What will you remember most about your travels in 2019? It’s certainly been an eventful year, particularly for an airline industry forced to carry over its current struggles into the year ahead.
For a sense of what 2020 has in store for travelers, we need only look back at some of the most memorable headlines of 2019.
The Top Travel Stories of 2019
More Ultra Long-Haul Flights
Today’s airplanes are more fuel-efficient than ever, and that opens the door for new long haul routes that would have been unthinkable in previous years. In November, Australian carrier Qantas operated a test flight from London to Sydney, breaking records for the world’s longest flight by a commercial carrier for both distance and time, covering 11,060 miles in 19 hours and 19 minutes.
This comes just one year after Qantas introduced nonstop service between London and Perth at 9,010 miles in 17 hours and 20 minutes.
Related: 7 Cheap Places to Visit in 2020
The Trump Administration Restricts Travel to Cuba, Again
In April, the Trump administration announced plans to tighten restrictions on travel to Cuba, essentially reversing policies implemented by the previous administration. Under the new rules, travel is now limited to family visits in an effort to crack down on what the administration sees as “veiled tourism.” The change will surely have a major impact on airlines, cruises, and tour operators, not to mention American tourists.
Hotly Anticipated New Routes from JetBlue and Southwest
It was a big year for expansion, as JetBlue announced its first-ever routes to Europe last April. The Queens, New York-based carrier will add daily nonstop service to London from both New York and Boston. Flights are expected to begin sometime in 2021.
The big draw will be JetBlue’s popular business product, known as Mint, which will be priced much lower than business class on competing carriers. “I looked at some legacy brands and what they were charging a week out for business class between London and New York and it is obscene...eight, nine, or ten thousand dollars. And, when we see that, we know that we can do that a lot cheaper,” said JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes.
And after being delayed by the longest government shutdown in history, Southwest finally launched its Hawaii service in March. Fares from the West Coast were initially going for $98 roundtrip, with competing carriers dropping fares to match. Additional Hawaiian routes were rolled out later in the year.
Not on Board with Babies Onboard
Japan Airlines caused a minor stir when news of its baby vetting feature began making the rounds on social media. The policy had long been in place but became known when a U.S. passenger tweeted a thank you to the airline for alerting him that a baby would be seated nearby. "Passengers traveling with children between 8 days and two years old who select their seats on the JAL website will have a child icon displayed on their seats on the seat selection screen," according to JAL.
While this may be the first time an airline has thought to let other passengers know if they're seated near children, it’s not the first airline to experiment with child seating. Malaysia Airlines, Scoot, and AirAsia all offer child-free cabins.
Will U.S. carriers launch something similar in 2020? Don’t hold your breath.
The Flygskam Movement and Climate Awareness
The transatlantic crossing by climate change activist Greta Thunberg served as a wake-up call to many travelers considering for the first time the impact flying has on the climate. As passengers look for ways to offset their carbon footprint, airlines are also beginning to rethink old ways. Last January, Etihad flew the world’s first commercial flight using locally produced biofuel derived from picklegrass oil. This comes after Qantas used mustard seed biofuel to power a 2018 flight from Los Angeles to Melbourne.
Meanwhile, Dutch carrier KLM has cut back on its daily service between Amsterdam and Brussels, partnering with local rail companies to urge passengers to take the train instead.
Trouble Continues for Boeing’s 737 MAX 8
In what was certainly the biggest travel story of 2019, the crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 in March led aviation authorities around the world to ground all Boeing 737 MAX aircraft indefinitely. The crash was the second in five months for the 737 MAX, both the result of faulty automated flight control sensors which caused the planes to nosedive. Boeing failed to communicate details of this new feature to pilots and neglected to include it in training manuals.
The ongoing grounding of the 737 MAX has been an enormous headache for airlines who have spent much of 2019 adjusting schedules to cover gaps in their fleets. Initially expected to last only a few months, airlines have now extended cancelations through June 2020 as Boeing awaits approval by the FAA.
Of U.S. carriers, Southwest has been hit the hardest, with 34 in its fleet, followed by American Airlines with 24.
Boeing is expected to lose $8 billion as a result of its 737-Max woes, a figure that does not include—according to the New York Times—the $100 million fund for passenger families affected by the crash, nor does it include any reimbursements to airlines for lost revenue.
New Year, New ID Rules for the TSA
The TSA has spent much of 2019 reminding folks of upcoming changes to ID rules in the new year. With that in mind, you may want to confirm that your current driver’s license is compliant with new TSA guidelines.
The new ID rules are set to go into effect on October 1, 2020, and will apply to all passengers 18 years and older. According to the TSA site, “REAL ID-compliant cards are generally marked with a star located in the upper portion of the card. If you’re not sure, contact your state driver’s license agency on how to obtain a REAL ID-compliant card.” More info on this at tsa.gov.