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12 January, 2007  

Good morning

I've been wrestling with a dilemma all day Thursday.  I have a toothache of gargantuan proportion, and two options - either take some very strong prescription painkillers that would mean I lose the ability to concentrate and write the newsletter; or take massive doses of aspirin and lose the ability to concentrate and write the newsletter due to the largely undulled pain in my mouth.

Either 'solution' promises little for you (or me either!).  I did manage to complete the largely already written feature article, but as you can see, that's about all.  And, in case you wondered, I took the aspirin route - 'wonder drug' it may well be, but it has more than met its match with my toothache.  (I've also started a course of antibiotics to control the infection until the tooth's blessed extraction on 30 January so we should be back to normal next week.)

This Week's Feature Column :  Boeing versus Airbus :  With a title like this, here is a book that of course I had to immediately read from cover to cover.  It is a well written book that you'll probably enjoy, too, as I discuss in my review.

Dinosaur watchingDelta Air Lines defaulted on pensions covering active and retired pilots last Friday, a long-planned move that allows the company to clear a major hurdle in its restructuring. The US Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), a quasi-government agency, said it had assumed control of the plan that has USD$1.7 billion in assets but USD$4.7 billion in promised benefits.

The PBGC will ultimately be responsible for nearly USD$920 million in payouts - under an agreement with the airline struck last month, the PBGC will receive a USD$2.2 billion unsecured claim when Delta emerges from bankruptcy. Delta's action represented the sixth-largest corporate pension termination since the government began insuring those accounts 32 years ago. Delta had said it could not afford to make required contributions to the pilots' pension plan if it wanted to survive.

According to the Wall St Journal, not only is Delta being wooed by US Airways, but Delta is also engaging in more friendly discussions with Northwest about a possible merger.  The airline is also in less frequent talks with United.  Apparently Delta would like to merge with anyone but US Airways.

Meanwhile US Airways has raised its offer from the earlier $8.4 billion offer up to a very tempting $10.3 billion offer.

Maybe it is just my toothache that makes any thought of eating rather unappealing, but I rolled my eyes to read a press release from United earlier this week.  The same press release is routinely sent out by all airlines, once every few years, with only a few trivial changes to names and details.

The release proudly trumpets United partnering with 'world renowned chef' Charlie Trotter, who will apparently take some probably minor role in designing United's premium cabin menus with effect from this summer.

I've dined in first and business class on countless airlines on countless occasions, and only exceedingly rarely encounter any sort of food that would belong in a high quality restaurant, no matter which celebrity chef the airline in question proudly associates with.  Will United's association with Charlie Trotter make any noticeable difference to the generic institutional 'airline food' on United's flights?  Almost certainly not, because all the food, no matter who consults with the airline, are subject to preparation in the same bulk kitchens in ground facilities, and the same limitations on storage and reheating on the planes themselves.

And the biggest limitation of all on the quality of airline food is the budget the airlines set themselves for their meals.  I'd rather see a press release proclaiming United doubling its food budget per portion - that would have a much more profound impact on the food we eat than partnering with today's chef-du-jour.

JetBlue commenced service to O'Hare this week, with flights between ORD and JFK and between ORD and Long Beach, CA (LGB).

And in a staged 'surprise' announcement, they also announced plans to start flying to San Francisco International Airport from 3 May.  They'll offer five daily flights from JFK and BOS, and say this means they will offer the most nonstop flights between New York City and the Bay Area (they already have service to Oakland and San Jose) as well as the most California destinations served nonstop from both Boston and New York City.

Sometimes you probably get what you pay for, as may be the case with this new service.  And in case you're not current on the Malaysian Ringgit conversation rate, RM9.99 is about US$2.85.

Royal Caribbean International is paying about $1 million to the estate of George A. Smith IV, a honeymooner who disappeared from the Brilliance of the Seas in the Mediterranean in July 2005, according to an Associated Press report. Royal Caribbean and widow Jennifer Hagel Smith announced a settlement in June 2006, but details were kept under wraps until Thursday, when a formal agreement was filed in a Connecticut court.

The agreement is for a payment of $950,000 to the estate and $110,000 to reimburse Hagel Smith's legal costs, AP reported. Royal Caribbean has consistently denied wrongdoing in the case, which was marked by a bloodstained lifeboat canopy, reports of heavy drinking and sensational media coverage. The settlement gives Hagel Smith access, for the first time, to certain Royal Caribbean records in the case. Smith's parents and sister had accused the cruise line of a cover-up and filed a lawsuit that was dismissed and subsequently amended.

Carlson Wagonlit Travel Associates has unveiled the 2007 results of its annual Travel Trends Survey. This year's study finds that Las Vegas and Caribbean cruising continue to dominate the top spots for domestic and international travel, respectively.  Click the link for more information.

This was the week of the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and for the first time in many years I stayed at home, wishing to give myself (and my tooth) a break from the terribly congested overdeveloped mess that CES usually is.  As it turned out, there was reportedly little new at the show, with the week's most reported new product being Apple's iPhone.

The iPhone combines a 4GB or 8GB iPod with a regular phone and with various other 'intelligent' extensions - web browsing, calendar management, camera, and almost certainly email (although some reports conflict on when the email capability will be available), all in an elegant and hopefully very user friendly interface.

Here's the most sensible and complete review I've seen of it so far.  My current feeling is that you may be well advised to sit out the first release of this phone, with the almost certain probability that a much improved version will be released within a year of the first model hitting the shelves.

And there is currently a delightful element of uncertainty about whether the phone will indeed be called an iPhone or not.  Let's hope other elements of this phone have been better planned than its name.

One of the more oddball items present at CES was the Stereo Dock for iPod with Bath Tissue Holder from Atech. The "Bath Tissue Holder" is actually a toilet paper holder, and the wall-mounted speaker dispenses toilet paper while playing iPod music. The speaker has four water-resistant speakers that the company says "deliver(s) exceptional clarity and high quality sound." It perhaps dispenses toilet paper exceptionally well too. The unit's dock also recharges the iPod.

This Week's Security Horror Story :  After requiring airlines to spend from $25,000 to $40,000 per plane in fitting new stronger cockpit doors, the FAA now concedes what I pointed out when the requirement first came out.  The new doors might look nice, and they sure cost a lot, but they don't give sufficient extra protection to keep terrorists out of the cockpit.

So the FAA is now proposing airlines should spend even more money on even stronger cockpit doors.  Being as how the inadequacy of the earlier doors was so obvious right from the get-go, why couldn't they have just got things right the first time around?

Next time you're up in Canada, you might want to look twice at the coins you get in your change.

Here's an interesting new type of computer crime/civic vandalism.  And note the two perpetrators seem likely to get off without any jail sentence.

Alas, my tooth allows no more.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels - and hopefully without unexpected travel companions such as this

              David M Rowell aka The Travel Insider

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