[Web version of this newsletter]  [Newsletter Archives]  [Website Home Page]  [Please Donate Here]

Friday 8 October, 2004 

Good morning

It has been 'one of those weeks' in terms of computer challenges, with a special highlight being the sudden death of my laptop the afternoon prior to the morning when I was due to use it to give a presentation on the topic of travel related technology.  This added a fine focus to the speech I made to the Business Travel Association chapter in Spokane.

Don't forget - if you're looking for a speaker on travel and travel related technology issues to address your meeting, I'm always interested in such opportunities.

One important request of you.  Another of the computer issues has been commissioning a new server for both email and web services, and the IP address we send our weekly newsletter from will change.  If you have whitelisted our IP address, please now ADD this extra IP so your spam filters don't cause us both problems

We are in the middle of converting both email and website to the new system.  In theory there should be no disruption to either service, but if you notice a problem, please let me know.

I am not merely creating an excuse for being lazy when I advise there is no feature article this week due to having been truly enmeshed in computer challenges continually for the last seven days.  Note that next week's newsletter may arrive at a strange hour (I'm traveling to New Zealand on Tuesday) depending on when/how I get it finished and onto the internet.

On a positive note, thanks to the many readers who ordered SIM Saver units from last week's article, with readers as far away as Thailand responding, including one person who ordered 26!

Two news organizations would appreciate your help :

The Wall St Journal is looking for anyone who has been inconvenienced in the last few years by having tickets on an airline that ceased to operate (eg Vanguard) and who tried to get another airline to accept/honor the ticket.  If you had an experience along these lines, please send me a quick outline and I'll pass it on to the WSJ reporter who is researching the story.

The BBC (all the way from Britain) will shortly have a camera crew in Los Angeles and are hoping to interview people in the area who have personal experience of cell phones strangely not working in hotels but working perfectly outside the hotel.  This is a follow up to my mention of Chris Elliott's story a few weeks ago.  If you'll be in Los Angeles between 11 - 15 Oct and have a story to tell, again please let me know and I'll pass this on to the BBC.

Dinosaur watching :  One of the few advantages legacy carriers enjoy is their international route system.  US carriers are much more likely to profit on their long-haul international routes than they are domestically.

United's latest actions provide confirmation of this - they announced plans to cut more out of their domestic route system.  They have already sliced 14% off their domestic capacity, and now will slice another 14%, while making some increases in United Express services.  At the same time, they are increasing international flights by 12%.

Corporate buzzword alert :  A press release proclaimed Delta's latest moves to turn itself around.  What is it doing?  Is it cutting wages?  Making pilots fly longer hours?  Changing airplane types and routes?  Oh, no, nothing as obvious as that.  It is hiring a new advertising agency.  Rather than focus on real improvements, perhaps they'd rather offer more hype?  Paul Matsen, DL's Chief Marketing Officer, explains :

We are committed to creating a customer-focused airline that is simple, stylish, comfortable and affordable. Ogilvy [and Mather] will create a brand image campaign that will differentiate us in the minds of consumers and promote the products and services that enhance our customers' travel experience.  We want long-term business partners, not just an advertising campaign, and we were attracted to Ogilvy's proven history of transforming brands and positioning companies for lasting success.

Sounds great.  But I'd prefer the details of exactly how DL plans to become customer focused again, rather than being told how it will promote these claims.  The release goes on to say

Delta's selection of Ogilvy is part of a comprehensive 360-degree plan set in motion earlier this year to reinvent itself while sustaining growth, one of the four cornerstones of its strategic foundation.

Lots of lovely multi-syllabic words, but do you understand the idea of a 360 degree plan?  Doesn't that mean they'll turn around in a complete circle and end up in the same direction they were headed before?

Meanwhile, speculation exists as to why John Selvaggio, former head of Delta's Song subsidiary announced his retirement 'to pursue personal interests' and effective immediately.  Was he pushed, or will his name appear with another airline any day now?  Delta has lost a lot of senior executives this year.

More bad news for DL - the FAA has stepped up its level of inspections at DL in what they term a 'preventative' measure, while adding they don't link financial troubles with any drop in safety.  However, whenever any airline triggers certain financial criteria, the FAA increases its level of oversight.

Still more bad news for DL - Smith Barney analyst Daniel McKenzie said, on Thursday, there is a high probability of DL filing Chapter 11 before the end of October.

Continental gets greedy.  It is adding fees for issuing paper tickets in various European countries.  In US dollar terms, it will charge $25 in Portugal and Spain, $32 in Ireland and Italy, $45 in Britain and $52 in Norway.

These charges of course have no relationship to the underlying costs of issuing a ticket (something under $1) and instead are all to do with gouging the customer.  It is interesting to compare CO's up to $52 charge with the average price of a ticket for a trans-European flight with leading discount airline Ryanair.  Their ticket price is $47.

JetBlue is making moves to set up a warchest of cash.  They filed on Tuesday for approval to raise up to $681 million in new debt and equity.

Here's a way to make NZ$64 million (US$43 million) in the airline industry in four years.  Singapore Airlines has just sold its share in Air New Zealand for NZ$64 million.

There's only one small catch.  When they bought the stock in November 2000, SQ's purchase was valued at $886 million - twenty times greater.  Ooops.

BA did better with its investment in Qantas.  They purchased an 18.25% share of QF in 1995 for A$665 million (US$485 million) and have recently sold it for A$1.09 billion, earning themselves a tidy 5.64% annual interest rate on their investment.

Something that has been joked about for a long time is finally about to become a reality.  Virgin Atlantic (VS) is introducing double beds into its Upper Class cabin.  Each 747 will have four double suites.  I'm resisting the temptation to comment any further.

I had an interesting experience when booking a rental car with Hertz for my time in NZ.  I like Hertz and generally rent their cars, and decided for the first time to try booking through their website.

I can't be sure about this, but I think it was initially quoting moderately high rates.  I browsed some other web sites, then returned back to Hertz, and that time found a good rate for a nice car - NZ$541.13, and so decided to book it.

I then keyed my  Number 1 Club Gold membership number into their system.  I expected this might give me some sort of discount, and so imagine my surprise when the rate leapt up a massive 28% after entering my No.1 Club number.

This raises two questions.  First of all, is the Hertz website so clever that it first offers a moderately high rate, but if someone doesn't take advantage of that rate, does it then come back with a lower rate in response to a subsequent request? I can't be sure this happened, but think it did.  This might sound fanciful, but it is certainly within the realm of technology.

Secondly, and with no ambiguity about this, why does Hertz increase its rate 28% when I identify myself?  Does my No.1 club profile have the word 'sucker' on it?

To check this is truly what happened, I made the rate request a third time, on a second computer that Hertz could not recognize as mine, and then had - side by side - two computer screens showing these two very different rates.

Hertz said they'll investigate this strange behavior.

A law restricting rental-car companies' use of electronic tracking equipment in vehicles will take effect Jan. 1 in California.

The GPS based systems have angered customers who were fined by car-rental companies for speeding or taking cars out of state based on, customers said, undisclosed monitoring.

The new law forbids rental companies from obtaining or using car-tracking information except for specific purposes, such as finding a missing vehicle or providing roadside assistance. Fines or surcharges based on such data will be banned.

But, unlike an earlier version of the bill, in its final form the law does not require rental outlets to tell customers that a car has tracking equipment.

The $10 million X Prize has been won.  This prize was for the first private spaceship that could fly to the edge of space (62 miles high) twice within two weeks, carrying three passengers or an equivalent weight.

SpaceShipOne made two journeys in five days, making for a very convincing win.  Its winning second flight on 4 October also marked the 47th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik 1.

A couple of days later, a new $50 million prize was announced for the first private spaceship to reach full earth orbit.  To win, the spaceship has to carry five astronauts into orbit twice within 60 days, between now and 2010.

In contrast, NASA's Space Shuttle limps along at a snail's pace, with its present target date of returning to space in March/April of 2005 (two years after the Columbia disaster) now being delayed still further.

Two Hilton Garden Inns in southern California surveyed their guests about the items they forget most often while traveling on business.  Most commonly forgot item?  Your cell phone's charger, with 31% of travelers admitting to sometimes forgetting it.  21% forgot their razor and 19% toothpaste.

The most popular newspaper that guests like to read is USA Today (42%) followed by a local paper (27%), Wall St Journal (11%) and NY Times (10%).

This week's security horror story :  You've had 'one of those days'.  Everything went wrong during your day making sales calls in a distant city.  Then you drive to the airport for your flight home.  You take the wrong freeway exit, you get stuck in traffic, you get to the rental car depot late, then have to wait for a bus to get you to the terminal, and your airline is the last stop on its route.

Finally you get to the security screening line, seriously late for your flight, hot and bothered, anxious and impatient.  What happens next?

Well - bad news.  You're displaying all the give-away signs of a terrorist, and based on observations of your behavior by trained professional TSA observers, you now run the risk of being taken out of line for a police interview to determine if you're a terrorist or not.

One of the key successes of a terror program is to cause the enemy to expend disproportional amounts of time, money, and personnel compared to the inputs the terrorists themselves input into the system.

On a scale of disproportionality, perhaps the most effective act of terrorism is the bomb scare phone call.  This is something a terrorist can do from anywhere in the world, and the cost of two minutes to make a 10c phone call can disrupt hundreds or thousands of people and cost thousands or even millions of dollars.  In addition, the terrorist has not only disrupted these people, but also given them a scary reminder of their vulnerability.

With this as background, we've seen a flurry of false bomb threats against planes, with six in ten days.  In the first five, the airlines and authorities reacted by causing the planes to make emergency landings, and sometimes even shepherding the flight with fighters.

And so it could be understood why, when the sixth bomb call was received, Lufthansa decided to ignore it and continue the flight.  However, the flight was to Israel, and Israel refused to allow the plane to enter its airspace, scrambling fighters to divert the plane to Cyprus.

This really is a no-win situation.  What do you think airlines should do?  Ignore the bomb threats or treat every one as if it were real?  I have no answer, but hopefully the question won't arise on my Qantas flight next week.

I bought some new smoke detectors at Costco a couple of months ago - from memory, a pack of three cost perhaps $20 or so.  Better stock up now if you are short of smoke detectors yourself - they may become harder to obtain.  British police arrested a group building a 'dirty bomb' - a device that spread radioactive material when it explodes.  Their source of the radioactive material?  Smoke detectors.

Inside each smoke detector is a small radioactive element (most commonly Americium), and it is possible to remove this from each smoke detector and amass a sizeable quantity of almost lethal radioactive material.

Sure, it would take a lot of smoke detectors, but here in the US, a school teacher bought a truckload of salvaged smoke detectors for $1 (total, not each!) and ended up amassing 18,000 smoke detectors.

Lastly this week, an airport evacuation occurred in Queensland, Australia, when staff noticed a strange humming or buzzing noise coming from a rubbish bin in the terminal cafeteria.

An hour later, the source of the noise inside the rubbish bin was identified.  It was, ahem, a battery operated adult novelty toy.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels

              David M Rowell aka The Travel Insider

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'.