Weekly Roundup Friday 24 June 2011

Good morning

Yes, I know I said there’d be no newsletter this week, but I’ve managed to find time to quickly put together a short edition.

This year’s Scotland tour ended yesterday, with people leaving variously in Inverness, Edinburgh and Glasgow.  It was a wonderful 12 or 13 days, with a huge range of sights and experiences.  We traveled 2039 miles by coach plus took 11 ferry rides, taking us to seven different islands (in addition to touring through the Highlands as well).

I’m now in the beautiful Lake District of England for a few days, after having driven an appallingly underpowered Skoda diesel car down from Edinburgh on Thursday.  I had requested an intermediate size car and get a disgusting Skoda – not a nice surprise at all.  If you don’t like driving underpowered Skoda’s when expecting a decent normal car with decent normal power, be sure not to rent from National/Europcar in the UK.

Today’s feature picture is one I took myself, while on a cruise on Loch Ness, as seen from the window of the boat.  What is it?  Come on the tour next year and you might see it, too.

Our earlier luck with the weather – both earlier in the tour, and for last year too – largely held for the balance of the time, with a few outstanding days, and almost no rain to interfere with our plans at all.  There was only one brief occasion when rain was present while we were out of the coach – on several occasions we had rain while driving somewhere only to have it disappear minutes before arriving and getting out of the coach.  Two years in a row with great weather – shall we try for a third?

Yes, we will.  Indeed, next year will see a Scotland tour with a special twist.  We will enable all tour members to style themselves as Lairds (a Scottish version of the title ‘Lord’) and Ladies, by virtue of becoming individual lifetime leaseholders of a plot of Scottish land, which we’ll visit on the tour.

More details will follow in the weeks to come, but for now, please do pencil in the projected dates of June 11 – 21, 2012.  I’ve updated the tour information to reflect the new dates for next year and you can see the details here.

I wrote last week about the ridiculous sign at the Hertz office at York’s railway station (telling you where not to park if their own parking was full, rather than where to park).

Within hours of the newsletter being published, not only had a reader forwarded it on to the local Hertz manager in York, but they had changed their sign.  Bravo – small victories like that encourage me to continue ‘naming and shaming’.  And thanks to Hertz for their responsiveness.

I wrote last week about how Brazilian tourists – the people who spend more money when traveling than any other nationality – are having to wait up to 141 days to get a visa interview prior to being able to travel to the US.

Brazil’s surging economy is something that is an ‘under the radar’ event for many of us, and of little interest or relevance to the rest of us.  But perhaps this is being short sighted.  It seems that due to growing prosperity in Brazil, and a surging currency that has strengthened 45% compared to the dollar, those Brazilians who do manage to get visas to visit the US are buying property, primarily in Florida.

Being as how the property market in FL has suffered greatly, one would think that for all our benefits, and from both a property value and tourism point of view, we’d be wanting to make it easy (rather than almost impossibly difficult) for Brazilians to visit.

There are other international examples that confirm this, most notably Vancouver BC in Canada.  Their property market has remained remarkably buoyant due to their welcoming policy towards Asians who keep buying up more and more property there.  Not only could increased tourism benefit the US in the form of more employment and a better balance of payments, but it could also help our property values too.

More details here.  The bottom line – closing the US off to foreign visitors harms us in more ways than is obviously apparent.

But there is much more to the ‘problem’ the US has in terms of treating international visitors than just simply not letting people visit our country.  Here is an appalling story of two elderly Scottish tourists (who based on their picture in the linked article appear to be ordinary middle class white Brits) who apparently suffered due to a mistake by the US Customs and Border Patrol, who didn’t re-stamp their passports as they entered the country from Canada, causing them to appear to be illegal immigrants with an expired ‘visa’ (a ‘visa-waiver’ document, actually).

It seems they were caught in a random sweep by Border Patrol agents in Texas, when not just one or two but eight of them surrounded the car they were driving and arrested them as illegal immigrants and then locked them up in a high security jail – separately of course – for five weeks!!!

Words fail me in describing this outrage.  Five weeks of substandard prison with public open toilets in 60 person dormitories, sleeping on the floor on bare mattresses, all because of a paperwork snafu that as likely as not was the CBP’s fault in the first place.  How can this happen?

In past years/decades, some US policies have been unpopular in other countries, but foreigners have generally been able to distinguish between government policy and ordinary American people, and have still been friendly towards us as individual people.

Sadly, it is now my sense that people in other countries are seeing our increasingly harsh treatment of them as would-be or actual visitors not just as government policy, but also as individual acts by individuals, and their hostility is now creeping towards a broader dislike of all Americans.

It is one thing to have somewhat abstract government policies, but it isn’t a government that arrested this British couple and incarcerated them for five weeks.  It is a series of individuals who did this – not just one or two, but a collection of people, all of whom should now experience at least five weeks of incarceration in similarly hellish conditions themselves, but none of whom are likely to experience any negative consequences at all.

We have to take back control of our government, its policies, and their implementation.

May was another good month for the airlines, with a 14.4% increase in revenue compared to May 2010.  This now makes 17 months in a row of consecutive revenue growth.  The increase was made up in part by a 2.5% increase in travel, and the balance was due to an 11.6% increase in the average cost per mile flown.  Yes, airfares truly are appreciably higher.

It is unclear if these numbers include revenue from fees.

I was chatting with a Delta flight attendant recently.  She said that Delta is keen to present a public appearance of environmental sensitivity, to the point that they ostentatiously have multiple trash bags on planes for recyclable and non-recyclable materials.  Okay, so far, so good.

But she then went on to say that at the end of a flight, everything in all the different bags, recyclable or not, got tossed in the same bins on the ground.  Hmmmm……

The results of this year’s annual Skytrax airline rating survey have now been announced.  None of the world’s top ten airlines are from North America, and the best airline that operates internationally in North America is deemed to be Air Canada.

Congratulations to the top ten airlines, which are Qatar Airways; Singapore Airlines; Asiana Airlines; Cathay Pacific; Thai Airways; Etihad Airways; Air New Zealand; Qantas Airways; Turkish Airlines; Emirates.

Most of these airlines are familiar names and consistently high standard operators, but Turkish Airlines?  While – for reasons that I completely fail to understand – we seem to have accepted that Asian airlines are always better than American airlines, how is it now that Turkish Airlines is also besting our US airlines on the world stage?

In related news, the annual American Customer Satisfaction Index was released this week, with Southwest being rated as the country’s best liked airline, scoring a rating of 81, up 2.5 points from last year.  CO came second with a 64 rating (down 10 from last year), followed by AA (63), UA and US (both 61) and DL came last with 56.

The ACSI tracks 47 different industries, and the airlines score the lowest of all 47 industries.  Perhaps interestingly, they tie for bottom place with the newspaper industry.

Southwest’s high score reminds me to wish them happy birthday.  Southwest have now been operating for 40 years, since 1971, and celebrated their 40th birthday with some $40 one-way fares.

Good news and bad news for British airlines.  BA has finally resolved its long running dispute with its flight attendants, whereas Virgin Atlantic appears likely to suffer a strike by its pilots, possibly as soon as 11 July.  This would be the airline’s first ever strike.

It is the Paris Air Show this week, and this (or its alternating twin show, the Farnborough Air Show in Britain) is a traditional time for the airplane manufacturers to show off new planes and to highlight new orders.

While Boeing remains obstinately silent on any news of a 737 successor, Airbus has indulged itself in a bit of ‘blue sky’ fantasy, and released details and a model of a new hypersonic jet that would fly at four times the speed of sound (five times faster than current passenger jets and twice the speed of the Concorde).

Alas, don’t start planning to enjoy flights to Europe taking only a couple of hours.  Airbus says that while an unmanned prototype might take to the air in about 2020, it is unlikely that an operational plane carrying commercial passengers will be seen prior to 2050.  More details here.

Not quite such fantasy however is Airbus’ sales success with its A320neo series of planes.  It seems to have scored almost 400 orders for the plane at the show so far, as this interesting article describes.  Airbus hopes to announce as many as a couple of hundred more orders for the A320neo before the end of the Paris Air Show.

The article includes a couple of puzzling quotes from Boeing.  Jim Albaugh, President of their Commercial Airplanes division, claims that the market split for Boeing vs Airbus in narrow-body planes is 52/48 in Airbus’ favor.  If  this is true, where are the almost 400 sales of 737s from the Paris Air Show, if that is the case?

He also says that Boeing “regards the heart of the single-aisle market as the 125-200 seat range and will defend that very diligently” – but where is any sign of a response to the now six month old announcement by Airbus of their new A320neo series of planes?

When I first visited Russia, way back in the early 1990s, I readily perceived the remnants of the Soviet police state apparatus.  At various random seeming points on the highways, there were police checkpoints where cars would have to stop and the driver would have to show his documents to confirm his lawful citizenship status, the car’s registration, and his valid ownership of the car.  Cars would be randomly stopped in the cities too, not so much for traffic violations as for random document checks, and indeed, people walking ordinarily on the streets might be stopped too and required to present their papers.

 I rolled my eyes at this intrusive invasion of one’s personal freedoms and privacy, and once again counted my blessings to live in the free-est (not sure how to spell that word) country in the world, the United States.

But.  And it is a sad, significant but.  Here’s an article reporting on the TSA congratulating itself for having conducted 8,000 random stop and search operations (involving who knows how many hundreds of thousands or even million Americans) every year, over and above the nonsense it conducts day in and day out at our airports, and which hints at future plans to extend this still further.

As I’ve observed before, the US is becoming more like the former USSR while Russia is becoming more like the former US.  What’s wrong with this picture?

Lastly this week, it seems that airlines unevenly impose and enforce dress code policies on their passengers.  I wrote last week about how a pilot evicted a passenger because he was wearing baggy/saggy trousers.

But, at the other extreme, what to make of this passenger’s dress style?

I get back home on Tuesday, so there’ll be a regular newsletter next week.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels

Davidsig265 David.


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