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David Rowell

David Rowell

You can see an extensive mini-bio about me here http://www.thetravelinsider.info/info/about.htm And here's a Google Plus link : Google

Mar 242017

Sophie (my daughter’s dog) is very concerned after reading the dog story, below.

Good morning

What a crazy week it has been, with the TSA managing to set a new low for inanity and insanity.

We’ve seen some terrible things in the past – with the worst perhaps being the global ban on all electronics on all flights, and their extended insistence on subjecting us to potentially dangerous X-rays when screening us, but at least such earlier measures had some semblance of rationality behind them.  Their new partial ban allows no such justification.

But, please, let’s also note one other thing.  Since the TSA was urgently constituted in response to the 9/11 attacks in 2001, every past idiocy they’ve inflicted on us, every last indignity, every grope and every long line, has always been described as something the TSA itself is to be blamed for.  Fair enough.

So why is it this week that all the talking heads are now describing this new measure as ‘The Trump Ban’ (see for example, here); or in an effort to pretend to be even-handed, ‘The Trump Administration’s ban’.  Why did we never invoke Presidents Obama and Bush, but now automatically choose to blame the current President?

If it is all about President Trump, why is it the Brits have enacted a similar but also slightly different ban, and on Thursday, it was advised that Canada expects to follow suit, too?  My guess is we’ll see additional countries join in also, and my fear is that the ban will spread to all airports and all destinations, and my ultimate fear is that it will be here to stay.

Think of the limits on liquids and the repeated broken promises that the liquid ban will be lifted.  This all makes me fear about the longevity of the electronics ban.

So, in addition to the emergency heads-up I sent out earlier in the week, here are two more articles on this sorry topic.  One looks at the reason and logic for the ban (executive summary – there isn’t any) and the other suggests some ways to make flying less painful without the comforting presence of all the electronic gadgets we’ve grown to rely upon.

What else?  As always, some nice pieces for your Friday morning tradition.

  • Virgin America Brand to Disappear
  • SST Lurches Forward
  • Electric Airplanes Again
  • The Poor Old A380
  • Apple’s Whisper-Quiet New Product Event
  • When a Dog’s Death Does and Doesn’t Mean Anything
  • Telling it Like it Is
  • And Lastly This Week….

Virgin America Brand to Disappear

These things are so utterly predictable – an airline buys another airline and promises to preserve the bought out carrier, and then it ignominiously disappears without trace in record time.

In this case, Alaska Airlines bought Virgin America, and said at the time that it would look at protecting and preserving the enormously valuable Virgin America brand and its very loyal following of flyers.  (A cynic would comment, as I did at the time, that the enormously valuable brand and very loyal followers were insufficient to enable Virgin America to become a viable self-sustaining airline.)

And now, barely months after the merger has been completed, guess what?

Alaska now says that is will absorb Virgin America into its own (Alaska) brand, with the Virgin America name scheduled to disappear completely in 2019.  But, fear not.  It threatens to keep some of the distinctive elements of the Virgin America brand, including that garish ridiculous purple lighting.  Ugh.  I’d prefer my flying experience to be neutral and discreet, not aggressively ‘hip’, ‘cool’ and annoyingly obtrusive.

Details here.

SST Lurches Forward

I loved the Concorde, and still do, feeling a fresh wave of indignant nostalgia every time I see the one at Seattle’s excellent Museum of Flight.

And anything that could slice the traveling time across the Atlantic or Pacific in half is surely sometime to eagerly support.  But only if it is real.

One of the more real of the slowly churning mix of SST projects is the one being promoted by the amusingly named Boom Tech group.  Noting that the big issue with supersonic flight is its supersonic boom, one would have thought a better name might have been Hush Tech or Whisper Tech or Really-Quiet Tech.

But ‘real’ is a relative term, and they’ve few tangible competitors worthy of note.

The company has just secured an additional $33 million in funding, which they say is ‘all the money we need to go and build an airplane’.  Well, for sure, you could build a Cessna or something for much less than $33 million, but a revolutionary new supersonic jet, with new space-age materials, and engines that don’t yet exist at all?

Their $33 million budget contrasts with Boeing’s cost to get its traditional 787 aloft which ended up as more like $33 billion.

What is Boom’s secret, one wonders?  Meanwhile, I’m not about to rush out and buy a ticket on a Boom jet just yet.  Alas.

Details here.

Electric Airplanes Again

I’m going to have to add the topic of battery-powered electric airlines to my list of vapid ‘will never happen in our lifetime’ stories, because we’re starting to see more of these stories appearing.

That means three entries now on the list – flying cars, SSTs, and now electric planes, too.

Why will an electric plane never happen?  As I’ve said before, it is all about energy density.  Batteries weigh massively more than jet fuel per unit of energy; worse still, batteries are still at max weight even when discharged, whereas at least, when you burn your jet fuel, it has gone.

Airlines that will sacrifice passenger comforts to save a few tens of pounds of weight per flight aren’t about to suddenly add tens of tons of extra weight for batteries.  I’ll concede it is possible we’ll see some private planes designed for short-range battery-powered flying, but we’ll never see a battery-powered regular passenger plane akin to a current model Boeing or Airbus plane.

Or will we?  Here’s an adulatory and uncritical article that reports on plans for a 737 sized battery-powered plane.  Well, that’s assuming that battery technology improves, if you read the fine print – a rather large assumption.  And whereas the normal range of a 737 is 3000 miles or more, this plane will have an under 300 mile range.

Think about that (although it would seem the developers have not).  Who flies 300 miles in a 737?  That’s right at the point where you have to decide ‘do I fly, do I drive’.  LAX-SFO is 350 miles by air.  NYC-BOS or NYC-WAS would work – they are both about 200 miles.  But where else?  The average stage length for a 737, and it is probably slightly growing, is in the order of (guessing) 850 miles.

No word from the developers as to what the operating costs of the plane would be.  Sure, electricity is cheaper than jet fuel, but a modern 737 can give 50+ passenger miles per gallon, meaning it is costing only 3 or 4 cents a mile in jet fuel.

Plus, think about turnaround time.  The adage is planes should always be fueling, flying, or fixing.  Planes don’t make money at the gate, only in the air.  How long will it take to recharge the plane after each almost 300 mile flight?  With airlines hoping for 30 minute turnarounds, that’s not a lot of time to recharge the plane.

Don’t get us wrong.  We love electric cars and would love electric planes too, but just because we like something doesn’t mean it is going to happen.

A real ‘grand staircase’. Sorry, A-380, but you don’t come close.

The Poor Old A380

Okay, 180° change in perspective now.  From starry-eyed optimism about planes we might never see, to unfair criticism of a plane in the skies today.

Here’s an article that manages to be enormously negative while writing about some future enhancements to the A380.  First it sets up a ‘straw horse’ – it describes one of the two staircases in the double-decker plane as a hallmark of the plane, a ‘grand staircase’, then it knocks its straw horse down by bemoaning that it may be made less grand.

They say the grand staircase echoes the era of cruise ships.  Absolute bunkum.  Folks – it ain’t a grand staircase.  This picture is a true grand staircase on a cruise ship.  The A380 has an ordinary unadorned staircase, as you can see in the illustration in the article and very similar to the staircase on a 747.  Who cares if it gets a few inches narrower – it isn’t really truly a two person wide staircase now.

But the most ridiculous thing in the article is saved as a reward for those who struggle all the way through it.  You’ll be shocked and distressed to learn that another bad thing about the A380 is that there is no second-hand market for the jets.

Ummm, errr.  Perhaps that would be because the plane is so new that currently there are no second-hand ones for sale?

Apple’s Whisper-Quiet New Product Event

Apple’s annual launches of new models of its devices are typically events that register max on the hype scale.

But this week, with nothing more than a press release, the company announced its latest iPad and iPhone models.

The new iPhones are – wait for it – red in color.  That’s it.  They’re red.  Everything else is exactly the same.  And once you’ve quickly wrapped your red iPhone in a protective shell, who knows what color it is.

The new iPads – looking remarkably like the old iPads, and not available in red, were interesting, in the sense that this is, I believe, the first time Apple has ever released a new model iPad (or iPhone or probably iPod) that is cheaper than the model it replaced.  The entry-level iPad has dropped from $399 to $329.  But, alas, to justify in their own mind this price drop, they’ve cheapened the product considerably.  It is bigger (thicker) and slightly heavier than the previous model iPad.  It no longer has an anti-reflective coating on the glass.  And upgrades that were overdue (better cameras, for example, or a pressure sensitive screen like the iPhones) haven’t occurred.    Good analysis here.

But it is still ridiculously overpriced compared to competitors.  If you want a tablet, how about an 8″ Amazon Fire for $90 (and, best of all, it is available in red).  That has to be the value-reference point that all other tablets need to work out from.  Sure, the iPad is bigger and nicer, but is it four times better?  No.  Not close.

The quietest part of Apple’s iPad refresh?  That would be the part that didn’t happen.  The iPad Pro – the lovely (but surprisingly low resolution) 12.9″ tablet launched in November 2015 was omitted from the new series of iPads updated in late 2016 in the annual refresh, and has been passed over again now.  Don’t tell us this is because it is already perfect – it surely isn’t.  If you want a large screen tablet device, I’m astonished to find myself saying that probably your best bet is a Microsoft Surface Pro 4.

All very disappointing.

When a Dog’s Death Does and Doesn’t Mean Anything

Have you ever wondered what a police officer does if confronted by a protective dog while trying to break into someone’s home?  Does he use his Taser?  Does he have a dog net?  Does he call an animal control officer?

Nope.  He shoots it.  No-one is quite sure how many dogs are shot by police officers, because police departments are careful not to keep records.  But estimates run as high as 500 a day (in the US).

Although some aggrieved owners have brought suits against police departments, the courts have noted dogs are private property and so the extent of a police department’s liability is limited, and generally they rule in favor of the police, no matter how egregious the circumstances.  Here is some interesting background.

Now imagine what happens if a bomb detection dog, still in training, slips its leash at an airport, runs around and refuses to come back to its trainer.  The dog gets onto the runway, and all flights are cancelled – for three hours – while a group of ground staff try to catch the dog.

Then, an announcement.  The airport tweeted triumphantly that the dog had “now been caught”.

Except that this announcement, while technically correct, omitted one detail.  A factor in being able to finally catch the dog was that it had been, ahem, shot dead.

On the positive side, the staff at Auckland Airport are clearly very patient.  On the negative side – three hours and no-one thought to get a net or even a nice juicy piece of tranquilized meat or a tranquilizer gun?

New Zealand is in an uproar over the death of this one dog.  I wonder what Kiwis would make of the US, where we perhaps needlessly kill up to 500 dogs a day.  Without three-hour delays.

Telling it Like it Is

For me, as an impressionable youth, the wonder of being in space was formed in my mind by 2001:  A Space Odyssey.  The stunning visuals, combined with the strains of the gorgeous Blue Danube Waltz, and the credible view of the near future that it shared with us in the theaters, was an aspiration and inspiration for an entire generation.

The last bit got a bit esoteric, but up until then, it was ‘hard science’ fiction and credible/consistent with where we saw the world heading – especially the Pan Am shuttle up to the orbiting space station.

Pan Am always seemed a bit more special to me after the 2001 movie.

No wonder that people who can afford it pay $30 million for a chance to visit the Space Station – and we can all pretend that the rather prosaic and uninspiring space station that we do have aloft is almost as good as Kubrick’s vision (see the comparisons here).

No wonder Sir Richard Branson has so many people lining up to sample the slightest tantalizing taste of space.  And how envious we should be of the two people who are now buying a trip to the moon, courtesy of Elon Musk’s rocket program.

Being an astronaut is surely the most amazing job in the world, right?

Ummm, errrr.  Not so much, according to someone who did spend $30 million to play at being an astronaut.  Here’s a gritty ‘telling it like it is’ insight into what it is really like.  It would seem that ‘losing your lunch’ is only the start of it.

Time to watch 2001 again and refresh the magic of it all.  The curious thing about the movie is that while we’re nowhere near its predictions in terms of space travel, the ‘good news’ is that computer AI is alarmingly close to the capabilities depicted in the movie.  And we all know how well that turned out, don’t we.

And Lastly This Week….

Remember the latest snow fall the east coast had?  It was enough to shut down many airports, and in some cases, apparently unnecessarily.  But good old Amtrak ploughed on through the snow.  Quite literally, as it turned out, and to the surprise of some people waiting on the platform.

Do watch this video of what happened next.  Possibly even twice.  Warning – don’t have your mouth full of coffee at the time, for fear of snorting it out through your nose.

And truly lastly this week, how often we reminisce over the good old days, and as it seems that we’re about to transition to yet another new unkind era of air travel, perhaps it is time again for a retrospective.  This one claims to be 16 things we used to be able to do on planes and no longer can.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels




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Mar 232017

This 737 lost a huge section of its fuselage – due to metal fatigue, not a bomb – and still landed safely.

The TSA has banned passenger flying from ten specific airports to the US from taking any electronic items larger than a cell phone into the cabin with them.  The airports are in Cairo, Istanbul, Kuwait City, Doha, Casablanca, Amman, Riyadh, Jeddah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

The UK followed with a similar but not identical ban.  They have imposed the restriction on Cairo, Istanbul, Amman and Jeddah, and also added Tunis and Beirut.  On the other hand, they exempted Kuwait City, Doha, Casablanca, Riyadh, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Canada is now considering a similar ban.

Not a single part of this ban makes sense.

The Timing of Its Implementation

First, let’s look at how it was introduced.  It was introduced with advance warning – first secretly to the airlines, then publicly to everyone – us, and terrorists too.  Are we to believe that this new risk is a future risk that won’t start for a few more days?  If you were a terrorist and read that your new super-method for smuggling bombs on planes was about to be curtailed, would you just give up, or would you quickly make use of the security flaw in the almost week of remaining time before the new measures came into effect?

Like so many TSA measures, they only work if the terrorists are stupider than the TSA.  Are you willing to bet your life on that?

The Target Airports

We are told there are security weaknesses at ten airports,  Not eleven, and not nine.  Only these ten airports have security vulnerabilities.

If that is true, why not simply require security to be improved at those ten airports?  And look at the airports in question – some of them might be a bit suspect, but two in particular are far from being third world airports with third world security.

Dubai – one of the largest and most sophisticated airports in the world.

Abu Dhabi – one of the most elite airports, anywhere, due to it having a forward screening/security service that allows people to be screened by both US Immigration and US Customs before they fly from Abu Dhabi, making their long flight to the US into what is in effect a domestic US flight, with no further security checks upon arrival.

If Abu Dhabi has been given this extraordinary endorsement, how can it simultaneously be one of the ten most insecure airports in the entire world?  Truly – stop and consider this for a minute.  You can not reconcile these two facts.

It isn’t just the airports that provide security, the airlines have a watching brief, too.  Do you really think that Emirates or Etihad would allow any type of lax security at their home hubs that might endanger their airplanes and their international reputation for safe travel?

What is the strange risk factor at these ten airports that is missing at other airports?  Is it the brand of metal detectors and X-ray machines?  All airports, the world over, seem to use similar equipment from a small handful of suppliers.

Perhaps the implication is the terrorists have infiltrated the airport security staff at these ten locations.  But if the problem is untrustworthy staff, why is the risk limited to electronic items only?  If security screeners will look the other way, why not just stick a bomb in your carry-on bag with no need to disguise it at all?

Why are the US and UK unable to agree on which airports are the risky ones?

Why Only to the US (and UK) (and Canada)

As we are increasingly seeing, the ‘good news’ (for us in the US) is that these days, terrorists no longer only hate the US.  They really seriously hate France, and Belgium and Germany are far from popular too.  Then there’s Russia, another country they hate with a demonstrable fury.

Why aren’t these other countries also considered to be at risk?

As for our own degree of risk, why doesn’t the US issue a ‘travel advisory’ warning US citizens about all travel, everywhere, on all airlines?  The State Department is very quick to issue global travel advisories for general levels of ordinary risk, but why no new travel advisory about this?

Emirates’ Response

The airlines are scrambling to respond to something that will definitely impact on their passenger numbers.  Emirates has said they will let passengers keep their larger electronics until boarding the plane, at which point they will all be collected, stored in a special hold in the freight area of the plane, and returned direct to the passengers at the US destination.

That is commendable, but from a security point of view, it is utterly unrealistic.  How can they rely on passengers to hand in all their devices?  Or what would stop a passenger from, once they are in the secure part of the airport, removing some explosive device from their large portable electronic device, hiding it in their carry on, then surrendering the electronic device to Emirates while boarding their flight and with the actual explosive still in their carry-on?

Or will they require all passengers to go through another complete security screening prior to boarding the plane (please say this isn’t the case!).

The Connecting Flight Loophole

So, there you are in Dubai.  Imagine you are a terrorist wishing to smuggle your bomb onto the next flight DXB-NYC.  Happily, this new security measure has prevented you from doing so.

Okay, certainly you could simply take the Emirates flight that goes to Rome or wherever and then on to New York, thereby avoiding this new airport problem at Dubai.  But maybe you don’t want to do that.  There’s another solution for you, too.

Get on the plane at the airport it flew from to arrive into Dubai, prior to flying on to New York.  When the flight lands in Dubai, simply hide your device in the seat back pocket in front of you.  If you’re in a business or first class seat, you’ll have all sorts of other nooks and crannies to hide things in, too.

And now, get off the plane, then get back on again, and meet up with your bomb once more.  Unless we’re going to have extremely thorough cabin searches between flights, this is – and always has been – a loophole just waiting to be exploited.

From the Frying Pan – Into the Fire?

Okay, let’s assume (huge big assumption) that this new ‘security’ measure will confound the terrorists.  Bravo.

But there’s another sort of danger we’ve now created.  Our laptops, and all our electronic devices, have moderate to large-sized Li-ion battery packs inside them.  And now they’re in our suitcases, in the cargo hold, which is ‘safely’ inaccessible during flight.  But is being inaccessible the same as being safe?  Let’s think some more about that.

And, as you also know, these things sometimes explode, and burn with an intense heat, for an extended period.  Just like an explosive, but in slow motion (in simple terms, an explosive is merely a ‘fast’ fire).

If this happens in the passenger cabin, someone notices.  People can respond, and can contain and control the conflagration, with special ‘burn bags’ and fire extinguishers.  But if it happens in the cargo hold, three hours away from everywhere over the ocean?  What do you do then?

One of the things that can encourage a battery explosion is heating it up.  That isn’t likely to happen when a device is off (but other risks like vibration still exist) but how many times have you thought you turned your laptop off, only to discover, when you pull it out of your carry-on bag an hour later, that everything is quite warm?  I’ll confess to doing that, occasionally.  Not often, but now multiply ‘not often’ by ‘200 passengers’ and your risk has just escalated greatly.

Plus, when packed in a suitcase, you are surrounding the laptop with insulation, leaving nowhere for a heat buildup to go than back into the laptop itself.

Let’s also consider what if there truly is a real bomb, but now in the cargo hold instead of the passenger cabin.  It is true that if it is in the middle of the middle suitcase in the middle of the cargo hold, tightly packed in with other suitcases just waiting to absorb the force of an explosion, well, that sort of sounds safe, doesn’t it.

Except that, remember Pan Am 103 – the 747 that blew up over Scotland in 1988 due to a bomb hidden inside a radio, inside a suitcase, inside the cargo hold.  Ooops.

Now some people would have us believe that our suitcases are more thoroughly inspected than our carry-on bags.  I’ll call BS on that.  Just think, for example, we are not allowed to have our laptop inside our carry-on bag (sometimes I’ve had to remove iPads too) because they block x-rays and ‘hide’ whatever is behind them.  Now think about a suitcase, with a jumble of electronics, and much more visual ‘noise’ from everything inside it – are you going to tell me that the person somewhere out of sight in the airport is going to be more carefully checking every single suitcase than is the case for the person on public display at the security point, checking carry-on bags?

Let’s put that into the ‘unlikely’ category, shall we.

A classic ‘brick’ type cell phone. Probably too big for the new ban,

How Big is Dangerous?

The US has decided that anything larger than a cell phone is dangerous.  But how big is a cell phone?  Even if we ignore the old ‘brick’ style phones of yester-year, there is a wide variation in size between the largest phablets with 5.7″ and even larger screens, and the tiniest little pocket compact phones with 3″ screens.

At least, if you have a phone, it is a phone.  But now for the equivalent size of other devices.  What does ‘no bigger than a phone’ mean?

The UK have specified the maximum dimensions they’ll allow.  6.3″ x 3.7″ x 0.6″.  That at least adds a measure of clarity to their side of things; why can’t they and the US agree on a consistent definition?

Also, what happens if a device is smaller in two dimensions but fractionally larger in the third dimension?  Its total volume would be less than the maximum, so in theory it should be safe, but our guess is the rule is ‘all three dimensions must each be less than the stated measures’.  I have devices that are much shorter and narrower, but their thickness slightly exceeds the UK maximum.  So although there is less total space inside to fit anything, they would probably not be accepted (because who is going to have the time to figure out internal volumetric capacities while being screened!)?

One does have to wonder, though, what is the magic of this set of dimensions that allows items smaller to be safe but items even a fraction larger to suddenly become deadly?  Surely a terrorist could travel with two or three or four ‘cell phone sized’ devices and simply combine them for one large explosion?

Of course that is possible, and could readily be done given a few minutes privacy in an onboard toilet.

So is this a totally useless ban?  Probably, yes.  Here next is an interesting related question.

Are Small Bombs Really Dangerous?

Now for an interesting point.  How small a bomb is ‘safe’ and how large a bomb is ‘dangerous’?  Sure, a small bomb alongside a plane’s hull could blow a similarly small hole in the plane, but would that automatically lead to the plane ‘exploding’, crashing, and burning?

Actually, no.  There have been a number of cases where passenger jets have suffered some sort of hull damage and survived.  The most spectacular of these is the Aloha 737, pictured above.  On 1988, on an interisland flight, metal fatigue caused a huge forward section of the fuselage to rip off the plane entirely.  The plane landed safely.

Another example is the United Airlines 747 in 1989.  This had a cargo door and a section of associated fuselage rip off, but the plane again landed safely.

That’s not to say there is no risk, and for sure, you’d not want to be seated next to a terrorist and their iPad sized bomb.  And there are reports that some plane crashes may have been caused by bombs that were only slightly larger – filling a typical Coke can, for example.

We definitely should protect against such risks any which way we can.

So, Will it Work?

Is a ban on everything other than small cell phone sized electronics the best way to do so?  Although indeed very inconvenient to honest passengers, will it impede terrorists who are determined to bring destruction to a plane?  Almost certainly not.

Please read our matching article for information and suggestions on what to do if you’re on a flight that forbids electronics larger than a phone.

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Mar 232017

New restrictions on electronic carry-ons threaten chaos at security points.

At first, the new and utterly nonsensical ban on any electronics bigger than a phone on some flights seemed like it was something most of us would happily avoid.

But by essentially including all flights from Dubai to the US (ie Emirates), from Abu Dhabi (ie Etihad flights) and Istanbul (ie Turkish Airlines) it has shifted from something that might only inconvenience ‘other people’ and now threatens all of us who might be returning to the US through these (and the other seven) hubs.  Expect a new round of airport chaos, and if we’re planning travel through an affected airport, clearly we can’t afford to ignore it.

We discuss the abject lunacy and dysfunctional nature of this ‘security’ restriction here.

The purpose of this article is to help you respond to the problems this ban will cause you.  Furthermore, the ban is open-ended rather than temporary, and if it really truly is a bona fide response to a real new threat, it seems possible the ban might extend to cover all airports at some time in the future.

As you probably now know, the ban prohibits taking electronic items larger than a cell phone into the airplane cabin – all such items need to be checked instead.

So how big is too big?  What is the maximum size of item you can now take on board these flights?  Alas, even that obvious question is hard to answer (did I say this is a beyond idiotic piece of regulation?).

A simple device for less than $10 allows you to check if your items will fit the new size limits.

Problem/Solution 1 :  Measuring Your Electronics

For the record, the US version of the ban says ‘you can’t take things larger than a phone’ onto the plane.  How big is that?  No-one really knows, and that is an ambiguity that will surely never be resolved in your favor.  Let’s just say that when security officers prohibit plastic miniature replicas of pistols on charm bracelets, your chances of talking your way onboard with a possibly oversized electronic item are less than zero.

You could try traveling with an old ‘brick’ sized cell phone and claim that allows you to have any other electronics of the same size, but we doubt this would work.

The similar but not identical UK ban helpfully specifies the maximum size allowed on flights in to Britain.  This is 16cm x 9.3cm x 1.5cm, or if you prefer inches, 6.3″ x 3.65″ x 0.6″.  It means that the largest screened phones are probably going to be within the dimensions (an iPhone 7+ with a 5.5″ screen measures 6.2″ x 3.1″ x 0.3″), but even a small 6″ screen Kindle will be too large (the smallest Kindle is too wide).

What say you have an item which has two dimensions smaller than the maximum and one that is larger?  In theory, the risk is actually related to the volume of the object, but we suspect that the officers at security are not going to be willing to calculate relative volumes and make exceptions.  It is generally expected that sizing templates will be created, and our guess would be that a failure of any one of the three dimensions will mean a refusal to allow the item on board.

These templates will also be unforgiving.  For example, my lovely Fiio X3 music player, while much shorter and narrower than the size limits, is 0.63″ thick – as close to 0.6″ as any ruler could ever determine.  But if it is facing a template that can’t/won’t stretch, the extra 3/100ths of an inch is enough to change it from being accepted to being banned.  (Happily, within every problem lies a desirable solution – is it finally time to upgrade to a newer, better, and smaller Fiio X5, I wonder!?).

So, the first suggestion is that you need some way of accurately measuring items at home – a set of calipers, not just a ruler to hold things against.  Happily, these are easy to use and inexpensive.  You can get (on Amazon, of course) a ridiculously accurate electronic caliper set for as little as $9, or an ‘old fashioned’ and (and only slightly less accurate) mechanical set for about the same price.

I have both, and find that most of the time I use the mechanical one – it is simpler and easier to use.  In the unusual and rare situation that I need to know something to a higher degree of accuracy, I’ll bring out the electronic one (and hope the battery hasn’t died in the year since I last touched it!), but most of the time, the mechanical one is fine.

This type of luggage lock makes your bag much less tempting a target.

Problem/Solution 2 :  The Danger of Having Electronics Stolen Out of Your Checked Bags

Luggage thefts are not just something that happens to other people.  They can happen to you too, and for all you know, your bags may have been opened by thieves in the past, but passed over simply because there was nothing obviously/sufficiently valuable inside.

Don’t think that locking your suitcase will deter thieves.  This Youtube video (and many others like it) show how easy it is to untraceably open a suitcase in seconds, go through it, and then lock it up again afterwards.

The ‘solution’ in that video is ridiculous, and one of the things you should never do is make your suitcase look unusual as if it is protecting items of high value.  Better to have it blend in with the others.  The one partial solution that can help is to have zips that don’t just lock against each other, but which lock against a part of the suitcase.  If they can’t then be slid out-of-the-way, it makes it harder to then open the suitcase, and also makes it impossible to conceal that the suitcase was opened.  Another reason to like the excellent Briggs & Riley suitcases with the lock feature depicted.

Luggage thieves will now know that bags on flights from the ten affected airports are much more likely to have valuable electronics in them, and will definitely focus on those bags.  While the odds are still in your favor that you’ll be okay, can you really afford to risk that.  Do you want to risk losing all your vacation photos on your camera, all your video footage on your camcorder, and – most of all – all your data on your laptop?

Insurance will probably reimburse you for lost items, but it can’t and won’t reimburse you for the lost data on them, and in the case of laptops, potentially the loss of business that arises if you lose work related records and data (unless you have additional specialized business insurance coverages).

The problem of luggage thefts was one of the factors that encouraged the airlines/security officials to walk back from their earlier total ban on all electronics on all flights.  Too much was being stolen.  So the problem is very real.

There are two things you should do.  Before traveling, take the memory cards out of cameras and camcorders and keep them in your carry-on.  You might not be allowed to have your camera with you any more, but you are definitely still allowed to keep your memory cards with you.  Cameras are replaceable, their photos and videos, not so much.

Secondly, back up your computer’s data onto an external hard drive that is appropriately sized to avoid the size limits of the new electronic ban and carry the external hard drive with you.  We also recommend, on the hard drive, you should keep master copies of all your software so that if you lose the laptop while traveling (or if it breaks/fails/needs replacement) you have everything you need to restore your laptop to full functionality, even if you need to urgently buy a new hard drive or laptop entirely.

While most external hard drives are about the size of a hardback book (ie too big), you can also get small light weight units that are powered by the laptop, so they don’t even need an external power supply, and which are smaller than the size limits of the new electronics ban.

Suitably small and light and easy to use, this portable hard drive could be a life saver.

When considering an external hard drive, clearly its dimensions are a critical factor.  We also suggest you choose a name brand drive – the last thing you want is your backup drive to fail.  And get one that supports USB 3.0 – it is appreciably faster than USB 2.0 when making backups or doing a subsequent recovery.  Don’t skimp on capacity – get one that is at least as big as the hard drive in your various computers; and because a larger one probably only costs another $20 or so, why not get a larger one to ‘future proof’ the drive and your use of it.  You can use it to back up your photos and video too.

Sure, you might think you could back everything up to the cloud, but are you sure you’ll have good fast access to the internet everywhere you’ll be?  Or, maybe even if you do, it might be a ‘metered’ service that charges per MB/GB of data.

Plus, while small-sized cloud storage is available, free or cheaply, from many services, when you’re looking at 1TB or more of online storage, the cost becomes appreciable.  A 2TB Dropbox account is currently $12.50/month, whereas a 2TB external drive is about $80 – little more than the cost of six months of Dropbox and very much more accessible.

The Seagate Backup Plus Slim ($80 for 2TB, other sizes also available) and Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Slim (same price) are good choices and fit within the allowable carry-on size.  Most others (including the Western Digital My Passport Ultra Portable and the Toshiba Canvio drives) are too thick.

Related (Bonus) Problem :  Identity Theft

These days, having electronics stolen not only means you’ve lost the item, but it can also mean you might be exposing yourself to identity theft.

Make sure that all the devices you own are password protected – phones, tablets, laptops.  If you want to be more fully protected, enable encrypted storage on your hard drive, too.  In theory this means that someone else can’t simply take the hard drive out of your laptop and plug it in to another laptop as a non-boot drive and read the data on it.

For less than $20, a small external battery ends any battery life anxiety you might otherwise now suffer.

Problem/Solution 3 :  Phone Battery Life

If the only device you can take with you onto your flight is a phone, you might find yourself using it for entertainment purposes more than you expected.  Reading books, listening to music, and even watching video.

Years ago, we were told that we should enjoy watching video on tiny 3″ and 3.5″ screened devices.  I always thought that was ridiculous, but now with 5.5″ screens, the experience is acceptable.  Not as good as on an 8″ or larger screen, but if you’re stuck on a long flight with no interesting entertainment provided by the airline, then it is surely better than nothing.

Another possibility – you find yourself on an airplane where the airline has decided to do away with seat back screens, because ‘everyone brings their own devices these days’ – a statement that will have to be modified if the flight is leaving from one of the ten affected airports.

Now, sure, in theory your phone is probably good for somewhere between 10 – 15 hours of video or e-book reading, and more of simple music playing.  Maybe you think ‘I only have an 8 hour flight, so I’ll be fine’.  But that assumes that your battery is fully charged at the beginning of the flight, and that it has its full rated life, and further assumes you don’t mind walking off the plane with a potentially dead phone.

Many planes now have USB charging ports, but these don’t necessarily work all the time.  Fortunately, there’s no reason to stress over battery life these days because an external battery pack is inexpensive, small-sized, and gives a huge boost to battery life.  Even relatively small external batteries will at least double your phone’s battery life and ensure you have plenty of spare power, no matter how long your flight.

On Amazon, here is a 10 Ahr external battery for $14, a 12Ahr unit for $20 and a 20 Ahr unit for $12 or $20.  All of them conform with the new size limitations.

This is one of those things that is so useful, small/light/convenient, and inexpensive, that it should be considered an essential part of your travel kit, all the time, no matter where you go.

Talking about power, charging, and low-cost solutions, here’s another bonus tip.

A wonderful $5 solution to ‘plug congestion’.

Tip :  The $5 Solution You Should Always Travel With

How many times have you been desperate to recharge a device while in an airport gate area (or anywhere else) but all the outlets are taken by other people charging their devices.

There’s a $5 solution for that.  Well, it might be a few dollars less, and maybe a few dollars more.  Simply get a double or triple plug adapter, so that one wall outlet can host two or three chargers simultaneously.  That means you can confidently ask someone to share ‘their’ outlet without inconveniencing them at all.

$130 for a really good second phone to use as a new size-legal media player.

Yet Another Bonus Solution

With big screened smart phones so inexpensive these days, it might make sense to but one with a 5.5″ drive, 1080 x 1920 pixel screen, and removable Micro-SD card storage as a portable media device, in addition to your ‘real’ phone with whatever sized screen.

This gives you a legally sized unit with unlimited potential storage (due to the swappable memory cards) and a good screen that will show full resolution HD video.

The current best value example of this is probably the Motorola G4, available on Amazon for a net $130.  It lists for $180, and gives you a $50 gift card if you sign up for Prime.  If you already have Prime, then it is $130 to start with.  There are plenty of other phones, including some with slightly larger 5.7″ screens, but this is an unbeatable value and probably your best current choice.

You can even use it as a phone, too (of course).  For example, if traveling out of the country, you can keep your regular phone and then put a local SIM in this phone, too.

Just one thing.  If you buy a protective case for it (and any other phone, too), you might need to remove the case at security.  With the case, it might be deemed dangerously thick; but without the case, it will be safely thin.


We’ve grown used to the luxury of surrounding ourselves with electronic distractions (and productivity tools) to while away the hours on our long flights.  With some care and ingenuity, we can continue to surround ourselves with much of what we’ve come to rely upon.

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Mar 202017

A secret new TSA ban, affecting some airlines, seems to restrict the electronics we can take on board with us.

The craziness of TSA security has reached a new height (or depth) with word leaking out about their promulgating a secret ban, prohibiting any electronics larger than a cell phone, on some airlines.

Now, you’re probably wondering ‘How does a secret ban work?’.  That’s a very good question, and for sure, the word ‘chaos’ has to figure somewhere in the answer.

Here’s what we know, courtesy of the English Guardian newspaper.

It seems that over the weekend, the TSA sent out a new notice to airlines from 13 countries (all non-US) requiring them to forbid passengers from taking any electronics larger than a cell phone as carry-on (presumably only on flights to/from the US, but who knows).  Everything else must be placed in checked baggage.

This means no cameras, no tablets, no Kindles, perhaps no MP3 players, maybe even no noise-cancelling headphones.  Well, who really knows for sure if noise-cancelling headphones are included or not.  And with cell phones sometimes almost as large as a tablet, who really knows what the size limits exactly might be.

To make things even better worse, it is apparently an optional (but mandatory) ban.  It is a ‘circular’, not a public regulation, but airlines are expected to comply.

So, there it is.  A secret optional ban, applying to some airlines (we don’t know which ones) and on some/most/all electronics, on some flights.

Truly, I’m not making this stuff up.  Yes, it is beyond lunacy, but it is also the reality we live in these days.  The lunatics have taken over the asylum.

The only bit of good news is that after some airlines deliberately leaked news of the almost secret almost ban, the TSA are now promising to go public with it on Tuesday.  But if you – or anyone you know – is planning on traveling in the next day or two, you need to be aware of this, just in case you (or they) might be affected.

Why only airlines from 13 countries?  If there is a security risk, won’t a terrorist choose to fly on a non-affected airline instead?

More details, but not answers to the questions which normal reasonable people might have, here.

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Mar 172017

What did this to this passenger’s face on a recent flight? It’s a secret – see article below.

Good morning

My comments last week about California’s deliberate withholding of its Department of Public Health findings on cell phone dangers engendered a few comments and, quite understandably, a few concerns as well.  As a result, I have not one but two articles to offer this week.

The first is nice and short and simply addresses the question of the relative danger levels of cell phones, Bluetooth devices, and Wi-Fi.  Do we make things better or worse if we switch to using a Bluetooth headset?  And what about the ever-increasing number of Wi-Fi devices around our homes and offices – should they be a concern, too?

The second longer article tries to look at some of the technical issues associated with potential risks of cell phones and other radio frequency emitters, and starts by explaining that cell phones don’t actually emit ‘radiation’ as such.

Necessarily, however, the conclusion of the article is that we just don’t know enough to be sure what the dangers are; with a corollary being a wry observation that this situation is at odds with usual procedure.  Normally, the manufacturers of new things are required to show their safety; in the case of cell phones, the opposite is the case – they are assumed to be safe until their danger has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

While writing this week’s roundup, what was intended to be a short and slightly humorous/facetious look at a truly ‘innovative’ concept ended up growing to a point of deserving its own article, too.  So a third article is attached, all about the idea of designing airports with circular rather than straight runways.  Good idea?  Or not?  Read on to find out.

These three pieces have resulted in a shorter remaining roundup this week, but hopefully, while the quantity may be diminished, the quality still blazes brightly.  Please continue reading for :

  • Boeing Gets a Little Closer to a 797
  • Thin-skinned FAs Sue AA
  • Alternate Theories – on Steroids
  • Inappropriate Secrets
  • Smart Watches Getting Nicer
  • And Lastly This Week….

Boeing Gets a Little Closer to a 797

Boeing continues to prevaricate while desperately needing to fill the gap in its product range between large 737s and small 787s, a gap largely created by the end of the 757 and 767 series of planes.  The 757 went out of production in 2004 – 13 years ago.  The 767 is still in production, but only as a freighter and as the Air Force’s new tanker (the KC-46).  So this is far from a new problem, but it has become more important with a relatively new Airbus plane, the A321LR, which went on sale in October 2014, proving to be a popular and successful solution.

Boeing’s largest 737, to be called the 737 MAX 10, is generally perceived in the marketplace as an insufficient solution, and so Boeing is now starting to think out loud about a potential new plane that it is terming a ‘Middle of the Market’ plane.  The 797 is not an official name/number, but it is probably an inevitable nomenclature that will follow if the concept moves forward.

One of the big uncertainties is if it would be a single or twin aisle – a single aisle plane would probably be slightly more fuel-efficient, a twin aisle plane would be a preferable customer experience.  At a recent conference last week, Boeing revealed some more of its current thinking, including a suggestion that it might be a twin aisle with 2-3-2 seating.  This is the same as the 767 had, whereas the 787 generally has 2-4-2 or 3-3-3 seating and the 777 has 3-3-3 or 3-4-3 seating.

The plane might carry about 220 people in a two class version and a larger model would carry 260-270 in a three class version.  It would be a twin-engined plane.

If Boeing actually decides to make the plane – a decision not expected to occur prior to next year, it might enter service in 2025, and have a development cost in the order of $10 – $15 billion.

More details here.

In the complicated game of chess that occurs between Boeing and Airbus, Boeing is currently at a disadvantage – both in terms of its present line-up of plane models, and for the future.  Boeing needs to design a completely new plane to fill the gap, Airbus doesn’t have a gap that needs filling, and any response that might be required if/when Boeing comes out with a new plane could probably be handled by tweaks to either its A320 or A330 line.

This means that if Boeing announces a very strong product next year, it is possible Airbus could respond with a similar plane, and have it actually in production, and at much less cost, sooner than the Boeing plane.

So Boeing is in a bit of a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation, which is why it has done nothing for a couple of years already, while glumly watching Airbus scooping up orders.  If this sounds familiar, it is all too similar to what happened with the 737/A320 planes.  Airbus announced its new A320neo planes and Boeing then did nothing for 8 1/2 months, while Airbus snatched up 1,000 orders for its A320neo planes, before inadequately responding with the 737MAX  planes.

Amazingly, I wrote about Boeing’s dilemma just over two years ago.  The company still hasn’t come up with an adequate response.

Thin-skinned AA FAs Sue Facebook

What do you do when someone posts something nasty – clearly untrue but grossly insulting – about you on Facebook?

Never mind the old adage ‘sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me’.  These days, the modern solution is to sue your employer.

Apparently it is all AA’s fault that others of their employees have posted derogatory comments on Facebook about the two FA’s now suing them.  Does that mean that employers are responsible for their employee’s actions 24/7 – at home, at work, online, and everywhere?

I’m not entirely sure – as either an employer or an employee – I’d welcome that degree of control and oversight.  But this is clearly what Laura Medlin and Melissa Chinery believe.  They are two AA flight attendants, now suing AA for allowing nasty things to be said about them on Facebook.  Details here.

We are sure they will get the outcome they deserve.

Alternate Theories – on Steroids

We have several times touched on some of the wild, weird and wacky theories to do with the disappearance of MH 370, now three years ago.

But here’s an article which leaves us somewhat surprised in terms of the theory it propounds for the crash of the Egyptair Air A320 crash into the Mediterranean last May.

While it is true that the cause of the crash remains unexplained, it is also true that the article linked to above is not being given widespread credence.

Inappropriate Secrets

Last week, the inappropriate secret was the concerns about cell phones that the CA Dept of Public Health tried to suppress.

This week, the big secret relates to the ‘exploding’ headphones (see image, above).

We know that a lady had the rechargeable lithium-ion battery in her headphones ‘explode’ and burst into fire during a flight between Beijing and Melbourne.  She removed the headphones before suffering serious burns, and flight attendants poured a bucket of water on the burning headphones on the floor, extinguishing the fire.

But no-one is revealing the brand of headphones.  And – wait for it.  The reason why they’re not?  Because the batteries inside the headphones are very common and they don’t want to cause undue alarm.  They’re also not revealing the battery type, and as best we can tell, even the name of the airline is being withheld.

If the all-knowing authorities wish to experience true undue alarm, they might want to personally relive the experience suffered by this young lady.  Why is it there was a rush to vilify Samsung and its Galaxy Note 7 device after a very few similar problems last year and with a device that almost certainly had sold ten or 100 or even more units than these headphones have sold; but this time, when a similar battery ‘thermal runaway’ event occurs, no-one will disclose details of either the device or the batteries inside it?

Note that if you have regular noise cancelling headphones with regular single use alkaline batteries, or with Ni-MH or Ni-Cd (unlikely) batteries, you are not at risk.  But if you have headphones with any sort of Li-ion battery in them, who only knows what surprises may be in store for you.  If you’re listening to the 1812 overture and think that the cannons started firing a bit earlier than normal, maybe it is the battery blowing up instead.

No more details, alas, in any of the news stories, such as this one.

Smart Watches Getting Nicer

I’ve yet to feel the need to get an Apple or any other smart watch, and that seems to be true of most of us.

But a product I liked in its first generation model has just been re-released in its second generation form, and it is starting to look very appealing indeed.  A better screen with 20% better resolution and much clear/brighter display, and the latest version of the Android Wear 2.0 software that enables the watch to work with both Apple and Android phones, plus a beautiful and classical design – all very appealing.

I’m talking about the new TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45.  Alas, the price remains high – starts at $1450.  But we’re getting closer to the sort of watch that offers aesthetic appeal and ‘real world’ functionality.  Plus its modular design might possibly address one of the current problems of smart watches – their likely rapid technological obsolescence.  If you only have to replace one part of the complete ‘system’ to upgrade, that might help lessen the financial pain involved.

Details here.

And Lastly This Week….

We often come across lists of the best places in the world to visit.  Here’s a fairly good list of the ten worst places.

Spare a thought this week for the end of an era, earlier this week, when the last flight of a Goodyear blimp occurred.  But – fear not.  The blimp is being replaced by a semi-rigid dirigible that looks essentially the same.

What is the difference between a blimp and semi-rigid dirigible?  A blimp has no ‘skeleton’ – let the gas out and the structure collapses, whereas a semi-rigid dirigible has an internal framework.  However, Goodyear says, to avoid confusion (and to preserve its brand equity) it will continue to refer to the new craft as blimps.

The new craft are a bit larger, have three engines instead of two, making them also a bit faster (max speed 70 mph or thereabouts).  Details here.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels




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Mar 162017

Might a circular runway be an improvement over a boring old-fashioned straight one? So some people suggest.

Here’s an interesting article about a Dutch concept advocating circular runways for airports.  Here’s the underlying website with the original research.

Ostensibly, there is some sense to the idea inasmuch as it would no longer be necessary to build runways that are very much longer than required for an airplane’s take-off or landing roll.  If a plane needs more runway, it just goes around the loop another time or two.

Another possible benefit is that no matter where the prevailing winds are coming from, the runway will be operational – planes can fly directly into the wind while taking off or landing just by choosing the appropriate point on the loop to touch down or lift off from.

The concept’s authors also claim that a circular runway could handle many times more planes an hour than a normal runway – indeed, they are suggesting it could handle four times as many planes.

They go on to say that this would also allow for multiple routes to and from an airport, so that noise issues could be spread fairly and widely around the airport.

And this is probably the point where we need to start to introduce the authors to the real world.

Noise Issues

First of all, currently airports have narrow tightly defined flight paths in and out of airports, so as to concentrate airplane noise in narrow regions.  The airport will buy up houses in those high noise zones, and will pay for soundproofing of houses in medium noise zones.

Now let’s think what happens if planes start arriving and departing from every point on the compass.  All of a sudden, everyone for miles around will become unhappy, rather than just an unfortunate few, and the mitigation costs will soar.  No-one will say ‘Oh, great, I only have planes flying overhead four times an hour instead of forty times an hour’ and neither will anyone say ‘I didn’t formerly have any plane noise at all, but I’m not complaining, it is only fair that I should share in the noise effects of the airport’.

And talking about multiple routes, let’s think about that.

Multiple Routes

This image is taken from their final paper.  Look at it – planes taking off and landing in all directions, and all going neatly around the circular runway in an anti-clockwise direction.  Nice, right?  And very efficient, indeed.

Can you see what is wrong with this picture?


Now, please, look at it a second time.  Do you notice – the planes are indeed taking off and landing in all directions, and directly into each other’s paths!  Not so nice.

The complexity of routings and traffic management is mind-boggling in such a system.  Sure, something a computer could probably handle – until something went wrong.  And as for flying VFR – forget it!  What about a missed approach or aborted take-off – how would the system respond to sudden emergencies that caused airplanes to need to be where they shouldn’t be?

We see this as a disaster waiting to happen.

More Planes Per Hour

In theory, if everything goes perfectly, you could have a perfectly synchronized glorious graceful ballet of planes landing and taking off, all sharing the same circuit.  The authors of this study say ‘the circumference of our circular runway is three times the length of a typical straight runway, and with some small operational efficiencies, that means we can have four times as many planes on the same equivalent length of runway’.

In reality, as soon as something stops going perfectly, you have planes tripping over each other, except that when we say ‘tripping over each other’ we mean ‘crashing into each other and exploding in spectacular fireballs’.

With three traditional runways, each is a separate system and is operated semi-independently of each other – and typically with all planes approaching and departing in the same directions.  You never have a landing and taking off plane both on the same runway at the same time.  With one circular runway, you would have four different active takeoff/landing events all on the one runway.  A timing or other problem with one then risks disaster with the other three sharing the same runway.

If one thing is certain, Mr Murphy and his law are still alive and well, and there is awesome potential for unexpected things to happen, with appalling results.  The worst airplane disaster ever remains the 1977 Tenerife disaster when two 747s collided on the runway, killing 583 people.  It is essential that all airplanes have a huge amount of safety space and time around them to prevent such things.

Prevailing Winds

The circular design is supposed to mean that no matter where the wind is blowing from, planes can still take off and land by choosing the right spot on the loop.

But most airports are chosen to be located in places with fairly reliable prevailing winds.  The interesting thing about prevailing winds is that they are, well, prevailing and it is acceptable to design most airports in most locations with a single runway in one direction, or possibly with a cross runway for the few times it is needed.  Few airports are troubled for more than very small percentages of their operating time by impossible cross-winds.

The bigger problem isn’t so much cross-winds per se as it is gusting winds (in any direction).  Steady wind is moderately easy to fly through (even if ‘crabbing’ down to land looks spectacular from the ground), but gusting winds make life ‘interesting’ for pilots and passengers alike.

So the circular runway is first solving a problem that doesn’t really exist, and secondly not addressing the actual problem that does exist.  Plus – oh yes, creating some new problems, too.  Let’s now look at some new problems.

Navigation Aids

Have you ever noticed any of the navigation aids that are dotted around airports?  Some indeed are visual – the Visual Approach Slope Indicator and the lights leading to the runway.  Others are electronic, helping the pilot pre-position his plane way before reaching the runway.

How many sets of such things would need to be added to a circular runway?

Here’s an interesting article about nav aids and other related and runway type things.

Aiming Point

This, we feel, is one of the two really big issues.  Part of the reason why a regular runway is so long is that it allows for a measure of imprecision as to exactly where on the runway the pilot lands the plane.  Most of the time, they (or their auto pilots) land within 100 ft of their ‘aiming point’, but sometimes an unexpected event (suddenly rising or sinking air, sudden head or tail winds, or just plain miscalculation) can see them landing significantly before or after their aiming point, and for that reason, the aiming point is set a way down the runway, not right at the very end.

Where would the aiming point be on a circle and how large a zone of imprecision could be offered in such a case?

Remember also that a pilot wouldn’t simply be flying in a straight line to land on a straight runway.  He’d be looping in, perhaps in some sort of spiral, so that the plane was already flying in a circular pattern like the runway.

Which brings up a second complication.  With a wide flat runway, you can land to the side of the center-line if you’re blown a bit off course, or for any other reason, and as long as the wheels are on the runway, it doesn’t really matter.  But this circular banked runway has varying angles of bank from the innermost point (no bank) to the outermost point (maximum bank) and it becomes necessary to land the plane at the exact right spot in two dimensions rather than only in one.  Too far up or down the loop, or the wrong amount of matching bank on the plane, and you’re risking hitting the ground with a wing tip and all sorts of other nasty things.

Due to the complexity of the path to the aiming point and the lack of margin, this is almost certainly the type of landing that could only be reliably done by auto-pilots.

Centrifugal/Centripetal Force

And now for our piece de resistance.  Astonishingly, it seems the authors of this concept completely failed to consider this.  Think about what happens when you spin something in a circle around you, on a piece of string.  It pulls on the string, doesn’t it, trying to fly off and out in a straight line.

This is what is termed a centrifugal force (wanting to fly out) balanced by a centripetal force (provided by the string) to keep the object in the circle.

The relevance of this to a circular runway is that the plane will probably be experiencing a force in the order of about 0.25g acting on it due to its angular velocity as it spins around the circle before taking off.  This is a function of the radius/diameter of the circle and the speed it is zooming around.

Because the runway will necessarily be banked, this force will be pushing the plane down onto the ground.  It is extra force that needs to be countered by more powerful engines, and/or larger wings, less weight, more speed (because the faster the plane goes, the more lift it generates) and a larger radius/diameter for the circular runway.

Except – ooops – the centrifugal force is proportional to the square of the speed.  So you actually don’t want to increase the speed at all.  You want to make it as slow as possible, and the runway as large as possible.

So if you’re going to try to take-off at a lower speed, but needing more ‘power’ to do so, that will mean much larger wings and much more powerful engines, and probably reduced payloads.  Airplanes will have to be totally redesigned.

Which means we now have the tail wagging the dog.  Completely changing the currently optimized set of trade-offs involved in designing an airplane, purely to ‘solve’ a ‘problem’, which may or may not be a problem to start with, and which may or may not be a solution either.

So, will a circular runway be coming to your local airport any time soon?  We don’t think so.  But here’s an interesting article about earlier attempts to float the idea, including one very imaginative idea – spinning planes around in a circle then flinging them out.  Perhaps ‘float’ is not the best term to use?

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Mar 162017

Is this man risking his health by using his phone? Would a Bluetooth headset make him safer – or more at risk?

The surprising news last week that the California Department of Public Health has been suppressing its findings about the dangers of cell phone radiation for seven years caused several readers to sensibly ‘join the dots’ and ask the related question – ‘If cell phones really are dangerous, what about Bluetooth?’.

One reader wondered about the safety of her Apple Watch, which she wears on her wrist for most of most days.  Another reader wondered about the safety of his Bluetooth headset, located on his head and potentially sending radiation directly into his ear and into his brain.

There are actually three types of radio transmissions to consider – cellular, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi too.  A modern smart phone is capable of transmitting on all three bands.  Most of the time, people focus only on cellular transmissions, but probably, if you look around you, you are surrounded by many more Wi-Fi devices than Bluetooth or cellular devices – we should not overlook Wi-Fi from our considerations.

I just counted, and reached an astonishing total of almost 20 devices that are transmitting Wi-Fi signals in my house.  As we keep adding more ‘smart home’ devices and ‘internet of things’ gadgets, we’re steadily adding still more to all the radio frequency energy that is invisibly filling our homes, offices, and indeed, the ‘great outdoors’ all around us, too.

Frequencies and Power

Bluetooth and Wi-Fi both use the same frequencies, around the 2.4 GHz range (some Wi-Fi may use 5 GHz too, but this is, if anything, worse not better).

The standard 2.4 GHz used is almost the same frequency as used by your microwave oven (2.45 GHz) which makes for an interesting thought – imagine wearing a microwave oven – without the shielding – on your person.  How safe does that sound?

Okay, to be fair, microwave ovens typically radiate 600 – 1200 W of power, cell phones are about 1000 times less powerful.  But, on the other hand, we have our cell phones with us for many hours a day, and simplistically, doesn’t 1000 minutes of exposure at 1 W sort of equate to 1 minute of exposure at 1000 W?  In case you need a refresher on what microwaves can do, why not stick an egg in your microwave oven and cook it for a minute.  Then cook a second one at one tenth power for ten minutes, if you think an extended exposure at lower power is okay.

Cell phones use a bunch of frequencies, and these days, as frequencies seem to keep climbing higher and higher, some are very close to the same 2.4 GHz frequency, others are lower, and a few go as low as around 750 MHz.  Lower frequencies are generally better than higher frequencies, but to continue our microwave oven comparison, large commercial microwave ovens often operate at 915 MHz, a frequency very close to many cell phone frequency bands.

If we simply look at power outputs as a measure of the degree to which we should be concerned about the safety of our radio wave emitting devices, here are the numbers to consider :

Modern cell phones :  From 125 mW up to 2 W – this varies automatically and depends on how close and good a connection the phone has to the nearby tower it is connected to.  All the more reason to hope for good quality signals.

Wi-Fi devices :  Device specific, and sometimes with power variations depending on connection quality too.  From 30 mW up to 500 mW.

Bluetooth devices :  There are three levels of Bluetooth power, described as Class 1, 2 and 3.  Class 3, with the shortest range, has the lowest power – 1 mW.  Class 2 is 2.5 mW.  Class 1 is 100 mW.

So, your headset is probably 100 times less powerful than your phone.  If your watch only uses Bluetooth, it too is very weak, and also probably does not transmit for much of the time when it is in passive/sleep mode.  But if your smart watch has Wi-Fi, or if it has its own SIM and operates as a separate cell phone too, then you will be increasing its level of transmitting power.

Summary and More Info

Whatever the dangers of cell phone ‘radiation’ may be, it seems fair to say that the dangers are 10 to 100 times less from each Bluetooth and Wi-Fi device.  On the other hand, if you’ve 20 Wi-Fi devices, and they’re being used more of each day than your phone, then the Wi-Fi radio energy in your environment is probably comparable to the cell phone radio energy too.

Note that we put quotes around the word ‘radiation’ directly above.  If you’d like to know why, and if you’d like to better understand what may actually be the dangers associated with it, please now visit the second part of this article, Radio ‘radiation’ Explained.

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Mar 162017

Is your cell phone helping or harming you? Does anyone really know? Should we give it the benefit of the doubt?

This is the second part of a two article series about the dangers of cell phones and other devices that emit radio waves.  Here is a link to the first part – ‘Is Bluetooth and Wi-Fi Dangerous Too‘.

We hear a lot about the possible danger associated with using cell phones.  But what exactly is this danger?

First, we should be pedantic and correct one point.  The danger – whatever it may actually be – posed by cell phones and other types of radio transmitters is often referred to as a consequence of their ‘radiation’.  It is true that all such devices radiate (in the sense of emit or transmit) radio waves, but they don’t radiate radiation (in the sense of radioactive materials).

The official term ‘radiation’ is used to describe “ionizing” radiation – most commonly emitted in the form of alpha, beta, gamma and cosmic rays, neutrons, and X-rays.  When this type of radiation reaches our bodies, its ionizing property is such that it can ‘knock’ electrons off atoms and molecules, which changes the property of the thing so affected from stable to something ‘in search of’ its now ‘missing’ electron.  (Yes, this is an over-simplification, but the concept hopefully is conveyed through the simplification.)

Here’s a chart showing how, as the frequency increases, so too does its energy until it reaches the point where it can become ionizing radiation.

Anything with non-ionizing energy will generally transfer its energy into heat when it is absorbed by living tissue.

In most cases, and at very mild/moderate levels, heat is acceptable, whereas ionizing radiation can be thought of like spinning the roulette wheel in a casino.  Each unit of radiation (often measured in Sieverts or Rems) is akin to one spin of the roulette wheel, and in the event that the ball lands in, say, the 36 pocket, the ‘prize’ you win might be cancer.  Clearly a higher dose (ie more spins of the wheel) is worse than a lower dose, but even low doses might see you ‘win’.

And, just like with roulette, when you get a higher dose, you change from chance to certainty, and the risk of suffering effects of radiation poisoning becomes a certainty, with the only remaining issue being whether you survive the immediate effects or not.

Explaining Radiation and Its Effects

Radio waves of pretty much all frequencies are not considered to have sufficient energy as to become ionizing.  Think of ionizing as being a bit like knocking at a concrete block.  If you hit a concrete block with a straw, the concrete block will be unharmed.  If you hit it with a twig, it will probably also be unharmed.  A heavier piece of 2″x4″ timber might chip some bits off the edges of the concrete block, but that would be all.  But if you start attacking it with a hammer, you’re going to start chipping away at the block, and if you bring out a sledgehammer, you’re going to smash that concrete block to bits – maybe not in the first blow, but for sure, after a while.

It is the same with radiation.  Think of ‘normal’ radio waves as the straw, think of cell phone radio signals as something akin to a strong twig, and think of traditional ‘radiation’ such as alpha particles as a sledge-hammer.

So – from that perspective – radio waves are safer than ionizing types of radiation.

We mentioned above that ionizing radiation splits electrons away from their molecules or atoms. This type of molecular change can damage the DNA inside cells, and more generally, other ‘biological changes within cells’.  The damaged DNA and/or other biological changes may in turn encourage the occurrence of some type of cancer, and can create other effects, ranging from transient and minor (nausea, diarrhea, fatigue) to longer lasting (hair loss) and on to nasty things such as cataracts, internal bleeding, and eventually death.

What About Non-Ionizing Radiation?

Less powerful non-ionizing radio waves are absorbed by human tissue, and their energy is converted to heat.  A minor application of warmth for a short-term is not harmful, and is perhaps no more serious than soaking in a hot tub.  There are times when applying heat is actually therapeutic.

Unusually strong concentrations of energy may cause burns, and severe burns cause ionization damage and cell change.  If you were standing right next to a powerful antenna that was blasting thousands or even millions of watts of radio energy right at you, you would get burns, but most of the time, for most of us, the microwatts (ie millionths of a watt) of radio energy we absorb from the signals bouncing all around us, all the time, seem to have little apparent effect.

Think of a microwave oven.  This is how it cooks – it generates radio wave energy at a frequency that is readily absorbed into food (around 2.45 GHz), and the absorption of the energy causes the tissue to heat.  A short burst in the microwave warms something up, a longer time cooks it, and an extended time will crisp and potentially char it.

By an interesting coincidence, microwave ovens use frequencies which are very similar to common Wi-Fi and Bluetooth (both around 2.4 GHz) frequencies and close to the latest cell phone bands (they are a bit lower in frequency).

Microwave ovens usually generate about 1,000 watts of radio frequency energy, and a reasonably high percentage of that energy gets absorbed by whatever you place inside it.  Cell phones, Wi-Fi, and Blue-tooth devices rarely go over 1 watt, and chances are that less than half that is being absorbed by your body.

So what about the more moderate effects of the mild heating caused by phones, instead of the extreme rapid heating caused by microwave ovens?  How moderate and mild is it?

Radio Wave Type Heating is Very Efficient

We earlier spoke about heating and compared it to sitting in a hot tub, or spa, or sauna.  But we need to fine-tune that comparison to better explain the danger and effects of radio waves.

In your hot tub, you have a body temperature of around 98.6°F, and the water is probably around 104°F.  This is a very minor temperature differential, and the extra thermal energy has to make its way from the water, through the insulating skin barrier, before impacting on your inner body core temperature.  As you know, that is a long and slow process, and most people can enjoy 20 minutes or more in a hot tub before choosing to get out.

Now for a thought experiment – don’t do this directly.  First think of the experience when you put your hand into the hot tub.  The water feels warm, doesn’t it.  Now run the hot tap in the kitchen until the water is fully hot – chances are it will be around 115° – 120° F.  If you were to hold your hand under that, it would feel painfully hot.  You very quickly have to take your hand away.  So there’s a surprisingly big difference between say 105 and 115 degree water.  And if you’ve ever spilled (almost) boiling water on yourself (ie about 210° F), you know that is literally burning hot, and you’ll almost instantly scald your skin and create a visible burn.  Our body is very intolerant of temperatures outside its narrow range of comfort – and that is what we observe from our toughened outside layer of skin, which has been designed to withstand a moderate range of temperatures.  Imagine how more sensitive our internal organs are, which are designed in quite an opposite fashion – they are designed to work well at one temperature only.

Now think of cooking some food.  You could boil it in water for five minutes, maybe ten or twenty minutes, perhaps even longer, depending on the type of food.  Or you could stick it in the microwave, and have it cooked in maybe one-quarter the time, maybe less, again depending on the food and the quantity.

The microwaves cook even faster than boiling water, because they penetrate inside the item and heat ‘from the inside out’, rather than needing to pass in through the outer layer of ‘insulation’.

So if you can burn yourself almost instantly with boiling water, what do you think the effect of microwaves would be?  The microwaves instantly penetrate in through your skin and tissue too, and heat up tissue and organs inside you.  The only delay is the time it takes for the microwave energy to accumulate inside your body and cause a temperature rise to the point of having impactful effects.  Unlike your skin, your ‘insides’ generally don’t have nerves that are sensitive to heat, so you don’t necessarily realize that you are harmfully heating up your insides.

Our point here is that microwave (ie radio wave) energy and heat is silent but potentially deadly.  How much of a change in internal temperature is needed before it starts to seriously impact on our wellbeing?

Even Small Temperature Differences Can Quickly Kill Us

Consider the impact on your well-being and health that even a very mild amount of overall heating can cause.  Our bodies struggle to keep themselves in a very narrow temperature range, around 98.6°F/37°C.  Most of the calories we burn every day goes into a never-ending struggle by our bodies to keep our internal temperature close to this magic number.

If that temperature varies by much more than one degree F or half a degree C, we start to feel malaise and the onset of fever, and if it is an externally induced temperature change and exceeds only a very few degrees, we quickly move into the dangerous territory of hyperthermia (too hot) or hypothermia (too cold), and very shortly after that, the body ceases to be able to regulate its temperature, we fall unconscious, and death quickly follows.

So we know that keeping our temperature close to ‘normal’ is important.  Our skin tells us if the outside environment is too hot or cold, but our body has no easy way of telling us if one localized internal area is getting too hot or too cold, it can only tell us in vague terms if we’re completely too hot or cold.  In other words, just because we don’t sense anything impactful while using our phone doesn’t mean that nothing is happening.

How Much Heat is Too Much Heat?

Thermal imaging vividly shows how our brains absorb heat when we use our phones.  So there is no question but that measurable amounts of heat are being transferred from our phones and into our bodies and in particular, into our brains.

There are even studies which seem to suggest a propensity for tumors to form more on the side of our head where we usually hold our phones, but these studies have been criticized by some people as being insufficiently conclusive.

We now start to move into a speculative realm.  Given that some heat is being absorbed, how much heat is too much heat?  How much can the body handle?  No-one really knows, and this zone of ambiguity is what has allowed us all to ‘look the other way’ and hope that cell phones and other radio signals are all safe.

Cell Phone Dangers – Analogous to Cigarette Dangers 50 Years Ago?

Overall, there’s a very strong feeling of deja vu about the debate about cell phone dangers.  It is spookily similar to the debate over cigarette smoking/safety and the links between cigarette smoking and lung cancer.  It took many decades and much controversy to end up with sufficiently overwhelming a body of evidence to establish what some people immediately appreciated – a link between smoking and cancer.  Similarly now, it is taking many decades to come up with similarly incontrovertible proof, and we’re again in an interesting scenario where safety is assumed and danger has to be proven.

This is of course completely the opposite to how most new drugs need to be approved – they have to prove their safety.  One could ponder why it is that cell phone radio frequency emissions are assumed to be safe for extended contact at low levels, even when it is accepted that the same radio frequency emissions are definitely dangerous at high levels for short periods of exposure.

Most of us are as addicted to our phones as any of us ever were to cigarettes, and we truly don’t want to now discover that our wondrous new electronic companions are dangerous.  The cell phone industry too is keen to take full benefit of the doubt when it comes to inconclusive studies and lack of hard absolute proof, and for every study that purports to suggest a link between cell phone use and cancer, there are plenty of people eager to criticize some aspect of the study, often being people who benefit from the support in some form of the cell phone industry.

So, if there might be some dangers, is there anything you can do to minimize your risks?

The Importance of Distance

It takes a lot of energy to shift the core temperature of our entire 200 lb body up or down a couple of degrees, and no-one is suggesting that normal levels of radio frequency exposure would do that.  But – time for another analogy.  Think of a bare 40 W light bulb in the middle of a large room.  It provides even light all around the room, but nowhere is bright.  Now go and stand next to it.  Right next to it – no more than an inch away.  All of a sudden, that light has become so powerful that you can actually feel the heat radiating from it, can’t you, although that heat is only affecting a small part of your body.  But do your cheeks care that the rest of your body is normal if they are being roasted by the lamp immediately next to them?

We know that if we get very close to even a weak light, it becomes so bright and powerful as to dazzle us and causes us to feel the heat radiating from it.  It is the same with a radio transmitter.  Light and radio waves are essentially the same thing, just at different frequencies.

If you think about your lightbulb experiment, you know that if you almost touch the bulb, it is very hot.  If you hold your hand an inch away, you can feel the heat.  But by the time you’re a foot and more away, the perception of radiated heat drops way off.  Again, it is the same for radio waves.

In general terms, the strength of a radio signal declines in proportion to somewhere between a square and cube of the distance (depends on the antenna design).  So if you move from one inch away from the transmitting antenna to one foot away, that 12-fold increase in distance will see somewhere between 144 and 1728 times less radiation.  (To be ultra-accurate, the reduction won’t be quite this great, but it will still be substantial.)

That’s a huge difference, isn’t it.  Hold your phone away from your head (ie use a headset or speakerphone), and try not to carry it in a pocket close to your body.  These minor changes will massively reduce the amount of radio frequency energy your body absorbs.

Higher Frequencies Might be More Dangerous than Lower Frequencies

If you look up at the chart, above, you’ll see that the higher the frequency radio wave, the more likely it is to be capable of knocking electrons off molecules.  This shouldn’t be a surprise – there is a formula (E = hf) that was established by Einstein back in 1905 that describes this effect (Energy is directly related to the frequency of the radio wave, multiplied by Plank’s Constant).

For non-ionizing frequencies, there is a different effect – the lower the frequency, the larger the size of the radio wave that is created.  At 2.4 GHz the wavelength is about 5″, which means that all the energy is going into us.  At, say, FM frequencies such as 100 MHz the wavelength is almost 10 ft and so each wave is only partially absorbed by a person in its path.

What About the Electric and Magnetic Fields?

Radio waves are a combination of an electric and a magnetic field.  Our bodies in turn rely on electricity for things such as sending messages down nerves, and for brain activity.  A strong electric field can create related electric fields in other objects – that is how transformers work, for example.

Are the electric fields in the radio waves impacting on the electric fields in our bodies?  And if so, what does this mean?  The answer seems to be that no-one is very certain about this.

Even less is understood about magnetism.  You may have seen magnetic bracelets being sold as a cure for rheumatism and other ailments, and possibly for other disorders too, so possibly there is some impact on our body by external applications of magnetic fields.  Who only knows if a constant magnetic field is good or bad for us.

Even More Unknown Effects

We are moving into speculative realms here.  But that works both ways – should we assume that something we don’t know is dangerous is therefore safe?  Or should we assume that something we don’t know is safe is therefore dangerous?

There are some observed and some not observed issues that should be considered.

For example, we know that if you increase the heat in an environment, things within that warmer environment will typically grow faster – at least until the point where the heat becomes too hot.  So are we encouraging some things in our body to grow more quickly than other things?  Does this mean we’ll become comically lopsided?  Some studies again purport to show some lopsided growth perhaps as a result of where our cell phones are.

Or might it mean that we are selectively encouraging some things to grow faster than other things?  Some chemical reactions speed up with the application of heat, and some paradoxically slow down.  Are we altering the chemical make up and functioning of our tissue and cells by altering their ambient temperature?  Do some types of tissue absorb radio energy and heat up faster than other types of tissue?  What about cancer tumors – do they like to grow at a faster rate if they’re given a bit of extra warmth?  What about our brain – does it work better, or differently in some ways, if it is selectively warmed on the side of our head we’re holding our phone but not on the other side?

Another point of ambiguity is that the differentiation between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation is overly simplistic.  It isn’t like a light switch, either on or off.  The point at which radiation becomes ionizing is itself imprecise, and there are other effects that non-ionizing radiation can cause, beyond simple heating.

For example, various food items are sensitive to light and will age or ‘go off’ more quickly in light than in dark, even though visible light frequencies are not considered ionizing radiation.  Might there be other as-yet unguessed at outcomes?

If one wished to become fanciful, one could point to the apparent increase in the rates of all sorts of illnesses in society – Alzheimer’s, ADHD, autism, immune disorders of various types, and of course, cancers of all types.  The official answer is that we see more of these diseases because other diseases have been eliminated or can be cured, and because people are living longer, and because we are now diagnosing diseases more accurately.

Some analysts suggest that although autism rates have increased perhaps ten-fold in the last generation or two, this is just due to diagnosis and how we categorise the disease.  They might be right.  Or they might not.


So, we really don’t know.  The cell phone industry tells us that just because we can’t formally prove the presence of any dangers, we should assume there are none.

I’d love to think that is true.  You probably feel the same way.  But are you willing to bet your life on it?  The life of your children?  Because that’s what you’re doing at present, every time you turn your phone on.

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Mar 102017

Three years on, and the questions multiply, while the answers remain as missing as the plane itself.

Good morning

My extended ‘future of transportation’ series took another slight detour this week.  Uber has been going through some gyrations of late, managing to offend just about everyone on the planet in the process.

Although it is only seven or so months since I last wrote about Uber, it seemed appropriate to update the Uber story to reflect on its revealed 2016 loss (thought to be in excess of $2 billion) and a fascinating disclosure about exactly how transformative an effect to its bottom line it might be if/when the company achieves its dream of replacing its drivers with fully automatic cars.  Will automation come to Uber’s rescue?  Please see the article below for one possible answer to that question.

A brief moment of silence, please, to note the third anniversary of the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian’s flight MH370, which ended up somewhere, possibly in the Southern Ocean, on 8 March 2014.  Alas, all search efforts to find the plane have ceased, although we are told some bureaucratic nonsense of a statement that boils down to ‘if someone finds the plane, we’ll then go look for it’.

This article has an interesting graphic showing which parts of the plane have washed up on beaches subsequently, and where/when the pieces were found.  Meanwhile, not only does wreckage continue to randomly appear, but so too do new theories on what might have happened.  Here’s an unlikely story about ‘was there an extra mystery passenger on board’, and here’s a much more interesting point that may explain part of the mystery of the path the plane took after losing contact with the ground.

But, as is so often the case, each possible explanation only opens the door to new mysteries, and here are some consequential issues raised by this newest analysis.

Noting also the immediate rush to blame the plane’s disappearance on either of the pilots, here’s a good roundup of why it is unlikely to have been a deliberate act by a pilot.

Bottom line – it is hard to avoid the perception that the Malaysian government (and possibly other governments, too) are deliberately obfuscating the details of what happened.  But whether this is due to just unthinking bureaucracy and consummate incompetence, or deliberately seeking to obscure a secret they wish to keep hidden – well, that’s the big question, isn’t it.

Please continue reading for :

  • Best Selling Airplanes, continued
  • Idiotic Unaccountable Pilots, Again
  • United Seeks to Charge Passengers $25 for United’s Incompetence
  • Naughty President Trump Proposes Diverting Some TSA Funds
  • Is There Something Missing On Your Airline’s Inflight Map?
  • Heathrow – the Airport Passengers Love to Love
  • Cell Phone Radiation Danger?  The Truth Might Scare You
  • Selling Trips to the Moon?  Branson Strangely Silent
  • Cruise Line Internet Access Soon to Cost More than Cruise Fares?
  • And Lastly This Week….

Best Selling Airplanes, continued

I wrote in the last newsletter that the 737, by some measures, qualifies as the best-selling passenger jet airplane.

Reader Steve wondered what the best-selling airplane overall was.  I had a look at this, and if we filter out, as best we can, military sales, and also try to generally include manufacturing under license in other countries, and allow, the same as with the 737, for the various evolving models within a plane family all to be lumped together, it seems that there is a clear winner – the four seater single engined Cessna 172, which has sold over 43,000 units so far.  It first went into production in 1956 and is still in production today.  Its slightly bigger and more powerful brother, the 182, has also been on sale since 1956, but has ‘only’ sold 23,237 units so far, which puts it in fourth place.

Second place goes to the Piper Cherokee, in production since 1960, with 32,778 planes sold so far.  Third place is the Cessna 150, in production between 1958 and 1977, with 23,949 sold in total.

Fifth place goes to the Beechcraft Bonanza, which deserves special mention as being the plane that has the longest production run of any plane, ever.  It has been in production for 70 years (since 1947), and over 22,000 have been sold so far.

My astonishment that the 737, at a mere 50 years of age, remains a currently produced plane today now has to be mirrored by equal surprise at the longevity of these private plane models too.

As an additional piece of trivia, the most common helicopter ever produced?  The Soviet/now Russian Mil Mi-8, with over 17,000 produced between the first commercially delivered unit in 1967 and the present day (although note the first test helicopter flew in 1961).  The Bell UH-1 (Huey) Iroquois helicopter had over 16,000 produced during its production run from 1956 – 1987.

Idiotic Unaccountable Pilots, Again

So, a passenger on a flight from Las Vegas to Honolulu felt cold, which prompted him to ask the flight attendant for a blanket.

The flight attendant agreed to provide a blanket, but said that Hawaiian Airlines would charge $12 to sell him the blanket.  (Note that on Hawaiian’s website, they appear to show that a blanket and pillow together can be purchased for $10).

Whatever the actual amount the man was asked to pay (most reports of the incident are saying $12), this upset the man and he said he would like to discuss the policy of selling blankets rather than being loaned one for free, with an appropriate airline executive.  Apparently he complained about being cold and felt that if the airline was going to run its planes cold, it should provide blankets.

The flight attendant obliged, and arranged for the man, in mid-flight, to speak to some staff member, probably at the airline’s head office in Honolulu.  During the course of the discussion, the passenger said, as part of complaining of the airline’s blanket selling policy that ‘he would like to take someone behind the woodhouse for this’.  The pilot overheard the comment, and so, in a tour-de-force virtuoso display of command decisionmaking, did the obviously only logical thing in response.

Which was, alas, to turn the plane round, spend time dumping fuel off the coast, then do an emergency landing back at LAX, calling for police and FBI agents to be at the gate to take the man into custody for endangering the safety of the entire flight.  The 66 yr old passenger was duly ‘escorted off the flight’ by police while the rest of the passengers were ‘on lock down’.

After interviewing the hapless man and crew members, neither the airport police nor the FBI felt any need to press charges.  Apparently uttering that phrase is not the same as a threat to endanger the safety of the plane – who knew?  Clearly not the pilot.  But, noting the probable $12,000 or greater cost to the airline for the ’emergency diversion’ and fuel dumping, to say nothing of the inconvenience (the flight ended up in Honolulu four hours late) to about 250 passengers on board, a police spokesman said that if it was him, he’d probably have bought the blanket himself and given it to the man.  Details here and here (complete with onboard video).

The man took a later flight to Honolulu.

Don’t we as passengers have the right to demand some common sense on the part of our pilot?  Doesn’t the pilot have an obligation to his passengers to do all he safely can to get the plane to its destination more or less on time, and an obligation to his company to not waste five-figure sums after a mild-mannered 66 yr old man complained about having to buy a blanket because the plane was cold (ummm, how about offering simply to increase the heat onboard a bit)?

The person arrested at LAX should be the pilot, on charges of criminal stupidity.

United Seeks to Charge Passengers $25 for United’s Incompetence

Reader Jerry writes of his latest challenges with United Airlines.  His wife has her name shown with her middle name in full on some official documents, and merely with the middle initial on others, and this meant that United couldn’t accept a booking through its website for their planned international travel, due to an incompatibility as between the name, for example, on her passport, driver’s license, and Global Entry cards.

Most people with half a brain would accept that Jane A Doe, DoB 1/1/1960, address 1234 Main St, and so on, was the same person as Jane Anne Doe, with the same DoB, address, and other data.  You’d think most computer programs could be persuaded to accept that, too.

But United’s computer refused to accept the ‘difference’, requiring Jerry to instead enjoy the inconvenience of waiting on hold to speak to a booking agent, and getting the ‘discrepancy’ manually accepted into the system.  At the end of the process, he was told that due to making the reservation with a person rather than through the computer, he’d have to pay the $25 fee associated with doing so.  Both Jerry and his wife are well-known to United, having flown over a million miles each, and sometimes qualifying for their ultra-elite Global Services program.

Fortunately, Jerry got the fee waived after the agent conferred with a supervisor, but the booking agent indicated that even these ultra-elite level fliers are charged the $25 fee, subject of course to appeal/review/waiving.

Naughty President Trump Proposes Diverting Some TSA Funds

The chattering classes were outraged at the suggestion this week that President Trump was considering diverting funds away from the TSA to help fund the wall along the border with Mexico.

The suggestion is that the TSA would give up $500 million, along with $375 from FEMA and $1.3 billion from the Coast Guard.

The $500 million would in part come from a $65 million saving by ending the TSA’s ridiculous ‘Behavior Detection’ program – a boondoggle that, after almost 15 years in operation, has yet to result in a single detected terrorist, and with the TSA itself admitting that it can not demonstrate the effectiveness of the program.  Although the TSA can’t demonstrate the effectiveness of its pet program, here’s a great demonstration of how ridiculous the program is.

But perhaps the most interesting thing about proposing to take funds from the TSA is to note that the fees we all pay for security (added to the cost of our air tickets) currently have one-third of the total collected ($3.6 billion collected last year) diverted away and into general government expenditure, unrelated to security.

Other than via this newsletter, where has been the outrage at the $1.2 billion that has already been drained out of the fees we pay, ostensibly for TSA security?

Meanwhile, in other Trump/travel/security news (when will it ever end?) there’s the strange tale of the high-profile anti-Trumper and his claim to have had his ‘travel privileges reviewed’ causing him to cancel his travel plans to go to Canada.  But, as The Atlantic reveals (and The Atlantic is not known for being pro-Trump by any measure at all), it seems that – ooops – these claims may be utterly untrue.

We hope the mainstream media will give as equal airtime and as many column inches to correcting the outraged stories they rushed to run earlier in the week.

Is There Something Missing On Your Airline’s Inflight Map?

Next time you’re on an Emirates flight, or an Etihad or Qatar flight, or on one of a number of other airlines, see if you can see something missing from the airline’s lovely interactive mapping system.

These systems have become wonderfully fun to play with.  You can zoom in or out, move around the map, marvel at the detail shown, and generally spend quite a lot of time distracting yourself.

But look a little Northwest of the hub locations of these airlines.  What do you see on the map?  More to the point, what don’t you see?  Any reference to Israel, that’s what is missing.  It seems that as international and ‘enlightened’ as these airlines try to be, some prejudices stubbornly survive.

Oh – one more missing thing.  Even though the airlines might proudly offer a dozen or more different special meal options, including halal meals, and even things such as a Jain compliant diet, don’t go hoping for kosher food.

Details here.

Heathrow – the Airport Passengers Love to Love

Remember the ‘bad old days’ when we all would dread going through Heathrow?  Well, since that time (whenever it was) Heathrow has gone through several major changes, including its new Terminal 5 (opened in 2008), and then its new Terminal 2 (aka the Queen’s Terminal, opened in 2014) and the closure of Terminal 1 in 2015.

Lost baggage – once almost an inevitability – is now much less common, and the travel experience has improved in most respects, so much so that Heathrow has just won the title of Best Large European Airport for 2016.  82% of passengers rated their LHR experience last year as either ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’, twice the percentage who did so ten years earlier.

The only thing that makes me wonder about the validity of this award is that the matching award for Best European Airport for 25 – 40 million passengers went to Moscow’s Sheremetyevo.  It is admittedly years since I was last trapped into enduring a SVO experience, but short of leveling everything to the ground and building entirely anew, it is hard to comprehend how it could now be the best in category.

Bravo to Heathrow.  Now if they could just get another runway built…….

Cell Phone Radiation Danger?  The Truth Might Scare You

California proudly leads the nation, and the entire world, when it comes to being extremely focused on any and every possible (and perhaps some impossible) health-hazard and potentially harmful element of modern life and its impact on its citizens.  Some people make a living out of searching out products that have failed to file the ridiculously extensive paperwork needed to officially disclose and warn people of ‘risks’ that most of us would never for a moment give a second thought to – they then file claims against the companies for tens of thousands of dollars for something as trivial as failing to mention that the release agent in the plastic zip on a leather bag has a milligram of a chemical which, if eaten by the kilogram for months nonstop, might increase the person’s risk of cancer.

But the state has some curious inconsistencies.  One bubbled to the surface this week when, after years of delays and refusals, a court finally ordered the California Department of Public Health to release a document outlining the concerns of health officials about cellphone radiation dangers.

The document apparently dates way back to 2010, and has been updated several times, but always kept under wraps and never released.  The two pages that have now been grudgingly offered up includes such bon mots as suggesting you don’t sleep near your phone and not carry it in your pocket or directly on your body, and that you should use a headset rather than hold the phone to your head.

It also pointed out increased risks to children.

Why did California not rush to share this with its citizens?  Why is it not now issuing official mandates for radiation levels to decrease?  It does this for car emissions.  It does it for the power efficiency of television sets.  Why is it giving cell phones a free ride?

Selling Trips to the Moon?  Branson Strangely Silent

Any outlandish or impractical type of transportation usually has Sir Richard Branson rushing to embrace it and make it his own.  He has an option on new supersonic jets if/when they are ever built, there is his semi-space ship Virgin Galactic company that might one day take people to the edge of space, and assorted other concepts he has been keen to be part of in the past, to say nothing of more down to earth activities such as a number of airlines no longer flying and trains that continue to disappoint many British travelers.

So when Elon Musk announced that his company, Space-X, has taken a deposit from two individuals who wish to fly to the moon late next year, one wondered where Sir Richard was.  Musk added that he sees taking people on joyrides to the moon as becoming an ongoing source of revenue into the future.

The moon flight is not a moon landing.  The passengers will orbit the moon but not land.

One has to wonder if this will actually happen by the end of next year – as of now, the rocket has yet to fly, and his company has never taken a single person even into low earth orbit.

Mr Musk isn’t always 100% accurate with the timings he projects for his various undertakings – need we remind him of his plan to land people on Mars in 2021 (expressed in 2011).  That’s looking a little less likely now, and last year he revised it to 2024, and we sense that too seems a bit ambitious.  But – ambitious?  That’s a siren-song to Branson!

Cruise Line Internet Access Soon to Cost More than Cruise Fares?

It is only a decade or so ago that you could enjoy a Caribbean cruise for $50 a day, and possibly even less if you shopped around carefully.  And, back then, the basic cruise fare covered a lot more than it does today.

Norwegian Cruise Line has just announced new prices for onboard internet access.  For full fast access, you’re now looking at $245 for a seven day cruise ($35/day).

One has to wonder how long it will be before the internet cost exceeds the basic cruise fare?  How long before the supplements to eat good food exceed the cost of similar food ashore, and flow through to all food?  How long before the drink packages extend even to tap water?  How long before off-ship touring packages become mandatory?  And so on.

And Lastly This Week….

Is this any way to run an airline?  Earlier this week, a BA flight was delayed due to a shortage of toilet paper on board.  The delay, and the subsequent delay for the plane’s scheduled next flight too, will probably see BA being required to pay over $350,000 in compensation to the affected/delayed passengers.  All for the lack of a few extra rolls of toilet paper.

In possibly related news, BA has announced it is saving money by doing less cleaning on board planes between flights, and not always emptying the toilet holding tanks.  In an unusually honest disclosure, BA says it is trialing the concept to see if passengers notice the planes aren’t as clean as normal.  One wonders where this will end?

(In other BA news, it has announced plans to add another row of seats to its short-haul planes, now making the seats packed in more tightly than Ryanair, and to add another seat per row to its 777s – because, after all, we all have way too much elbow/shoulder room on planes already, don’t we.  Thanks, BA.)

And – time to end this topic, surely – an airplane in India, operated by Spice Jet, had to make an emergency landing after its forward toilet became overwhelmingly smelly.  It took the airline three hours to freshen up the plane.

But, as bad as all this might be, it is time for a reality check.  We really have it astonishingly easy, and travel the world with little thought or concern.

Think of what it was like, less than 100 years ago.  Here is a fascinating video showing footage filmed by a crewman on a sailing ship, traveling from Germany, down around Cape Horn, and up the other side to Chile, in 1929.  The filmmaker, Captain Irving Johnson, subsequently became well-known for his writings and presentations on life at sea, and he narrates the footage he took.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels





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