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28 October, 2005 

Good morning

And hello from Rotorua, New Zealand, where I - and the other members of the group with me - are enjoying a wonderful time in beautiful surroundings, marvelous weather, and good company.

We had a very pleasant start in Auckland, and I was reminded again of the advisability of arriving at a foreign destination at least one day before the tour starts to give one a bit of time to unwind, relax, and adjust.  The wisdom of this was clear at the dinner on the first night of the tour, with people who'd arrived into Auckland at the beginning of that long day looking a lot less energetic than those who had been in NZ for a day or two prior.

Readers may recall we'd had a discussion on the effects of cabin pressurization a while back (see here and subsequent discussion here and here), with the startling conclusion being that in a plane with a cabin pressure level set to 8,000 ft - the usual level for airplanes - your night vision suffers and so too does your reasoning ability, something of perhaps little concern to you as a passenger, but surely something of greater concern because it affects the pilots as much as the passengers.

I flew to New Zealand with a special type of digital watch that has a reasonably accurate altimeter built in.  It reported that my Alaska flight from Seattle to Los Angeles was pressurized to a 7,250 ft level, while the Qantas flight on to Auckland was pressurized to 4,000 ft initially, then as the plane increased its cruise altitude from 30,000 ft up to 32,000 and then on up to 34,000 the cabin pressure became equivalent to 4,400 ft and then 5,000 ft.

Well done Qantas for spending a bit of extra money to provide a more comfortable cabin pressure for pilots and passengers.

Cabin pressure is an 'invisible' and subtle thing that can only be appreciated with the aid of an altimeter, and with subtle effects but which doubtless contribute to the general feeling of malaise and jet lag after a long air journey.  I'd like to track more flights and see what levels of pressurization the airlines are offering.

If you'd like to help, you can buy one of these watches.  They list for $90, and you can get them from Amazon for only $70Then please send me flight reports - I'll put up a web form for you to directly send this data if sufficient people choose to do this, but until then, simply send me an email telling me the following six pieces of information

  • Date

  • Airline and flight

  • From which city to which city

  • Cruising height (if known)

  • Cabin pressure level

  • Airplane type

I'll build a page of results so we can factor this in to our future airline choices.

Thank you to everyone who wrote in about their experiences with satellite radio.  While on tour, I have not had the time to complete what currently looks like a two page article on satellite radio (and this week's newsletter is short, too), but hope to get this done for next week.  Suffice it to say, for now, that just about everyone loves their satellite radio and I'm embarrassed that I've been as slow as I have been to get this wonderful new technology myself!

A market researcher needs to interview six New York city travel agents and phone interview another six travel agents from elsewhere in the US as part of a study he is doing for a client.  He is offering $75 for the agents outside New York who he will phone interview, and $100 for the NYC agents who he wishes to meet at or near their offices.  The interview will last about 45 minutes and relates to hotel booking methods.  If you are a travel agent, if you do hotel reservations for clients, and would like to participate, please contact Paul Bruening - [email protected].

Dinosaur watching :  After the news last week that Southwest would return to Denver, shares of Denver-based Frontier Airlines dropped 29% in the next few days.  While both Frontier and United should be terrified, they are both professing a lack of concern.  Frontier says it competes effectively against Southwest in many markets and performs well against them.  United says they offer a full range of products to their customers, including low-cost Ted, international routes, first class seating, Red Carpet rooms and frequent-flyer programs, while Southwest offers only low fares and a restricted frequent flyer program.

Bottom line - look for low fares, more competition, and the ultimate winner will be - us, the travelers.

Good news - the law requiring airlines to accommodate passengers who get stranded with tickets on a bankrupt airline has been extended again.  But strangely this law keeps getting extended piecemeal, rather than made more permanent.  We get another year of semi-protection, through 30 Nov 2006.  The law requires airlines to accommodate such stranded passengers, on a standby basis, and charging no more than $50 each way for seats.

Where will outsourcing end?  The next group of employees to be outsourced at Northwest will be flight attendants.  The airline plans to replace most senior flight attendants on international routes with lower paid attendants from other countries.  The airline wants 75% of attendants on international routes to be regional flight attendants from the countries the flight serves.  The airline also wants to change the work rules on domestic flights by using attendants who are not on the seniority list and therefore receiving less pay and benefits.  If the union doesn't agre, Northwest will have the bankruptcy court cancel their contracts.  The union says an additional 2,600 attendants will be laid off if the airline outsources their work.

Other US Airlines employ foreign nationals on their international routes, but on a more limited basis.

And to answer my question about where it will end, there are no announced plans to outsource senior airline executives.  A shame.

I'd written before about a British teenage airline entrepreneur who was launching his own airline from his bedroom.  He will be starting service on November 7 with two flights a day between the Isle of Man and Southampton.  Fares start at 99.   More details here.

And talking about British airlines, British Airways is still having problems with its caterer, Gate Gourmet, two months after the strike that briefly crippled its services at Heathrow.  The airline has no idea when its planes will be reliably departing, fully stocked.  Half of BA's flights from Heathrow still have no hot food.  But the good news - passengers are being allowed to buy food in the airport, using vouchers given them by BA.

Sir Richard Branson isn't satisfied to be involved with such ventures as airlines, record stores, a telecom company, trains, banking, hotels and a miscellany of other real and promised (eg an oil refinery) ventures.  He is now setting his sights on the cruise industry.  It appears Sir Richard is getting ready to enter the luxury end of the industry in the Caribbean.  A final decision should be made before Christmas.  In typical Branson fashion, he promised to operate a cruise line differently than any other cruise ship today.

While we wish his latest potential business the best of luck, we can't help wishing he'd finish some of his earlier projects first.  There is still no word on the new discount US airline he promised to have up and operational by the end of this year.

Boeing's approach to building a larger successor to its 747 is more nuanced than even a certain senator from Massachusetts could manage.  The project has been on again and off again several times over many years, and it seems that it is about to be re-invigorated yet again.  An announcement last Friday said they were 'likely' to commit to a new '747 Advanced' plane by the end of the year.

The plane - a stretched version of the current 747-400 (which is in turn a stretched version of its predecessors, and so on) would carry 450 passengers, compared with 416 on the 747-400, and have a slightly longer range of 8,000 nautical miles. Trip costs are expected to be 6% lower than the current model.

The latest nuance is Boeing conceding that the plane will probably be of no interest to passenger airlines.  Their VP of marketing, Randy Baseler, conceded that most interest to date will be for a freighter version of this slightly bigger plane.

The most interesting and ongoing nuance remains Boeing's stated position there is no market interest in a larger version of their current 747.  They are now saying there should be a global market for 1600 large commercial jets such as their new 747 and Airbus' A380.   Baseler said Boeing targeted a market of no more than 300 planes in the segment above 450 seats, less than one-quarter of Airbus's goal of selling 1,250 of its A380 planes.

Flu Focus :  I'm changing the nature of this section.  There's little point in reciting a long list of countries each week in which bird flu has now been found.  This week has included half a dozen countries in western Europe.

My new point of focus will be on events that signal a migration of bird flu from attacking only birds to becoming of greater risk to humans.  Let's all hope that there'll be very few items under this topic, all the more so because the Tamiflu shortage continues to worsen, with Canada now rationing its supplies.  In one single day, recently, more Tamiflu was sold in Canada than in all of 2004.

Stop press - have just now received word that Roche, the manufacturer of Tamiflu, has now suspended shipments to the US as well as to Canada.

Time to start checking out the off-shore mailorder companies, perhaps.

This week's security horror story :  There seems to be open warfare between the TSA contractors in Maui and one of the airlines based there.  More details on this extraordinary tale of the unaccountable TSA and their out of control actions here.

A terminal at San Diego Airport was evacuated Tuesday after luggage screeners mistook a child's toy and a cookie for bomb- making components, officials said.  A screening machine at the Commuter Terminal detected what appeared to be bomb-making material in a carryon bag around 7:45 am, causing the terminal to be closed for more than an hour and a half.  Bomb squad investigators finally determined the child's toy and cookie was not a threat.

An airport security screener has been charged after stealing $80,000 from a checked bag at JFK.  The good news in this story is that he was caught and is being held accountable.  Details here.

Lastly this week, an airport has been having problems with intruders sneaking into the grounds and even onto the runways.  This has now been solved by installing an electric mat around the airport perimeter to shock the intruders when they attempt to break in.

Sounds serious?  Well, the airport is in Wasilla, a small town 50 miles north of Anchorage, and the intruders are moose.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels.

              David M Rowell aka The Travel Insider

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