Weekly Roundup Friday 18 November 2011

Very best Thanksgiving wishes to all Travel Insiders

Good morning

This time next week, you’ll probably (hopefully!) be sleeping in, and with a full stomach from a hearty Thanksgiving dinner the previous day.  But that will be then, and this is now, so no excuses from you for this week.  Instead, an excuse from me now follows.

This part of the week’s compilation of travel and technology related news, views and reviews is very short, but it isn’t my fault.  Truly.  Amazon delayed getting their new Kindle Fire e-Book reader/tablet to me – I’d hoped to receive it sometime on Tuesday (the day of its official release), and was encouraged to read that some people were getting theirs on Monday.  Alas, mine didn’t arrive until 6.55pm on Wednesday, and so I’ve spent almost every one of the last 24 hours evaluating this so as to get a review rushed out for you on Thursday night.

Although the eventual review spans 5000 words, it still feels a bit rushed and inelegant, and I’ll probably return to it some more subsequently, but at least I made good on my promise to give you a quick opinion on the device this week, while having almost no time for other research and writing.

After all that terribly deadline-pressured rushing and writing, and after adding two other items too, I’m about done for the week.

The US Ex-Im Bank Unfairly Disadvantages US Airlines?

However, I do want to add a further thought to the piece that follows this about Boeing’s strange new ‘order’ from one of Indonesia’s worst airlines.  One of the big unanswered questions about this possible order is how will the airline be able to pay for the planes?

Which introduces an interesting story.  Several airlines and the US airline lobbying group, the Air Transport Association (ATA), are suing to try and prevent the US Export-Import Bank from providing $3.4 billion in financing to assist Air India buy planes from Boeing.

Loans to foreign airlines are a large part of what the Export-Import Bank does.  In 2010, it had approximately $35.4 billion in outstanding loans relating to airplane purchases (out of a total portfolio of $75.2 billion).

The ATA says these loans lower the operating costs of the airlines that receive them, and give them unfair competitive advantages compared to US airlines who can’t get such special loan facilities when also buying Boeing airplanes.  According to the ATA, each 777 purchased by a foreign airline under an Ex-Im Bank backed loan would save that airline $5 million a year in loan interest compared to what a US airline would pay if financing the same plane.

The ATA claims this low cost finance has already enabled Air India to flood the market with extra flights and to crowd out US competitors such as Delta Airlines.

It is an interesting balancing act for the Ex-Im Bank – it serves its mission to help US exports and to protect US jobs by helping foreign airlines finance Boeing airplanes, but at the same time, it seems it may be harming US airlines and their jobs simultaneously.  Which consideration should overrule the other?

Needless to say, Indonesia is a country for which our President has particularly close ties, and with Lion Air not appreciably competing with US carriers on any of its present routes, it seems almost a foregone conclusion that if this extraordinary deal between Lion Air and Boeing does come to fruition, the airline will almost certainly be the beneficiary of massive Ex-Im Bank financing.

More details here.

Passing the Hat Around to Pay for the Plane’s Fuel

Talking about airlines having difficulty paying for things, and about Indian airlines in particular, did you hear about the Comtel Air (an Indian carrier) flight from Amritsar India to Birmingham England this week?  The plane ran low on fuel en route, and so stopped in Vienna to refuel.

Unfortunately, due to past unpaid bills, the plane couldn’t get more fuel unless it paid cash for it, and so the airline required its passengers to provide the $31,500 in cash that Comtel itself apparently did not have.  After a six hour stand-off between the passengers and the crew, the passengers were escorted to airport cash machines to withdraw enough money to pay the fuel bill and allow the plane to continue to Birmingham.

Details here.

Snakes Cockroaches On the Plane

Still, it could have been worse.  At least the flight was (presumably) not infested with cockroaches, which is apparently more than can be said for a recent AirTran flight between Charlotte and Houston.

A couple are now suing AirTran, saying they become sick after watching cockroaches coming out of their overhead air vents and nearby storage areas.  They told the cabin crew who did nothing about it.

As a result, according to their court filing, they became nauseous and had to throw away some of their belongings and were forced to wash other items out of concern they may have been infected by the insects.  The woman now feels unable to fly in the future.

So the couple are now suing AirTran for the price they paid for their tickets.  Oh yes, and more than $100,000 extra for intentional infliction of emotional distress, nuisance, fraud, false imprisonment and unfair and deceptive trade practices.

Did I mention that one of the passengers is an attorney?

More details here, including one of the photos the passengers took of the cockroaches on the flight.

Hotel Fees

One of my fellow Travel Insiders had a nasty surprise when checking in to the Silverton Hotel in Las Vegas at the end of our time in Pahrump earlier this week.  He had called the hotel directly and booked a room over the phone, and was quoted the room rate, inclusive of taxes, that he would pay.

But upon arriving at the hotel and going through the paperwork, he found there was a non-disclosed additional mandatory fee of $8.40 – a ‘resort fee’ that the hotel insisted he must pay.  Of course, resort fees are nothing new, and – alas – neither is the ‘accidental’ failure to disclose them when calling a hotel’s booking center 800 number – at least when booking through a travel agent or online, you get a printed confirmation, but when booking over the phone, it becomes a ‘he said/she said’ argument as to if the resort fee was included or not.

Happily, he eventually secured a positive conclusion – the hotel refused to waive the $8.40 resort fee, but instead dropped the nightly rate by $10, which meant he ended up paying less than earlier quoted.  A strange compromise for sure, but one he was of course happy to accept.

With that as background, here’s an interesting article about hotels exploring new fees they can add to our bills.  In particular, note the reference to a $2.50 fee if a bellhop hovers by your bags while you are checking in.  That is probably the most egregious new hotel fee I’ve yet to read about.

A Pilot Gets Locked In the….

Lastly this week, it is a good job it was the pilot, not a passenger, who was stuck in this plane’s lavatory.  If it was a passenger, the authorities would doubtless arrested him as a terrorist threat.  As it was, fighter planes were alerted, due to a helpful passenger trying to assist.

Full details here.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels and have a great Thanksgiving







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