Weekly Roundup Friday 2 September 2011


Boeing's new 737 MAX

Good morning

Very quickly to start, I’ve a final extension on the special lifetime memberships that make our upcoming Front Sight defensive handgun course so affordable.  You’ll need to contact me prior to the close of business today (Friday) if this is of interest to you (14 people have taken advantage of this already).

Last week’s instant survey about tipping hotel maids brought a good level of response, from places as far away as Kazakhstan and Israel.  Thank you, everyone who answered.  In addition to the simple response as to whether you never tip, rarely tip, usually tip or always tip hotel housemaids, many of you added some interesting extra comments that provided a lot more substance to how you all feel about this issue.

Let’s look first at the main responses.  As you can see, 52% of readers tip either always or usually, and only 18% of readers never tip at all.


This contrasts significantly with the claim in Arthur Frommer’s article which says only 30% of hotel visitors tip housemaids.  Of course, you are far from a representative sampling of all hotel visitors, and clearly you’re very much more generous than average.

Now for some of the interesting comments.

Some people commented that they leave a tip at the end of their stay rather than each morning – that seems rather counter-intuitive, as you’re not using the tip to motivate better servicing during your stay.  On the other hand, I’m curious (please let me know!) what type of ‘better service’ you get in your room if you do tip on a daily basis.  More bars of soap?  Two chocolates on the pillow instead of one?

One reader even said ‘If I’m staying several nights I find that leaving a tip each morning, when I leave, is a worthwhile investment.’  Being truly curious about what one gets in the form of tangible rather than moral/’feel good’ benefits from tipping housemaids, I wrote and asked him in what way he judged this to be a worthwhile investment.

His reply was ‘Thinking about it, I generally get nothing extra.  I just feel that the maids are not as likely to steal from me if I leave them a dollar.  I could be wrong.  What I’m getting then, is a little peace of mind.’

I have to say that in my own, ahem, experiences of staying in hotel rooms and not tipping, I’ve never ever had anything stolen from my room.  But who can argue with the value of peace of mind.

There is one other relevant reason to tip on a daily basis, however.  You might get different people cleaning your room each day, and so that way, the person who cleans your room is the person who gets each daily tip, rather than the lucky person who cleans the room on the day you checkout.

There is also confusion out there about what the rules are for tipping hotel housemaids in other countries.  One reader, who never tipped before, but apparently has been moved to now start tipping, wrote ‘I travel a lot in the US domestic and have never tipped but I will start.  What about in Europe, their rules?’.  Another person, who categorized themselves as usually tipping, wrote in similar vein ‘I’ve gotten mixed signals about hotel tipping in countries where service is normally included.  I gather that the rules are different in Europe.  But are they?’

Some readers volunteered their philosophy on internationally tipping.  One said ‘When I travel to France or Germany, I never tip the chambermaids because local laws ensure that these people get fair wages and good benefits.  In the US where people are more prone to deal in “slave” labor, I tip much more frequently.’  But contrast that with the reader who wrote ‘I usually tip when out of the country, less so in the USA’ and another reader who wrote ‘I always tip a couple of dollars especially in third world countries’.

It truly is hard to know what to do in other countries.  Where can one turn to for realistic advice?  I’ve no idea why it is, but there seems to be some sort of unwritten conspiracy amongst many guidebook writers, who generally seem to enthusiastically advocate tipping at levels that are much more generous than those normally adopted by the local people in the destination they are writing about.

Why do guidebook writers do this?  It isn’t as though they get any percentage of the extra tipping they encourage in their guidebooks.

The concept of the underlying need to tip, and the morality of guests needing to subsidize the wages of hotel staff received a fair amount of commentary, but interestingly, almost all the anguish on this topic came from people who rated themselves as rarely tipping hotel housemaids.  Here are a few such comments :

  • I know it’s a Hobson’s choice: tip, and thus validate employers’ excuse for paying such pitifully low wages, or don’t tip and help keep chambermaids in poverty.  On balance I opt for the latter, in the faint hope that hotel employees will rise up in righteous wrath at their exploitation and demand better wages.
  • It eternally frustrates me that the responsibility for paying an employee a fair wage falls into the hands of the consumer and not the employer.  A tip was always meant to show that you appreciated the extra service that you were given.  Tips are expected everywhere now…my dry cleaner has a jar out front!  If you go above an beyond, I feel more than comfortable leaving a nice tip.  But I also feel that if you just do the minimum, I should not feel guilty leaving nothing but so many of us just add in that 15-20% to avoid the guilt that is placed on them by society for not covering the gap between what their employer pays them and what they need.
  • In the US, hotels and restaurants seem to feel that the patrons have a responsibility to ensure that these people get good wages and benefits through tips which seem to also side step the tax system for the person and the company.  It always seemed strange to me that the company is trying to manage it’s employees and customer satisfaction (experience) through the customer tipping process.
  • I am increasingly against the culture of tipping, period.  I think hotels and restaurants ought to pay their employees a proper wage instead of expecting their guests to do it for them.
  • When hotels charge exorbitant rates for a mediocre room, why should the guest be expected to make up income for the housekeeping staff? 
  • It does seem to be the responsibility of the hotel/motel to pay their employees commensurate with the prevailing wage and standards.  Unlike valet and waitressing, when did house-keeping become another tip-based line of business?  If prevailing wages aren’t in line, it would seem their service will fall off eventually and we will then not patronize that establishment – which seems like the standard of economics that has gotten terribly askew, particularly in the US.
  • Perhaps their employer should pay them – after all I pay for the room
  • I would rather see adequate wages supporting the staff rather than gratuities which may or may not come. Same for cruise staff or any cafe staff.

Several people pointed out that the services offered by hotels, through their housemaids, have massively reduced.  One reader writes

Most major hotels have cut back in the services provided in the name of being ‘green’.  Sheets aren’t changed daily any more, the bed is tidied up.  Towels may be changed or simply hung up, and trash is emptied and the bathroom is tidied up.

I’m at a luxury hotel in San Diego right now and they change sheets every FOUR days and upon departure.  They don’t vacuum every day, and they may clean toilets and wipe out sinks, but not always.  Maybe the maid is in the room for 15 minutes, if I was to pay her $10/day, that would be $40 per hour in tips, plus her base pay.

I don’t stay in motels, I stay at Hilton, Embassy Suites, Holiday Inn, Sheraton, and all brands have cut back on services provided by housekeeping.

I’m sure we’ve all had occasion to be in our hotel room while it is being serviced, and we’ve all noticed that the time it takes to service our room is indeed usually no more than 15 minutes, and often times, quite a lot less.

Interestingly, whereas people who seldom tip would often comment about why they don’t feel it is our job as hotel guests to subsidize one part of the hotel’s payroll, people who tip usually or always were full of reasons why everyone should emulate them.  Comments included

  • Yes I do.  They work hard not as a hobby but to survive.
  • My first full-time paid job was as a chambermaid in Lake George the summer after graduation from high school.  I was too young to work as a waitress.
  • I come from a long line of English women whose only available occupation a hundred years ago was “going into service”.  Service persons are the unsung heros of our daily existence!
  • Daily is necessary! I’ve been in the service industry and tips makes up for the low wage. Those of you who can afford to stay in a hotel, can afford gratitude to the chamber maid who makes your stay comfortable with clean sheets, towels, and environment.
  • I was in a business that I depended on tips so I always tip now.  I could not have raised my family if I didn’t get the tips.
  • I worked as a chambermaid when I was 15 – lasted 2 weeks!  It was a disgusting job. 🙁  I always tip the maids for what they have to put up with, for low wages.  I also tidy up the room before I leave.  LOL
  • Many years ago, my wife spent a college summer working as a hotel maid.  She knows first hand what a back-breaking and thankless job it is.  Ever since, we have left a daily tip for the maid.  And please don’t wait until the your last day to tip.  Leave something daily, as it may be a different person cleaning the room on different days.
  • I did my duty years ago being a chambermaid. I know what its like. Although, I don’t tip anywhere near 20pct per night. Usually $5.00/nt is the max.

Then there were what I’d call the discriminating or selective tippers.  They had comments such as

  • I will tip if I’ve made a mess or have asked for something special.
  • We tend to tip if the maid provided extra services in a larger suite, etc
  • I usually tip if the room is clean and taken care of – and if I request additional items, they respond in a timely manner.
  • I probably tip about 50% of the time and then when it isn’t just an over night stay at a low cost hotel. A longer stay in a downtown hotel when you have a chance to get acquainted.

One person was in what I’d call the ‘idealistic’ category.  He said

A couple of dollars goes a long way for the chambermaids. I think it’s more the thought that counts to them that at least one recognizes them and appreciates their service.

There was also considerable discussion about how much people tip per day/night.  Almost no-one agreed with Arthur Frommer that $10/day was an appropriate level to tip; indeed, quite a few people made sure to specifically disagree with his suggestion (another example of a guidebook writer endorsing ridiculously high levels of tipping, perhaps?).

Most people who commented indicated they tip $1, $2 or $3 a day.  A sizeable but smaller number of people indicate they tip $5/day, and only one or two people supported the concept of $10/day.

And for the last word on this topic, a reader said

You may be perfectly justified in criticizing the standards of a hotel which leaves semen stains on the carpet and walls of a $3000/night suite, but please don’t criticize the working conditions of hotel maids until you have tried the job yourself!  Why no criticism of the customers who left the semen stains on the walls or the carpet?

Talking about hotels, poor old TripAdvisor.com is in the news again, with another attempted assault on its ratings/review service.  This latest attempt to muzzle TripAdvisor is being spearheaded by a UK company ‘Kwikchex’ – an ‘online reputation management’ company which is both simultaneously a competitor of TripAdvisor and also a beneficiary of TripAdvisor’s presence.

Interestingly, Kwikchex seems to sell positive reviews itself (their £999 ‘Reputation Booster’ service includes six reviews, which one has to believe would not be negative).

Here is an article detailing the rather convoluted logic that Kwikchex is adopting in its efforts to muzzle TripAdvisor.

I’ve regularly written critical comments about TripAdvisor myself, and continue to advocate you use great caution and never accept TripAdvisor reviews at face value.  But, these limitations notwithstanding, I also have to say that I’m delighted to see TripAdvisor’s great success and prominence.

When the internet first started, many businesses were terrified that the internet would give a voice to people who were unhappy and complaining about their service.  To start with, this indeed did happen, but the internet rapidly grew to a point where it was so huge that individual people complaining about anything got lost in the crowd of everything else out there.  Businesses relaxed and stopped worrying about the occasional person posting a negative commentary on some out of the way site or blog where it would have no measurable impact on their business at all.

And then TripAdvisor appeared on the scene, and – at least for businesses in the travel industry – it has provided a coordinated forum for people to air their grievances on (as well as a place to publish praise and appreciation) and consumers once more have a strong voice – indeed, a stronger voice than ever before, in an unparalleled manner that allows a person’s experience to be aired in front of the rest of the traveling world.  50 million different people visit TripAdvisor every month.

So while I agree that TripAdvisor is a flawed and imperfect service, I feel about it like Churchill felt about democracy (which he referred to as ‘the worst form of government there is, apart from all the others’) – TripAdvisor may be flawed, but it is much better than anything else out there and vastly better than nothing at all.

I hope you weren’t harmed by the hurricane that swept across some of the East Coast last weekend, although I do know some readers are only now (Thursday night) getting power restored.

Here’s a very interesting report from STELLAService, a customer service quality firm which did a survey on how long it took airlines to answer their phones last Friday, just before the hurricane hit, and at a time when many people were needing to reschedule or reconfirm their flight arrangements.  They called each major airline eight times and averaged the hold times it took to get through to a person.

1.  US Airways 2 minutes 38 seconds;

 2.  Southwest 8 minutes, 10 seconds;

 3.  Continental Airlines 8 minutes, 15 seconds;

 4.  United Airlines 12 minutes, 4 seconds;

 5.  Spirit Airlines 24 minutes, 7 seconds;

 6.  JetBlue Airways 24 minutes, 16 seconds;

 7.  AirTran Airways 27 minutes, 52 seconds;

 8.  Frontier Airlines 29 minutes, 54 seconds;

 9.  Delta Air Lines 33 minutes, 43 seconds;

 10.  American Airlines, 1 hour, 32 minutes, 39 seconds.

There’s not really much that one can say about the appalling service standard offered by AA.  But it is interesting to note that our two recent airline mergers (UA/CO and Southwest/AirTran) have significant divergences in service standards still remaining.

Boeing’s announcement of its re-engined 737 was rushed out in such a hurry in its last minute scramble to save even a small share of American Airline’s monster order back on 20 July (and a small share was all it got) that it hadn’t even come up with a name for the plane at that stage.  Subsequently a name was rumored for the plane, with it being thought to be called a 737-7, 737-8 and 737-9 in its three variants.

But now it seems, almost six weeks after the plane was announced, Boeing has finally worked out a name for the plane.  It is to be called (drum roll please) the 737 MAX (note the all upper case letters).  The three new models will be called the 737 Max 7, Max 8 and Max 9 (I refuse to pander to Boeing’s ridiculous concept of capitalization).

Presumably the word ‘max’ refers to max hype (to disguise the plane’s minimum new features).

Boeing also this week finally secured approval from its board to proceed with the new plane development, which is expected to first fly in 2017 (and which is pictured at the start of this blog entry).

Although it now has a name and board approval, Boeing still hasn’t finalized the details of the plane.  Current 737 models use a jet engine with a 61″ diameter fan inside, and Boeing has yet to decide if the new plane will have a 66″ or 68″ fan diameter – the big problem being ensuring sufficient ground clearance for what are already lower slung engines than on the A320 family.  The larger the diameter, the better efficiency/economy from the engine, hence the desire to make the engine as large in diameter as possible.

The very surprising part of Boeing’s announcement was the company’s claim to have secured 496 ‘commitments’ for the new plane already.  We know of the order for 100 from American Airlines, but where the other 396 ‘commitments’ (something weaker than a firm order) are coming from is anyone’s guess.  Delta ordered some current version 737s a week ago but none of the new 737 Max, and Southwest says it has yet to make any decision on who it buys future planes from.

Meanwhile, not to be outdone, Airbus says it has ‘memorandums of understanding’ for almost the same number of A320neo planes – 319.  Oh – and whereas Boeing has firm orders for 100 of its 737max planes, Airbus has firm orders for 918 of its A320neo.  Hmmm.

More details here.

I’m releasing three more pages in my new series about traveling to Australia today.  This is underscored by the announcement this week that Melbourne wins pride of place as the world’s most livable city, according to the Economic Intelligence Unit’s annual survey.

Vienna comes second, and Vancouver third.  Australia had three other placings in the top ten – Sydney at number six, and both Perth and Adelaide tying for eight place.  And my birth city of Auckland came tenth.

I’ve always had a very high opinion of every aspect of Australia, and have also been, in the past, an ardent supporter of Qantas, ‘the world’s safest airline’ (my words, not theirs).  So imagine my surprise and amazement upon learning of another of the Wikileaks cables which reveals that Australia’s aviation system narrowly escaped being downgraded to third world country/unsafe status just a couple of years ago.

 Details here.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about Google’s purchase of Motorola and framed it in terms of being all about the patents, and not at all about the actual phones and other electronic equipment Motorola designs and makes.  My point was – and remains – that the whole concept of patents have flipped, and whereas they formerly were a necessary device to encourage and reward innovation, these days they are a punitive device to discourage and penalize innovation.

Here’s an interesting chart that depicts some of the labyrinthine patent disputes currently being waged backwards and forwards among cell phone manufacturers.

One has to wonder how much further ahead these companies would be if they focused on improving their own products rather than on negatively preventing other companies from improving their products.  Patents are not being written to enable a company to use something, but rather to – as broadly as possible – prevent other companies from using similar things.

And if any of you think that patents are always a good thing, please pause and consider how you are being penalized every time you buy something on a web site that is not Amazon.com.  Because, you see, Amazon secured a patent for a ‘one click’ ordering button.

Although you’d think it to be an ordinary bit of common sense that a company who you’ve done business with before and which stores your account information, should allow you to buy additional products in the future as conveniently as possible – ie, with a single click of a ‘Buy Now’ button, Amazon managed to get a patent on the idea and so all other websites are forced to make their ecommerce transactions more complicated for fear of infringing on Amazon’s patent.

There’s nothing sadder than responding to something too late.  We even have a saying – ‘Closing the stable door after the horse has bolted’ to express the uselessness of action that occurs too late.  It is far from a modern concept –  expressions like this have been traced back to the 1300s.

But that is not to say we should welcome and perpetuate the longstanding ‘tradition’ of useless action too late to prevent something.  And so, how should we view this account of a passenger on a domestic flight from Los Angeles to Dallas who was questioned about his flight, what he took on the flight with him, and so on – after the flight had landed in Dallas?

Are we missing something here?  Once the flight has landed safely, what possible remaining interest could the TSA have in its passengers?  Oh – wait.  Did I just say TSA?  This person was questioned by a Customs officer.  Oh – wait again.  What possible interest could a Customs officer have in a passenger on a domestic flight from Los Angeles to Dallas (and, for that matter, what possible jurisdiction does he have to detain and question US citizens deplaning from domestic flights)?

The German Interior Ministry has postponed a plan to use body scanners at airports for security reasons.

During a trial, the scanners failed to distinguish between armpit sweat and concealed bombs.  Two trial machines installed at Hamburg airport returned false alerts at a rate of 49% of the time.  The errors included confusing sweaty armpits with concealed bomb chemicals.

 Last year, Italy also decided to scale back its body-scanners plan, citing similar experiences in the trial phase.

As a writer cum journalist cum blogger of sorts, First Amendment freedoms are important to me.  As citizens of the US who benefit from the exercise of these freedoms – the ability to document the actions of, to complain about, and to hold accountable our public officials in the ‘court of public opinion’ – which, sadly, is many times the only ‘court’ in which they are accountable, First Amendment freedoms must be considered essential to you too.  Imagine what The Travel Insider would be like if I couldn’t criticize officialdom!

One such freedom is the ability to photograph and videotape public officials, while they are performing their duties in public places.  We can lawfully film the TSA at airports, and the police just about anywhere.

So why is it that the police continue to unlawfully variously threaten, bully, and even arrest people who film them?  More to the point, while it is disappointing that the police don’t understand this key part of the law as it relates to themselves, why is it that public prosecutors, who can leisurely study the law and make carefully considered decisions about which cases to take to trial and which cases to drop – why do these officials continue to prosecute innocent people who they must surely know full well have broken no law when filming police at work?

The good news is that apparently, and without exception, all such cases have resulted in acquittals for the people unfairly charged and tried.  But what about their costs of mounting an expensive defense?  What about some sort of sanction then applying to either incompetent or deliberately vexatious public prosecutors who brought the invalid cases?

Here’s a report of how a US Federal Court of Appeal has now affirmed that it is a long standing and universal public right to film the police, and protected by the First Amendment.

But here’s a report of yet another prosecution being brought against an innocent citizen lawfully filming the police – in this case, with five charges of ‘wiretapping’ in an attempt to shoe-horn filming the police into some sort of existing statute, each of which could lead to a 4 – 15 year period of imprisonment.

As the article asks, why is it that people risk longer periods of imprisonment for lawfully filming the police than they do for unlawfully committing murder?

There’s an interesting thing about this issue.  I find that friends of mine on both sides of the political spectrum – strongly right wing and also strongly left wing – nearly unanimously agree with me that these prosecutions are a very bad thing.  So who are the people who are supporting these chilling attempts to stifle free speech?  Where is the groundswell of public support for these actions – and, if there is no such groundswell, why are we allowing it to happen?

Lastly this week, this lady deserves an award for ‘best excuse for getting drunk and acting appallingly on a flight’.  Or perhaps simply avoiding a jail term (and/or even a fine) is sufficient reward for her.

You surely know it is Labor Day this weekend, a sad event because it marks the end of our traditional summer season.

Reports suggest a 2.4% drop in people traveling more than 50 miles from home for this holiday weekend compared to last year’s number, so if you’re part of the reduced number of people driving or flying somewhere special, let’s hope your roads are less congested and your flights less full.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels

Davidsig265 David.

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