti reptile shop who boarded an Egyptair flight carrying a deadly Egyptian cobra concealed in a carry-on bag. All went well until the snake bit his hand during the flight. As the man screamed and tried to control it, the cobra started slithering under the seats. The pilot was forced to make an emergency landing. Authorities confiscated the snake. The man was taken for treatment.

The Good Help is Hard to Find Award

… goes to Mubarak Hamad, a billionaire Bahraini prince who was already intoxicated when he boarded his morning British Airways flight at Heathrow. Furious that the service at his first-class seat didn’t meet his expectations, he stormed the cockpit to complain to the captain. When he refused to sit down and stop shouting, police had to be summoned. Armed with Taser guns, they marched him off the plane.

The No Such Thing as Bad Publicity Award

… goes to Maygan Sensenberger, the 23-year-old wife of Canadian Senator Rod Zimmer, 46 years her senior. There are various versions of what happened on an Air Canada flight to Saskatoon from Ottawa, but it seems that the woman’s loud outbursts resulted in police meeting the plane and putting her under arrest. She claims she was worried hubby was having a heart attack. Some passengers insist she threatened to kill him. She was placed on probation and ordered to undergo counselling. “I think,” she told the court, “that when you’re in that kind of situation – when you’re distraught, you have few drinks in your system – you do things that you might not do [in normal] circumstances.” Still, the publicity boosted her lifelong dream of becoming an actor. She soon landed roles in two indie films.

The Unfitting Behaviour Award

… goes to two first-class passengers on a Qantas flight to Melbourne from Los Angeles. Prior to takeoff they threw a tantrum on learning there were no pyjamas available in their size – XL. Cabin crew offered PJs from business class that would fit them, but the couple demanded to leave. Offloading their luggage delayed the flight for 30 minutes. Expecting sympathy, the couple ordered the captain to announce the reason for the holdup. When he did, the other passengers erupted in laughter.

The Only Following Orders Award

… goes to TSA screeners at the Wichita, Kan., airport. They ordered a physical pat-down for a four-year-old girl because she ran back to hug her grandmother after she and her mother had passed through security without incident. The girl, who had just been taught about “stranger danger” at school, became hysterical. The screeners called her an unco-operative suspect and threatened to shut down the airport. The mother later wrote on Facebook that the girl had been treated like a terrorist. The TSA insisted it only followed normal procedures.

The Standard of Indecency Award

… goes to the Standard Hotel, operator of boutique hotels in five U.S. cities. Its fall ad campaign featured three photographs by Austrian artist Erwin Wurm. One shows a woman urinating on a rug in front of a male onlooker. In another, a woman spits into a bowl of soup, while in a third a man sticks his head down a woman’s sweater in a restaurant. The chain says the ads are intended to be “cool” and are aimed at its target clientele of tastemakers, influencers and trendsetters.

The Las Vegas Strip Award

… goes to Prince Harry, who lost a game of strip billiards while partying in a Las Vegas hotel suite. Someone snapped cellphone photos of the royal in the raw hugging an equally nude woman. The shot revealed everything but the crown jewels. A tight-lipped Buckingham Palace flack said only that Harry was on a private holiday before returning to Afghanistan. Las Vegas reacted with a major ad campaign stressing its old motto that what happens in Vegas should stay there.

The Shirt Off His Back Award

… goes to the WestJet flight attendant who ordered Ted Carson to take off his T-shirt before boarding a flight. She insisted its Ragged Ass Rd. logo didn’t suit the carrier’s family friendly policy. Carson explained that the Yellowknife street is a tourist landmark and that images of its sign are popular souvenirs. The airline, which has flown to Yellowknife since 2000, issued an apology on Twitter. It was accompanied by a photo of President Gregg Saretsky’s office door, which has sported a Ragged Ass Rd. bumper sticker for the last two years.

The Binders Full of Windows Award

… goes to U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney, for revealing his fuzzy understanding of aircraft engineering. Speaking at a fundraiser, he talked of his worries when his wife Ann’s plane had to make an emergency landing. “When you have a fire in an aircraft,” he said, “there’s no place to go, exactly … and you can’t find any oxygen from outside the aircraft to get in the aircraft, because the windows don’t open. I don’t know why they don’t do that. It’s a real problem. So it’s very dangerous.”

The Maybe They Should Have Used Twist-ties Award

… goes to Ryanair which took cost-cutting a little too far. Passengers boarding a London-to-Latvia flight were startled to see two workers repairing a crack in the cockpit windscreen with sticky tape. The makeshift remedy lasted all of 20 minutes after takeoff. Then the patch peeled away and the window began vibrating loudly. Passengers panicked as the plane turned back to its point of origin. Ryanair’s official response: “We do not comment on routine technical issues.”

The Off the Wall Award

… goes to Kevin Hudgeons, an American cruise passenger who disembarked from the Norwegian Star in Bermuda carrying a door-sized copy of a Rembrandt painting valued at more than $13,000. Asked where he was taking it, he replied, “I’m going to mail it home.” His various explanations included winning it in a raffle, buying it at an auction and painting it himself. A check of the ship’s video showed him removing it from a wall. He got off with a $500 fine after his lawyer pointed out that he was a recovering drug addict.

The Full Moon Stargazing Award

… goes to William Shatner, who chose a loose-fitting wardrobe for a flight out of Los Angeles airport. He was being given an in-depth check by security officials when his beltless trousers dropped to the floor. Dozens of travellers saw his underwear. “It was awful to have people looking at me with my pants down,” he said later, “probably the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to me.”

The Morning After the Night Before Award

… goes to two young Welshmen who drank too much vodka on a working holiday in Australia. They woke up to hangovers and a frightened fairy penguin called Dirk in their apartment. The previous evening, accompanied by an equally boozed-up Australian teen, they broke into the Queensland Sea World, let off a fire extinguisher in the shark tank, went swimming in their underwear with dolphins, and brought Dirk home as a trophy. Panicking in the cold light of morning, they released the bird into a canal from which it was eventually rescued with no ill effects. In court later, the tourists were fined and the Australian put on probation. “You could have found yourselves in a morgue,” the judge warned the Welshmen, “if you’d gone into the wrong enclosure.”

The Self-Serve Check-In Award

… goes to a drunken Norwegian man who arrived too early for his flight home from Rome’s Fiumicino Airport. Finding the check-in desk closed, he lay down on the luggage conveyor belt to wait and drifted off to sleep. Later, after someone activated the belt, security screeners were startled to see the man’s body outline and internal organs clearly displayed on their X-ray screens. He had travelled about 150 metres into a secure area without waking up.

The Wake Me When It’s Over Award

… goes to Patrice Christine Ahmed, a French woman who took sleeping pills at the start of her long flight to Paris from Pakistan. They obviously worked. She slept through the entire flight, which included a stop in Milan. She was asleep when the plane landed at the French capital and for the two hours it remained on the ground there. When she finally awoke, the aircraft was on its way back to her starting point. Pakistan International Airways fixed her up with a new flight to Paris, but promised to send the bill to the party responsible for leaving her on the plane.

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