This is my favorite time of year -- when I make up my "best/worst" list -- because I give myself permission to let out all the stops and really say what's on my mind.
Normally, I'm a mild-mannered air travel analyst, but in this column, get ready for Rick Seaney, unleashed!
OK, I'm exaggerating just a bit. I'm still more Clark Kent than avenging superhero, but I have to admit I've gotten pretty indignant at times this year. Face it, has there ever been a crazier time for air travelers? This year has been one wild ride, and I'm not talking turbulence.
So, here's my list … this week, the "worst" of commercial aviation. Ready?
The Top Ten "Worst" List
1. Return to Yesteryear: A decade's worth of growth, out the window!
Blame it on the earlier fuel crisis and the current financial crunch; the bottom line is, where are all the seats? Gone, that's where. In a single year, capacity cuts removed 200,000-plus airline seats a day -- while prices soared -- so people who were only recently introduced to the glories of cheap air travel could no longer afford to fly.
Don't Forget: This "reverse growth" has already had a devastating impact on tourist-dependent economies throughout the U.S. -- and beyond.
2. Fuel Fiasco: Gone but not forgotten.
A barrel of oil zoomed to impossible heights, and airlines desperately added surcharges -- and we paid them. What choice did we have? But it didn't do much good; the airlines (with the exception of Hedge King Southwest) kept losing money like crazy. And kept many of the surcharges in place, even as the price of oil tanked.
Don't Forget: Passengers are still paying for fuel losses that the airlines racked up -- months ago!
3. Those Stinking Fees: Free checked bag? Oh, please!
When the legacy carriers began adding first and second checked bag fees, we passengers "understood." After all, oil prices were so high. Then, oil prices took a dive, but the bag fees didn't. The airlines discovered they simply brought in too much money -- hundreds of millions of dollars. This is one platinum goose they aren't ever going to kill.
Don't Forget: At least water is still free -- oh, wait, not on US Airways.
4. Trapped on the Tarmac: Wait a minute, is this still going on?!
Yes, it is. You still (sometimes) hear the cries of penned up passengers calling out for "Food! Water!! Clean restrooms!!!" Like on that Delta flight last July, when passengers were stuck on the tarmac for seven hours. Unfortunately, Congress never could get together to enact a real passengers' bill of rights. Maybe they thought the airlines would never allow this to happen again.
Don't Forget: They were wrong. It did happen again, in Ontario, Calif., just this month, as folks sat on the tarmac for nine hours.
5. Bye, Bye, Airlines: Now you see them, now you don't.
Remember Aloha, ATA, Maxjet and more? These are just a few of the airlines that went out of business this year, sometimes stranding their passengers with worthless tickets. Analysts couldn't decide if this was a healthy "survival of the fittest" process, or an ill omen of things to come.
Don't Forget: This epic "going out of business" sale may not be over yet.
6. Frequent Flier Flop: What do you mean, I can't get an upgrade?