But 2008 promises to be better, according to Pauline Frommer, of Pauline Frommer Travel Guide fame.
On The Early Show Friday, she told Russ Mitchell there's light at the end of the tunnel: Air travel may well improve.
The Federal Aviation Administration is setting caps on the number of planes allowed to fly into and out of Newark Liberty Airport and JFK Airport in the New York metropolitan area. That's huge, not just for New Yorkers, but for the entire country, because 25 percent of all airline delays in the United States originate in those two airports and New York's third major facility, LaGuardia, (where caps are already in place. So, if delays are lessened there, you'll also see good results in Chicago, in Denver, in Los Angeles, etc. This will ripple through the system. And I think this plan will be effective: A similar one was put in place in Chicago several years back, and delays were cut immensely.
We're also seeing some improvements in on-board amenities. A number of carriers, including JetBlue, Virgin America and American Airlines, will have WiFi available on planes in 2008 (JetBlue already has one plane with it). Southwest, Alaska Air, Qantas, Qatar Airlines, Lufthansa, Delta and United are probably next on the runway with this advance; many are already testing the technology in anticipation of a roll-out.
The number of hidden fees being added in all sectors of the travel industry is staggering, and only going to get worse. "It's getting ugly," she told Mitchell. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, hotels in 2007 charged $2 billion in hidden hotel fees, up from $1.6 billion in 2006 and just $550 million four years ago. In my own research, which involves talking to dozens of hotels in many cities, updating my guidebooks, I've been finding more onerous cancellation fees (hotels requiring notice up to a week or two weeks in advance, rather than the once-standard 24-hour notice), more resort fees (for the presence of pools and gyms; doesn't matter if you use them), more add-on fees for room service, and even fees for delivering a package to a room, and for turn-down service in the evening. The island of Jamaica is encouraging all of its hoteliers to add a $10-per-night fuel surcharge to rooms (two on-island chains have opted out), and many of the cruise lines recently added $10-per-day fuel surcharges, which have sparked a lawsuit by passengers.
The weak dollar is finally having an affect on travel to Europe. According to a recent United States Tour Operators Association survey, 50 percent of its members have reported a drop-off in European bookings for 2008. In terms of Frommer's book sales, we've seen huge increases in interest in Latin America. Instead of Europe, it appears many people will be going to Panama, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Peru, and Belize.