Air travel was once an elegant affair, as the TV show Pan Am reminds us. Flash-forward to 2011, when seeing the world meant crowded airports, foodless flights, pat-downs, body scans and fees for checked baggage. And then there were the kooks and crazies who created chaos along the way. In honour of their mishaps and misadventures, we present the 27th annual Travel Hall of Infamy Awards.
The Oh Shoot Award
… goes to Edward Deubler, a big shot in U.S. hunting organizations. Flying out of Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, he planned to carry his hunting rifle as hand luggage. At the request of a United Airlines ticket agent, Deubler attempted to demonstrate that the weapon wasn't loaded. Turns out it was. It went off, piercing the baggage scale and sending the agent to hospital with a shrapnel wound.
The Penalty for Boarding Award
… goes to members of Russia's junior hockey team. Giddy with delight after defeating Canada at the world championships in Buffalo, they whooped it up in a hotel bar. Come time for their flight to Moscow the next morning, some players were so intoxicated that they needed an assist to get on the airport bus. No sooner had the players scrambled aboard their airplane than Delta Air Lines staff kicked them off for “unruly behaviour.” A day later, the team flew home without incident, but only after Buffalo police escorted them to the airport.
The Easy Come Easy Go Award
… goes to The Real Housewives of D.C. TV star Michaele Salahi, who amassed a collection of more than 50 hotel bathrobes. According to her ex-husband, Tareq, Salahi's first action on checking into a room was to call housekeeping and report a missing gown. When a new one was sent up, she tucked it away in her suitcase. All went well until she ran off with Journey guitarist Neal Schon. In a pique of anger, Tareq sold the robes in a charity auction, along with other items Salahi left behind. They included bed linen, clothes, furniture and two original sculptures.
The Mile Too High Club Award
… goes to Cathay Pacific. The carrier was publicly embarrassed when photographs of two crew members hit the Internet. The images showed a pilot and flight attendant engaged in a sexual act in a cockpit. Because of the publicity, the airline delayed the launch of a major ad campaign that was to feature staff members in informal poses. The tagline on the postponed ads read: “Meet the team who go the extra mile to make you feel special.”
The Blame It on the Altitude Award
… goes to airline passengers who misbehave. The alcohol-fuelled behaviour of two Research In Motion employees forced an Air Canada Toronto-to-Beijing flight to make an unscheduled stop in Vancouver. The men were put on probation, ordered to reimburse the airline $71,757 for the costs of the delay, banned from Air Canada for one year and lost their jobs at RIM. Aboard a Virgin Atlantic flight, a school teacher drank a half litre of whisky, then groped a steward and demanded sex. On another flight of the same airline, a married couple from London and the wife's 76-year-old father started a 30-minute punch-up with other passengers when they were asked to stop being noisy. And a young man flying with Thomson Airways went berserk and tried to open a door. “It's okay,” he told those who attempted to restrain him, “we are on a flight simulator.”
The Broken Telephone Award
… goes to Southwest Airlines, which ordered a Muslim woman off a flight prior to takeoff. Her crime: She was wearing a head scarf and a flight attendant thought she said, “It's a go” while on her cellphone. In fact, the woman said, “I've got to go,” as she ended her conversation.
The Unanchored Mind Award