The Worst Travel Nightmares of 2019
This year has seen its fair share of travel nightmares—from stranded passengers in scary situations to plane crashes and unexplained deaths. Here’s the worst of the bunch.
When traveling goes very wrong
Billions of people travel every year without a problem. In fact, there are an average of 1.4 billion international arrivals annually, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization. Sure, some travelers experience bumps in the road (or sea or sky) on the way to their destinations, but it’s usually a minor occurrence, even when it feels major at the time. But then there are the headline-making travel nightmares that make you wonder if you ever want to leave your house again. Thankfully, those incidents are rare…but that doesn’t make them any less aggravating, concerning, or downright terrifying. Here’s what happened in 2019.
Ethiopian Airlines’ fatal crash
A deadly crash aboard a Boeing 737 Max aircraft in Ethiopia this past March killed all 157 people on board. This happened five months after another 737 Max crashed in Indonesia. Now dubbed “the flying coffin,” the 737 Max has been grounded, and manufacturer at Boeing is being questioned as to why these planes continued to fly, knowing their issues. Luckily, flying is pretty safe overall—and here are some facts that will reassure you.
Wow Airlines stopped operating
Suddenly and without warning, Wow Air ceased operations in March, canceling flights and leaving passengers stranded. The budget Icelandic airline said that some people were entitled to compensation, but in the meantime, passengers gathered in airports waiting for their flights—some of which were canceled just 20 minutes before their scheduled boarding. The no-frills Wow Air was founded in 2011, and it became popular due to its relatively inexpensive fares from Iceland across the Atlantic. Find out more about what happens (and what passengers can do) when an airline shuts down.
A number of other airlines shuttered as well
It’s been a rough year in the sky. First, we lost Wow Air. Next, we said goodbye to Germania, the European airline that couldn’t keep up with the price of fuel. Flybmi, based in the United Kingdom, soon followed. In February, the Dutch Caribbean–based Insel Air declared bankruptcy, followed by Saratov Airlines, which couldn’t survive its reputation after a flight crashed and killed 71 people last February. Finally, California Pacific (an American regional airline that struggled with its certifications, fleets, and routes in addition to other logistical issues) perished, though it has promised to return. Fingers crossed. Learn some more of the worst (and best!) news for air travelers in 2019.
Thomas Cook’s sudden departure
Thousands were stranded in airports around the world in September after one of the oldest tour companies announced that it was shuttering. A whopping 150,000 travelers needed to find alternate plans when Thomas Cook said that all of its flights and bookings were canceled—effective immediately. Thankfully, nearly everyone was refunded for their travel. If you prefer booking your own trips, make sure you know these secrets to traveling cheap, according to travel agents.
A Viking cruise stranded passengers in rough seas
SVEIN OVE EKORNESVAG/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
In March, a Viking Sky cruise ship suffered an engine failure due to low oil levels off the coast of Norway, and more than 1,300 people were stranded in very rough seas. Passengers were posting traumatic videos on social media showing overturned tables, furniture sliding, and other scary scenes. Dozens were injured, and hundreds needed to be helicoptered off the ship. Of course, cruise problems, like flight problems, are rare. If sailing the seas is in your future travel plans, here’s what travel experts say you should know about booking a cruise.
Mysterious deaths in the Dominican Republic
Tourism in the Dominican Republic took a sharp dip this year after 11 Americans died between June 2018 and May 2019 for no apparent reason in resorts there. Some believe that tainted alcohol was responsible, but that theory has not been confirmed. That said, shortly after drinking from their minibars, many of the guests at varying hotels became sick or had heart attacks and never woke. This situation was declared a “tourism crisis,” although the United States maintained a level-two advisory to the DR. The FBI conducted toxicology tests but didn’t release the results, so the causes of the deaths are still under investigation. Here are other baffling forensic cases that stumped everyone.
A toddler fell to her death on a cruise ship
An 18-month-old girl fell to her death from a Royal Caribbean ship in July after the toddler’s grandfather held her against an open window in the ship’s play area, thinking it was closed. The grandfather was later charged with negligent homicide, though the family maintains that it was a tragic accident. The attorney representing the grandfather said the security video—which has not yet been released—will show that the fall was an accident, not a crime.
The Amazon rainforest burned in Brazil
Thousands of fires were set in Brazil’s rainforest in August to clear the land in a controversial move that many declared an environmental disaster. Airports were closed and clogged, and the Brazilian government declared it an emergency situation. People were told to live indoors while the forests—which are essential to soaking up carbon dioxide, helping with climate change—burned to the ground. The majority of the fires were started by ranch owners who wanted more land for their cattle to graze. Here’s what could happen if the entire Amazon rainforest disappears.
While awful on a variety of levels, this also directly affected travel to Brazil and the surrounding areas. It kept tourists away, since they were unable to visit due to the environmental hazards, though Brazil’s Tourism Board doesn’t have official travel-cancellation figures. This came at a time when Brazil’s government had been urging visitors to travel there, even waiving visa requirements starting in June. This was part of a planned government initiative to increase the South American nation’s visitor numbers. Brazil hosted 6.6 million visitors in 2018, and they had hoped to bring in 12 million by 2022.
A trio of deaths in the Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon National Park witnessed a slew of deaths this year. In a single eight-day stretch in April, in fact, three people died: A Japanese tourist’s body was found, though he was not a victim of a fall; a Hong Kong man slipped off the Grand Canyon’s rim while trying to take a picture; and then a 67-year-old California man fell from the edge (more details on his death aren’t known). The park has an average of 12 fatalities per year, which range from heat-related issues to drowning, but this cluster of deaths brought a lot of negative press to the Grand Canyon, leaving many to question how safe it really is to visit. If this makes you rethink a trip to the Grand Canyon, don’t worry—you have plenty of options, like these stunning national parks that are off the beaten path.