The economy lurched. A volcano in Iceland spewed. A protest against airport searches sputtered.
The 2010 travel year could be irritating, even depressing. Most of my travels were fun, smooth and enjoyable. I always try to keep things in perspective by adding the words "for a travel editor" at the end of any complaint that runs through my head. It's been a tough day "for a travel editor." I'm stressed out "for a travel editor."
But even with the think-nice-thoughts mantra, there are always a few pimples, cracks and dents in the smooth surface of any travel year. I know it's an odd year when two of the airlines to win my "favorite" category in the past two years end up on the "worst" countdown in 2010. Here's a rundown of a few duds from the past year:
Least favorite airline: Virgin America. They swept us off our feet. Great airline. Great service. Good fares. Everything was going great. In January they said they loved us. By the end of May they were gone. They wanted Orange County — but the one in Florida. Orlando beckoned and without enough jets to go around, we were dumped harder than Jennifer Aniston. They're the worst because they were once the best.
Most disappointing place: Irvine, Scotland. Driving north into the Scottish Highlands, I took a detour to visit Irvine, Scotland. I was curious to see what the place with the same place name as our university town looked like. It was a mistake. There were some pretty old churches and pubs, but a 1970s urban renewal that put a squat mall across the river and a few other concrete-heavy alterations had wrecked whatever charm there once had been.
Most overblown issue No. 1: TSA scanners and body searches. No travel issue got more clicks on the Web, hours on talk radio and pages in newspapers than the supposed uprising brewing at Thanksgiving over the new full-body scan detectors and the more invasive body searches for those who opted out. It's a legitimate issue, but the prognosticators who forecast a mass uprising at the airports were operating in an echo chamber. Most people just wanted to get to Grandma's house for Thanksgiving, not start a revolution.
Most overblown issue No. 2: Carnival Splendor. Titanic or Andrea Doria? The coverage of this cruise ship mishap went way overboard. To recap: An engine room fire disabled the ship off Mexico. One passenger was injured. The ship was in calm waters and emergency help was there immediately. The ship was always in communication with U.S. officials. An aircraft carrier and Coast Guard cutters were sent out to shepherd the big box back to San Diego. It was an unpleasant, odiferous experience, but hardly the "cruise from hell" that received wall-to-wall media coverage (including from me).
Least favorite flight: JetBlue Long Beach to Seattle. A reminder that when it comes to arguments with airlines, they hold nearly all the cards. I was already in Seattle and planned to bring my family up for Valentine's Day. With winter storms disrupting flights throughout the U.S., JetBlue canceled my family's flight from Long Beach to Seattle, neither of which was affected by weather. It's possible that this was part of a domino effect, but the reason for the cancellation kept shifting: mechanical problems, weather issues back east, crew problems. JetBlue paid me back for the half of each ticket we didn't use. But with JetBlue flights full for at least two days, my only option was to buy one-way tickets to Seattle from John Wayne Airport. JetBlue didn't offer to repay me for those tickets or for the larger family-size hotel room I booked that I ended up spending the night in solo.
Most disappointing airplane: Boeing 787. The Dreamliner's rollout has been a nightmare for Boeing. Dozens should be flying by now, but the first delivery has been pushed back to this summer. Two years ago, the company looked brilliant as the humongous A380 built by its only major competitor, Airbus, struggled with slow sales. But Boeing's vast supply chain and design problems have pushed back the 787's delivery date seven times. The plane of the future seems perpetually stuck in the future.
Saddest new word I learned: Massaria. Few things in nature are more majestic than the tall, wide canopies of plane trees that are natural icons of the Royal Parks in London. This fall, the Forestry Commission reported that Massaria inquinans, a fast-moving fungus from the continent, was spreading through Hyde and St. James Park, along with my beloved Green Park. It doesn't kill off the trees but deadens whole branches, which have to be lopped off before they come crashing down on pedestrians. The amputations remove the umbrella effect of the large limbs intermingling along the pathways.
Least favorite ad trend: "Earned advertising." Companies' need to gain social media cool has led to a lot of what they call "earned advertising," which is really advertising masquerading as stories or other content. In a Coca-Cola campaign called Expedition 206 (expedition206.com), the soda giant sent three young people to all 206 countries where Coke is sold. They blogged, tweeted and sent photos to Flickr. It was all a big product placement. Ugh.