Travel Lessons We Can Learn From Summer 2007

Christopher Elliott took a couple of polls and determined that travel this summer wasn’t as bad as it seemed. 54 percent of those polled even said their summer travels had been “average.” You wouldn’t think so just by reading Gadling, let alone any other travel news.

But, Elliott concedes, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been a few rough patches. Flight delays, horrible customer service, an overburdened passport office and high fuel prices have all but made even the most enthusiastic travelers yell “uncle.”

So, what can we learn from all these? Elliott draws some lessons:

1. Apply for your passport early.

The massive backlog at the passport office continues to worsen. Since the U.S. government began requiring air travelers to Canada or Mexico to have a passport, thousands of vacations were delayed or canceled due to delayed delivery. And in 2008 all overland travelers will need a passport, which will no doubt create an even larger stack of paperwork. “Express” service has been lengthened, and what used to take 6 weeks now can take upwards of 3 months. Mine expires in June 2008 and I’ve got to get on it. However, that passport crunch might be over….

2. Air travel is actually worse than reported.

Sure, airfares are (sorta) low and there’s a decent safety record, but who cares about that when your flight’s been canceled? Not only is this possibly the worst summer ever for air travel, but it’s shaping up to be the worst year. We’ve certainly had a lot to say about it. Like here. And here. And there’s this story. And blogger Leif is on a one-man rampage against Northwest.

3. Europe sucks.

Well, Elliott is a lot classier than I, and didn’t actually use the term “suck.” That’s all me. But if you traveled in Europe this summer, you might have had a sucky time. The dollar was at an all-time high low against the Euro (for 120 days, mind you!), luggage was lost like socks in a dryer, and Heathrow was more politely described by another blogger here at Gadling as “shabby and slow” (read: sucky). However, I have a hard time imagining that Europe wouldn’t be worth all the hassle. Even with the Eurotrash.

4. Mind the gap.

It’s as if Hurricane Katrina didn’t teach us one thing about aging infrastructure. After Minneapolis’s I35W bridge collapsed, we all paid more attention to the state of bridges and highways in the U.S. But will that save lives? The Transportation Department recorded an all-time low in traffic fatalities in 2006, and 2007 is following suit. Let’s hope the bridges continue to hold out.

5. TSA really sucks.

Again, we’ve had nothing but awful news to report here on the state of airport security. From laughable errors to scary incompetence, airport security has gotten a lot of flack this summer. And it’ll probably get more; according to Elliott, the new “Secure Flight” initiative threatens to take even more of our civil liberties away, even though it claims to protect travelers’ privacy. At least there are products out there to help us have fun with TSA.

Planning a trip? Check out our Travel Guides.

6. High fuel prices won’t stop us from taking our hard-earned vacations.

8 in 10 travelers complained about gas prices, but in general more people were taking road trips (perhaps because their flights were canceled? Just a thought). I know high fuel prices didn’t keep me from driving the 2500 miles from Seattle to Seward — but the prices also gave me something to complain about all the way through Canada. But mercifully, gas prices dropped a bit in June.

7. If your airline blames the weather, they’re probably lying.

How many times can you use the same excuse? Can’t the weather be filed away under “ancient clichés” with dog-eaten homework and it’s-not-you-it’s-me excuses?

It’s nearly impossible to disprove a weather excuse, and by blaming an “act of God,” the airlines get out of taking responsibility for a delayed or canceled flight. I predict more bad weather on the horizon for air travel.