United Cops Record Fine for Stranding Passengers on Tarmac

United Airlines has received a hefty penalty for keeping passengers waiting on airplanes for hours on end while their flights were delayed. The Department of Transportation fined the carrier $1.1 million-the biggest fine of its kind so far-for tarmac delays that happened at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport last year.

Rules that were put in place in 2010 state that airlines will be penalized if they keep passengers waiting around on the tarmac for more than three hours. In United’s case, all the rule breaking happened on one particularly stormy day when 13 separate United flights were delayed because of thunder and lighting. According to the rules, United was meant to give passengers the chance to get off the plane as it was obvious flights would be held up. But the carrier didn’t. And to top it off, bathrooms on the some of the delayed planes weren’t working, leaving passengers in the lurch.The Department of Transportation says United didn’t do a very good job handling the situation and didn’t reach out to other airport personnel for help. The Department of Transportation also slammed the airline for not having a good plan in place to deal with weather-related problems in general. Some of the money from the fine will go to passengers affected by the delays, while another portion will go towards creating a tracking system at O’Hare so United can better monitor its planes.

Tourist Stranded On Australian Island For Weeks By Giant Crocodile

We’ve all faced travel delays before, and things like strikes, bad weather and road closures can wreak havoc on the best-laid plans. But spare a thought for the tourist who found himself stranded on a remote Australian island for two weeks –- not because his flight was cancelled, but because a giant crocodile was eyeing him down.

New Zealander Ryan Blair had been visiting Governor Island in Western Australia on a kayaking trip when he became trapped by the large reptile. A boat had taken him to the isolated island and dropped him off so he could explore, but the kayaker soon realized he didn’t have enough food to last his visit. He tried swimming back to the mainland but was quickly stopped in his tracks by a 20-foot long crocodile.Although the mainland was only three miles away from the island, Blair couldn’t make the journey back without attracting the attention of the presumably hungry croc. After two weeks of repeatedly attempting the swim — as well as setting fires to attract the attention of passing boats — Blair was getting desperate.

“He was about four meters away from me, and I thought, ‘This is it,'” the kayaker told an Australian television station. “It was so close, and if this croc wanted to take me it would not have been an issue. I was scared for my life. I was hard-core praying for God to save me.”

It seems those prayers were heard because a boatman eventually spotted the 37-year-old and brought him to safety.

Stranded In Cuba

We were ready to leave Cuba. We had toasted our last mojitos, danced our last salsa steps and bid farewell to our home-stay hosts with promises to return.

But Cuba had other plans for us – or rather, Cubana Airlines did.

We arrived at Jose Marti International Airport two hours before departure. One counter was open, with a line at least one hundred deep. Yup, we were ready to leave Cuba.

Thirty minutes passed, and the line didn’t budge. We decided to buy postcards. An hour later, the line had moved forward a few feet. I went for a beer. Two and a half hours later, tensions were high and patience was thin. My boyfriend and I had spent the last twenty minutes trying to head off the Italian girls behind us, who were obviously trying to cut in line. This wasn’t the time nor the place for generosity. It was every man for himself.

We finally reached the counter. I handed off my passport, glaring at the counter agent who was preoccupied in conversation with a co-worker. Five minutes later, she hadn’t given my passport a glance. Finally, she looked over my information, checked my name off a list and handed the passport back to me. “Go outside, the bus will take you to the hotel.”

“Hotel?” I sputtered, torn between the urge to burst into tears and strangle her.

“Yes, the flight has been canceled. You will leave tomorrow,” she said, reaching out her arm for the Italian passports behind us. Nonchalant. Dismissive. I, on the other hand, was about to lose it.

%Gallery-172016%After ten days in Cuba, I really shouldn’t have been surprised. Earlier in our vacation, we had encountered some of the frustrations of life here. Internet? That’ll be $6 an hour, and only in hotels. But this hotel’s 24-hour cyber café is closed, the next hotel has computers but no password tarjetas and the next hotel has password tarjetas but no computers. So you volley between three different hotels until finally you reach a PC from the 1990s that, after an excruciatingly long wait, allows you access to the HTML version of Gmail.

Lo siento,” says everyone I encounter along the way. “Es domingo.” I’m sorry, it’s Sunday.

But today isn’t Sunday. It’s Monday, and we have a flight that is supposed to transport us to Mexico. Instead, we are herded onto an air-conditioned bus and shuttled to the Hotel Panorama, a 317-room monstrosity in the affluent Havana suburb of Miramar. It’s an odd place, this Panorama, and as we check in and check out our room, we wonder who would actually pay to stay here. The air is stale, the decorations charmless and the paper on the free soap sticks to the bathroom sink – a sure sign it’s been sitting there for a while.

But today, the hotel is bustling as dozens of harpooned travelers occupy the lobby and common areas. The receptionists are accustomed to dealing with frustrated travelers; it seems that Cubana Airlines has a reputation for delaying and sometimes outright canceling its flights, without rhyme or reason. No one is sure if the delay is due to maintenance or weather. We could depart this evening, or we could depart Thursday. When I ask the receptionist if we can leave the hotel, she smiles apologetically and says that we probably shouldn’t, lest the airline deign to make an official announcement. “We have a swimming pool,” she offers.

And so we head to the swimming pool, and we lie on the pool chairs, stuck in limbo between work mode and vacation mode, anxiety and relaxation, the real world and Cuba. There’s nothing to do but wait, swim and avail ourselves of the plentiful, if mediocre, free buffet. All out of local currency, we opt not to take advantage of the extra night out. We’re in bed by 9 p.m.

The next day, we head to the lobby at 10:30 a.m, the time our bus driver told us we’d be shuttled back to the airport. But that’s not happening. Reception tells us to check back at noon, then 1, then 3. Powerless at the hands of Cuban bureaucracy, the travelers begin camping out in the lobby out of protest, or perhaps just boredom. Friendships are made; alliances are formed. One German guy breaks out his guitar, and an international chorus joins him in Bob Marley songs. I’m too frustrated to join in the camaraderie, so I glare while typing cynical observations on my laptop.

In time, we make it back to the airport, past security, onto the airplane and into the sky. When we finally touch down in Cancun, the plane erupts in cheers. For a while there, we weren’t sure we’d ever make it out.

Cuba is a fascinating country with a rich culture, beautiful scenery and hospitable people. But it is also a country plagued with bureaucracy and inefficiency. My frustration with Cubana Airlines is nothing compared to the frustrations that face many Cubans as they go about their day-to-day business. The 36 hours we spent stranded was a pain. But perhaps it was one of the most authentic looks at the reality of life in Cuba, beyond the mojitos and salsa music.

[Photo Credit: Jessica Marati]

Stranded Swedish man survives 2 months in his car

A Swedish man, who had been missing for more than two months, was found alive, but in extremely poor condition, in a remote region of that country last week. The man was forced to survive on just snow and ice, after becoming stranded when his car got stuck in deep snow.

Last Friday, the 44-year old Peter Skyllberg was discovered by two others who passed his semi-buried vehicle while snowmobiling down a seldom-used forest road. At first, they thought that the car had been abandoned, but upon further inspection, they were surprised to find a man inside. At the time, Skyllberg was said to be malnourished and lacking almost all ability to speak or move.

Over the course of the two months that he was stranded, Skyllberg had no food and was forced to melt snow and ice for drinking water. The lack of nourishment wasn’t his only concern however, as during the time that he was missing, Europe has been enduring a major deep freeze. Temperatures in the region have routinely dipped as low as -20ºF in recent weeks, which is extremely dangerous for prolonged exposure.

Survival experts say it is a miracle that the man is alive. The human body can survive a long time on just water, but two months is pushing those limits to the extreme. The cold weather could have easily resulted in his death as well, but it is believed that the snow in which his car was encased provided a measure of insulation that helped to keep Skyllberg warm and alive.

As of this past weekend, Skyllberg remained in intensive care at the Umea University Hospital, where he will no doubt face a long road to recovery.

[Photo credit: Rolf Hojer/Scanpix/Reuters]

37 skiers were stranded in Yosemite backcountry

Earlier this week a late season blizzard hit Yosemite National Park, burying the region in snow and leaving 37 skiers stranded in the backcountry. Fortunately they all escaped unharmed, but were given a healthy reminder of the dangers of traveling in the wilderness during the winter.

A group of 21 cross country skiers made their way to the Glacier Point region of the park along a trail that stretches 10.5 miles in length. That trail ends with a spectacular view of Half Dome, the most prominent attraction in the park, and Yosemite Valley some 3000 feet below. A winter hut stands nearby, and most skiers end up spending the night there before making their way back out the following day. A blizzard struck the area on Sunday, dumping six feet of snow on the park. The snow was accompanied by high winds, which made visibility and travel nearly impossible.

When the weather cleared a few days later, the group donned their skis and headed for the Badger Pass Ski Area for help. That journey took a number of hours to complete, with each of the group members taking turns breaking trail at the front of the pack.

Meanwhile, another 16 people were stranded throughout other areas of the park, but eventually made it out as well. The Park Service used snowmobiles to create tracks that allowed some skiers to make it out on their own, while others had to be rescued by Snowcat or snowmobile.

Late in the week, most of the roads into Yosemite were still closed due to the heavy snows. As of this writing, snow chains are still required while traveling along the few roads that are open and conditions are still in a state of flux. Travelers planning to visit the area are encouraged to call 209-372-0200 (then dial 1, 1) for the most recent road conditions before they set out.

Six feet of snow in one blast? Didn’t someone send Yosemite the memo that it’s spring now?