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The Best and Worst News for Air Travelers

Flying the friendly skies sometime soon? Make sure you didn’t miss these big announcements so you know what to expect before you travel.

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man in airport and airplane in skyPeshkova/Shutterstock

The year’s high highs and low lows

This year, the airlines have gone up and down—literally, of course, and also in terms of how pleased we were with them. Yes, it was possible to score some amazing flights at prices that we never thought possible, thanks to new airline partnerships, increased competition, and smart insider secrets. But passengers were also stranded at airports around the globe, and some flights even turned deadly. Welcome to the roller coaster of airline news of 2019. Hold onto your seats!

2 / 16
Southwest Airlines 737-800 MAX aircraft on final approach at Midway Airport.Carlos Yudica/Shutterstock

Southwest zapped expiration dates

This was a biggie. If you’re part of the Southwest Rapid Rewards program (and if you aren’t, you should be), you can now hold onto your miles forever. Don’t feel like traveling on Southwest for a few years? No worries. Your points will remain there until you’re ready. Before this change, they expired after 24 months without activity. When you’re ready, here’s how to score the best seats on Southwest.

3 / 16
laguardia airportBebeto Matthews/AP/Shutterstock

LaGuardia Airport isn’t gross anymore

Remember when LaGuardia Airport in NYC was the worst.airport.ever? It was always about 95 degrees, it was cluttered, it was smelly, and it was just bad news all around. Today, it’s hardly recognizable in the midst of an $8 billion renovation. The renovation isn’t even done yet, but it already looks great. It includes a complete transformation of Terminal B, a new Delta Terminal C, and better roads. (The roads are still totally under construction though, so beware of traffic.) They even got rid of that weird smell and fixed the temperature issues.

4 / 16
comfort airplane seatingMPH Photos/Shutterstock

Delta reduced its seats’ recline margin

This could be good and bad. The bad: You can’t recline fully (or at least as fully as you could in the past) on Delta Air Lines’ A320 aircrafts, which generally fly domestically. Now you have two inches less of seat recline. The good: The person in front of you won’t squish you anymore. Reclining issues aside, here are the best very best airplane seats for every type of need.

5 / 16
lyftAlexander Oganezov/Shutterstock

Lyft announced plans to offer a membership

Going to and from the airport all the time? Join Lyft Pink, which will cost $19.99 per month but give you 15 percent off all rides, priority airport pickups, and car-rental perks. It’s worth it if you take at least two rides a week.

6 / 16
realID airport travelManuel Balce Ceneta/AP/Shutterstock

Real ID was delayed until 2020

It’s been pending for some time now, but the implementation of the Real ID Act has been postponed until October 1, 2020, to give everyone more time to be compliant. This act requires everyone in the United States to use a federally approved form of ID when passing through airport security. Federally approved forms of ID include passports, passport cards, and Global Entry. That said, when you do get your new ID, don’t throw out your old passport.

7 / 16
TSA service dogEric Gay/AP/Shutterstock

The TSA decided to use friendlier-looking dogs

The TSA announced that it will be phasing out its use of German Shepherds for security dogs in lieu of floppy-eared breeds like Labrador retrievers because the latter looks friendlier. Apparently, pointy-eared dogs, like German Shepherds, looked intimidating, especially to children. While none of the dogs will be pulled off their current duty, the TSA estimates that eventually, only 20 percent of their dogs will have pointy ears. You still can’t pet any of the dogs, though—and here’s why.

8 / 16
Close up the Apple Juice on Airplane Tableslyellow/Shutterstock

No more single-use plastics

Some airlines are trying to help the environment by getting rid of single-use plastics on their planes. In 2019, Delta got rid of its plastic straws and other plastic items, while United replaced its stirrers and cocktail picks with bamboo. American Airlines and Alaska Airlines announced similar measures. By the way, this is why single-use plastics are so bad.

9 / 16
jetblue air travelRoman Tiraspolsky/Shutterstock

JetBlue and Norwegian became partners

If all goes according to plan, passengers will be able to fly between the United States and Europe, going to multiple destinations within a single booking. This connects JetBlue flights from the United States to Norwegian connections throughout Europe. Currently, Norwegian is Europe’s third-largest budget carrier, while JetBlue is a major American budget carrier. The partnership will combine networks, allowing both to break into other budget travel markets. In case you were wondering, these were the best (and worst) airlines to fly in 2019.

10 / 16
spirit airlines travelSkycolors/Shutterstock

Spirit expanded service to Cancun

Want to fly to Cancun inexpensively? Spirit announced this year that it’ll begin offering flights to Mexico from Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Austin, Nashville, and Philadelphia. The airline will soon be offering eight flights daily to the Cancun International Airport. Does that make you a lot more interested in booking a trip south of the border? Check out these popular Mexico destinations you’ll want to visit.

11 / 16
Closeup of man holding passports and boarding pass at airportTravnikovStudio/Shutterstock

Fares went way, way down

In October, airfares reached their lowest prices in more than six years, according to Hopper’s Consumer Airfare Index. In fact, they were down 3 percent compared to the same time last year. The reasons: Jet fuel prices dropped, competition in the airline industry increased, and low-cost carriers continued to expand. So gather your girlfriends and take these amazing trips. Better take advantage now—you never know when the prices may start to rise.

12 / 16
less flights to cubaJulian Peters Photography/Shutterstock

No more trips to most of Cuba

And now for some bad news. The United States banned cruises to Cuba, which was the most popular way for Americans to travel there since 2016 after President Obama reopened relations with the country. Between January and April, about 150,000 Americans traveled to Cuba via cruises, compared with 115,000 who got there by plane. The reason for the ban? The current federal government believes that Cuba plays a destabilizing role in America. Now, tour companies and cruise lines are trying to figure out what to do.

13 / 16
Puppy dog Labrador Retriever sitting in his transporter or bag and waiting trip travel. concept transportation of animals.Parilov/Shutterstock

You can no longer fly with kittens or puppies

There’s been a lot of scary animal news coming out of the airline industry lately. Delta and United are attempting to put a stop to some of it by not allowing any puppies or kittens younger than four months on any of their flights. They also won’t allow emotional support animals of any age on flights longer than eight hours. This follows an incident on United in which a puppy died after being placed in an overhead bin during a flight, and another on a Delta flight when someone was bitten by another passenger’s comfort dog. There’s been a 150 percent rise in the number of support animals on airplanes, so airlines are trying to figure out how to deal with them. If you have a furry BFF, these are the best airlines for traveling with dogs.

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boeing companyFelipe_Sanchez/Shutterstock

Boeing is in trouble

Two deadly crashes involving the 737 Max 8—one in Jakarta, Indonesia, and another in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia—led these planes to be described as “flying coffins” and subsequently enmeshed Boeing in big travel trouble in 2019. The Boeing CEO and other officials were accused of knowing about the issues before the planes crashed. Southwest canceled its 737 flights until 2020. While crashes are rare, serious problems happen more often than you might think. Here are some of the scariest moments pilots have experienced on the job.

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united airlines travelSongquan Deng/Shutterstock

United made changes to its premium memberships

Previously, qualification for Mileage Plus Premier status was based on the number of miles flown, eligible flight segments taken, and the amount of money you spent. But United announced that starting in 2020, premiere status will be based solely on the number of qualifying flights purchased. Unfortunately, this will totally exclude basic economy tickets. So, how does this work now, exactly? Any takeoff and landing combo counts as a flight, regardless of the distance you go. And any flight you take gets you one PQF, with the exception of basic economy tickets. Whether you’re a frequent flier or more of an occasional traveler, you should know about these travel point perks you probably didn’t know existed.

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thomas cook airwaysMarkus Mainka/Shutterstock

Thomas Cook collapsed

The world’s oldest travel company, Thomas Cook, suddenly went out of business in September, leaving hundreds of thousands of travelers stranded around the globe. All of the vacations and flights provided by the U.K.-based companies operating via Thomas Cook ceased to perform after Thomas Cook entered into compulsory liquidation, which took effect immediately. Ever wonder what happens when an airline shuts down? We’ve got answers.

Danielle Braff
Danielle Braff regularly covers travel, health and lifestyle for Reader's Digest. Her articles have also been published in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Boston Globe and other publications. She has a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and a master's degree in musicology from Oxford University in England. Danielle is based in Chicago, where she lives with her husband and two children. See her recent articles at You can follow her on Facebook @Danielle.Karpinos, Twitter @daniellebraff, and Instagram at danikarp.