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The past couple weeks haven’t been so hot for airline passengers in Europe.

On January 30, Spain’s SpanAir abruptly shut down, leaving some 22,000 ticket holders stranded. It had been propped up with nearly $200 million in subsidies, a situation that was hard to justify given Spain’s precarious financial condition.

At least Spain still has Iberia though, its flagship carrier. Hungary is not so lucky. The Hungarian airline Malev just went kaput over the weekend. This piece in Jaunted says the airline accounted for half the traffic at Budapest’s airport, which surely isn’t a good sign for that city’s tourism numbers this year. (Note to contrarian travelers—that means it’s time for you to swoop in and take advantage of the sale prices.) Maybe it was the branding: the airline’s full name was “Magyar Légiközlekedési Vállalat.”

I’m flying to Hungary myself in April. I actually thought for a few seconds about buying a ticket on Malev because it was one of the cheapest ones. Then I figured out I could easily get a ticket using American Airlines frequent flyer miles. Apparently those aren’t in such demand since American Airlines is bankrupt. Hopefully they can hold on through the spring at least.

Oil is stubbornly sitting at around $100 a barrel and will likely go up rather than down. Iran keeps treating provocation as its favorite sport, a power-hungry nutjob runs Venezuela, there’s civil war and terrorism in Nigeria, possible civil war in Libya, all hell breaking loose in Syria, a contagious financial funk in Europe, and still a very weak housing market in the U.S. that’s keeping our economy from taking off—and our airlines from increasing capacity. Yes, if you want to fly somewhere internationally, you probably need to pay more than you would like or you have to get really good at travel hacking for free trips. That’s the reality of travel in 2012.

 

Editor’s Note August 29 – The weekend after I posted this, Mexicana officially declared themselves dead and they have canceled all flights.

Living in Mexico as I am right now, I’m particularly interested in how this Mexicana Airlines train wreck will play out. Ever since they declared bankruptcy it’s been a complete nightmare for customers who had bookings, some of whom I know personally. As this excellent Smarter Travel blog post says, Mexicana has basically been holding customers’ money hostage, refusing to cancel flights but also refusing to honor the flights or transfer the customers to another airline either. So all that cash is in limbo.

There are some odd twists to this story, one being that their budget arm Click is still flying, apparently because it’s financed as a separate company. An investor group just coughed up $50 million to supposedly give the company a lifeline for 100 days. Will it be enough?

In a country with only two major airlines and a few budget ones that just fly a few routes from oddball hubs (Toluca, Monterey, Tijuana), Mexicana’s implosion is messing up a lot of vacation and business plans.

When flights go back on sale they’ll probably be heavily discounted, but my advice would be to avoid this airline like it’s a drug smuggler with swine flu. There’s a very real chance you’ll never see your money again after you buy a ticket and you won’t fly either. Even with the cash, they’ve got to convince people to keep working for them and flying the planes despite a hazy future. Go to Vegas instead and at least you’ll get free drinks if you lose everything.

But hey, the Mexican buses still rock.