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11 June, 2010

Good morning

And greetings from London, where the weather is much like what I left behind in Seattle.

I flew over on Delta, and noted they were offering a $600 travel voucher plus a night of hotel accommodation and food vouchers for anyone willing to volunteer for a later (next day) flight from MSP to LHR, due to being overbooked.  Happily, they had plenty of volunteers so everyone who wanted to travel was accommodated on the flight.

I thought the $600 offer a bit low (and less than the $800 they'd have to pay if bumping a booked passenger involuntarily), but plainly enough people were pleased to take it as to avoid the need for DL to up the offer to something more tempting.

From time to time I'm met at an airport by a car and driver, and the typical thing is to be greeted upon exiting Customs by the driver holding a sign with one's name on it.  Nothing too special about that.  But imagine my surprise to find a driver waiting for me on the jetway as I was leaving the plane at Heathrow.  And instead of having to walk to wherever the cars are parked at Heathrow, he had his vehicle parked on the double yellow lines immediately outside the arrival terminal doors while the police smiled benignly at him and me.

I won't embarrass the reader who so kindly arranged that service, but it was an interesting experience and much nicer than the usual system.

A brief newsletter today, and no newsletter next week while I'm touring through Scotland's islands with 23 Travel Insider readers.

As an aside, I've just finished a brief CPR/AED overview course in London - one of the tour participants is kindly bringing an AED with him, and while we hope it won't be necessary, we both went through a quick course on its use.  Sobering statistic - even with the best efforts, CPR only works 3% of the time.  However, it was a very useful course and I'd definitely recommend everyone should attend a CPR course, and with AED units coming down in price, they are becoming something worth considering for most people.

I know, in my own personal case, that if my father had been given timely AED/CPR he would have lived - instead, by the time paramedics got to him and resuscitated him, he was already essentially brain dead.  They were simply too late.  It is that haunting thought that massively motivates me to have such emergency help at hand for situations where someone else might have their life saved.

But there's a lot more to responding to a person experiencing a heart attack than just simply wiring them up to an AED, hence the need to know CPR and to attend a proper course.

This Week's Feature Column :  Another good Bluetooth Headset :  As blog readers know, there is a special deal on my favorite Bluetooth headset, the BlueAnt Q1.  But when this special ends, and perhaps anyway, here is another good performing and great priced Bluetooth headset.

Dinosaur watching :  I wrote last week about the discrepancy between low cost carriers and dinosaurs, with the low cost carriers reporting positive increases in May passenger traffic and the dinosaurs struggling to stay at past passenger traffic levels.  Two more carriers have now reported results - Jetblue with a 9.8% in passenger traffic (and an even bigger 13% increase in revenue due to higher fares), and United with a 1% decrease (in domestic traffic, they had a good increase in international traffic).  An interesting contrast.

It is official - the worst of the airline recession is over.  IATA has now revised their projection for 2010, saying that airlines will make an overall profit of $2.5 billion this year (in March they were forecasting a $2.8 billion loss).  Industry gross revenue is projected to be $545 billion, up from $483 billion in 2009, so the profit is less than 1% of total revenues received.

And of that $2.5 billion, Emirates alone expects to contribute $1 billion or more of profit, in their latest positive forecast for the year ahead.  Emirates is also showing its confidence in a very tangible way - it has ordered a further 32 of the super-sized A380 double decker jumbo jets.  They now have 80 of the planes on order and an additional ten already delivered and operational.

Airbus is now delivering A380s at a rate of 20/year, and there are 30 of the planes in service, operated by Singapore Airlines, Emirates Airline, Qantas, Air France and Lufthansa.  Airbus is claiming the airplane to be a success due to seven of the 17 airlines who have ordered the plane already placing additional orders, and over half the world's major international airlines now having A380s either in their fleets or on order.

But with the total number of A380s ordered at 234, the plane is clearly far from a commercial/financial success, and also far from the levels of universal acceptance earlier enjoyed by the 747, or which is promised to be enjoyed by the much smaller 787, which already has 866 firm orders even though the first plane has yet to be delivered.

An interesting comment from Boeing this week - they were talking about the future plans for their 737 family of planes.

The driving force for any new model plane is of course its hoped for improved operating costs.  If an airline can experience lower operating costs with a newer plane, it is more likely to retire older planes and replace them than if that is not the case.

Lower operating costs are as likely to come from newer better engines as they are from new airplane designs, better wing cross-sections, and lighter construction materials.  Which leads to Boeing's interesting comment.

There is less clearance between the wings on their 737s and the ground than is the case with an A320 series plane, and Boeing acknowledged that this is constraining their ability to work with engine manufacturers to come up with new enhanced/more efficient engine designs to repower the 737.  This factor as much as anything else might serve to force Boeing to finally do something to replace the very-long-in-the-tooth 737 with a totally new airplane.

Boeing is also starting to feel a bit of pressure at the smaller end of the 737 series by the entry into the market of Bombardier and their 110-149 passenger C Series jets.  Boeing re-iterated its promise to make an announcement about its future plans for the 737 series by the end of the year - and Airbus is also expected to announce its future plans for the A320 series in a similar time frame.

Here's an interesting and welcome piece of news.  Auburn University has received a $300,000 grand from the FAA to study the risk of contracting a communicable disease during airline travel.

Two professors will study the ability of microorganisms to survive in cabin air and on surfaces.  Past outbreaks of SARS and H1N1 have generated concern about the spread of diseases during air travel and some travelers believe - and anecdotal surveys suggest - people are more likely to catch colds when flying.  The Airliner Cabin Environment Research Center will administer the project.  Auburn will integrate research findings with the Harvard School of Public Health, Purdue University and Kansas State University.

It will be useful to have solid research findings to give a clearer perspective on the risk factors associated.  I certainly perceive that I often get a cold after a lengthy international flight (and woke up with a sore throat this morning).

What is it about passenger rail in the US which inspires a level of ridiculous unrealistic thinking quite unparalleled in the rest of the world?  Amtrak is recommending a target be set to connect all pairs of metropolitan areas with populations of 1 million or more, and separated by less than 600 miles, with “frequent, reliable, high-speed intercity passenger-rail service.”

Being as how there currently is no true high speed rail service anywhere in the US, and no funding to bring it about (President Obama's $8 billion boondoggle notwithstanding) one really wonders what is the point of setting such ridiculous goals when there is less than zero chance of them being ever achieved.

This Week's Security Horror Story :  The government, in arguing before a Federal Court that they should be allowed to seize, search, and hold for an extended time laptops from Americans returning back to the US from abroad, told the court that while a person, after entering the country, then enjoys the benefits and protection of our Constitution and legal procedures, a laptop does not, because it remains in a twilight zone - 'Until merchandise has cleared customs, it may not enter the United States,' assistant U.S. attorney Owen Martikan argued.  'The laptop never cleared customs and was maintained in government custody until it was searched...'

Wait a minute - isn't the government supposed to be on our side?  Instead, they are arguing for the right to seize whatever they wish from us and to keep our personal effects - and sometimes business essentials, without which we can not work - for as long as they capriciously choose, leaving us with no recourse.  In my case (and for many other people too), my entire life and business is maintained on my laptop. 

Fortunately, the judge rejected our government's argument.  Details here.

A flight attendant was arrested trying to take a firearm through security at Indianapolis.  Nothing much more is known than this brief report.

Lastly this week, the person formerly known as Talulah Does The Hula From Hawaii has had her name changed by order of a NZ court.  Some others have been allowed to keep their names.  Details here.

No newsletter next week.  Until the week after next, please enjoy safe travels

David M Rowell aka The Travel Insider

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