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27 November, 2009
Are you rushing around the malls today - and
hopefully getting some bargains?
And did you eat way too much yesterday?
I certainly did, although rather than cooking a turkey, I seized upon
the occasion as an excuse to cook up a traditional British style 'Sunday
roast' - a mouthwatering piece of prime rib, complete with baked
potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, a lovely thick gravy, veges, and all the
other trimmings. Add some nibbles prior to the main meal, and
cheese and chocolate for dessert, and it was not easy to finish this
newsletter late in the day and get it on its way to you.
Oh well - I now plan on starving myself for
at least a week or two - although, in less than two weeks time I'll be
back in Europe and enjoying this year's Christmas Markets Cruise.
And that will see me again eating way too much food, both on board, and
in the lovely markets ashore, as well as enjoying plenty of the
wonderful gluhwein each day too.
I certainly have a lot to be thankful for
myself this year, with the tremendous outpouring of support from almost
1,000 of you, choosing to generously support this newsletter. And
so, while I was unable to send out a regular newsletter last week, I
gave supporters a special newsletter that shared with them a
tremendously simple strategy, endorsed by the suppliers themselves, that
can enable you to get $200 and more off the lowest price of a Dell or HP
laptop as shown on their own websites.
I tried this myself and it worked with both
HP and Dell, and it probably works with all other computer suppliers
too. If you'd like to know what this tremendously simple, totally
legal, and totally honest strategy is, plus if you'd like the additional
notes about what to look for and how to choose a new laptop computer,
please do choose to join our nearly 900
supporters. I'll of course then send you the link, plus the
link for how to get free frequent flier miles, and the back issues of
the six supporter only newsletters published so far.
I came across this very simple strategy when
researching and buying my own new laptop computer, which I'm told is due
to arrive sometime today. If you're like me, you may have been
holding off on buying any new computers until Windows 7 has been
released and had a chance to be deemed an improvement or not by users in
general. I feel that time has now arrived, and it seems Windows 7
is being well received.
So I'm eagerly awaiting this 'speed demon'
laptop, and its new Windows 7 operating system. It promises to
massively increase my 'on the road' productivity, and it is, after all,
when we're on the road and traveling that time is at its most precious
and productivity and its most vital.
I've now written up my notes about the two
flights I recently took with British Airways between JFK and London's
London City Airport. This ended up spilling over three web pages
and taking 5500 words in the process. The underlying concept - a
small, all business class configured plane, flying not to Heathrow or
one of the outlying airports such as Stansted or Luton, but rather into
the most central of London's five airports, London City - is a
fascinating concept in theory. But in reality?
It sort of works for the flight to London,
albeit with some problems and disappointments, but for the return flight
from London to JFK, the need to add a refueling stop en route adds too
much time and hassle to the journey, and makes it less desirable than
regular nonstops from Heathrow. Some people might perhaps choose
to fly eastbound to London on this new service, but return back from
Heathrow to New York on a regular flight.
Well, that was a 79 word summary. For
the full 5500 word dissection and analysis, please turn to :
This Week's Feature Column :
BA's new JFK-London City
Service : BA's new all-business class flights between JFK and
London's City Airport are very different to anything the airline has
done before. But is it different as in better, or different as in,
well, just different? Which is better - to fly to Heathrow or to
London City? I compare and contrasts the services.
One last comment about these two flights.
Longer time readers will know that I've never been, shall we say, unduly
generous in my praise of British Airways. So imagine my
astonishment when BA offered me a chance to try out these new flights.
This was a very brave and much appreciated
move on their part, and points to the curious dichotomy which exists in
so many of the dinosaur carriers. Although there's a lot to
criticize, both at BA and all other airlines, and there's for sure some
truly terrible staff in jobs they should never have been given and
should not be allowed to keep, there are also some extremely decent and
very fair minded conscientious people who do the best they can to
ameliorate the worst of the policies they are tasked with implementing.
BA is fortunate to have some first rate
people running interference for them in the US - people who seem to work
as tirelessly and long as I do (judging by email exchanges at all hours
of the day and night, from assorted parts of the world). My thanks
to JL in particular for his ceaseless professionalism on behalf of BA
and his help in general.
And another BA item - they will be
announcing today a sale that is their own version of a Black Friday
special - very low fares to Amsterdam, Paris, Milan, Rome, Vienna and
Athens, good for travel commencing any time from 1 January through 31
March 2010, and allowing a stay of up to 11 months.
Fares to any of these cities are $498 from
JFK, EWR, PHL, BWI and IAD; $518 from MIA, MCO, TPA, ATL and ORD, and
$578 from DFW, IAH, DEN, PHX, LAX, LAS, SEA and SFO. The fares
include fuel surcharges, but taxes and fees of about $165 are extra.
Other restrictions, etc, apply.
These are good fares, and if you're thinking
of treating yourself to a winter or very early spring break in Europe,
you only have until midnight on Sunday to take advantage of the deals.
Details should already be loaded in their computer system, so go check
it out. I'm very tempted myself!
Dinosaur watching : There was
an interesting and surprising outcome announced this week that related
to one of the regular outrages that cause passengers to be trapped on a
plane on the tarmac somewhere for way too many hours for no good reason.
You may (or may not - they all tend to merge
into an ongoing blur of misery) remember the Continental flight back on
8 August that was stuck on the ground at Rochester for six hours while
Mesaba Airlines staff refused to allow the passengers off the plane and
into the airport, wrongly claiming that the TSA would not let them do so
(yet another example of airline employees hiding behind non-existent
regulations and requirements to cover up their own laziness).
For some reason, this triggered even more
outrage than normal and reverberated with the growing sensitivity in
Congress to such issues. Accordingly, the DoT investigated, and
found that both Continental, its ExpressJet affiliate that actually
operated the flight, and Mesaba all violated a law prohibiting unfair
and deceptive practices.
And the outcome - Continental and ExpressJet
were fined $100,00 in total, and Mesaba (part of Delta) was fined
Bravo. Hit the airlines where it hurts
- in their pocketbook. Now how about fines for each of the other
extended periods passengers have suffered, stuck on airplanes while the
airline and airport staff dither about what to do?
And how about some passenger compensation
In related airline passenger rights news,
over in more enlightened Europe, a court case has just ruled that EU
rules for compensation on cancelled flights also apply to delayed
flights. In a moderately bold interpretation, the court found that
a delay due to a delayed flight was the same as a delay due to a
cancelled flight, and so for either reason, passengers should be awarded
In another part of the ruling, the court
narrowed the 'get out of jail free' exemption that airlines here often
claim. Maintenance related delays will not be accepted as an
excuse unless the delay was an extraordinary circumstance and not
something which by its nature or origin is inherent in the normal
exercise of the activity of the air carrier concerned and within its
In the EU, passengers can get compensation
of up to €600 (almost $1000) for cancelled flights, with that
compensation now flowing through to delayed flights too.
This is a very positive strengthening of
passenger rights in the EU. We could - and should - learn from
Last week saw some across the board delays
to flights in the US due to a computer problem interfering with airline
flight planning for FAA/air traffic control purposes. The computer
outage lasted about four hours from early Thursday morning, and of
course, the ripple effect saw problems flow through the balance of the
day as well.
The actual problem was a failed router card
in a Salt Lake City data center. It took time to identify the
cause of the problem and then took more time to send a technician to the
onsite facility and physically fix the problem.
This event has been seized upon by various
special interest groups as vindication of their respective positions on
issues. Most specious perhaps is the FAA employee union statement
claiming that instead of the four hours it took the third party
maintenance contractors to solve the problem, if the facility was
managed directly by FAA employees, the problem would have been corrected
Apparently we are to believe that FAA
employees are a hundred times more cleverer and quicker at
detecting/resolving problems than private sector employees?
And maybe the DoT should now levy fines on
the FAA and its contractor for the delays that resulted? Or is the
DoT fining the FAA becoming a bit too incestuous and ridiculous!
Combining the twin themes of European
attitudes to air travel regulation and government involvement in air
travel issues, it is true the Europeans are better at consumer
protection issues, but only sometimes.
So, what to make of the German government's
actions, attempting to get non-German airlines (most notably super-star
airline, Emirates) to increase their business class fares! Believe
it or not, Germany is saying it is illegal for non-EU airlines to set
fares on routes from Germany to non-EU destinations that are lower than
other (presumably EU ) airlines.
Emirates says that would hurt competition
and consumers' interests. I completely agree. Has the
German government taken complete leave of its senses? Or is
this an oblique desire to protect and favor its own flag carrier,
Lufthansa, and at the expense of its citizens?
The days of semi-official national 'flag'
carriers are coming to an end, with successively more liberal air
treaties between nations allowing for more airlines, and from unrelated
third countries, to fly routes between countries, and allowing for
increasing foreign ownership of domestic airlines. Governments can
now best serve the national interest by encouraging the best and the
lowest cost services to and from their country, not by seeking to
preserve inefficient and costly dinosaur airlines purely because they
are headquartered inside the country.
A380 super jumbos return to New York.
After the short lived service operated by Emirates was withdrawn, the
east coast has been without A380 service, but now Air France has
commenced daily A380 service between CDG (Paris) and JFK.
One has to feel sorry for Air France.
Does it really want to accept the A380s it ordered many years earlier -
back when air travel seemed to be proceeding much more positively into
the future than it currently is? Of course, the underlying French
nature of Airbus and national French pride make it impossible for Air
France not to put on a positive public expression of confidence in the
A380, but one does wonder about the actual current need for the plane.
It seems most airlines with A380s on order
are delighted every time Airbus announces further delays in its delivery
The underlying concept of a super-jumbo
flying between congested airports remains sound, longer term, but at
present there are fewer routes that need the extra capacity of the A380,
as has been indicated by the virtual freeze in new A380 orders.
Airbus must be starting to get a bit worried - it could explain away few
A380 orders to start with on the basis of airlines choosing to 'wait and
see' and also due to the lack of airport infrastructure to handle the
huge planes, but now that A380s have been flying for over a year, and
with more airports able to handle them, Airbus must surely be hoping
that airlines will start ordering their new plane.
Congratulations to Virgin America,
JetBlue and Continental. They were among the winners of the
annual Zagat Airline Survey, based on ratings from 5,900 fliers who
between them flew over 100,000 flights in the last year.
Astonishingly, the results show a "gradual,
mild increase" in satisfaction with U.S. airlines, according to Zagat
Survey CEO Tim Zagat. 16 US airlines and 66 international airlines
were rated on comfort, service and food.
Unsurprisingly, airlines such as American,
Delta and United scored poorly in the survey. JetBlue was named
the top large US airline for coach passengers, scoring 19 points on
Zagat's 30-point scale. JetBlue's score was 2 points lower than
the 21 scores of Virgin America and Midwest.
Continental was rated the best U.S. airline
for premium-class passengers. Though American and Delta had low
overall scores, American ranked No. 2 and Delta No. 3 among U.S.
airlines for fliers who travel in first and business classes.
Singapore Airlines was deemed the best foreign airline for coach and
premium-class passengers. SQ also scored highest on in-flight
Virgin America received the best food score
for coach passengers on domestic flights. United Airlines was
ranked best for food for coach passengers on international flights.
The survey also shows the unpopularity of
airline fees - no surprise there! Nearly three-quarters of
respondents say they wouldn't pay for snacks, beverages, blankets or
pillows if there was a charge for them. JetBlue, which airs live
TV programs on video monitors at every seat, was considered to have the
best in-flight entertainment on domestic flights. Virgin Atlantic was
considered No. 1 on international flights.
The FAA has released a policy clarification
on what can be stowed in aircraft seat pockets. The previous
policy, in effect since 1998 but largely overlooked stated: "the only
item allowed in seat back pockets should be magazines and passenger
The clarification adds that items up to
three pounds in weight can be safely stowed in a seat pocket. The
intent of the policy is
to prevent carry-on items from slowing
an emergency evacuation and to prevent injury to passengers by
ensuring items are properly restrained. Seat pockets have been
designed to restrain approximately 3 pounds of weight and not the
weight of additional carry-on items. Seat pockets are not
listed in the regulation as an approved stowage location for
carry-on baggage. If a seat pocket fails to restrain its
contents, the contents of the seat pocket may impede emergency
evacuation or may strike and injure a passenger. If small,
lightweight items, such as eyeglasses or a cell phone, can be placed
in the seat pocket without exceeding the total designed weight
limitation of the seat pocket or so that the seat pocket does not
block anyone from evacuating the row of seats, it may be safe to do
so. The requirements of the carry-on baggage regulation are
applicable to take-off and landing. Nothing in the carry-on
baggage regulation prohibits a passenger from taking out small
personal items from an approved stowage location and placing them in
the seat pocket after takeoff and stowing them in approved locations
prior to landing. Crew members may still direct a passenger to
stow carry-on items in an approved stowage location, during flight
should they pose a hazard, such as in the case of turbulence.
For more information check out
Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14CFR) part 121.6 and
I continue to blow hot and cold on the
subject of dedicated eBook readers. With more software
being released to enable us to read books on our phones, our laptops and
our netbooks, how essential is a dedicated eBook reader? Apart
from longer battery life, why would anyone buy a $260 eBook reader with
monochrome screen when they could spend $360 to get a Netbook with color
screen, and general computer functions and capabilities in addition to
Better still (or worse still, depending on
your perspective) each eBook reader can pretty much only be used with
eBooks from the one supplier - an Amazon Kindle won't work with Sony or
Barnes & Noble eBooks, and vice versa; whereas you can load reading
programs from multiple eBook sources onto your netbook or iPod/iPhone.
One of the other limitations of eBook
readers to date have been their low contrast monochrome screens - this
being due to the need to use the lowest power possible to drive the
display. But that might be changing.
This article talks about a new type of screen technology that is
also low power, but which allows for color rather than black and white
imagery to display.
Sure, we don't really need much color when
just reading the latest best seller fiction book. But if you're
wanting to read nonfiction with illustrations or photographs, or just to
have a better user interface and to assist with annotating and
navigation, color starts to become very valuable.
My sense is that for most of us, there's
little compelling need to buy an eBook reader currently. Buy a
netbook or an iPod Touch or an iPhone and read your eBooks there.
Wait for a 'multi-standard' eBook reader that can read books from
multiple sources, and which has a color display.
This Week's Security Horror Story :
I'll quote from my three part feature article this week. It
describes what happens when BA's flight from London to New York briefly
stops in Shannon for refueling. The good news is that while the
plane is refueling, the passengers are being pre-cleared through a US
Immigration and Customs outpost. The other news is what makes it a
security horror story :
When you arrive at Shannon,
you're shepherded off the plane, then lead through several empty
and 'secure' corridors, to arrive at - yes, you guessed it, a
security screening station. First, you are made to wait in
an area with only 18 seats (insufficient for 32 passengers)
until mysterious things are done to your checked bags somewhere
else. When that unexplained process is complete, you go through 'security' prior to then encountering the US
Immigration and Customs staff.
One starts off by doing all
the usual things one does when going through airport security.
You are required to take your laptops out of your bags, and to
remove your shoes, and you place everything onto the conveyor
that leads into the X-ray machine.
Although one wonders at the
need to rescreen people who have walked straight off one flight,
gone nowhere else, and had no contact with anyone else, and who
have been under observation by airport staff the entire time,
one meekly submits to the process.
As I was doing this, I did
what I usually do. I transferred all the metal objects on
my person into my various jacket pockets, and then went to take
my jacket off and put it, too, on the conveyor. One of the
staffers saw me doing this and hurried over. They told me
I didn't need to take my jacket off.
That was a surprise. I
started to take the metal things out of my pockets, then looked
around and suddenly realized - there was no metal detector for
passengers to walk through!
Yes, dear reader, that is
correct. We had to take our shoes off and allow them to be
X-rayed, but we could load our jackets up with as much as we
liked, and simply walk to the other end of the X-ray machine,
without having to go through a metal detector.
If you can understand any
part of this 'security screening' process - the need for it to
start with, or how it actually makes us any way more secure,
please do let me know.
There was another non-security experience as
well on the return flight from London City (LCY) to JFK. At LCY I
went through regular security and walked on to BA's gate. At the
entry to the gate, there were some rent-a-cops who asked for my
passport, etc. Then they announced I had been randomly selected
for secondary inspection - what they said would be a 'quick' search of
my carryon bags plus, as a bonus, a body search.
I protested at this, mainly out of curiosity
to see how they'd respond, but they of course (and very correctly)
insisted I comply. After spending about 5 minutes, maybe more,
searching through the first of my bags (but not opening all
compartments), they then decided it was all too much trouble and didn't
look at the second bag at all.
Now for the interesting part. I said 'I'm
just going to drop the bags in the gate/lounge, then I'm going back into
the public area to buy some things, do you want to search me before or
after I go to the gate/lounge now?' They said they'd search me after I'd
been to the lounge and back to the public areas.
So that meant I went in to the lounge,
unsearched, and could have then left anything I didn't want them to find
in the lounge, prior to going out, and having another opportunity to
drop things in the public areas, and only then being searched when
returning to the lounge. Of course, after getting back to the
lounge, I could have collected whatever it was I didn't want them to
Furthermore, when I went in to the lounge,
out again to the public areas, and then back, I prepared myself for the
body search, but they waved me through with no search at all.
This flies in the face of all concepts of
random searching. If you decide to designate a passenger as a
random searchee, you must not then allow them to argue their way out of
it, and you mustn't give up the process half way through.
And now for a security horror story
of the absolute opposite kind. A few weeks ago several
readers brought a blog entry to my attention from a woman who
alleged, in her blog post, in very graphic and over-wrought
terms that the TSA took her toddler son away from her during
secondary screening. Her original post can be seen
At first, I was keen to leap on the
bandwagon, and accept her story without question, and join a chorus of
other commentators in yet again decrying insensitive actions on the part
of the TSA. But, after carefully considering the issues, I felt
that her complaint and story lacked credibility. That was a wise
move on my part, because the TSA responded by posting video from the
security cameras that showed her passing through the security screening
process. The cameras irrefutably showed that she was never
separated from her son, something that she has now obliquely accepted
herself. Her story was a total fiction, and the TSA rebuttal a
masterly stroke of showing her to be, well, not completely correct in
her account. You can see the
TSA video on their own blog.
Amazingly, some people are so determined to
see evil that they suggested that the TSA had doctored the videos, even
after the woman in question had accepted their accuracy. But I do
accept one line of thought which is to note that while the TSA has
several times now shown its willingness to post security camera video to
rebut complaints and to support their side of a story, they are seldom
as willing to release video that might confirm complaints against them.
What's good for one should be good for the other too.
We should insist on a public right to
access records of all airport security screening video. Surely
the video is there as much to protect us from TSA allegations as it is
to protect the TSA from our allegations.
If you have been, are, and/or will be
traveling this Thanksgiving, I hope your travels proceed smoothly and
with a minimum of inconvenience.
Until next week, please enjoy safe travels