Last updated: 07:00 AM ET, Mon December 28 2015

Travel 2015: The Airline Stories of the Year

Airlines & Airports | Rich Thomaselli | December 28, 2015

Travel 2015: The Airline Stories of the Year

The aviation and airline industries certainly do not lack for compelling storylines every year – compelling and, in some instances, heartbreaking.

2015 was no exception.

Here are several storylines that stood out over the course of the year, in no particular order.


In January, the three major U.S. airlines – American, Delta and United – threw down the gauntlet to their three counterparts in the Middle East by submitting a 55-page report to the Obama administration. The charges? Allegations that Emirates, Etihad and Qatar airlines had accepted more than $40 billion over a 10-year period from their respective governments.

These subsidies, the U.S. airlines say, distort the lucrative international marketplace. U.S. carriers want the administration to freeze new routes by the Gulf airlines and re-open the Open Skies Agreements for consultation. No decision has been made as of yet.


United’s earnings successes this year have been completely overshadowed by its business issues. The company went through three CEOs in less than two months – Jeff Smisek was forced to resign due to federal corruption investigations, successor Oscar Munoz suffered a heart attack, and now-interim CEO Brett Hart runs the show. In addition, the company has been beset by customer service issues and labor problems.


Domestic or international. Male or female. Doesn’t matter. The level of air rage incidents unfortunately has risen, from benign arguments to, in one case, a passenger throwing a pot of boiled water at a flight attendant.


Germanwings – a low-budget European carrier owned by Lufthansa – suffered a tragedy when Flight 9525 crashed in the French Alps en route from Barcelona, Spain, to Dusseldorf, Germany in March, killing all 144 passengers and six crew on board. But within days, French investigators determined that co-pilot Andreas Lubitz deliberately crashed the aircraft after locking the captain out of the cockpit when he got up to use the bathroom.


It was not a good year for the Transportation Security Administration. In June, the US Department of Homeland Security released the findings of an internal investigation in which undercover officers were able to sneak mock explosives and weapons through airport security checkpoints an unbelievable 67 times out of 70 attempts at numerous airports throughout the country. The TSA also failed to identify 73 of its own employees who had ties to terrorism.


In July, a small piece of the puzzle of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was found. A flaperon, a piece of the wing of a Boeing 777, was found on a beach on Reunion Island in the western Indian Ocean. Investigators confirmed it was a piece from the Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared in March 2014 – but no other pieces have been found in the ensuing five months.


Both Hollywood stars came under major criticism this year after both became spokespersons for Gulf airlines, Kidman for Etihad and Aniston for Emirates. Aniston, especially, took heat for being an American actress supporting Middle East airlines in the midst of the Open Skies debate, as well as the tone of the commercial which all but ridiculed service on U.S. carriers.


Let’s pause for a moment to bid a heartfelt, fond farewell to US Airways, which officially ceased operations in October as part of its merger into American Airlines.


Good news, bad news. Airline ticket prices dropped thanks to the perfect storm of a dramatic decrease in oil prices coupled with a pricing structure by low-budget airlines such as Spirit that forced other major carriers to do the same. Of course, that was tempered by the fact that the airlines continue to make billions from ancillary fees.


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