By Christopher ReynoldsTimes Staff Writer This won't take long. In fact, I'm betting you'll be able to read it in less time than it takes a major airline to put a human being on the phone when you want one.
Here, in less than 1,000 words, is what happened in the world of travel in 2007:
Airlines made more money, and American travelers suffered.
Oil companies made more money, and American travelers suffered.
Amtrak yet again failed to make money, and American travelers suffered.
The dollar weakened against the euro and the British pound, and American travelers suffered.
Southwest Airlines insisted on covering up a buxom 23-year-old passenger in a revealing outfit on a flight out of San Diego, and travelers. . . . Well, it's unclear how her fellow travelers felt. But the airline, employing its trademark flair for public relations, apologized and announced a sale with "skimpy" prices. (At American or United, the what do we do? memo would still be inching its way through the regional office.)
Meanwhile, JetBlue, which was beginning to look like a serious competitor with Southwest in the battle to claim the country's least-grumpy air passengers, stepped on its own public-relations cow patty.
Caught off-guard by an East Coast ice storm Feb. 14, the budget carrier canceled more than 1,000 flights. Other carriers avoided JetBlue's problems by canceling key flights sooner and moving pilots and aircraft more effectively. JetBlue's "humiliated and mortified" Chief Executive David Neeleman (since nudged upstairs to the chairman's seat), vowed various improvements (and refunds), and the furor dwindled. But we're still waiting for the "humiliation and mortification" sale.
On to the cruise news. On Feb. 21, a group of about a dozen American senior citizens left the Carnival cruise ship Liberty for a shore excursion near rough-and-tumble Puerto Limón, Costa Rica. As they took in the sights, police said, a 20-year-old would-be mugger and two cohorts confronted the group with a .38-caliber handgun. This prompted a retired Marine in the group to break the bad guy's neck. Police cleared the Americans. The retired Marine, whom authorities estimated was 70, remained anonymous. He and the rest of the group rejoined the western Caribbean cruise. . . .
Meanwhile, in Arizona, entrepreneur David Jin grew impatient at the glacial pace of improvement work by nature and/or God at the Grand Canyon and persuaded the Hualapai tribe to liven things up with a glass-floored, horseshoe-shaped observation deck on the west rim.
The Skywalk, about 4,000 feet above the canyon floor on reservation land, opened March 28, charging adults $74.95 to stand on it. Jin, who specializes in bringing Chinese visitors to Las Vegas, is said to have invested $40 million in the project. If you go by Skywalk spokesman Colin Daviau's figures, it's a big hit: about 250,000 visitors through mid-December, including "huge" numbers of Chinese tourists.
Maybe $74.95 sounds steep to you. Starting Jan. 1, the Hualapai are dropping the Skywalk cost from $74.95 to $59.90. Also, consider that the average American hotel room (as measured by Smith Travel Research) costs $106.63 this year, up 2.6% from 2006. This means sleeping on your cousin's floor is a better value than ever before.
In air-travel news: On Aug. 8, Virgin America launched service, looking to woo us with mood lighting, fancy in-flight entertainment systems and lots of stuff painted red. Early routes included flights from LAX to San Francisco, New York's JFK and Washington, D.C. As routes are added -- including LAX-Seattle on April 8 -- perhaps the airline can win some press attention at last for its shy, retiring and woefully underexposed founder, Richard Branson.
And speaking of underexposed air-travel phenomena: In October -- after an appearance at LAX in March to show off -- the super-jumbo Airbus A380 made its maiden commercial flight, a Singapore Airlines jaunt from Singapore to Sydney, Australia. The largest commercial jet ever holds 525 passengers when in three-class configuration (including a dozen enclosed passenger "suites") or 853 passengers if everybody flies economy class. (I know. That sounds like a punch line, but it's true.)
So far, Singapore Airlines is the principal carrier using the jets, which cost about $319 million each, but Qantas plans to start flying one between LAX and Sydney late in 2008. Other carriers will follow as soon as they can perfect overselling and delaying the flights. (Yeah, that was a punch line.)
Let's hope the super-jumbo's first year goes better than the Hawaii Superferry's. The idea in Hawaii was to offer low-cost inter-island transport by sea for people and cars, something many locals and tourists alike have long hoped for. But the August unveiling of the service devolved into a fiasco amid protests by environmentalists who say operators of the 350-foot-long catamaran and state officials have skirted environmental-review requirements. Honolulu-Maui service resumed Dec. 13 amid pledges by state officials to study environmental effects.
Finally, one more bit of cruise news. On Nov. 23, a Canadian-owned adventure travel ship off Antarctica hit ice in the wee hours and punctured its hull. The MS Explorer was near the South Shetland Islands, midway through a 19-day itinerary.
All 154 passengers and crew evacuated into lifeboats, where they waited for hours. They were finally towed away when a retired Marine jumped into the water with an anchor between his teeth and. . . . Sorry, that's not quite right. They sailed away aboard a Norwegian cruise ship. Their old vessel, meanwhile, rolled onto its side, turning red hull up like a wounded beast, then sank into the deep, where it is likely to remain unseen. Until David Jin builds an observation deck.