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Aug 042016
 
The beautiful interior of the newly restored Crossness pumping station in London - see last item.

The beautiful interior of the newly restored Crossness pumping station in London – see last item.

Good morning

I returned back from our lovely Bordeaux river cruise on Tuesday.  We enjoyed outstanding weather and a wonderful itinerary taking us around many of the fabled wineries and towns in the Bordeaux region – names and places that until now I’d only ever seen on expensive wine bottle labels.  Amawaterways continues to lift its game with its service on its lovely ships, and as is invariably the case, we had a great group of Travel Insiders sharing this wonderful experience.

Also surprisingly good were my flights on Delta – I used miles to treat myself to business class, and had their newer configuration one way and older configuration the other.  The food was great both directions, but the older seats are almost claustrophobic in terms of their tiny size when stretched out into a semi-sleeper configuration.  More on that next week when I expect to have a full review published.

This week I drew on a different part of my travel experiences to point out another travelemperor sporting very few clothes – in this case, Uber.  Uber is worth more than the big three airlines combined, and whereas the big three carriers own hundreds of planes, Uber doesn’t seem to own much at all.

My enchantment with the amazing low fares charged by Uber drivers somewhat transmogrified after having an Uber driver fail to find me at the Bordeaux railway station and abandon his responding to my hire request, even though the Uber app showed him exactly where I was located.  Even worse, Uber then charged me €6 for having ‘cancelled’ the ride!

A comedy of errors, Uber disappointments, and disinterested French taxi-drivers ensued, resulting in my 11 yr old daughter and I walking three miles from the train station to the ship.  With our baggage.  In the searing heat of the mid afternoon sun in July.  Ugh.  For more about Uber, please see the article following this morning’s weekly roundup.

I’m only home for three weeks before heading back to Europe for our lovely Bucharest to Budapest cruise.  There are a couple of cabins on the ship still available, including for singles with no surcharge!  If you’d like to join us for this cruise, it isn’t too late to book, and you can travel without the onerous single surcharge that is so commonly the case.

Please now continue reading for :

  • Emergency Landing?  Explosion?  Yes, But Still Time to Grab One’s Carry-On First
  • First, Airlines Merge.  Second, They Rationalize
  • European Flight Delays and Cancellations – Bring Them On!
  • Coming Soon to a Customer Service Counter at an Airport Close to You?
  • Tesla’s Reality Distortion Lens Continues on Full Power
  • Some Interesting Tourism Statistics
  • And Lastly This Week….

Emergency Landing?  Explosion?  Yes, But Still Time to Grab One’s Carry-On First

An Emirates 777 from India landed hard at Dubai on Wednesday with an engine possibly on fire, and exploded shortly after landing.  Astonishingly all 294 passengers and crew escaped without serious injury, although one firefighter was killed when the plane suddenly exploded.  Instantly beatified as a brave hero and credited with singlehandedly saving the lives of everyone, a more accurate label would be ‘unlucky guy doing his job’.

Nothing is yet officially known about the accident, but there is a possibility of pilot error.  Although there are conflicting reports about the sequence of events, it seems that the pilot was warned, shortly before landing, that the undercarriage had not been lowered, and he attempted to abort and do a ‘go around’ procedure but possibly instituted this procedure (which involves nothing more complicated than pushing a single button in the cockpit – I’ve done it myself in practice landings in a 777 simulator) too late.  Even if you call for full power from the engines and pull back on the control column, it takes a while for the jets to ‘spool up’ and deliver full power, and first the plane’s downward rate of sink has to be countered and cancelled before the plane then starts to rise again, so at a low altitude and low speed, initiating a ‘TO/GA’ event may not be successful in the last few seconds before landing.  Whatever the situation – and some reports puzzlingly suggest the plane started to gain altitude before sinking again, the plane crashed into the runway with its undercarriage still retracted.

Emirates officials have refused to comment on what the pilot was attempting or the state of the landing gear, but this is not necessarily obfuscation – merely prudently waiting to get all the facts (ie black box analysis) before making accurate statements.

The entire airport – the world’s busiest as measured by international passenger numbers – closed down, with 242 flight cancellations and 64 flights diverted, inconveniencing over 23,000 passengers.  The airport has two runways, but both were closed.  This is probably not due to the other runway being affected by the accident, but rather due to the airport’s emergency services all being focused on the plane crash and no remaining resource available in the event of a second emergency if operations were to continue on the second runway.

It was very fortunate indeed that everyone escaped the plane with no more than the inevitable scrapes and sprains that happen in any emergency evacuation (those evacuation slides are very steep).  The good news is the passengers on board didn’t panic, the bad news is the passengers on board also didn’t seem possessed of any sense of emergency or appreciation that at any moment, the plane could become an incendiary inferno.  Video footage shows passengers milling about inside and collecting their carry-on items from the overhead lockers, much as they would in any ordinary deplaning process.  Indeed, for that matter, the passenger filming seemed more focused on her big Youtube moment than on the safety of herself or her children.

Words fail me when it comes to describing the shortsighted selfishness of such passengers.  It isn’t just their lives they are risking, it is the lives of everyone else waiting for their turn to also leave the plane.  As was vividly demonstrated, the plane was a ticking time bomb, and mere seconds after the last passenger and crew member had evacuated, it spectacularly exploded and burned in a furious fireball.

Sadly, we can’t control the foolishness of our fellow passengers, but you can at least not add to it.  In an emergency, single-mindedly make your way to the nearest safe emergency exit and do not politely wait for people ahead of you to collect their belongings.  If they are delaying the orderly evacuation of everyone else, for the safety of those who actually care about surviving, you should push them assertively out of the way, with as much force as you can muster.  People who refuse to follow instructions can not be allowed to emperil the safety of everyone else on the plane.  Use a ‘command voice’ and single word or short phrase instructions to keep the people around you focused on getting out of the plane.  “Move!”  “Keep moving!”  “Go forward now!” (Or, of course, ‘go back’ if the exit is in the other direction.  And, if necessary, “Out of the way!”.

You can apologize, if you wish, once you are all safely on the ground and far from the plane.  But until that point, do whatever it takes to get out of the plane as quickly as possible, short of causing a free for all ruckus.  Your life, and the lives of the other passengers behind you, is much more important than some other passenger’s roll-aboard suitcase.

In theory, airplanes are required to be built with sufficient exits so that they can be evacuated, with only half their exits opened, in under 90 seconds.  Boeing and Airbus have to conduct actual evacuation drills to prove the ability to do so, but in a ‘laboratory’ condition with test ‘passengers’ who are primed and briefed for the event, sober and alert.  Safety mats are placed around the predeployed slides, the evacuation isn’t preceded by a bone-breaking disorienting crash, and the cabin isn’t filling with smoke and fire.  Most of all, the passengers behave well, no-one has any sense of panic or fear, and they don’t stop to collect any baggage.

The A380 managed to empty itself of 873 passengers in 78 seconds.  Any other plane you’re on is also capable of an under 90 second evacuation in an optimal environment.  Help ensure the environment is indeed optimal and encourage your fellow passengers any way that seems indicated to do the right thing, too.

First, Airlines Merge.  Second, They Rationalize

One of the lies commonly trotted out any time two airlines merge is that the new combined airline will continue to operate all its hubs and flights, exactly the same as before, offering ‘more choices’ to the traveling public.

Let’s not dwell on how reducing from two airlines to one, and promising to maintain the current level of flights can indeed offer more choices to passengers, and let’s not even pause to consider how the matching claims of the new merged airline benefitting from efficiencies and economies as a result of the merger can be reconciled with the promise of all flights continuing.

There is no need to pause to consider such things, because they are patently obviously false, and within a few years of any such merger, flights start being dialed back, and the hubs which had been promised to remain start disappearing.  DoT officials have confessed to me that they never track airline promises made to support a merger request, or hold them accountable for breaking them.

The 2010 merger between United and Continental saw some ‘low hanging fruit’ in the form of redundant excess hubs, and already the merged carrier has closed its Cleveland hub.  But it still has lots – and arguably too many.  Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark, San Francisco and Washington/Dulles.

Here’s an article speculating that both LAX and IAD may be de-emphasized.  With a strong hub in San Francisco and tough competition in Los Angeles, it might make sense to focus on the more profitable SFO market, particularly if Alaska Airlines’ purchase of Virgin America sees a reduction in Virgin flights from SFO.  As for Dulles, it has never been a preferred choice for passengers on domestic flights, and nearby Newark has better growth opportunities (albeit also with little appeal for passengers flying to/from NYC).

European Flight Delays and Cancellations – Bring Them On!

Several of our group were inconvenienced by the Air France flight attendants strike, which was taking place on the day our cruise ended.  But their inconvenience may also come with a silver lining; albeit one that Air France was not volunteering, unasked, and it is worth reminding you of these provisions.

EU regulations require airlines to pay generous compensation when flights are delayed more than two hours (for short flights, 3 or 4 hours for longer flights), or cancelled and not substituted with alternate flights that get to your destination in a timely manner.  You can expect a minimum €250 in mandatory compensation, in addition to being given alternate flight arrangements and possibly food and accommodation too.  So delays and cancellations have at least some of the pain removed.

The provisions of the regulations (regulation 261/2004) are explained here.  Of further note is that if you can’t get the airline in question to respond positively, there are now many companies that will press your case for you, in return for a share of the settlement they invarialy obtain.  Google will point you to many companies offering this service.

Sure, we’d all prefer our flights to proceed on schedule and with no disruptions, but if something does go wrong, you might be due some compensation.

Coming Soon to a Customer Service Counter at an Airport Close to You?

Okay, I can understand making a sex robot look sort of human.  But, to me, there’s something very creepy and dishonest at dressing up a machine to look as human-like as possible in any other situation.  Let’s not pretend that the attractive apparent woman manning the service desk at the front of the queue is a person, even if it mimics reality to the point of blinking its ‘eyes’ when in fact it is a computer terminal with loudspeaker, webcam, microphone and moving tentacles arms.

If you don’t like automated attendants on phone systems, and if conversing with Siri isn’t your idea of fun, then the chances are you’ll be wishing you could speak to a real person, even in an off-shore call center and in poor English, rather than being forced to endure a robot handling your enquiry/request.  Are we expected to feel better or worse when the robot looks more like a high class call girl than a computer?

With those comments in mind, here’s an interesting article about new robots, now being mooted as working in customer service roles in the travel industry.

Most of all, remember that the job these machines will next replace may well be yours.  Now that robots are being planned to take over ‘high touch’ type roles in customer service – something we were previously told would of course long remain the exclusive preserve of real people, how long will it be before anything and everything else is also done by robots?  It is hard to see how this will be a good thing for any of us when we’re unemployed, our former jobs now being done by impersonal robots with a chilly machine-like precision but no feeling or humanity.

Talking about customer service at airports, here’s an interesting article on the most popular items sold at airport newstand/shops.  Overpriced water is the most prominent item, with different bottled water products taking up all of the top five spots.  Who would have believed, a couple of decades ago, that people would be paying more for water than for soda or juice.

I bought a 1.5 liter bottle of sparkling water at Aldi in the UK last week for 17p (about 23c).  That was a fair price, but anything more than that is shameless exploitation.

Tesla’s Reality Distortion Lens Continues on Full Power

Notwithstanding lower deliveries in its second quarter this year than in its first quarter (puzzlingly blamed on a higher production rate), Tesla continues to promise an extraordinary ramp up in production and the launch of the new Model 3 in one year’s time.  It also showcased its ‘Gigafactory’ with a grand opening last week, but rather than showing a finished factory churning out rechargeable Li-Ion batteries at prodigious production rates, the main attractions were a dummied up shell of a Model 3 and a building that had no walls or floors.

Add on top of these puzzlements some curious ambiguities about the actual number of forward orders for its Model 3, and the controversy over several recent accidents, and, but for the saving graces of the Tesla reality distortion lens, many people might conclude that Tesla is having a bit of a tough time at present.

As this article pithily points out, it is also notable that although Tesla claims to be planning a ten-fold increase in its production within two years, there is no sign of any evidence of any additional factory resource being urgently developed.

Some Interesting Tourism Statistics

This web page has two interesting lists of tourism statistics.  The first reports on the top ten countries in terms of the number of international tourists they get each year.  France continues in first place, with 84 million visitors, followed by the US (75 million) and Spain (65 million), with China playing fast catch up in fourth place (56 million).

The second contrasts international annual visitor arrivals with the country’s resident population, an interesting alternate way of ranking countries, with a distortive effect causing the Vatican City to come first, as much due to having only 842 residents as anything else, and other small countries also being similarly favored.

What will even more interesting will be to see how the visitor arrival numbers change in 2016.  My sense, in France, is that the steady stream of muslim terror attacks is having an impact on their inbound tourism, particularly from the Chinese market.  I noticed that in many places, the second language on signs these days is Chinese, but news articles in France suggest that Chinese tourism is substantially down on last year, apparently due to fears of terrorist attacks.

And Lastly This Week….

One of the vivid memories of my youth was when my father was returning from a 3+ month international study trip in Britain in the late 1960s.  My mother, sister, brother and I all dutifully got dressed up and went to the small airport in Napier, NZ, to welcome him home.  The 48 seater Fokker Friendship landed, came up to the airport entrance, popped out its stairs, and the passengers started coming off.  Was he first off?  No.  Maybe second or third?  Still no.  The first rush of deplaning passengers slowed to smaller clumps of people with longer gaps between them.  And finally, after what seemed like many more than 48 people, no-one else came off.  No sign of my father.

To be truthful, my disappointment was largely a function of not getting all the goodies that I was anticipating he’d be bring me.  But there was some puzzlement about his non-appearance as well.  Upon the plane’s emptying out, we gave up, and ‘made enquiries’ as best we could in those days prior to cell phones to find out what had befallen him.  The thought of waiting at the airport, and waiting, and waiting, never occurred to us.

Unlike this gentleman, and his ten day wait at an airport for the non-appearance of his on-line girlfriend.

Have you ever found an overhead compartment on a plane that was a bit stiff and hard to open?  Nothing that some gentle forcing won’t resolve, of course, and that was the approach adopted by a passenger on a Cathay flight due to depart Hong Kong and travel to Bangkok.

Alas, when the passenger succeeded in ‘opening’ the ‘overhead bin’ the reason for its reluctance to open was revealed.  It was, in actuality, one of the ceiling panels, resulting in an over three hour delay while engineers were called to replace the panel.  Details here.

Truly lastly this week, a new attraction of an old 1865 pumping station in London shows glorious Victoriana at its finest.  Particularly in Victorian England where any reference to, ahem, bodily functions was to be avoided at all costs, and furniture legs were covered in cloth to preserve their modesty, who knew that pumping poo could be so posh.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels

Davidsigblue285

 

David.

 

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  3 Responses to “Weekly Roundup, Friday 5 August 2016”

  1. David,

    I travel on Emirates more than on any other airline, and I have always been comforted by their hitherto excellent safety record. If indeed this crash was the result of pilot error, that is very worrying, as Emirates makes a big deal of how good it’s cockpit crew are: usually British, Australian, Canadian, some Emiratis and a sprinkling of others. What is reassuring is that the cabin crew apparently performed outstandingly well throughout this fiasco, a tribute to the training that Emirates gives all its crews.

    However, you, and many other commentators, have also identified an equally worrying aspect of this crash: the actions of the passengers immediately after the crash landing, almost casually retrieving their luggage from the overhead lockers. Almost all the passengers were from southern India, and one must wonder whether they understood English, whether the emergency instructions were repeated in any of the several local languages such as Malayalam, Tamil etc. There would have been little enough time to give the instructions in English, let alone various Indian tongues.

    So what can the airlines do about passenger behaviour, life-threatening as it is, such as you have highlighted in your column today? Should the safety briefing, which most people ignore, include strongly-worded instructions that in the event of a crash (sic) you must leave the aircraft without luggage? The airlines will not want to emphasize the possibility of a crash. But somehow the airlines have to get tough with passengers if we are to avoid the startling and dismaying herd mentality that is so apparent in that notorious video you mentioned, itself evidence of the dangers posed by passenger indifference to the emergency. Perhaps the aircraft themselves should be fitted with locks that activate in the event of such an emergency. What would be the cost of retrofitting thousands of aircraft?

    Fortunately, incidents such as occurred DXB are, these days, rare, but that doesn’t mean that we and the airlines should not be properly prepared for the next such event.

    • Hi, Philip

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

      If this was pilot error, that doesn’t necessarily reflect poorly on Emirates or even on their pilot training. It is just a reality of life – people sometimes make mistakes, and nothing can ensure a 100% perfect performance. That’s why accidents are called accidents rather than ‘deliberates’. The only solution is the one I’ve been calling for – more automation and less human control in the cockpit. It seems that over 50% of all airplane accidents are due to pilot error.

      As for the cabin crew performing outstandingly, well, let’s not get too overly excited about that, either! What exactly did the cabin crew have to do, other than not being the first out the exits? How about, perhaps, ensuring that passengers did not dawdle and did not collect their carry-on items….. Hard to give too much of a ‘High Five’ for the cabin crew’s performance on that front!

      I’ve also pondered the concept of locking the overheads automatically, but the thing is that when passengers are in full panic mode, they won’t even realize the overheads are locked, or even if they do, will instead take longer to try and force them open. Electrify them with 10,000 volts? Now there’s an idea. 🙂 But that would be unfortunate if accidentally activated during normal flight/landings!

      As best can be determined, the propensity to gather one’s personal effects prior to leaving the plane is not confined to any particular social grouping. It just so happens that the most recent several airplane evacuations have seen passenger loads of predominantly non-western origin, but the westerners on such flights seem to be as guilty of this as everyone else.

      It is not an issue that has anything to do with language barriers at all. Anyone with half a brain realizes that in an emergency you don’t stop to gather your personal effects. Instead, it is another indication of the sublime selfishness and self-centered lack of thought that makes up so much of today’s approach to life. People think ‘it will only take me another 10 seconds to gather my carry-on and take it with me’ without thinking that if all 250 passengers each add 10 seconds to their evacuation time, that comes to potentially 2500 seconds in total of delay. Even a single 10 second delay is enormous when the target is for total plane evacuation in under 90 seconds. Truly, seconds count.

      When you think about the millions and billions spent on finessing to the n-th degree other aspects of airplane safety and survivability post-crash, this is definitely a subject that needs to be addressed.

  2. I don’t know about this plane, but often the center exits are the main ones. And crew are usually seated at either end. Not near exits to direct passengers to get out fast ( and push a bit if necessary)

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