I have much admiration for people who come up with clever April Fools’ Day pranks; it takes a lot of imagination, time and effort to come up with a winner.
In celebration of April 1st, here are a few pranks that have been played by airlines and other travel industry folk over the years.
Don’t say you haven’t been warned.
Flying (not so) high
The company promised up to 80 per cent off standard economy airfares for passengers willing to forgo a few comforts by travelling in cargo space.
STA said it would provide a “Snuggie and earplugs”, with passengers to bring their own food and entertainment.
The new product was launched so successfully that a week later, STA marketing folk had to make a telephone call to a major news outlet that was still merrily promoting it.
The Canadian airline WestJet, which has been a master of April Fools’ pranks, had a similar offering called “Kargo Kids”.
The airline promised to provide child-free cabins by putting kids in the cargo hold, but their YouTube offering was more about entertainment than a genuine attempt to fool people.
WestJet followed up last year by announcing that people could start taking animals on board, as explained by another well-made video.
Last year, Virgin Atlantic made headlines with the “world’s first glass-bottomed plane”.
Images of the new aircraft were broadcast far and wide, with promises of a glass-topped aircraft to follow, so passengers could see the stars at night.
The prank was bound to succeed because it was such an appealing concept and because if anyone was going to launch a glass-bottomed plane, it would be Richard Branson.
“I’m thrilled to announce that Virgin has created another world-first,” he was quoted as saying.
April Fools’ Day is a gift for tour operators, who spend day after day after answering repetitive and often naive questions from passengers.
New Zealand’s Haka Tours says it had some fun last year showing tourists flocks of “New Zealand Long Necked Sheep”.
The “new breed” was expected to “revolutionise the wool industry”, but with the information “set to become worldwide news any day”, passengers were let in on the secret.
It apparently took many a full week to discover the “long-necked sheep” were just llamas.
The same company had some fun a few years ago telling passengers it had been entrusted to transport the Rugby World Cup, as part of a plan to showcase the Cup around the country.
Haka Tours says travellers were duly impressed to be “in possession of the biggest prize in world rugby” and respected a request not to get too close or touch it.
When they later discovered the treasured cup was made of plastic, one passenger had sense-of-humour-failure and tried to smash it.
In 2010, Italian tour operator 3 Millennia Tours put a dramatic posting on a popular online travellers’ forum.
“The Colosseum has partially collapsed”, the company declared, prompting nearly 2000 people to click through to the posting, which completed the April 1 declaration with “…back in the 14th Century.”
Tucan Travel had people going last year with a new range of tours catering for those who don’t like leaving their pets at home.
There was much excitement over people being able to take their furry friends on “petcations” as far afield as South America and Africa, but then again the tours did have a coveted “five starfish review by leaders in the pet community”.
My favourite part was the company advising against taking pets to countries where they were the local dining specialty; the company could not be held responsible for any loss of life if you did.
One of the most celebrated travel pranks dates back to 1977, when the UK newspaper The Guardian published a detailed travel supplement about a little-known island destination, “San Serriffe”.
The paper provided a map, detailed history and fact file for travellers, while Kodak put out a call for photos to be included in an exhibition to be titled “The Legendary Beauty of San Serriffe”.
The highly successful prank was revisited 22 years later, when a writer described for potential tourists the “vibrant nation” located near the Seychelles.
A less popular prank from the seventies was the London Times reporting that Thomas Cook was celebrating the 100-year anniversary of its first world tour by allowing 1000 people to travel at 1872 prices.
The paper was reportedly forced to apologise when Thomas Cook was inundated with customers and phone calls and staff bore the brunt of considerable consumer anger.
Trick or no trick?
It’s hard to know what to believe on April 1st.
A few years ago, the Heritage Christchurch hotel in New Zealand was contacted by “John Travolta”, asking to book a room.
“Even though it was April 1 and our staff thought it might be a joke, they acted professionally and courteously and booked him a room,” says a spokeswoman.
“You can imagine how surprised they were when he actually turned up.”
Have you ever seen, pulled or fallen victim to a travel prank on April Fools' Day? Post your stories below.