The government shutdown’s surprise effect on travelers

Orhan Kam/Shutterstock
Orhan Kam/Shutterstock
The government shutdown was supposed to be a non-event for travelers, but it didn’t quite turn out that way.

When a gridlocked Congress shuttered vast sections of the federal government on Oct. 1 and furloughed 800,000 workers, its decision touched tourists in unexpected ways, from abruptly canceling a camping trip in a national park to foiling a destination wedding. It drained visitors from popular attractions, causing hotel occupancy rates to plummet and hurting other travel-related businesses.

Along the way, many travelers have discovered the important — and often underappreciated — part that the federal government plays in travel.

Without the government, they learned, some of the most interesting parts of the travel industry simply wouldn’t exist. “People haven’t been as aware of the government’s role in travel,” says Joshua Huder, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Government Affairs Institute.
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No compensation for Air Force One delay?

Couperfield / Shutterstock.com
Couperfield / Shutterstock.com
Here’s a complaint you don’t see every day. It comes to us by way of Alex Johnston, who was flying from San Francisco to Charlottesville, Va., via Washington on United Airlines.

“We boarded our flight in San Francisco on time,” she remembers. “But shortly after beginning our taxi, the pilot announced that we would be delayed 45 minutes to an hour on the runway because Air Force One was in front of us, flying the same route, so we must wait and allow them the space and time they needed.”

Of course, there’s a good reason for keeping a minimum distance between Air Force One and other air traffic. There have been several close calls between the presidential aircraft and other planes in the past.
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Oops! Wrong inaugural rate at the Capitol Hill Hotel Washington D.C.

Faith James likes to think of herself as a “pretty savvy traveler” but when she planned to attend the presidential inauguration in Washington next month, she couldn’t have foreseen the trouble with the Capitol Hill Hotel Washington D.C.

I couldn’t have, either.

James is taking her 78-year-old mother up to DC to attend the festivities. They were lucky enough to get tickets from their congressman, but accommodations proved to be a little more difficult.
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Time to get political? Yes, and here’s how

Consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren is running for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts and across the country, the Occupy Wall Street movement has taken hold as a grassroots consumer movement. Of course, there’s also Ralph Nader, who has made two unsuccessful presidential bids.

Add it all up and you can’t help but wonder if the time has come for consumers to get political.

Before I give you the answer, let’s consider a few facts about how businesses influence the legislative process. Corporate America and other special interest groups, including unions and trade groups, spent a record $3.51 billion on lobbying in 2010, according to OpenSecrets.org, which is more than twice the $1.56 billion spent just a decade earlier. That’s a whole lotta money.
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Do travelers need new federal protections?

It’s not your imagination. Congress seems to be paying closer attention to travelers’ welfare.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the International Travelers Bill of Rights, proposed bipartisan legislation that would require online travel agencies to disclose information about the potential health and safety risks of overseas vacation destinations marketed on their sites. A week earlier, I covered the aggressive new tarmac-delay laws included in the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill.
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Ridiculous or not? Hotels eye airline-like rebooking fees

I‘m always on the lookout for new fees, so when Katherine Walton emailed me about her recent stay at the Chateau Timberline, a hotel in Packwood, Wash., she had my attention.

Walton needed to cancel her reservation a day before her arrival.

“An agent told me they would charge a $100 fee – the price of one night,” she says. “So even if they are able to rebook the room I will not get a refund.”
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