A lot happened in the final year of the decade, especially in the world of travel — so much, in fact, that you'd be forgiven if you forgot exactly what went down over the last 12 months. As we enter the end-of-year period of reflection, we're taking a moment to refresh ourselves on the good, the bad, and the inspirational travel headlines of 2019.
Notre Dame Burned
On April 15, the world watched in shock as the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris caught fire. Over the course of several hours, the flames destroyed the cathedral's famous spire and much of the 13th-century oak roof. The beloved 850-year-old church has embodied the Parisian spirit for centuries, and the city mourned the extensive damage. Miraculously, much of the interior, including several priceless relics and the altar, were spared, and repairs are currently underway.
Natural Disasters Ravaged the Globe
Across the globe, many destinations endured cataclysmic damage from natural disasters. In the fall, Hurricane Dorian battered the Bahamas, all but destroying the major islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco. Vast sections of Brazil's Amazon Rainforest burned for weeks due to deforestation, casting many major Brazilian cities into smoky darkness. Venice, Italy saw the worst flooding in decades that submerged iconic parts of the city like St. Mark's Square and the crypt of the Basilica. Finally, towards the end of the year, parts of Australia endured raging bushfires that destroyed homes and thousands of acres of habitat for koalas, and enveloped Sydney in smoke.
Tourist Attractions Closed
In early 2019, China closed its Everest base camp to anyone without a climbing permit. Increased traffic and waste on the mountain have led to dangerous conditions in past years. Elsewhere, Australia's popular Uluru officially closed to climbers. The site is now off-limits to the vertically inclined due to its profound cultural significance to the area's Aboriginal people.
The Longest Flight Touched Down
After 19 hours and 30 minutes in air, Qantas' New York–Sydney test flight landed in the Australian city, becoming the longest flight in the world. The aircraft left the U.S. on a Friday night and didn't arrive in its final destination in Sydney until early Sunday morning local time. That record-breaking, 10,066-mile journey also served as an experiment in the sky. All those onboard the Boeing Dreamliner were monitored by scientists —who screened the pilots' brains to see how the trek would affect their alertness, and observed how much the passengers slept and ate while cruising at 30,000 feet.
United Airlines Eliminated Miles Expiration Dates
United Airlines removed the expiration date from MileagePlus accounts, joining a growing movement aimed at increasing customer loyalty. This move by United follows the standard set by rivals Delta and JetBlue, which offered their passengers lifetime miles in 2011 and 2013, respectively.
Some U.S. Airports Improved...and Some Didn't
New Orleans' Louis Armstrong International Airport (MSY) opened its long-awaited new terminal, unveiling 100 check-in counters, a Jazz Garden, and several new restaurants, including the famed Cafe du Monde's first airport location. MSY is just the first of several U.S. airports looking to upgrade, expand, and modernize in the coming years. Meanwhile, Los Angeles' LAX banned rideshare pick-ups at the terminal, requiring passengers to trek it to a separate lot for pick up, resulting in quite a bit of frustration among passengers and drivers alike.
Following two fatal crashes in 2019, Boeing's new 737 Max jet was pulled from the skies, with most major airlines grounding their fleet amidst concerns regarding technical problems with the aircraft's design. It's still unclear when (if ever) this aircraft will fly again, and international regulators have no answer to what's next for the plane.
Tourists Dealt with New Rules for Popular Locales
No more sitting on the Spanish steps. Thanks to Rome's new tourist laws, the historic steps are clearing out weary travelers and locals to preserve the site's integrity. Rome wasn't the only place to roll out new rules and laws regulating the behavior of tourists. Venice updated its list of no-nos in 2019. Saudi Arabia, which opened to tourists with a brand new tourist visa in September, also unveiled a list of 19 new public-decency laws regulating behavior.
Two New UNESCO Sites Were Established
The World Heritage Committee convened in Baku, Azerbaijan earlier this year and voted in two new sites worthy of inclusion on the vaunted list. In Italy, Le Colline del Prosecco di Conegliano e Valdobbiadene, the vinegrowing region famous for its Prosecco wine production, was added to the list, as were eight buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, arguably the most famous and influential architect of the 20th century.
Cities Won Recognition
Several new awards and certifications were announced in 2019 to recognize a few cities for outstanding achievements. London was named the world's first National Park City, securing the designation by planting 170,000 trees and creating 200 green-space-improvement projects. Portugal was recognized with the first Accessible Tourist Destination award, a laurel that comes from the World Tourism Organisation, which partnered with ONCE Foundation. Finally, Vienna was once again named the Most Livable City in the World by the Economist Intelligence Unit, which ranked 140 cities based on 30 factors divided into five categories: stability, health care, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure.
Bans on Plastics Grew
Plastic bans and laws continued to rise around the world, especially in the travel industry. SFO International Airport banned plastic water bottles, while the state of California banned hotels from providing guests toiletries like shampoo and conditioner in plastic bottles. Multiple countries and cities introduced their own bans on everything from plastic bags to straws to single-use plastics. Corporations got in on the trend, too, with Hyatt announcing plans to replace travel-sized toiletries with bulk products in all its hotels in the coming year and Norwegian Cruise Line eliminating single-use plastic bottles on ships by 2020.
Ethiopia Planted a Ton of Trees
One of the more staggering headlines arrived in July, when the nation of Ethiopia planted more than 350,000 trees in just 12 hours, setting a new world record. The initiative was the brainchild of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to combat the climate crisis.