It has been a dismal week for air travel with weather related disruptions messing up much of the East coast; although the real focus on weather this week has to be on Australia and the appalling flooding that much of Queensland has been suffering.
Here in Seattle however we had a delightful light fall of snow one evening, and after enjoying the prettiness of an inch of fresh fluffy white stuff decorating our trees and yards, it had all disappeared in time for the morning commute the next morning. That's the way snow should be managed.
Talking about managing snow, thanks to everyone who sent in their opinions about how airports should plan, prepare for, and respond to 'snow events'.
Last week I asked the question 'Should major airports such as Heathrow be able to manage (ie not close down during) the worst snow fall in 5 years? 10? 25? 50? Maybe even 100 years?'
You sent in your answers, and it seems that the most popular response was to be able to manage a snow event that occurred once every ten years.
Here is an analysis of results. You can interpret these various different ways – for example, if you multiply the number of reader replies for each result by the number of years voted for, then divide the total by the total number of replies, you get a calculation of 10.3 years as the representative finding.
It is hard to know – maybe impossible to know what the 'right' answer is, but clearly Travel Insider readers have an expectation than an airport should not need to close at all from any sort of snow storm (or probably other weather related event in general) more than about once every decade or so.
There is another factor as well which was not really explored in the survey. How long is it reasonable to expect an airport to be closed when one of these rare/exceptional events occurs? An hour? A day? A week? Without resurveying everyone, it is possible that most people might allow the airport to be closed during the currency of the snow falling, but would expect it to very quickly re-open once the snow stopped falling.
And that is where Heathrow doubly disappointed. After an admittedly rare – but not heavy – snowfall, it then stayed inexplicably closed for day after day after day.
It is hard to exactly say how regularly Heathrow experiences snow like it did before Christmas, and different reports have featured different claims in terms of how unusual the snowfall was, but the most commonly quoted statistic is that it was the worst snow in 18 years (note this is not the same as saying it happens an average of once every 18 years).
So perhaps we could forgive Heathrow for closing during the snow, but its extended closure after the snow ceased, and its refusal of help from airlines and even from the government is perhaps the most disappointing part of the whole event.
One more perspective about Heathrow's extended snow related closure (which I earlier discussed and many readers commented on – click the link). Not only did it massively inconvenience more than half a million passengers, and not only did it cost airlines tens of millions of pounds in lost revenue and compensation to passenger costs, but it also lost some revenue itself.
Heathrow's owners, BAA, are admitting to having lost £19 million in revenues from their closure, although one suspects they're crying a certain amount of crocodile tears, because some of that lost December revenue has simply been delayed and shifted into January's accounts instead.
Nonetheless, Heathrow's decision to 'save money' by not investing sufficiently in snow removal equipment and supplies has cost itself money as well as everyone else. Sure, that's poetic justice and only fair, but it further exposes the bad choices that went in to the decision to economize on snow removing capabilities.
It is hard to know who where the biggest losers, because how do you put a price on being delayed three or six days in your travel plans? But spare a sympathetic thought, for once, for the airlines. Both Virgin Atlantic and Lufthansa believe they're due compensation from Heathrow (and Virgin is currently refusing to pay some fees owed to BAA), while Heathrow is saying the airlines agreed up front to their inadequate plans.
This is a story that has yet to be concluded – hopefully we'll continue to get updates on what happens here. Some details here.
In addition to the weekly roundup of air related issues that follows, could I also draw your attention to a guest article this week, kindly contributed by long term reader and supporter Kevin Morgan.
Thank you Kevin for an illuminating analysis of the new Southwest Airlines frequent flier program.
Later in this week's compilation you'll see an introduction to a two part article I rushed out, hot on the heels of Verizon's announcement earlier this week that it too will start selling iPhones, as of 10 February. My conclusion is and continues to be that the Verizon iPhone is inferior to the AT&T iPhone, and its one advantage (being able to create local Wi-Fi hotspots) is a software rather than hardware feature that will quickly appear on existing AT&T iPhones too.
On the downside, the Verizon iPhone not only has shorter battery life, but also lacks the ability to work in most other countries (Mexico and Canada are okay as are a few other lesser countries, but it won't work in any of Europe for example). It also may very shortly be obsoleted by the upcoming iPhone 5 – which may or may not appear in a Verizon version at the same as it appears in an AT&T version (expected this June).
There's one more issue that, the more I think about it, the more uncomfortable I become. And that is Verizon's ability to manage an influx of iPhone sales and the additional load it will place on its already obsolete 3G network. Most of Verizon's new network development is going to their new 4G network, and while the iPhone is called an iPhone 4, it is only 3G not 4G (confused yet?).
So Verizon is going to be forced to make some awkward decisions – how bad a service level will they allow their 3G network to degrade to before investing money in augmenting a network they are no longer wishing to upgrade but instead seeking to replace with the newer, better, faster 4G version?
Verizon proudly announced earlier this week they had added another 16 cell sites in New York city in clear anticipation of the extra load they'll get from iPhone users. But – really! 16 new cell sites is nothing. Assume each cell site can handle 1,000 users (this is a very hard number to exactly establish – I might be either over-estimating or under-estimating by as much as a factor of ten, depending on usage patterns). So New York city (population approximately 8.5 million) is getting additional cell phone service capable of handling 16,000 additional users. Does Verizon only expect to sell that many iPhones into New York city? And how many extra towers is it adding everywhere else in the country?
It seems hard to avoid a conclusion that Verizon's generally good and uncongested 3G network is going to be stressed and fully loaded by the rush of people who ignore my advice to 'wait and see' and instead go out and buy a Verizon iPhone as soon as possible. Maybe Verizon's 3G network used to be better than AT&T's (something I've never conceded, and something that some leading tests have also shown not to be true) prior to the iPhone, but for sure, when iPhones start jamming up their network, Verizon's management will find itself between a rock and a hard place, having to choose between ignoring network saturation problems, or diverting money from their highest priority development of their 4G service and plowing it into its no longer strategic 3G service.
Meanwhile AT&T looks outwardly unconcerned. Not only are most of its users somewhat locked into ongoing contracts, but it also sells plenty of other smartphones too – the entire Blackberry range, and plans to add not just one or two but twelve new Android phones over the next year too. The strategic importance to AT&T of the iPhone continues to diminish as Android continues to advance in market share and product range.
Talking about Android and Apple, that is unavoidably a focus of my other major article this week, a roundup look at what happened at last week's Consumer Electronics Show, and the ongoing battle of new tablet devices eagerly seeking a share of the new category of computing devices created by Apple just under a year ago.
Here's an article that sadly contrasts the inactivity and inability of the US to do anything perceptible with its rail network (the $8+ billion contribution to so-called 'high speed rail' and promise to become a world leader in high speed rail made a year ago notwithstanding) with the amazing developments in China and elsewhere.
To put that pathetic $8 billion budget into context, China is spending more than that on just one single new rail station in Hong Kong.
It isn't only China. Britain is spending $25 billion to dig a 13 mile rail tunnel underneath central London; whereas the 9 mile Hudson River tunnel project here, costing about half the price, was canceled last October as being too expensive.
A near unique event occurred in New York on Thursday. For only the second time in Cunard's 170 year history, its entire passenger fleet were in New York simultaneously, (this has only happened once before anywhere else in the world, too) and the three ships sailed out in convoy together that evening, to an accompaniment of fireworks and water jet sprays from fire boats.
My security horror story for the week wonders how it is that after a left wing drug crazed nut-job shoots a conservative gun-rights supporting Democrat congresswoman, the deputy minority leader of the House calls for, in response, congressmen (and women) to be exempted from TSA security (true – read the article that follows).
The link between these events is hard to see. Still, it makes about as much sense as blaming Republicans en masse and exclusively for something done by a left winger (who apparently didn't ever watch television or listen to talk radio anyway) to a Democrat, and for staying silent about drug abuse while rushing to urge gun control instead.
The practical people of Arizona have a more down to earth response and solution. Gun sales skyrocketed 60% earlier this week (compared to the same time last year).
Here's a smaller bit of security nonsense, sent in by reader Gordon (who is, I believe, well north of 21 years old).
I recently spent 2 months travelling to Nashville. Every Thursday afternoon while waiting for my flight I would go to the same airport bar, get a beer and be asked to show my ID.
After some visits the barmaid literally said, 'Hi Gordon, Sam Adams today? Need to see your ID.'
Here's a really bad story about the TSA that will get your blood pumping.
Talking about getting your blood pumping, lastly this week – and yes, sitting at a computer is the same as watching television for the purposes of this study, here's some chilling news for us all.
If you're as fortunate as to get Monday off, then congratulations. And to everyone, happy MLK day (or, if you prefer, REL day).
Until next week, please enjoy safe travels