Let’s face it: We air passengers weren’t at our best in 2014. We got into fights over reclining seats. In retrospect, we did kinda overreact to Ebola. And once again our hopes that this would be the year that people finally realized it’s not cool to take your shoes off on an airplane were dashed.
And yet, airlines managed to be even worse than their passengers, inventing new and innovative ways to demonstrate apathy and incompetence. Sure, some of big flops this year weren’t entirely the fault of the airlines. Still, they put airlines in the headlines for all the wrong reasons — and made us shake our heads and say, “This crap doesn’t happen on trains.”
1. VietJet’s sexy photo shoot
It was bad enough that VietJet did a photo shoot that revived that unfortunate sexy-flight-attendant trope, which we thought had gone out with Pan Am. What really got us was that once the airline started getting called out for its sexist campaign, it tried to claim that the photos were just a “trial shoot” for a proposed campaign — an undress rehearsal? — that, oh my gosh, one of their models accidentally posted on her popular Facebook page.
Sorry, we didn’t buy your story, VietJet. Guess years of reading airlines’ fictional departure/arrival times have made us skeptical.
2. Virgin Australia bathroom leak
A Virgin Australia flight from Los Angeles to Sydney had to turn around after liquid spilled from the bathroom into the aisle. Despite claims from the passengers that the toilets had backed up and there was human waste streaming through the aisles, Virgin had to clarify that it was the sink that was leaking and that there was no human waste in the leak. When you have to issue a statement clarifying that a smelly onboard spill on your plane did not contain feces, you’ve had a fail.
3. The puke plane
Also from the smelly-flight file, an Israel-to-Philadelphia US Airways flight had to make an emergency landing after a puking epidemic broke out. Apparently a strange odor on the plane caused more than a dozen passengers and crew members to begin vomiting. Something similar happened in the 1980s comedy Airplane, except this wasn’t funny. And this flight didn’t serve fish.
4. United Airlines’ lame apology
You know how “Sorry if I offended you” is a lame apology? This is even lamer. United Airlines sent a laughably impersonal form letter to a Reddit user named “lyndy.” It was addressed to “Mrs. ——” and included such sentences as “Your comments regarding (SPECIFIC EVENT) will be used for coaching and training our employees” and ”(CUSTOMER NAME), I ask that you allow us another opportunity to serve you.” The only possible response: “Dear (LAME AIRLINE): Please go (ANATOMICALLY IMPOSSIBLE PHYSICAL ACT) yourself.”
5. Malaysia Airlines’ bad timing
No airline had a worse year than Malaysia Airlines. One of its planes, Flight 370, vanished with 239 people on board in March. And another of its planes, Flight 17, was shot down in Ukraine with 298 on board. With the circumstances behind both tragedies still somewhat mysterious, it probably was not the best time for not one but two Malaysia Airlines faux pas: having a “bucket list” contest asking passengers to come up with places they want to go before they die, and sending out a tweet for another promotion that read, “Want to go somewhere but don’t know where?” This was a pair of devastating unforced errors that this airline did not need.
6. Southwest tweet
Someone needs to tell Southwest Airlines that sticks and stones may break your bones but tweets will never hurt you — unless you overreact to them. The airline was savagely criticized this summer after its gate agents in Denver pulled a passenger and his kids off a flight. The reason for that draconian action: The passenger, Duff Watson, had posted a complaint about a gate agent on Twitter. Watson said he hadn’t been allowed to reboard until he deleted the tweet. He said that Southwest later apologized and offered him flight vouchers, but that failed to fix the damage. Southwest may have a reputation for low fares, but the incident also gave them a rep for having a thin skin.
7. Delta loses dog
A heartbreaking fail on the part of Delta Airlines. Passenger Frank Ramano says Delta lost his dog. The 6-year-old pit rescue, Ty, apparently had chewed through his crate and escaped. Ramano very publicly shared his story of losing his best friend and the runaround he says he got from the airline, causing countless dog lovers to join him in sympathy — and in anger at Delta.
8. Lost grandma
This story of a lost loved one has a much happier ending. A sick 85-year-old grandmother attempting to fly from Newark to Denver on Southwest Airlines missed her flight, and people feared she was lost. Turns out she wasn’t lost at all; a skycap had wheeled her to the gate and didn’t tell the gate agents she was there. This was hardly Southwest’s fault; the skycap worked for the airport, not the airline, and it was Southwest employees who fixed the situation. Still, “Airline Loses Sick Grandma” is not a headline you want.
9. Lufthansa strikes
Lufthansa embarked on a series of cost-cutting measures to save money. But the resulting walkouts by its pilots this year have cost the airline a pretty penny — an estimated $250 million, to be exact. The walkouts, staged by pilots angered by the airline’s proposed changes to retirement benefits, forced the cancellations of hundreds of flights and disrupted the travel plans of tens of thousands of people worldwide.
10. Korean Air nutroversy
This end-of-year story is tops because it has all the classic elements of a farcical airline flop: an innocuous incident (the daughter of Korean Air’s chairman is served macadamia nuts improperly on a flight out of JFK); a ridiculous overreaction (the daughter, who’s also an exec at the airline, angrily orders the plane to return to the gate to kick off the offending flight attendant); a public apology (by not only the airline exec but her father too) followed by an international nut storm (the exec faces a criminal investigation, the entire airline faces fines and suspension, and South Korea’s family-owned conglomerates face public backlash); complete with a delicious cherry-on-top epilogue (South Korea’s macadamia nut sales are exploding). Nicely — or should we say, badly — played, Korean Air.