Top Five Worst Travel Stories of the Week

Worst Travel Week
Worst Travel Week Ever

Insanity reigned last week, and not just in the air travel industry: Perhaps you heard that the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court was stepping down. Only it turned out, he wasn't. It didn't seem to matter that this "breaking news" story originated with a celebrity gossip site best known for its in-depth OctoMom coverage. People believed it.

So I was particularly amused at how absurd some of last week's true tales sounded. You know, the bizarre incidents involving fake pilots, child controllers and more. But true they were. Which begs the question: Was there something in the water last week? Something in those complimentary packs of peanuts?

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Let's examine some of the craziness before we return to the normal; or as I call it, the "full upright position." What follows are, in my opinion, the Top Five Worst Travel Incidents in a Single Week. As a bonus, there is one honorable mention, and I provide an upside to each incident.

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#1: The Make-Believe Pilot

A 41-year-old pilot from the Netherlands was arrested in the cockpit of his 737 as he was about to take off for Ankara with more than 100 passengers on board, because he was a fake. He is accused of passing himself off as a commercial pilot, but his license was reportedly a complete sham.

How'd he get away with it? The head of the Dutch Airline Pilots Association said, "It's a bit like a driving license -- it doesn't normally get checked unless you do something wrong." And that's supposed to make us feel better?

Upside: Mr. Fake Pilot wasn't completely clueless; licensed or not, he reportedly had been piloting passenger planes for a variety of European airlines for the past 13 years.

#2: Coffee, Tea or Whatever?

Before you open your mouth, yes, I know flight attendants are wonderful, hard working people who don't get paid enough, but please, I didn't make this up: it seems Japanese "role-playing" clubs (uh, yes, these are for adults only, if you get my drift) will pay top dollar for authentic flight attendant uniforms.

The folks here at ABC News even reported on a Japanese club that looks like an airline, complete with first class and business class seating, as well as faux-flight-attendant "hostesses." Anyway, Japan Airlines, which is laying off 400 cabin crew members, has been quick to say flight attendant uniforms are owned by the company, and must be returned.

Upside: Apparently, some of those flight attendant uniforms do make their way to online auction sites, with price tags in the thousands of dollars; a nice little severance package, perhaps, for a newly unemployed cabin crew member.

#3: Kids Say the Darndest Things

They do indeed, but I don't think the old Art Linkletter show ever featured a youngster at JFK's air traffic control tower, saying, "JetBlue 171, you are cleared for takeoff." The boy's father, an air traffic controller who apparently couldn't find a sitter, has been placed on administrative leave.

Upside: At least this air traffic controller was no sexist; before this story broke, he allegedly took his little girl to work the next day and let her play controller, too.

#4: Airplane Art

AirTran plastered a pinup on the nose of one of its 737s -- a picture of a spike-heeled swimsuit model, part of a publicity stunt celebrating the airline's partnership with Sports Illustrated.

The effect is kind of similar to a World War II B-24 adorned with a rendering of the pilot's best girl, but some AirTran flight attendants didn't think it was funny. Their association released a statement saying the bathing beauty was offensive to female employees and didn't do much to help the airline's "family image" either.

Upside: The promotion will end shortly, and the pinup plane will soon be pristine again.

#5: Two Sad Retirements

US Airways Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, of "Miracle on the Hudson" fame, announced his retirement. And the music video saga of "United Breaks Guitars" has also come to an end.

Capt. Sully, you'll recall, was the cool and composed pilot whose training and skills saved a planeload of passengers when his engines flamed out and he gently landed his plane in New York's Hudson River.

Dave Carroll soared to fame after his guitar broke during a United flight and the airline wouldn't do anything about it. So he began composing a three-song saga, detailing the airline's shortcomings, which became a YouTube favorite. His final music video was released last week.

Upside: Carroll points out in the lyrics of Song #3 that, "They're not all bad apples at United; some of them are only slightly bruised" -- so I guess the airline can breathe easier. And Sully will continue to speak out on safety, as he proved recently by gently admonishing a TMZ cameraman shadowing him outside an airport to "get out of the traffic." Another life saved.

Honorable Mention: "Stewardess" Stereotypes

At first glance, the new reality show "Fly Girls," featuring attractive Virgin America flight attendants, wouldn't seem to belong on anyone's "worst" list, unless you're concerned with stereotypes. Here's a description of the series from the creative types:

"Real, down-to-earth young women who happen to have landed in an exceptionally glamorous, high-flying career filled with exotic locations and handsome strangers."

I bet real flight attendants are laughing themselves silly over that "glamorous" part -- or they would if they weren't so busy with the safety instructions and hustling those drink carts down the aisles.

Upside: If past audiences are any indication, this show could be a big hit: in the publicity photos released last week, we saw that the cast includes a pretty blond named Farrah. Deja vu, anyone?

This work is the opinion of the columnist and does not reflect the opinion of ABC News.

Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations, including ABC News, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, the Associated Press and Bloomberg. His Web site offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deal.