Friday, November 23, 2001
I had been lead astray by the calendar on my wall - it wrongly showed Thanksgiving as 29 November and so I thought I was making plans to go to London for Thanksgiving but only realized last week that in fact I was a week out in my dates!  Hopefully your plans went more smoothly than my own; and I'll be writing to you from London (or possibly Moscow) next week.

It seems that Thanksgiving travel this year is going reasonably smoothly, indeed a good news story about United Airlines tells that their employees at O'Hare volunteered to work extra hours at the airport to help long lines of travelers get to their planes.  That is a really nice gesture that I'm sure everyone appreciated.

The airlines have monopolized the news when it comes to impacts of the global travel slowdown.  But all other travel related companies are similarly affected, and so it is perhaps unsurprising to read earlier this week of the merger between P&O Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean.  The merged company will become the largest cruiseline, eclipsing current #1, Carnival.  The only part of the announcement that didn't ring true was the statement that the merged company will create annual savings of $100 million, but that they didn't expect any appreciable staff reductions.  Hmmm....  On a brighter note, if you haven't already noticed, there are incredible cruise bargains freely available at present, with outside cabin rates dropping down to as low as $50-70 per person per day.

Meanwhile, all is not gloom and doom.  In Britain, the long debated Terminal 5 at Heathrow (it formed the subject of the longest planning inquiry in British history) was finally approved on Tuesday.  The 2.5 billion project ($3.6 billion) is expected to bring the new terminal onstream by 2007, and increasing LHR's capacity by an additional 30 million passengers a year.

Were you surprised by the amazingly fast announcements that the AA587 disaster was nothing to do with any type of terrorist action?  I'm not the only person to find it hard to believe that the tail just 'fell off' the A300 - here's an article on a New Zealand web site.  And a former air force pilot who now flies for a major US Airline, and with over 4000 hours of flying experience in identical A300 aircraft wrote to me the following :

David, to me something simply does not sound right.  For the tail of this aircraft to come off simply does not make sense. The A300 is a strong aircraft, and that plane was traveling below 250 kts, at 3,000 or so feet.  It was just beginning to get up steam so to speak.  No plane falls apart at that slow speed from turbulence.  I doubt that even running into a tornado would tear any commercial plane apart like the AA587 was.  And to say that any turbulence from a plane 8 miles ahead could have caused this is really grasping at straws in my humble opinion. That is why I say there has to be something more here.

Either there was some major structural mechanical damage to that plane which turbulence acted as a catalyst to cause to fall apart, or else an explosion took place inside.  David, planes fly close formation on each other...... I've done that refueling.  Yes, the risk of turbulence from their wing tip vortices exists, but if it was this dangerous, then we'd never do refueling.  And right immediately off the wing tip is where the maximum force is generated. As the vortex moves back or one might say the plane goes forward, the small tornado created progressively becomes weaker.  The idea that they were jettisoning fuel is a question going unanswered too. There is too much which is unknown and I fear that what the government says doesn't make sense.

Meanwhile, kudos to Market Researchers Gang & Gang who have brought out the first accurate survey on people's attitudes to air travel post 9/11.  There have been lots of surveys all showing that people are not too concerned about future air travel, and I haven't believed a single one of them, because they have not matched the 'real world' feedback I've been getting.  These surveys all remind me of the classic sex surveys, where men claim twice as much heterosexual activity as women.  Being as how each such act involves equally (?) one man and one woman, you'd expect the levels of response to balance between men and women, and the imbalance merely shows how inaccurate most surveys usually are.  When people are asked 'are you frightened to fly', not everyone wants to say yes.  By using indirect questioning, this new survey managed to get franker answers, which show, for example, that people feel more negative about flying today than they do about receiving treatment for cancer (see p 14 of their report), and also shows that frequent fliers feel even more negative about future travel than infrequent fliers.

This week's stupidest idea, and from an unlikely source :  The Business Travel Coalition - presumably a group that provides advocacy for us, frequent business travelers, gratuitously came up with the suggestion that the airlines should completely eliminate all food and beverage service!!!  They say that airplane security is potentially at risk due to the occasional presence of food and beverage service carts in the aisles, and so it would be better to eliminate all service entirely!   I'm trying to think of my next 14+ hour flight to Australia, without any food or drink service at all, and can't say that I'm too excited by the thought.

This week's lead storyThe Weakest Link :  The new Airport Security Federalization Act was passed into law this week.  But can we now relax?  No!  Read how the airlines are once again stonewalling the introduction of a vital missing part of the security puzzle - a piece that is already 8+ years late in being implemented.

I've added a new page to the website - any time you're hungry for the latest travel news, simple visit this page and you'll see a continually updated news feed of travel related stories.

And, lastly, as a New Zealander myself, I'll pass this travel related url on to you without comment, but perhaps with some envy - it wasn't like that back in my day!

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels.....

David M Rowell aka The Travel Insider
ps :  Don't forget to visit Joe Brancatelli's site for his weekly updates, too.

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