The year 2007 was not merely a tough one for travelers — it was a weird one as well. From Southwest enforcing unwritten and arbitrary skirt length laws to the Vatican getting into the traffic enforcement business, this year's travel news ran the gamut from the skimpy to the sacrosanct. Here are my picks for the 12 strangest travel stories of 2007.
1. DIY flight
Before we get into the odd and the awful from 2007, it might help to consider the alternatives. If you don't trust the airlines to get you there, you might try taking things into your own hands — or balloons, as the case may be. Kent Couch strapped 105 helium balloons to a lawn chair at his home in Bend, Ore., and lifted off, Idaho-bound. Nine hours later, he touched down in Union, Ore., about 60 miles short of Idaho, but still 193 miles from his takeoff point. Sure, you could drive the distance in less than half the time, but think of the view: 360 degrees of window seat.
2. The TB traveler
You're diagnosed with tuberculosis before your wedding, and you don't want to miss your honeymoon, so what do you do? Check into the nearest hospital, right? Nah, you book a ticket inside a metal tube (a plane, that is) full of otherwise healthy passengers and expose them to potential TB infection for 11 hours. Then, when authorities find you out, you do it again to get home before the feds find you.
3. Traffic violations a sin
Police officers consider it "a matter of faith" that every driver will commit at least one traffic violation each time they get in the car. The Vatican took this truism to its logical conclusion this year when it issued "Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road", which recommends that drivers yield to pedestrians, refrain from using cell phones while driving, obey speed limits and get regular tune-ups. Further, "Cars shall not be for you an expression of power and domination, and an occasion of sin."
Prayer is encouraged, particularly the rosary, as its "rhythm and gentle repetition does not distract the driver's attention." While I should probably say a prayer every time I pull onto Route 1 near my home (and forget about driving in Rome, wow), I rarely feel I should confess minor traffic violations. While this makes our top 12 strangest stories, nonetheless you may find quite a bit of sensible advice in the guidelines.
4. Who needs Rudolph (or mechanics)? goats guide Boeing 757
At a different intersection of religion and travel, meanwhile, Nepal Air officials took a different approach to keeping travelers safe, sacrificing two goats to "appease Akash Bhairab, the Hindu sky god, following technical problems with one of its Boeing 757 aircraft." A couple of good, live mechanics might be a better investment.
5. We don't have things such as maps
Although a large number of flush Americans travel widely, it's no longer a dirty secret that American youth don't know much about geography — the topic has become so mainstream it is a Miss Teen USA question. But no public awareness campaign has ever had the viral clout of Miss Teen South Carolina mumbling about things such as maps.
6. The miniskirt menace
There can't be too many folks reading this column who don't know the story of Kyla Ebbert, the Hooters waitress who was booted off a Southwest Airlines flight for wearing an outfit that would get her kicked out of her workplace for being overdressed. She has certainly had more than her 15 minutes of fame. Ebbert even had a copycat in Setara Qassim. Within reason, airlines can require whatever they want with respect to acceptable attire, if you ask me, and passengers can choose to fly with them or not. However, if Southwest wants to enforce a dress code, they should have one in the first place, or at least be consistent — note that Ms. Ebbert got past both the check-in agent and the gate agent without any complaint about her attire.
7. But they'll force you to wear a blanket
The airlines may not like skimpy outfits, but they'll allow you to sit on a soiled seat, and then force you to walk through the airport without any clothing, wrapped only in a blanket.
8. Even skimpier outfits — thanks to sleepwalkers
The Travelodge hotel chain released a study stating that sleepwalking in hotels was on the rise, with a seven-fold increase in 2007, often by naked lodgers. The problem inspired the chain to issue guidelines on how to deal with sleepwalkers, including keeping towels in the lobby to cover up naked slumbering wanderers.
9. Bye-bye, plane; bye-bye, family
If it's not the dress code that gets you booted from the plane, it might be your one-year-old kid behaving like, well, a one-year-old kid. When Garren Penland said "Bye-bye, plane" one too many times for a Continental flight attendant's liking, his mother, Kate, was told she needed to "shut your baby up," and then that she should drug her child to keep him quiet. When she refused to do so, the flight attendant convinced the pilot Ms. Penland was a threat, and the plane was returned to the gate, where the family was kicked off the plane. By that time, the kid was asleep.
10. Shut your pilot up
Back in April, a Northwest pilot cursed out passengers on the same flight he was to pilot. After overhearing a profanity-laced conversation he was having on his cell phone aboard the plane, passengers confronted him with his behavior, so he turned his filthy-mouthed wrath on them.
Inexplicably, the pilot was not given a field sobriety test. Additionally, while the pilot was removed from the plane and flown to Detroit, the intended destination of the flight, the flight itself was cancelled and the passengers had to hole up in a hotel overnight waiting for the next available flight out.
11. Congressman loses luggage, goes ballistic
While Congress is taking its time mulling over regulations that would hold airlines accountable to paying customers, a Congressman followed his own initiative in August. California representative Bob Filner allegedly shoved a United Airlines employee who tried to prevent Filner from entering an employees-only area to complain about a missing bag. Filner was charged with assault, to which he entered an Alford plea, in which he did not admit guilt, but conceded that enough evidence existed for a conviction, and paid a $100 fine.
A $100 fine seems small potatoes for a repeat offender, as Filner apparently likes to push people around.
12. Three ounces is one thing ...
While no one would argue that the shifting TSA regulations are clear and easy to follow, it would be hard to interpret the three-ounce liquid rule as covering a liter of vodka.
This behavior is so wrong on so many levels, I don't know where to start, so let's end here by raising a glass — a full bottle isn't necessary — and toast to a great 2008!