A Round-up of Top Business Travel Stories of 2011

Before we clink the champagne flutes to welcome 2012, we thought it would be nice to take a trip down memory lane and look at some of the stories that affected the business travel industry most in 2011:

How nickels and dimes add up to $22.6B. A $25 preferred seat fee here. An extra $50 per bag there. If getting nickel and dimed for services that used to be free made you feel a bit nauseous, you aren’t alone – but you might want check for a fee before you reach for that air-sick bag (that’ll be $2, please). In 2010, global airlines cleared $22.6 billion in the “ancillary fee” line item. Profit totals for 2011 are expected to rise by 44 percent.

What does that mean for business travelers? A slew of new expense types to report. But keep your fingers crossed for fewer headaches in 2012; a Louisiana senator has introduced a bill curbing ancillary fees and allowing one free checked bag to every traveler. It might not get you free peanuts, but it’ll make more space for your laptop in the overhead compartment.

Around the world in 80 natural disasters. It was quite a year for cataclysmic weather and corresponding business travel reroutes, resulting in $265 billion in global economic losses in the first six months alone. Catastrophic flooding kicked off the new year in Australia. In February, Christchurch, New Zealand was flattened by a 6.3 earthquake and a month later Japan’s 8.9 quake triggered a tsunami that killed thousands. Hurricane Irene lashed the eastern coast of the United States in August, and monsoons swamped Thailand for months.

In reaction, airlines generously waived change fees while tourists and business travelers competed for seats in a mass exodus from disaster zones. Many travel managers pulled the plug on business trips based on the uncertainty.

TSA gives us an entire decade of wishing we’d worn loafers. While you were busy re-tying your laces and removing your laptop for the umpteenth time, the Transportation Security Administration turned 10 years old in November. Despite demands for passenger advocates and congressional calls for reform, the beleaguered TSA rifled through the heat with notable wins – last month a report found agents recover 4-5 guns per day in hand luggage. And since July, modest new privacy software has been implemented in those controversial full-body scanners.

Even Matilda stopped waltzing. Australia’s Qantas Airways, the world’s 10th-largest airline, grounded its global fleet in October after its worker unions launched rolling strikes over a restructuring plan that would cost jobs and ban overtime. The crisis turned into an international incident when 108 planes were grounded in 22 countries.

An arbitration court ended the dispute, but not before Qantas’ reputation flopped. The company caused self-inflicted PR wounds shortly after the grounding, asking the Twitterverse to describe their “dream #QantasLuxury inflight experience.” The answer? Chartering a Greyhound bus.

American Airlines files for Chapter 11. While passenger service was largely unaffected, American Airlines filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11 in November and will undergo a reorganization to get a hold of its spiraling finances. The news caused some jitters in the market, but business travelers need not worry – tickets, frequent flyer miles, reservations and flights continue like business as usual.

Travelers reroute to avoid Arab Spring. Though it actually started in the winter, the wave of political activism in Middle East and North African countries became known as the “Arab Spring,” a democratic awakening that resulted in sustained civil disorder, massive protests and three overthrown governments (for now). The upheaval caused the State Department to issue travel warnings and pull embassy staff, and many business travelers avoided the area altogether.

Did we miss anything? Give us your favorite business travel memory of 2011, and which industry innovations you’d like to see happen in 2012.

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