Let's Revisit the 5 Most Outrageous Airline Scandals of the Last Decade

Let's Revisit the 5 Most Outrageous Airline Scandals of the Last Decade

When travel goes wrong.

By Karen Gardiner

A passenger being bloodied and dragged off a flight; a family threatened with arrest over a seating dispute; a baby-holding man punched by an airline employee; a dead rabbit, and teens in leggings banned from flying. Those are just a few of the biggest scandals to have hit the airline industry in the past few months alone.

But while air travel is having a bumper year for scandals, let's take a trip down memory plane (ahem) and get the view from 35,000 feet (if you will) on a few highly memorable others that caused big outcries over the past decade.

1. The Bathroom Fee

The infamous no-frills carrier Ryanair is well-known for its, er, creative methods of saving costs. Europe's largest airline (by passenger numbers) offers dirt-cheap fares, but makes its money back by charging for everything from baggage to printing a boarding pass. One money-making scheme that was thankfully grounded before it took off was charging "a pound to spend a penny." (Not familiar with that colorful expression of across-the-pond origin? Brush up on your vocab.)

Yes, the airline was considering charging passengers for use of the loo. Following outcry from consumer rights groups and the general public, the idea quietly disappeared and a spokesman backed away by saying C.E.O. Michael O' Leary "makes a lot of this stuff up as he goes along and while this has been discussed internally, there are no immediate plans to introduce it."

2. The Passenger Weigh-In

Another of Ryanair's poorly thought-out money-making schemes that has not been implemented — charging a "fat tax" to "very large passengers" — has actually made it, in some form, into the policies of other airlines. In 2013, the now defunct Samoa Air starting charging passengers not by seat, but by kilogram of body weight. Despite international outcry, the airline seemed quite pleased with the policy to which it gave the slogan "A Kilo is a Kilo is a Kilo!" and described as the "fairest system for payment of carriage of anything by air." Uzbekistan Airways began weighing passengers in 2015, but the policy has since been removed from its website. Nevertheless, we actually may be about to see more of this kind of thing. Last year Hawaiian Airlines won the right to weigh its customers flying between Honolulu and American Samoa, having argued that adequate weight distribution is essential to the flight's safety.

3. The Standing-Traveler Idea

Guess which airline floated the idea of of selling "vertical seating," tickets where passengers would stay upright by holding onto "handrails and straps?" Yep, Ryanair. Again, that plan was thwarted but the idea is not dead. Earlier this summer the C.E.O. of budget airline VivaColombia said they were "very interested" in the idea of standing passengers. The public reaction seems generally opposed, but perhaps we should ask the passengers on this nightmare flight for their opinions.

4. The Nude Scanners

When full-body scanners started replacing run-of-the-mill metal detectors a decade ago, the backlash was fierce. Passengers weren't too happy about having a full-body image of their naked bodies pored over by TSA staff, or being subjected to a rigorous pat down if they refused to go through the scanner — one passenger even kickstarted a campaign against the procedure with the battle cry: "If you touch my junk, I'm gonna have you arrested." The TSA has now pulled the scanners and operators now only see an outline of your body.

5. The Thieving Baggage Handlers

A 2015 analysis by CNN found that $2.5 million worth of goods went missing at U.S airports between 2010 and 2014, mostly from checked luggage but also at security checkpoints — and captured by a hidden camera at Miami International Airport revealed where it was ending up. Baggage handlers were filmed rifling through baggage and pocketing items — and cash. As shocking as the film was, it has not put an end to the problem — just last week, baggage handlers in Rome were caught on camera doing exactly the same thing.

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