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1998 Travel World in Review

1998 Travel World In Review
by Rudy Maxa for Marketplace

New Word Added
We added a new word to our travel lexicon: "air rage." Forget about passengers in dirty T-shirts -- I long ago gave up hoping people on planes would dress as if they were going to a decent restaurant. Now, I'm just grateful if they don't go nuts.

The most incredible story of air rage took place just a few weeks ago. A passenger on a flight from Bangkok to Budapest aboard the Hungarian airline, Malev, struck a pilot and tried to strangle a flight attendant. After the crew managed to tie the out-of-control passenger into his seat, he received a tranquilizer shot from a doctor on board. By the time the plane landed in Istanbul, the passenger was dead. I bet flyers on Malev these days are behaving very, very nicely.

The Year of the Carry-On
This was also the year of the great carry-on debate. But the airlines can't agree on the rules. At several airports, airlines have erected some kind of Plexiglas sizers at the mouth of baggage x-ray machines so if your bag is too big to carry on, you can't even get it through security. In an absurd twist, Continental is suing Delta for installing that shield on an X-ray machine at the concourse the two airlines share at San Diego's airport.

Continental says it doesn't agree with Delta about the parameters of the Plexiglas, and its passengers are being inconvenienced. As travel columnist Joe Brancatelli points out, those X-ray machines aren't airline property -- they exist for security purposes, not to determine which bag is worthy of being taken aboard a Delta -- or anybody else's -- flight. It's time for the FAA to set a standard we all have to live by.

Not the Year of the Travel Agent
'98 was not a good year to be a travel agent. Many airlines put a cap on the commission they pay agents for selling an international ticket. A limit on commissions for domestic tickets had already forced many agencies to begin charging fees to customers. Expect that trend to continue. And then there's the Internet. As recently as last year, the president of the American Society of Travel Agents belittled the notion that Americans would book many airline tickets on-line. Wrong. The on-line service that let you bid on airline tickets, http://priceline.com, added hotel rooms to its on-line menu about six weeks ago. And one cruise line, Renaissance, encouraged customers to bypass agents by booking directly with the cruise line.

Travel agencies who don't specialize or offer extraordinary service could face a lean new year.

Cruise Ships Expanding
Speaking of cruise ships, they got bigger than ever this year. And they'll be bigger in '99 when Voyager of the Seas and the Carnival Triumph debut. This year, the world's first non-smoking ship began service.

Lower Fares
And if you like traveling abroad, airfares got lower in some parts of the world. Low-fare airlines have come to Europe as continent-wide deregulation finally brings Southwest-like prices to airfares there. In Asia, bad economic news kept that continent at the top of the list for best values for American travelers. If the economy in this country stays strong, you'll find fewer empty middle seats in '99. With gas prices low, highways and hotels will be more crowded, too.

All good news for a guy named Rudy Maxa, who's the Savvy Traveler for Marketplace.

Savvy Traveler on Marketplace

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