Friday 17 October, 2003

Good morning.  I continue in Moscow, although Saturday sees me flying to Britain for ten days before returning back here for another week.  We were promised the first snow fall of the season on Wednesday but, alas, like so many other promises in Russia, this one also failed to be honored.

My travels make for a short newsletter this week.  However, short as it is, the newsletter can claim some small significance, because this is the second anniversary of the start of my weekly feature articles and newsletters.  In those two years, we have grown to over 5000 weekly readers, and the articles written on the website, if published in book form, would fill two or three books.  Several of the article series feature in the top ten results from relevant Google key word searches and according to Alexa, the website is the 59,230th most popular website in the world (out of many millions of websites in total).

Thank you, everyone, for being the audience and encouragement for me.

Should I feel pride or disappointment when, upon re-reading my first article - about problems with the airline industry, it seems that very little has changed in two years and that the challenges I wrote about two years ago remain, today, with almost equal force.

Of course, there have been massive changes, although the expression 'the more things change, the more they remain the same' seems appropriate.  United did indeed enter bankruptcy.  The continued growth of low cost carriers are making it more difficult for the dinosaur airlines to charge outrageous fares.  And one other constant in a changing world is that good travel agents can still help you with better service and better travel arrangements than you get over the internet.  Which brings me to this week's feature article :

This Week's Column :  How to Choose a Travel Agent :  In my ten years of owning a travel wholesaler, I've seen plenty of travel agents, good and bad.  Read this week's column about how to find the good ones.

Dinosaur Watch :  The beast is fatally weakened?  In a speech last week, former AA CEO Robert Crandall said 'Business fares are not going to bounce back to the levels of the late 1990s, not now, not ever'.  He's not being far-sighted or clever; he's simply facing the facts that low cost carriers are rewriting the rules about the fares that travelers will pay and which airlines can charge.

What can the dinosaurs do to respond to this changed market paradigm?  He says 'Labor's what you've got to cut. But it isn't a matter of cutting salaries. It's a matter of productivity.'  Mr. Crandall said airline workers should be expected to work more hours with less vacation.

JetBlue was named best U.S. airline by Conde Nast readers for the second year in a row. The airline received 76.7 points, 13 points ahead of Midwest Express (now Midwest Airlines) and more than 30 points ahead of third placed Alaska Airlines!  The high score also placed it third in the poll's scores for airlines worldwide, after Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific. JetBlue is certainly doing something right, besides making a profit.  Kudos to JetBlue.

Doubtless JetBlue's success was looked upon enviously by Delta's CEO, Leo Mullin.  In a memo to employees, he said that it is time for the airline to work on regaining respect after two years of focusing on keeping the airline solvent.  He said Delta must expand its route network and restore slipping customer service and employee morale.  The airline must do this and continue to cut costs at the same time.  'We are ready to resume the important work of affirming a strategy that will make our company the most respected and successful airline in the world.' he wrote.

I suggest you print this out and show it to the next surly DL employee you encounter.

Boeing named its tentative new 7E7 the 'dreamliner' - cynics amongst us believing that the name indicates the current lack of substantive commitment on Boeing's part to the project.  It is now also referring to it as 'America's Airplane',  but, notwithstanding such a patriotic name, it seems that if they are to proceed with this plane, more of the manufacturing will be done internationally than ever before, making it less 'America's Airplane' than any previous plane Boeing has manufactured.

And under a potential arrangement with suppliers whereby suppliers underwrite much of the design/development costs in return for much of the profits, not only are the jobs being exported out of the country, but so too could be much of the profit, too.  This article has an interesting update on the project.  Perhaps it is fitting, therefore, that the plane currently seems likely to be built without a US airline launch partner, as this article reports.

The record for the longest nonstop commercial flight is about to be claimed by Singapore Airlines.  In February, they are starting new nonstop service between Singapore and Los Angeles that will take over 18 hours.  In August 2004 they will add a similar duration New York to Singapore service (traveling over the pole rather than directly west).  The service will use Airbus A340-500 planes.  SQ is also hoping to institute service between Sydney and Los Angeles, a move that is being opposed by Qantas.

The current longest flight is operated by Continental, between Newark and Hong Kong.

This week's quotable quote comes from David Gunn, CEO of beleaguered Amtrak, who is quoted in this article as saying  'No, no, no, we are not going to cut or reduce the service now in place.  The goal is to improve what we already have now.'  He went on to criticize his predecessors for threatening to close down routes as a way to pressure Congress into releasing much needed funding, and promised not to adopt such tactics himself.

Could it be that the main difference between Gunn and his predecessors is that whereas earlier Amtrak CEOs have threatened to close down selected parts of Amtrak, when Gunn has gone to Congress seeking more funding, he threatens to close down the entire railroad completely!

Meanwhile, Virgin Trains in the UK continues to be a nightmare that Sir Richard Branson probably wishes he had never slapped his distinctive branding onto.  Passengers on some Virgin trains are now being encouraged not to take their luggage with them, perhaps due to lack of space on the train (and no luggage vans) but instead to have it shipped at extra cost by truck!  Worst of all, this 'un-service' will cost more.  Details here.

As long time readers know, I'm deeply concerned about the safety of mobile phones and the potentially harmful effects of the radio wave radiation they emit.  However, it seems that there is also a more obvious and immediate danger - exploding batteries!

This Week's Security Horror Story :  The claim that security related inconveniences are causing fewer people to fly is well known.  I've always had some doubts about how great an impact this has on most people's travel, but when I get a note from a reader who is choosing not to fly on free tickets due to security hassles, it is plain there is a real problem!  Reader Paul writes :

Thanks for your comments on the TSA (Thousands Standing Around).  I am a 19 year airline employee and former law enforcement officer. I watch these morons in action every day. And that's exactly what 99% of them are. I have all the flight benefits etc, but I only fly if I have to, thanks to TSA.  In my humble opinion we are not safer, just hassled more.....

Here's a new cure for travel sickness. An Indonesian fisherman was found to be carrying razor blades at Brisbane airport as he went through security. He was carrying them in a belt he was wearing. The man told authorities he puts them on his tongue to stop travel sickness. He was allowed to continue his journey after the blades were confiscated.

Lastly this week, thanks to reader (and pilot) Judy for sending in some pilot training instructions.

1. Every takeoff is optional. Every landing is mandatory.
2. If you push the stick forward, the houses get bigger. If you pull the stick back, they get smaller. That is, unless you keep pulling the stick all the way back, then they get bigger again.
3. Flying isn't dangerous. Crashing is what's dangerous.
4. It's always better to be down here wishing you were up there than up there wishing you were down here.
5. The ONLY time you have too much fuel is when you're on fire.
6. The propeller is just a big fan in front of the plane used to keep the pilot cool. When it stops, you can actually watch the pilot start sweating.
7. When in doubt, hold on to your altitude. No one has ever collided with the sky.
8. A 'good' landing is one from which you can walk away. A 'great' landing is one after which they can use the plane again.
9. Learn from the mistakes of others. You won't live long enough to make all of them yourself.
10. You know you've landed with the wheels up if it takes full power to taxi to the ramp.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels, and if you meet the pilot when boarding the plane, check that he understands the preceding advice!

David M Rowell aka The Travel Insider
ps :  Don't forget to visit Joe Brancatelli's site for his weekly updates, too.

An archive of previous emailed newsletters can be found here
If this was forwarded to you by a friend, please
click here and subscribe to the newsletter yourself
If you ever wish to unsubscribe, simply reply to this email and set the subject line to say 'unsubscribe'.