Friday 17 August, 2007
I've been watching a slowly developing issue for months, and feel the time has come to draw it to your attention, in the form of a special Travel Insider editorial commentary which takes the place of much of this week's newsletter.
I've been testing some new Bluetooth headsets recently, and what with major improvements in usability and comfort and functionality, combined with wonderful drops in cost, I was thinking that perhaps there's no longer much need to devote detailed feature reviews to these items. And then, all of a sudden, I discover there are still major traps lurking out there to surprise the uninformed buyer, as witness :
This Week's Feature Column : Motorola H3 Bluetooth Headset : There's a lot to like about this stylish and inexpensive headset from leading phone manufacturer, Motorola. But there's just one little problem, and alas, that one little problem switches the headset from a potential good buy to a product best left on the shelves.
Dinosaur watching : What goes down must come up again? American Airlines announced plans to rehire 460 of the flight attendants who were laid off during the airline's struggle to avoid bankruptcy in the early/mid 2000s.
The flight attendants worked for TWA, which American had bought out of bankruptcy in early 2001. The union representing American’s flight attendants put their TWA counterparts at the bottom of the seniority ladder, meaning the TWA workers were first to lose their jobs when AA slashed thousands of jobs.
One wonders what the laid off flight attendants were doing for the last six years.
Talking about American, the airline has had an earlier ruling against them upheld in the US Court of Appeals. The appellate court confirmed AA's liability for causing a woman's death when she was forced to check a bag containing breathing apparatus needed for a respiratory problem when flying from Los Angeles to Guyana in 1997.
An AA ground attendant at LAX promised her the bag would be given back immediately upon arrival in Guyana. It wasn't - the bag was lost, and the lady passenger died several days later.
While talking about law suits, here's one I hope occurs - dozens of passengers stranded on a Continental plane for 4.5 hours (before being briefly taken off the plane then returned back to the plane for further waiting) are now threatening to sue the airline. I'm not sure what they'll be sued for doing/not doing, but good luck to the passengers. Details here.
And talking about delays, here's a slightly specious headline suggesting that every flight at Heathrow was delayed a couple of days ago. In truth, transient weather issues delayed many flights, but that doesn't make for quite such a good headline, and currently Britain is in a frenzy of Heathrow bashing, in large part as an adjunct to the anti-air protesters/campaigners - see my editorial at the top of the page.
The anti-air travel campaigners are sensibly going after the low lying fruit, and Heathrow has become the airport that everyone loves to hate in Britain (and in much of the rest of the world, too), no matter what the underlying facts may be, and no matter how much of Heathrow's problems are actually caused not by the airport but by understaffed airlines.
Over the Channel, France too has an airport-it-loves-to-hate, with IATA saying the service at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris is among the worst in the world.
A statement said 'Airports range from very good — Singapore for example — to the very bad and Paris unfortunately comes in at the bottom end of the spectrum'. A French tour company director added 'Charles de Gaulle is a disgrace. The interminable queues, the overcrowding, the complete indifference of the personnel: it's like a third-world airport.'
But the airport has a solution to its woes. This summer the airport is offering free aromatherapy and Korean relaxation classes to help relieve the stress.
Stress? Did someone say stress? A study of passengers at Heathrow, conducted over 18 months and involving 2500 passengers, found that stress levels reached higher levels than those of people experiencing knife-point muggings, free-fall parachutists, or Formula 1 racing drivers. Heart rates peaked at four times resting levels.
This discussion of worst airport raises an interesting question : Which do you think the worst airport in the US is? When I say 'worst' I mean the one you dread flying in or out of the most, for whatever combination of reasons that are most important to you.
Please click on the link below to send an empty email with your answer encoded into the subject line; I'll publish the results next week.
Travel advisory : Aer Lingus is cancelling all its trans-Atlantic flights on Tuesday and Wednesday, 21 & 22 August, due to a pilots strike. Only a limited schedule of flights will operate on 23 August, and the airline is advising you not to book travel with them (if you haven't already done so) during the period 20 - 26 August. Details on their website.
With the year half gone already, there's no clear winner yet in this year's race between Airbus and Boeing to see who collects the most new plane orders for the year. As of the end of July, both airlines held orders for 688 new planes.
In contrast, in 2006 Boeing resoundingly beat Airbus, 1044 to 790, being Boeing's first win since 2000. Here's an interesting table of airplane orders (and - scroll up - for deliveries, too).
Here's an interesting article on Air New Zealand looking at installing sleeping pods into the coach sections of its new 777 and 787 planes.
The problem is that, unlike business and first class convertible seat/beds, these coach class pods would only be for people sleeping, with no provision for sitting up, watching videos, or eating. A good idea, but perhaps it needs a bit more work done on it.
Boeing has had to admit to a slight (one month) delay in the roll-out of its new 787. This is regrettable, but a one month delay is vastly better than Airbus' multi-year delays on its new A380.
The A380 now has been officially given a date for its first ever commercial flight. Singapore Airlines will receive its first A380 on 15 October this year, and fly it on a Singapore to Sydney flight ten days later on 25 October.
And talking about delays, the headline on this article talks about the cost of delays in getting passports issued as approaching $1 billion.
That sounds about right, or maybe a bit low. I know lots of travelers who have had to cancel or change their travel bookings, often incurring change or cancel penalties in the process. But read the article, and you'll discover it is not costing delays to us, but rather the cost to the government, and in a poorly written article, it isn't even clear how much of these costs simply reflect the fact that more passports are being issued.
Read on and - shock, horror - you'll see that the State Department might now need to keep $20 of the $100 passport application fee for itself to cover costs, instead of its earlier allocation of $6.
So what happens to the other $80 - $94 of the passport application fee? Has the government been marking up its passport issuing cost 1600%?
Here's a story so unlikely I had to trace it back as far as I could to sources. It seems to be legitimate, and can best be read here. Apparently The Vatican is about to start operating charter flights for pilgrims, and - well, read the article....
And here's an object lesson for the airlines - Netflix is attempting to compete against Blockbuster by offering - gasp - better customer service, with US based call center employees.
Apparently Netflix believes that good customer service may help it to keep existing customers and gain new ones. Revolutionary thinking!
Naughty Travelocity - In a first for an online travel company, Travelocity has been fined by federal regulators for booking trips between the U.S. and Cuba in violation of the 45-year-old embargo on US citizens traveling to Cuba.
Travelocity earlier this month paid $182,750 to settle a complaint brought by the U.S. Treasury, which said the company violated the prohibition nearly 1,500 times between January 1998 and April 2004.
But did Travelocity 'fess up, apologize, and take its lumps fairly and squarely? Oh no. Instead, a Travelocity spokesman said 'The trips to Cuba were unintentionally permitted to be booked by consumers online because of some technical failures several years ago and it's just now being finally settled', adding 'In no way did the company intend to allow bookings for trips to Cuba and the company has fully cooperated with OFAC and implemented corrective measures.'
How did travel to Cuba accidentally appear on Travelocity's website in the first place? Let's not blame a disembodied 'technical failure', how about the name of the person who willfully loaded Cuban travel products into the computer that is now being blamed for a 'technical failure'?
And what a pathetic wrist slap by the Treasury Department. The fine works out to about $122 per person booked to Cuba. I wonder how much profit Travelocity made on each of those bookings?
Happy birthday, today, to the compact disc, which turns 25. The first CDs came off an assembly line in Hanover, Germany on 17 August, 1982 (featuring Richard Strauss' Alpine Symphony - a curious choice of first pressing). Details here.
And here's a product that hopefully won't live to its first birthday, let alone a 25th. It is a cosmetic spray that claims to protect your skin against cell phone radiation. As if....
This Week's Security Horror Story : I mentioned last week how airline staff complain about security threats inappropriately as a way of quelling any customer complaint. Here's a recent example.
An Australian woman has reportedly sparked a security scare aboard a US flight after her use of a common Australian phrase was apparently misinterpreted as an act of aggression.
Sophie Reynolds, 41, from Queanbeyan, was flying aboard SkyWest Airlines from Atlanta to Pittsburgh this week when she asked a flight attendant if she could have a pack of pretzels instead of crackers.
"[The flight attendant] said they didn't have any [pretzels], and I said, 'Fair dinkum,' out of frustration," Reynolds was quoted as saying in the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Before she knew it a second flight attendant asked her for her passport and copied down her name. Then, when the flight landed, three uniformed officers greeted her.
"They said, 'You swore at the hostess and there are federal rules against that,"' Reynolds said. "And I said, 'I did not swear at the hostess, I just said 'fair dinkum."'
Talking about inappropriate behavior by flight attendants, there is now some video circulating of the drunk flight attendant.
Sometimes the technological capabilities of security equipment exceeds the ability of the people using it. For example, this fearsomely futuristic plan for machines to scan crowds and detect potential terrorists from facial tics and other terrorist-indicating mannerisms.
A great idea, perhaps, but what happens when ignorant fools like these TSA staffers end up being tasked with managing such equipment?
My comment at how beggars often make surprisingly good livings brought in this article from reader Bob about affluent beggars in Ashland, OR. Apparently the featured beggars disappeared shortly after their 5 minutes of fame in the local paper.
And lastly, what to make of this picture? Was the plane's pilot on his way for a lesson, perhaps?
Until next week, please enjoy safe travels
David M Rowell aka The Travel Insider
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