7 mins

Fools' gold: the best April Fools' Day travel pranks

You're a savvy traveller – and you'd never have fallen for these tricks... Would you?

Best of April Fools from around the world (dreamstime_xs_553706)

Pie in the sky 

When Virgin Atlantic announced their Deluxe Pet Cabins on 1 April last year, the promise of check-in 'doggy bags,' designer pet hoodies and fire hydrant loos (perfect for leg-cocking) was tempting bait for animal lovers. Pampered pooches were promised air vents at every seat (to recreate that head-out-of-the-window feeling), digitally-rendered cats to chase via the inflight entertainment system, and a loyalty scheme for frequent fliers.

Travel websites and blogs lapped up the April Fools' yarn, but they should have known better: Virgin Group founder Richard Branson has form. In April 1989 he flew across London in a hot air balloon disguised as a UFO. He was bound for Hyde park, but freak winds blew his craft off-course; he ended up floating over the M25, spooking motorists before eventually landing in Surrey. 

Better yet, in 2006 Canadian carrier WestJet Airlines instructed its passengers to boost takeoff by flapping their arms – an innovative energy-saving technique, no? And in April two years later, it was announced that for just $12 Westjet passengers could bed-down in the overhead lockers, which had been converted into sleeper cabins so that travellers could, according to WestJet's vice president of guest experience, “arrive at their destination [feeling] refreshed, rested, and ready to go.” 

Far-flung fancies

The mysterious islands of San Serriffe were unveiled by the Guardian in 1977, in a seven-page destination guide that showcased the must-dos of this Indian Ocean archipelago. The two main islands, named Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse, boasted powder-white beaches and lush plantations, and were ruled by the charismatic General Pica. Of course, it was a load of hot air: many excited readers contacted the paper to see how they could book holidays, but others weren't fooled by the printer terminology that permeated the flowery prose (Upper Case, geddit?). 

David Attenborough also turned prankster in 1975, when he reported for a BBC Radio 3 documentary about the Sheba Islands – an exotic archipelago in the Pacific Ocean. On 1 April he described his visits to the islands, and played recordings of the endemic musendrophilus, a singing tree mouse, and described a species whose webbed feet were used by locals as reeds for musical instruments. 

Mythical beasts 

In its April 1995 issue, science journal Discover reported on the discovery of the hotheaded naked ice borer: a species unique to Antarctica, identified by 'highly respected' wildlife biologist Dr Aprile Pazzo. The penguin-hunting hothead could bore through the ice at high speeds thanks to a scorching bone on its head that melted the ice. Dr Pazzo and the hotheads were, however, a figment of the editorial team's imagination – although the prank apparently generated more readers' mail than any other article they had ever published. 

Years later, while filming wildlife series Miracles of Evolution in 2008, BBC camera crews returned with startling 'footage' of flying penguins. According to the BBC, adélie penguins flocked to the rainforests of South America, where they spent the winter basking in the tropical climes. The CGI video clip went viral - but would you have fallen for it? You can view the BBC flying penguins for yourself here...

Tourist traps 

American tour operator Orbitz tried to pull the wool over its customers' eyes last year with its 'Two-day Time Travel Savings Exclusive'. The online April promotion included jaunts to 1960s America (staying at the Manhattan Hotel, New York), late 1800s Paris, and Egypt's Royal Giza Suites circa 2540BC. The company didn't reveal if any punters fell for the offers, but they did include in the small print that the holidays were 'subject to the invention of an actual time machine'. 

1972 was the centenary of Thomas Cook's first round-the-world tour, so in April that year the London Times ran a full-page special offer (and editorial) from the eponymous travel agent: 1,000 lucky customers could follow in Cook's footsteps for the price of the 1872 voyage - snapping up a round-the-world ticket for just 210 guineas/$575. Eager crowds queued up outside Thomas Cook offices to take advantage of the offer, and the paper was forced to print an apology – and the reporter, John Carter, was sacked. 

Big-city bloopers 

When Dick Smith – Australian millionaire, adventurer and owner of Dick Smith Foods – towed an Antarctic iceberg into Sydney Harbour on 1 April 1978, the public couldn't get enough. He pledged to carve the berg into ice cubes (to be marketed under the name 'Dicksicles'), and even welcomed some of Sydney's most intrepid public onboard for a closer look. But then, it started to rain – and Smith's 'piece of Antarctica' began to melt... It was reduced to a floating pile of white plastic sheets, shaving cream and firefighting foam. 

In 1993, citizens of Cologne had their legs pulled in equally humiliating style: it was reported by local radio station Westdeutsche Rundfunk that officials were limiting the speed of the city's joggers to 6mph. Runners in the park reduced their pace to 'slow jog', in fear of 'disturbing the squirrels' mating season' – leaving the law-abiding exercisers red-faced for more reasons than one. 

News that should have been a prank... 

We were tickled to learn last week that Danish tour operator Spies Rejser is encouraging its customers to procreate while on holiday – in response to news that Denmark's birth rate is falling. The campaign, entitled 'Do it for Denmark' claims that 10% of babies are conceived while couples are on holiday – so the company is offering an 'ovulation discount', and couples who can prove that their child was conceived while abroad will win baby supplies and a free family holiday. 

Meanwhile, in North Korea, it has emerged that men must undergo state-sanctioned hair cuts to match the style of leader Kim Jung-un. Until now, both sexes have had a choice of haircuts – but this decree is set to stamp out individualism even further.

Travellers on board Samoa Air will be more concerned about their waistline: the airline was the first to introduce 'pay-per-pound' tickets for customers, after concerns about the space – and fuel – that its overweight clientèle require. Ouch.

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