Your New Year’s resolution: Trust no one

Tom Wang/Shutterstock
Tom Wang/Shutterstock
With the irrational holiday shopping season now in your rear-view mirror, this is a good time to consider how you feel about the companies to which you’ve just given half your life savings.

Maybe you don’t trust them. Maybe you don’t believe anything their executives say.

Maybe that’s a good thing.

I was reminded of how little customers trust companies when I participated in a recent panel discussion at a public relations conference in Miami. The panel host, from the PR agency Edelman, had released a survey that suggested only 15 percent of American consumers trust the words that come from an executive’s mouth. Only half trust business as an institution.

Other polls, I was not surprised to learn, put the trust figures in the single digits.
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Your New Year’s travel resolution? Don’t be a jerk

Here’s a New Year’s resolution we can probably all agree on: Don’t be a jerk when you’re on the road.

There’s something about travel — whether you’re flying, driving or sailing — that brings out the jerk in all of us. Like the guy in seat 26B just in front of me right now on a flight from Honolulu to Los Angeles, who is probably a nice guy on the ground. But put him on a plane, and shortly after takeoff, he jams his seat into my knees without so much as an apology.

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7 lessons consumers learned in 2011

2011 was quite a year, wasn’t it?

As the economy struggled to recover from the Great Recession, consumers felt as if they had great big targets painted on their backs whenever they went to the store. That frustration led to the “Occupy” protests that took root in many American cities this fall.

What did we learn from 2011 and what does it mean for this year?
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No flying, more drinking, new places: Your 2009 travel resolutions on Twitter

What are your 2009 travel resolutions? I asked my friends on Twitter, and here’s what they had to say.

@DesertMama “My New years resolution is to not pay for any checked bags – whether it’s pay for an upgrade or carry on. Wish me luck.”

(Good luck.)

@soultravelers3 “Our travel resolution this year is to do slooow travel, relax & immerse deeply, travel green & eat healthy on our world tour!”

(Sounds like a plan.)

@Cajun_Mama “I really want to see the Aurora Borealis. Also taking a solo trip somewhere, like a mama walkabout. Destination unknown :)”

(The Aurora is awesome. Good resolution.)

@JoodyC “Good lord willin’ and the budget allows, I resolve to buy a fractional share of a plane so I don’t have to deal w/airports.”

(Are you kidding? If I had the money, I’d buy the whole plane!)

@sallymak26 “To explore more of our OWN country…especially now that gas is cheaper…hope to road trip at least two-three times in 2009!”

(I can already hear three little voices from the back of my car. Road trip! Road trip! Road trip!)

@caryt123 “i want to have multiple ‘mini’ vacations to destinations close to home. i may plan for a cruise too!”

(Good idea.)

@cestbest “I plan to fly less and not fly US Airways. There are better LCC options such as WN and B6.”

(I don’t think you are alone.)

@dmuth “My 2009 New Year’s Resolution is to drink more. :-)”

(I’ll drink to that.)

@karasw “Am turning 40 and celebrating 10th wedding anniversary=big year. Plane travel or new weekend destination every month!”

(So much for your “naycation.”)

@VisitNH “If you like to travel but funds are tight adventure locally. Visit a new city/town in your state for day trips or a long wknd”

(Ah, there we go.)

@chickefitz “No cruises with Mickey Mouse this year! I’m going back on Seabourne to the little ships for grownups!”

(Love Seabourne.)

@genochurch “to go back to Negril in 09. Booked :)”

(Who wouldn’t want to do that?)

@AnaLovesMusic “Travel Resolution: I want to see how many places/how far I can go without stepping on an airplane.”

(Yeah, you and everyone else in the country.)

So what are your 2009 travel resolutions? Leave a comment or follow me on Twitter and share your plans with everyone else.

Happy 2009!

Lessons learned from past holiday meltdowns

You can’t talk about the worst holiday travel experiences without mentioning the movie “Planes, Trains & Automobiles.”

The 1987 comedy, starring Steve Martin and John Candy, is about one frazzled business traveler’s struggle to get home in time for Thanksgiving. It’s a textbook holiday travel nightmare, featuring snowstorms, flight diversions and almost every imaginable delay.

Art has a way of imitating life. Or is it the other way around?

Perhaps our fascination and how closely many of us relate with the iconic ’80s flick says something important about us. We expect to have an incredibly negative experience, whether it’s being held hostage by a blizzard or trapped in a taxi that’s taking the scenic route.

What have we learned in the two decades since “Planes,” and what does it say about this year’s holidays?

Learning from our mistakes
One of the worst holiday air travel experiences in recent memory happened in early 1999. About 3,700 Northwest Airlines passengers returning to work after the New Year were trapped on parked planes at Detroit Metropolitan Airport for hours in a blizzard. The planes couldn’t take off or return to the gate, and travelers reportedly suffered inconveniences such as overflowing toilets and running out of food and water.

Some of the passengers sued Northwest and in a 2001 settlement, the airline agreed to pay each passenger an average of $1,300 as compensation. Sadly, the industry didn’t learn back then that trapping passengers on a plane was bad for business. They’ve done it time and again, including JetBlue’s infamous Valentine’s Day meltdown in New York and American Airlines’ stranding of passengers in Austin in early 2007, which led to the latest passenger rights revolution.

Weather turns nasty, roads get dangerous
Many of the worst traffic accidents on American roads happen during the winter holiday travel period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Like the 99-car pileup on December 11, 1990, on Interstate 75 near Calhoun, Tenn., which was triggered when a tractor-trailer in the southbound lanes rear-ended another semi in the fog. In the ensuing pile-up, 12 people were killed and 42 injured. Other notable collisions include a 127-car pile-up in San Antonio, Texas(Dec. 2, 1994) and a 100-car pile-up in Central Michigan (Dec. 31, 1998).

Multiple-car accidents can happen any time of the year, but they seem particularly prevalent during the winter holiday period, when the weather turns bad and motorists get blitzed on eggnog before getting behind the wheel.

All the more reason to drive carefully — or not at all.

Holiday headaches on the high seas

True, the biggest cruise ship catastrophe in recent memory happened last April, when 1,200 passengers and a crew of 400 had to be evacuated from the Sea Diamond after she apparently hit a rock near the Greek island of Santorini — and eventually sunk.

But the winter holidays aren’t particularly kind to cruisers, either. On Nov. 23 of that year, more than 150 passengers and crew aboard Norwegian cruise ship MS Nordnorge had to be rescued near Antarctica when their ship is thought to have collided with an iceberg. And who can forget the Seabourn Spirit’s close call with pirates back in 2005? The buccaneers opened fire on the luxury liner with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades a few weeks before Thanksgiving. Fortunately, the attack was successfully repelled.

I’m not saying you should avoid cruising over the holidays. I am saying things happen. Mind the icebergs — and pirates.

Ask for a room on the ground floor
There have been few notable hotel accidents or disasters in the past, oh, 60 years. However, two of the deadliest hotel fires in U.S. history — one at the MGM Grand in 1980 and another at the Winecoff Hotel in Atlanta in 1947 — broke out during the winter holiday period. I know, both happened more than two decades ago, but you might consider staying on the ground floor during your holiday stay.

All aboard!
A review of the major railway disasters in the United States since the turn of the century suggests that statistically speaking, catching the train probably is your safest bet during the holidays.

The worst accidents tend to happen at other times of the year, although there are notable exceptions, such as the head-on collision on Nov. 29, 2004 of two CSX freight trains in Zephyrhills, Fla., which killed one person and injured three. But those were freight trains, so they don’t really count. Lesson learned? The train may be slow, but it’ll get you there in one piece.

Take the forecasts with a grain of salt
Be wary when studying the Thanksgiving travel forecasts — and those issued just before Christmas and New Year’s Day, for that matter. The best-known of the lot is done by AAA (and was released Tuesday), which last year predicted a “modest increase” in the number of Thanksgiving travelers. Nothing against AAA, or any of the other travel companies with predictions and polls, but it’s almost impossible to verify any of their claims. For example, AAA expected 31.2 million people to travel by car last Thanksgiving. Did they? Nobody knows. Truth is, no one counts how many motorists were on the road during the holiday weekend. What’s the point of making a forecast when no one will ever know if it is true? And will the forecasts stop people from making the trip to Grandma’s house? Unlikely.

So what does all of this mean? I think it means that our collective expectation that holiday travel will be a negative experience is both true — and untrue.

Yes, historically the holidays are a difficult time to be on the road. I haven’t even mentioned the long lines at the airport, the delays, the cranky fellow travelers, and, of course, the traffic. But this year may be different, as I recently predicted.

In fact, these holidays may be among the best in recent memory. Airlines, hotels and other travel companies are trying to coax travelers to open their wallets by offering attractive prices. If you’re diligent and flexible, you could find your best deal in years.

I could be wrong. I’ve been wrong before. At the press screening of “Planes, Trains & Automobiles,” I told director John Hughes he should consider a sequel to his cult classic “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” (I was a know-it-all college film critic back then, and that’s what know-it-all college film critics do. They tell Hollywood directors what to film.)

“Might be interesting,” he said.

Interesting, yes. But unnecessary — just like a sequel to holiday horrors we seem to endure every year at this time. Maybe we’ll get a break in 2008.

Every week, my column takes a close look at what makes the travel business tick. Your comments are always welcome, and if you can’t get enough of my column, drop by my blog for daily insights into the world of travel.