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2 February, 2007  

Good morning

Our Black Sea Discovery Expedition has proved very popular, with sixteen people joining me for this fascinating experience in October.

The ship is now completely full, but the chances are there may be one or two cancellations, and I've got a couple of cabins on a waitlist for any other readers who might wish to join us.  So if you'd been delaying making a decision to come with us or not, please fill in the form on the tour description page so we can get you onto the waiting list.  Hopefully we might be able to squeeze you in!

We also have some limited space remaining on our July Russian River cruise - one B cabin and one suite.

I don't expect to be repeating the Russian cruise again in 2008 (this is the second year in a row), so if you would like to enjoy a hosted Russian experience with some unique extras (such as the sleeper train return to Moscow) this is a slim remaining opportunity to come along this year.

I had an epiphany on Monday afternoon.  After the American Airlines disgrace whereby they held passengers on a plane, parked on the tarmac at Austin for ten hours - much of that time with no food or water and overflowing toilets - before finally letting them off, there's been increased media interest in the concept of an Airline Passenger Bill of Rights.

This is a topic that - with your help and feedback and ideas - I've thoroughly written about for more than two years, to the point of devising a complete draft Bill of Rights, and if you search Google for 'Airline Passenger Bill of Rights' this site comes in as numbers two and three out of over one million web pages on the topic.

As a result, I've given several media interviews this week.  On Monday afternoon, I was on a live radio interview.  The two hosts were asking sensible and positive questions, and then they asked 'So what are you doing to get your proposed Bill of Rights passed?'  My answer was 'Nothing, it is more than one or two people can manage to combat the might of the airlines and their lobbyists'.  The hosts immediately lost interest in talking to me any more and ended the interview.

After thinking about their sudden loss of interest, it was obvious why, and this is my epiphany.  Rather like the story of the mice who decided to put a bell on the cat - a great idea but totally impractical because no mouse was prepared to put the bell on the cat - the proposed Airline Passenger Bill of Rights is a great idea, but a waste of time until someone actually starts to do something to make it happen and get it passed.

So I've spent the rest of my week looking into what needs to be done to take this great idea and make it into an even greater reality.  That had been going to be the week's feature column, but last minute fresh ideas have required me to get some external inputs for the column that are not yet ready.  Look for it next week.

Meantime, if you have any ideas or suggestions on how to move a grass-roots campaign for an Airline Passenger Bill of Rights forward to success, please let me know.  That will help ensure next week's article is as complete and helpful as possible.  A recent newspaper survey showed 92% of their readers were in support of such a thing - this is an extraordinary level of near unanimity such as is seldom seen in our increasingly fragmented society.

We have a great opportunity to join together and create something worthwhile.

Dinosaur watching :  The US Airways hostile takeover bid for Delta has failed after Delta's creditors' committee chose to reject the buyout offer.

Apparently a major part of their decision was concern that it might take a very long time for the Department of Justice to review the offer, with a concern that possibly the takeover might be rejected.  The creditors seem to have decided that 'a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush' accordingly.

Meanwhile the rumor mills continue their speculation about Northwest and Delta merging - perhaps shortly after both airlines have emerged from their respective bankruptcies.  This week we have a quote from Northwest's CEO, Doug Steenland, who says Northwest has no plans to merge this year.

I wonder if that means the merger will happen shortly after 1 January, 2008?

And what will US Airways do?  Making an even more generous offer won't resolve the uncertainty about how a merger might be viewed by the Justice Department.  Maybe it will go looking to buy another airline instead (with Northwest being mentioned as an obvious target)?

In related US Airways news, the airline reported a net profit of $303 million for 2006, and says it expects to be even more profitable in 2007.

Discount carrier AirTran reported a full year net income of $15.5 million, nearly double its $8.8 million profit in 2005.  Highlights of its year include taking delivery of twenty new 737-700 aircraft and two new 717-200 aircraft, and launching over 20 new nonstop routes.

They plan to continue their growth in 2007 with new service already planned to Newburgh, Daytona, Phoenix, San Diego and St. Louis.

JetBlue also managed to eke out a very small profit for 2006 - $1 million.  In 2005 they had a $20.3 million loss.

It's not what you know, it's who you know.  Showing their sensitivity to the nuances of the political process, struggling airline-to-be Virgin America announced it has appointed a former US Secretary of Transportation and White House Chief of Staff, Samuel Skinner, to become vice-chairman of the airline.  CEO Fred Reid said this would continue to demonstrate the airline's compliance with Department of Transportation requirements for US citizens to be in control of the company.

Skinner held his government posts under President George HW Bush.  Virgin says it could start flying within nine months of being given DoT approval, initially between SFO and New York (JFK), Washington (Dulles), Los Angeles, San Diego and Las Vegas.  It says it could extend service to ten destinations within its first year of operation and to 30 within five years.

Six major airlines have been served with a class action suit alleging they were part of a secret cartel that used fuel, security and war-risk surcharges to artificially inflate air freight prices.

The lawsuit, filed in Australia, alleges that Qantas, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Air New Zealand, British Airways and Japan Airlines had struck an agreement seven years ago 'for the fixing, controlling or maintaining of the price of international air transport services,'  and the airlines conspired to 'conceal the agreement, arrangement of understanding as in place from time to time from the whole world.'  The agreement allegedly involved fuel surcharges, security surcharges after 9/11, and war-risk surcharges blamed on higher insurance costs from the Iraq war.

The good news - the Travel Industry Association has received a $3.9 million grant to fund two years of promoting inbound international tourism into the US.  The $1.95 million a year will be used to build websites in foreign languages, in partnership with major tourism groups such as state tourism offices, Fodor's, Yahoo and Travelocity.

But let's put that in perspective.  The Orlando Convention and Visitors Bureau has just unveiled a new two-year integrated marketing campaign to increase visitors to its region.  The campaign is for domestic US visitors only.  Their budget?  $68 million.

So it takes $68 million to promote just Orlando to just the US, but $3.9 million is enough to promote the entire country to the entire world?

Another measure of what it takes to get heard in the international tourism marketplace is the request by the Discover America Partnership for $300 million in US government support of its plans for international marketing of the US.

I've always resisted buying bottled water.  Not only is it ridiculously over priced (soft drinks are often much cheaper, and even beer can be less), but there's seldom any need to spend money on water when regular tap water is perfectly good.

But if your travels take you to Australia, you might want to consider bottled water more carefully.  After several years of severe drought, the citizens of Queensland will be voting to decide if they should recycle sewage 'liquid' into drinking water.  In an unfortunate analogy, given the context, the state's Premier compared water to liquid gold.

Hopefully his liquid gold would not have any color when coming from the kitchen tap.

What is the ultimate in private planes?  Surely it now must be to have your own personal Airbus A380 superjumbo.  Apparently Airbus expects to sell perhaps two to private owners, and refers to the plane as a 'flying palace'.

And talking about flying palaces, here's a fancy set of photos of the interior of President Putin's plane - the Russian equivalent of Air Force One (which is actually an Ilyushin IL96 plane).

Not quite so glamorous is being stuck in a nasty overcrowded suburban commuter train in Britain.  With rail passenger numbers outstripping the growth in rail services, this is an increasingly common scenario.

Some people have worried about the danger inherent in a crowded train should it have an accident, but the UK's government rail safety agency offers us all good news on that point.

Somewhat related is this article that tells you where and what the world's most expensive rail journey can be found.

This Week's Security Horror Story :  The much boasted about new Transport Worker Identification Credential program will give smart access cards to appropriately vetted employees at ports and other other transportation facilities, including, some time in the future, airports.

Sounds great?  There's only one problem.  It seems the actual cards often don't work, and are easily forged.

Details here.

Are you one of the nearly 60,000 people who every day undergo radiation based treatment or tests in the US?  If so, do you know that residual radiation can trigger the growing number of radiation monitors that are being used at airports and other places to alert for nuclear materials smuggling for up to three months.  If you do the sums, 5.4 million Americans are capable of setting off our radiation monitor alarms - that's a lot of false alarms compared to very few terrorists.

This article recommends you should keep a note from your doctor explaining why you're setting off alarms during that period.

Have you ever wondered what type of training pilots have to go through before they're allowed to carry guns into the cockpit?  Here's an interesting video.

And if you've ever guessed at the type of training the TSA screeners get, this 'candid' video will come as no surprise.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels

              David M Rowell aka The Travel Insider

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