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19 March, 2010
I hope you had a great
St Patrick's Day (just had to go for the green there) - I did.
But I wonder why it is that this day receives so much more attention
than St George's Day or St David's Day or anyone else's day?
And I hope you had more success than me with
setting your clocks to daylight saving time. Upon waking on
Sunday, I spent 5 minutes unsuccessfully trying to adjust the time in my
bedside clock radio, only to discover, eventually, that it had
automatically reset itself in the middle of the night. And then a
day or two after manually resetting one of my other clocks, it then
automatically moved itself another hour forward, making it an hour out.
Sometimes technology can be too helpful.
I wrote briefly last week about the
latest airline perfidy - and how they have swapped their stories.
Previously they'd been claiming that holding people on a plane stuck on
the ground for three or more hours was so incredibly rare as to not need
any sort of legislative intervention or control. But now that the
DoT is about to start enforcing a new requirement that airlines must
deplane passengers within three hours, and provide passengers with food
and water during the three hours, the airlines are saying they will have
to cancel thousands of flights for fear of having delays exceeding three
Yes, what just a few months ago were too
flew flights to bother about are now being described as so many
thousands of flights as to be sure to inconvenience us all needlessly.
Apparently the airlines understand the
concept of 'cutting off your nose to spite your face'. And their
intention - to terrify the public into not wanting to be protected
against inhumane and unnecessary imprisonment seems to have worked.
That bizarre organization, the so-called Business Travel Coalition,
which invariably ends up on the opposite side of every issue to me, has
now come out swinging in favor of the airlines, saying that the
implementation of the DoT's proposed penalties should be delayed by a
further year (in addition to the 120 days of notice already served on
Strangely, the BTC agrees the airlines have
had ample warnings, dating back to 1999, about the need to resolve the
problem with flight delays, but because the airlines haven't yet done
anything, the BTC turns its other cheek (I mean on its face, of course -
what were you thinking?) and asks the airlines to be given yet another
Talk about rewarding bad behavior.
If the airlines have still done nothing at the end of another year, will
the BTC then argue for another year's grace?
Enough, already. We've tried begging
and cajoling the airlines for way too long, and they've offered us
platitudes and empty meaningless promises while changing nothing.
The carrot has failed. Time for the stick.
Last week I pointed out that by far the
majority of ground delays could be resolved by one very simple tweak to
how airplanes queue to takeoff. A number of people wrote in to
point out one particular problem that might arise - potential gate
congestion. If an airport's gates are all full of planes waiting
their turn to take off (rather than having the planes waiting somewhere
on the airport taxi areas) there'd be no space for additional incoming
planes, meaning that the incoming flights would end up stuck on taxi
areas instead. Hardly an improvement.
Well, that's true, but..... With a
little bit of thought surely most people could come up with a solution
to that problem. And in proof, in this week's column I offer not
one but nine solutions. And so :
This Week's Feature Column :
How to Avoid
Trapping Passengers on Planes : The airlines can't see a problem
with trapping us on their planes, but they can see problems with any
solution to this 'non-problem'. Here are plenty of feasible
solutions to save us from being stuck on a plane unnecessarily, and
which helps airports and airlines efficiently manage all their incoming
and outgoing flights.
Scotland trip :
We now have an amazing 20 people confirmed on this tour - or should I
say '20 amazing people' (see the next paragraph). I'm now able to
offer a special treat on the tour - a whisky tasting class lead by one
of the world's most pre-eminent whisky gurus, the genius behind the
extraordinary creativity flooding out of Bruichladdich on Islay, Jim
McEwan; an experience which for whisky drinkers would validate the
And one of our number has very kindly agreed
to take some of his work with him. He's an astronomer of note,
indeed in the last nine years the project he heads has discovered 300
near-earth asteroids and 44 comets. In return for an appropriate
amount of liquid refreshment as inducement, he's going to show us the
night sky one clear dark evening and hopefully reassure us that none of
these new 344 asteroids and comets will splash down at our feet any time
Whether you're a
whisky aficionado (yet) or not, and whether or not you too would like to
bring a 'show and tell' item to regale us all with, there's a lot of
wonderful things to see, do and enjoy on our lovely 11 day tour of
Scotland's Islands and Highlands this
June. But, please, if you would like to come with us, please do
let me know as soon as possible. We're really already full, and
finessing extra accommodation is a growing challenge with each passing
Dinosaur watching : Well, the
British Airways strike seems likely to be on, first for this
weekend starting tomorrow (for three days) and then again for four days
March 27 - 30 inclusive. I say 'seems likely' because it is the
most complicated of matters, with more issues beneath the surface than
are apparent, including a terribly conflicted government in Britain that
on the one hand has as its largest single supporter the union which BA's
flight attendants belong to, but on the other hand is gripped by the
fear that if it is seen to be supporting the strike, it will lose public
support, with a general election it will be struggling to win due in
It is clear this is about much more than the
specific issue being argued about between BA and its flight attendants.
It really is a massive test of strength, the outcome of which will see
whether the unions continue to hold the upper hand over management, or
whether management can now claim supremacy over the unions. Its
outcome may change the paradigm of the workplace, and it is partially
because of this overarching issue that the strike, which now seems to be
over a difference in bargaining positions so trivial as to make the
strike ridiculous for both parties, is likely to proceed.
On its side BA points to a growing number of
other airlines providing help (now more than 60 other airlines,
including competitors), and also reports that a significant number of
flight attendants will be crossing the picket lines and reporting for
work as normal. BA is claiming that it will operate the majority
of its flights.
On the other side, the union is lobbying for
support from other unions, including even the Teamsters in the US.
What form this extra support may take remains unclear.
The bottom line is that it will be an
interesting time and when BA and the union eventually do settle, we may
never know the underlying obscured deeper issues that were resolved or
who actually was the victor.
There's plenty of other labor unrest
around the world at present, too. On Wednesday, pilots from
five airlines joined with United pilots to picket United's
Chicago headquarters. They are worried that a new joint venture
between UA and Aer Lingus may see non United pilots flying the planes,
and apparently believe that the joint venture should be obliged to
recruit its staff from the highest labor cost country possible, not from
As mentioned last week, AA's flight
attendants are attempting to get the National Mediation Board to
start the count-down timer to when they can lawfully strike against AA,
due to their talks being at what they claim to be an impasse.
TAP Portugal pilots are going out on
strike for six days from 26 March, after having been in unsuccessful
negotiations since an earlier strike last September.
And the Air France flight attendants
plan to strike from 28 through 31 March if they don't reach an agreement
on working conditions with the airline prior to that time.
Although the FAA is projecting a slight
decrease in air travel this year, as is always the case, an industry
wide decrease generally means that some airlines are shrinking more than
the overall average while some are shrinking less or even growing.
In this case, it seems that Virgin
America is firmly on the growth side of the ledger, having announced
plans to add nine more leased planes to its fleet, allowing it to start
new service from both SFO and LAX to Toronto in June, marking its first
flight outside the US itself. It will then add flights to Orlando
(again from LAX and SFO) in August and plans to add service to three
more cities, as yet unnamed, later in the year. One of these three
cities is intriguingly referred to as a 'long-haul' route.
While Virgin America's plans - if any - to
fly to Europe are unknown, we are seeing the projected start of new
flights between MSP and London's Stansted Airport. Sun Country
Airlines (currently, ahem, in bankruptcy) says it will operate one
roundtrip flight a week for the ten week period between 11 June and 15
August, using a 737-800 that will make a necessary refueling stop in
Gander each way.
Fares are projected at $798 plus taxes and
This is a very strange move that will
have almost no impact on the marketplace at all, and it is hard to
see how it could make any money for the bankrupt airline. There is
nonstop service between MSP and Heathrow for the same price with DL/KLM
- who would choose to fly to Stansted rather than Heathrow, and who
would choose a flight with a refueling stop in Gander over a nonstop
In addition, who would choose a once a week
service compared to a daily (or more frequent) service, and who would
choose an airline that has few other routes and a minimal value frequent
flier program over a major carrier with a better frequent flier program?
One possible point in favor of flying to
Stansted is that discount carriers Ryanair and Easyjet offer plenty of
flights from there on to other points in Europe. But will people
choose to book a ticket on Sun Country, via Gander, to Stansted, and
then a separate ticket on a European discount carrier they might know
nothing about and probably wouldn't even find on most major booking
services? Color me unconvinced.
About the only good thing that can be said
is that Sun Country is 'cherry picking' by only offering service in the
height of the peak season, when maybe people will be forced onto its
planes due to no remaining seats at decent prices on other carriers.
Is this type of tiny infiltration into big markets the way that new
airlines will have to compete against the majors - by being so small
that the majors choose to ignore rather than respond to their presence?
It will be very interesting to see if Sun
Country chooses to extend this service, and to bring it back again in
some form or another for next year too.
In adding this service, Sun Country would
become one of the very few airlines taking advantage of the liberalized
rules for airlines operating between the US and EU subsequent to the
enactment of the Open Skies agreement between them.
But this treaty - an excellent concept that
has yet to be taken advantage of to any measurable extent by the
airlines - is at risk, because what is currently enacted is merely the
first part of a two stage process. If the second part of the
process can't be agreed upon by November, much of the current provisions
will then self-destruct, presumably returning us to the more restrictive
situation that previously applied.
A key outstanding provision is for
restrictions on foreign ownership of US airlines to be 'removed or
modified' (whatever that means) and to date the US has shown no signs of
willingness to consider this. More talks are scheduled for next
Some interesting statistics from Europe,
showing that low cost carriers are eating the dinosaurs' lunch.
In 2009, the dinosaurs carried 20 million fewer passengers, a reduction
of nearly 6%. But low cost carriers increased their passenger
numbers by 8.7%.
The three largest low cost carriers are
Ryanair, Air Berlin and Easyjet, and they carried over 139 million
passengers in 2009, up 7.7% on the previous year. Looking further
back, this number is up 80% from their 2005 levels.
Low cost carriers now control 36% of the
total capacity in Europe, and while they've tended to focus on
short-haul services within Europe, we all live in hope that they may
boldly start to extend to North America.
Expansion is also underway at JetBlue, which
says it will double its nonstops between JFK and LAX from two to four a
day, as from 1 July.
Have you pre-ordered your iPad yet?
Using the excuse 'I must get one to review and report back to my readers
about' I put my name down for one, and will receive it on the day of
launch, Saturday 3 April.
I'd been in two minds about the wisdom of
buying one at all, because it is very clear that the initial product
will be replaced by one with at least one and possibly two cameras built
in (one facing to the user for webcam/chat, and one facing away as a
traditional camera/camcorder), whenever it is that Apple will update its
model range. Who knows what other upgrades and enhancements might
appear on a second generation iPad, too.
There's also a good chance that the pricing
will drop after Apple has sold the first wave of units to 'early
adopters'. And there's not yet a great breadth of software that
takes best advantage of the iPad screen. But curiosity and my
genuine desire to report back on the iPad won out.
If you're going to buy one too, which
model should you choose? The iPad comes in three capacities
(16, 32 and 64GB) and in models both with and without 3G wireless data
service through AT&T. The three non-3G models are priced at $499,
$599 and $699; adding 3G wireless adds another $130 to these prices
(plus the extra monthly cost of wireless data service from AT&T - either
$15 for 250MB or $30 for unlimited data).
If you're going to store any videos on your
iPad, you absolutely must choose either the 32GB or 64GB version.
I'm guessing that reasonable quality video will consume at least 1GB per
hour of video stored, so a 32GB unit could hold a dozen movies and still
have the better part of 10GB for several hundred hours of audio
recording, some stored pictures, and miscellaneous other data.
If you're sure you'll never store video,
then you should choose between the 16GB and 32GB units, with the major
space requirements to consider being music tracks and pictures.
As for the 3G data option, most people
should probably choose not to add this. Most of us won't have
our iPads always with us, all the time, in the same way that we probably
have our cell phone (due to the size of the iPad as much as for any
other reason). Instead, we'll tend to keep it at home, and/or in
the office, and so the built in Wi-Fi capabilities that are included in
both the 3G and non 3G units will give us all the wireless data
connectivity we need.
In my case, I've something like 20GB of
music files, and I do want to load the unit up with some video too, to
make it a useful travel companion both for when I'm traveling myself and
also when I'm seeking ways to entertain my 5.5 year old daughter
traveling with me somewhere.
While it could be argued that 'only' paying
$100 more to grow the unit's capacity from 32GB to 64GB is a good deal,
and extends the unit's useful life into the future, for me, the reality
is that as soon as a second generation unit comes out, I'll probably
need to get one, even if only for review purposes, so I ended up
choosing a 32GB non-3G unit.
If at first you don't succeed? Google's 'Nexus One' cell phone has
been a dismal disappointment. Although there was a lot of
interest, excitement, and hype in the build up to its release, the
actual reality of the phone showed it to be comparable to the Motorola
Droid in most respects, and with nothing outstanding or uniquely
compelling to motivate people to rush out and buy one. A curious
business model for selling it - the phone was only available through
Google's own site, and service was only available through T-Mobile; a
high cost for a handset ($529 without contract, $179 with a two year
T-Mobile contract), problems with the phone's operation and
bad/nonexistent phone support with T-Mobile, Google, and HTC (the actual
manufacturer of the phone) all blaming each other, added up to an
insignificant number of sales.
Estimates range from 135,000 units sold in 74 days at the high end, to
125,000 units sold in 90 days at the low end. Well, maybe selling
more than 100,000 units sounds like a lot to you? By comparison,
in the last quarter, Apple sold 8.7 million iPhones.
But rather than shamefacedly retreat away from its so-far ill-starred
venture into phone hardware, and content itself with its very successful
sponsorship of the Android phone operating system, Google is pushing on,
and is now releasing two more versions of the Nexus One - one version
will work on AT&T's network, which has different 3G frequencies than
T-Mobile, and the other unit will work with Sprint and possibly soon
Verizon too. Unfortunately, there's not a version that supports
the five different 3G frequencies for T-Mobile, AT&T, and most other
countries, and of course the Sprint/Verizon units don't work with GSM
services such as either/both AT&T or T-Mobile.
That's hardly surprising, and points to the crazy mess of different
frequencies and standards that mobile wireless companies now offer, due
in large part to the terrible shortage of wireless spectrum
(frequencies) available for these new services.
This Week's Security Horror Story :
What an absolute utter waste of resource, time, effort, energy and
money. The US Travel Association has proudly announced, under the
heading 'Experts Align to Create New Vision for Air Travel Security
Screening Process' that it is creating a 'Blue Ribbon Panel for
Frictionless Security' that will 'create a vision for the world’s most
secure, efficient and customer-friendly air travel security screening
When you've finished rolling your eyes at
such hyperbolic nonsense, you can read the rest of the announcement of
the formation of this ridiculous new committee
Will it uncover some amazing new approach to
security that no-one else has ever thought of? No, of course not.
Will it find a way for security to become 'customer friendly'? Not
as long as we have to take our shoes off, etc etc.
And while describing the panel as comprising
'the foremost experts on air security', it is far from clear how many of
the committee members and panel chairs actually qualify for such an
appellation. On the other hand, names that I'd like to see on the
committee - including some Travel Insider readers - are conspicuously
Most of all, no matter what lofty
conclusions this self-constituted committee may in time offer up, who
will care? Who will listen? Who will accept and act on them?
Noting the fact that this group was not formed at the request of the TSA
or Homeland Security Department, or any other branch of the government,
the answers are almost certainly no-one, no-one and no-one.
Don't you hate it when flight attendants
lie to you. Here's an
interesting article where a passenger calls the bluff of flight
attendants after being told that, for security reasons, webcam chat,
using his laptop and the plane's Wi-fi connection back to the ground,
Here's the annoying part. If the
passenger had refused to cooperate, he'd probably have been arrested.
But the consequences to the flight attendant for lying to him?
Have you ever forgotten to turn your cell
phone off (or any other 'electronic device' for that matter) on a plane.
I sometimes travel with multiple cell phones, and will confess to having
on occasion forgotten one of them. And even when I've turned all
my phones off, I've often noticed other people who don't. Needless
to say, the plane has never crashed and burned.
Don't you think if there really was a risk
of a plane losing control due to a cell phone being left on, the
airlines should do something more than simply make announcements over
the pa system asking passengers to turn their phones off?
But what else could they do? Well, I'm
glad you asked that question. They could get one of
these devices - a 'Bloodhound' that detects any cell phones that are
switched on in its vicinity.
I touched lightly, last week, on the
incipient global crisis, possibly due to strike us all in 2014.
This is when global demand for oil exceeds global supply. We'll
see skyrocketing prices for oil that will make $150/barrel look cheap.
A couple of readers wrote in, pointing out
things like the currently completely unexploited massive
reserve that sprawls over some of MT, ND and SK. Estimates
vary, but to be optimistic, it might have as many as 3.65 billion
barrels of oil in it. So there's no real reason to panic, right?
Wrong. The world is currently
consuming about 86.6 million barrels of oil a day. So - and
assuming no increase in oil consumption - this huge Bakken oil
reserve represents a mere 42 days of global oil needs. Even if
we were to start drilling it now (which we're not), it would be a
struggle to get it onstream and producing by 2014.
What with the certain crisis that is
coming, whether in 2014 or a couple of years later (or even a couple
of years sooner), and the lead times to get new oil sources producing,
we should be desperately prospecting for and developing new oil fields
wherever we can, as quickly as we can.
So how to understand the announcement last
week by the US Secretary of Energy that the administration is banning
all off-shore drilling for three years. Are these people
determined to destroy us?
this article mildly puts it, this is indeed a policy for [US]
But, if you fly over the Gulf of Mexico, you
might notice new activity commencing there in the next little while.
Look closely at the flags they are flying. Red, white, and blue?
Yes. But, stars and stripes? No. They will be Russian.
While the US refuses to drill for the oil in
its own backyard, it sits back and watches Russia establish an oil
presence in the Gulf of Mexico. It makes you wonder exactly which
side our elected leaders are on. Details
Meanwhile, researchers have uncovered a
new cause of global warming. Illegal drug use. Perhaps
someone should pass a law making it - oh, wait, it already is illegal.
Winning this week's award for 'best
excuse' is the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.
This article reports on the interesting fact that the NY Taxi and
Limousine Commission is able to match up each taxi's billing records
with its trip records from GPS reporting, and as part of a billing
audit, noticed an appreciable level of taxis overbilling passengers by
setting the meter to the wrong billing rate, twice the proper rate.
Some drivers in particular were noted to be
doing this a great deal. And so the NY Taxi Workers Alliance
suggested that because the overbilling was so prevalent, the problem
might be - oh no, not dishonest taxi drivers, but rather faulty
Tell it to the judge.
Lastly this week, what is happening in
Dubai - formerly touting itself as the world's best choice for both
business and leisure travel? First we hear stories of Dubai's
financial crisis, which is sort of understandable, although like
everything else in Dubai, apparently on a much larger scale than in the
rest of the world.
But what about its moral crackdown - how to
reconcile that with its claim as being a tourist friendly destination?
First there was the couple convicted for having sex on a beach - okay,
that's a bit beyond the pale. And the couple who were nearly
arrested for sharing a hotel room, but got off, only after they produced
a marriage certificate.
And now there is a couple who were recently
jailed for a month for the crime of kissing in a restaurant.
Glad you asked that question. Now
there's a couple facing a three month jail sentence for - wait for it -
sending 'sexually explicit text messages' to each other. Details
Until next week, please enjoy safe travels