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23 April, 2010
Many thanks to the many readers who rushed
to offer me advice (and sympathy) apropos my Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
challenge. One reader even telephoned from London and then faxed some helpful information
on the topic.
As invariably seems to be the
case, and no matter what the topic, there proved to be an abundance of readers
with expertise and helpful information. Several
readers pointed me to a new type of CTS surgery
and even offered personal testimonials as to its effectiveness. Should matters
deteriorate to that point, I am greatly encouraged at what seems to be a
massively less invasive solution.
I am continuing to primarily dictate my
writing through Dragon NaturallySpeaking and suspect a few errors may
slip in undetected, apologies in advance.
We have now had the first couple choose to
join us for this year's
Christmas markets cruise.
year, the cruise is different from previous cruises; we are going along
the Rhine River instead of the Danube. In both cases, on both
rivers, there are wonderful
Christmas markets full of crafts and food stuffs, in both cases we will
enjoy the beautiful vistas along a lovely stretch of river, and we will
have a pleasant mix of food, drink, and entertainment as well as the
fellowship of a group of like minded Travel Insiders.
I've risked overloading you with information
about this cruise. Here is the
main page of
information and sign-up form; here is a detailed
day by day itinerary;
and here is information on the
optional pre-and post cruise
touring that I have also created.
So please do consider this, and hopefully
choose to join us on what promises to be another wonderful experience.
Air travel over Europe is slowly returning
back to what approximates for normal, although there remains a frisson
of uncertainty about the volcano's plans for the future - the
governmental aviation controlling bodies have not given the airlines a
blank check to fly through all types and concentrations of volcanic ash;
they have merely moved from a zero ash policy to what is hoped to be a
less restrictive but still completely safe policy.
The new issue that is occupying the minds of
many is one of compensation. While a reasonable person would
probably hesitate to seek any form of compensation from anyone
over a matter that can't really be described as anyone's fault or within
anyone's control, the aviation industry is not known for being populated
by reasonable people.
Just how much did the airlines
actually lose from this whole event? We are told that the airlines
suffered a loss of $1.7 billion in gross revenue during the time they
could not fly. But for an airline that makes a net profit of 0%,
or possibly even runs at a loss, just how much net income results from
each dollar of gross revenue? One cent? Less? How much
compensation should the airlines seek in return for losing out on $1.7
billion of gross revenue? The airlines themselves seem willing to
graciously accept the full $1.7 billion.
One wonders also as to how much of the lost
revenue during the week or so of no flying will be re-captured in the
weeks that follow. Most people will still end up flying.
And a reader pointed out to me that the cost
of buying a simple economy class ticket from the US to the UK in the
next little while had risen as high as $5000; it won't take too many
$5000 coach class fares to help the airlines claw back their lost
The airlines of course are seeking compensation from the governments
that created the no-fly rules. Their argument, and with the
benefit of hindsight it appears to have some justification, is that the
no fly rules were unrealistic and unreasonable and so unfairly penalized
the airlines (and passengers) who could have and would have continued to
fly most flights if the subsequently introduced more realistic rules had
been originally in place.
Maybe the airlines truly do deserve
Another group who feels they deserve some compensation are the
inconvenienced passengers. In the EU, passengers are automatically
entitled to compensation when their flights are delayed or canceled.
Although the preamble to the legislation countenances exemptions for
weather related issues such as of volcano eruptions, the
actual legislation itself only exempts airlines from being
required to pay cash compensation in the case of circumstances beyond
their reasonable control. It does not exempt airlines from an obligation
to provide hotel accommodation, meals, refreshments, phone calls, and
transportation between the airport and hotel (see article 9).
As a result, airlines could potentially find themselves liable for many
hundreds of dollars in hotel bills and related costs for each of the
hundreds of thousands of inconvenienced passengers; and budget airlines
in particular, who may have sold the airfare for less than $100 to start
with, and in conjunction with it being an arguably inappropriate
government fiat that prevented them from flying in the first place, are
now and understandably
saying they should not have to compensate
passengers over a matter that was entirely outside of their control, and
to a level that is many times the initial ticket value.
With so many passengers having possibly substantial claims against
airlines, get ready for massive class actions and lengthy lawsuits.
As mentioned in one of my special newsletters earlier this week, one
thing we can all keep in mind for the future is the appropriateness of
our travel insurance coverages. Some policies might currently be a
little vague as to if they will cover flight delays and cancellations
caused by things such as volcanoes. Many policies now have
specific guidelines about hurricane coverage and probably we will see,
in the future, clearer guidelines about volcano related delays too.
Of course all (volcanic ash) clouds have a silver lining. Not
everyone lost out during the disruptions. Eurostar were operating
all their 58 trains per day between Britain and Europe at capacity,
representing some 46,000 passengers a day. The channel ferries
were similarly full. Looking further afield, the Queen Mary 2
sailed from Southampton to New York on Thursday, also full, and with
over 1000 people on a waiting list. Her next four crossings are
all sold out too.
While many passengers had to suffer the indignity of camping out at
airports, there were a privileged few who had access to airport lounges.
Most international passengers flying business and first class get access
to an airport lounge while waiting for their flight, as do some super
elite frequent flyers, and anyone/everyone else who chooses to buy an
annual lounge membership from an airline. Generally it costs about
$400 a year to belong to an airline lounge club.
With the problems of the last week freshly in mind, it seemed like a
good time to write about airport and airline lounge programs.
While it is true that annual membership does cost about $400 a year,
there are other ways, at lower cost. to access lounges on occasion too.
And so, for your education and enjoyment, here is :
This Week's Feature Column :
How to Access Airline
Lounges for Less : Here are four possible ways of getting inside
airline lounges for less than the typical $400 annual fee.
Dinosaur watching : There has been a slight change in the cast of
players for the next anticipated merger. Apparently US Airways was
a little put out to indirectly discover that at the same time it
thought United was promising to become its best friend, it seems
United was also getting hot and heavy with Continental. And
so US Airways has stalked off in a huff, and the game now seems to be
between United and Continental.
You may or may not remember that
it is barely two years since the last time UA and CO were rumored to
be getting close to doing a deal. Last time around, CO chose to
remain semi- sort of independent, becoming a Star Alliance partner with
In my recent article about
the lack of
airline competition, I quoted the generally held definition of an
oligopoly as being when four companies share between them 50% of the
market. If four companies share 80% of the market between them
this becomes a monopoly (yes, a monopoly can allow for more than just
Currently, as measured by revenue passenger
miles, the four largest US carriers (DL AA UA CO) have 60% of the
market. If United and Continental merge (which would then make
them the largest carrier), the four largest airlines then would become
UA/CO, Delta, American, and Southwest. They would have 69% of the
market between them; still not quite a monopoly, but absolutely
completely and incontrovertibly not a fair open competitive market.
Interestingly, it is only recently that the
airlines have become a classic textbook example of an oligopoly rather
than something that would normally be assumed to be competitive.
Prior to the Delta and Northwest merger, the four largest airlines had
barely 50% of the market, making the airlines right on the cusp of
becoming an oligopoly. Now, little more than a year later, we are
inevitably transitioning from fair competition, through unfair
oligopoly, and continuing towards outrageous monopoly.
Hello, DOT? Is there anyone home?
When will you stop rubberstamping these airline merger requests?
When will you stop telling us that we as passengers benefit from the
continued disappearance of airline competition?
Some divergent profit results are
being reported for the first quarter. Southwest Airlines is
reporting an $11 million net profit, a turnaround from a $91 million
loss in the first quarter of last year. Delta also claims to have
some good news, with a $256 million loss. This is good news
because last year it lost $794 million. But although Southwest
(and possibly Delta) clearly shows that it is possible to improve on
last year, other airlines are not following its example. AirTran
has a $12 million loss compared to a $28 million profit.Continental
reported a $146 million loss, $10 million worse than last year.
As we know at the pump, oil prices are
rising steadily. And so the airlines are once again flirting with
fuel surcharges, with Delta leading the pack this week to
institute a $20 round-trip fuel surcharge.
A couple of weeks ago Spirit Airlines
introduced its now infamous carry on bag fee. it did so under the
guise of saving most passengers money -- it said that it had dropped
some fears by an amount to compensate for the cost of paying for a
This week, Spirit has a similarly positive
way of introducing a new "innovation". The airline has announced
that the seating on its two new Airbus A320s will feature
'pre-reclined seats'. What is a pre-reclined deceit (I said
'seat' but Dragon misheard me - there's something ironic about its
mistake, though, isn't there) you might wonder? This is a fancy
way of saying a seat that will not recline at all. All of a
sudden, it doesn't sound quite so good, does it?
But perhaps there is a reason that these
seats do not recline. The reason is probably because there is no
room for the seat to recline back. Whereas most planes offer a 30
inch or greater pitch between seat rows, Spirit is giving us only 28
inches. And if you think that the difference between 28 and 30+ is
minor, next time you are in a plane, have a look at your knees and then
imagine them being two or more inches closer to the seat in front of
you. Then imagine some more what happens if the seat in front
reclines as far back as it can.
As I've said before, I'm entirely unworried
by Spirit charging a carry-on bag fee. But I don't want to add
knee injuries to my wrist injury, and so there's no way you'll find me
on a 28 inch seat pitch plane operated by Spirit. We all have
choices when it comes to whether we have large or small carry-on bags,
but we have no choices when we come to sit in the seat. No choices
that is, other than the ultimate choice of not flying that airline.
Do you need a new computer? Or,
perhaps, a better question would be "How do you know when you need a new
As part of trying to get good use from the
Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice recognition/transcription software, it
has become painfully obvious to me that I need a more powerful computer
than the one I had been using.
But I was not certain just how much better
and how much faster a new computer would be in the real world.
Sure, you can look at various measures like CPU speed, but these are not
always directly linked to real world performance and actual observed
speed in everyday computing. In trying to translate theoretical
specifications to real world results, I found
an excellent free program that runs real world applications on your
computer and benchmarks your computer's speed. You can match your
computer's score with the scores of other computers tested by the
website, and other computers you might already have.
In my case, the main computer that I had
been using for the last three years scored 532. My lovely Dell
laptop scored 920. My little Netbook scored a disappointing 320.
Powerful new computers in the $1200-$1500 price range can be expected to
score around about the same score as their dollar cost.
This marked a significant transition for me;
something I have been anticipating for a while and have now finally
implemented. With my laptop being at least 50% faster than my
desktop, my desktop is now obsolete. I have an external scree,n
keyboard and monitor connected to my laptop, which is in a docking
station, and my laptop is now performing very much better in every
respect than my desktop has been.
Best of all, when traveling, I don't need to
bother about backing up or replicating or duplicating any files. I
simply remove the laptop from its docking station and off I go; and
obviously, upon my return, I simply replace it back in its docking
station and continue work. Wonderful.
Suggestion : Test your computer using
this free software, and if it too is scoring 500 or less, and if you're
starting to feel that it is slow, maybe it is time for you to consider
an upgrade also. New computers will be literally twice as fast.
As an aside, my feeling is that even my fast
Dell laptop is a little underpowered for best results with Dragon
NaturallySpeaking. I will probably end up getting a new desktop
computer powered by an Intel i7-930 CPU which I will then overclock by
perhaps 10%, perhaps 20%. This is probably right at the sweet spot
of power versus price. Unless you to want to deploy the Dragon
software, you probably would not need a computer this powerful.
As for the Dragon software, I plan to review
this in a week or two's time when I have given it a full fair chance to
tune itself for best performance.
Imagine carrying a device with you that broadcasts your identity and
location continually, wherever you are. Now imagine carrying any
cell phone - that's what it is doing.
The latest example of how our cell phones are
increasingly informing on us, and how this information will be
commercially exploited, is
this new service being trialed at Best
Buy and Macy's.
Talking about having cell phones with us
wherever we go, any taxi driver will tell you that an amazing number of
people leave their cell phones behind when leaving the taxi. This
also happens in bars, restaurants, and many other places. So what?
The "so what" issue I'm writing about here
is the unfortunate act by an Apple engineer who inadvertently forgot to
take his supersecret new iPhone with him after leaving a bar one night.
This resulted in the phone being discovered and eventually sold to a
high tech magazine for $5000, with the magazine gleefully publishing as
many details as it could ascertain from the lost phone (Apple remotely
disabled the phone, limiting how much could be done with it). If
you'd like to know more about the new iPhone, which is probably going to
be officially announced in June, click
In quick summary, the good news is the new
phone has a larger battery and a better camera. The bad news is
that although its screen appears to be appreciably higher resolution, it
is also apparently slightly smaller. This is against the trend
manifested by most other state-of-the-art phones at present, and
detracts from the phone's ability to display webpages and video.
Could it be that Apple has made the phone screen smaller so as to
encourage people to buy both an iPhone and an iPad?
This Week's Security Horror Story :
What with the volcano preoccupying most of us all week, there's nothing
truly horrifying to report this week. But here's an
interesting story of a woman's complaint about the TSA, and its
charges brought against her. what I find puzzling about this is
the apparent lack of any video which would surely confirm/deny their
divergent stories of what happened. The TSA has shown itself to be
very fast at showing us video to rebut unfair complaints about itself,
so where is the video this time?
Here is an
unfortunate story of a reprehensible act of abuse by an Air Marshal.
It reminds me of the very sad statistic that more Air Marshals have been
arrested than they themselves have arrested terrorists, and indeed
miscreants of all sorts. Even if one increases the tally to allow
for mentally deranged people they have shot and killed, the "positive"
side of their ledger is massively outweighed by their negative.
Lastly this week, a request. Do you
know anyone who you think would enjoy receiving and reading this free
weekly newsletter? If you do, please forward this newsletter on to
them with a suggestion they consider joining.
Until next week, please enjoy safe travels