Weekly Roundup 17 February 2012

Qantas announces some disappointing cutbacks that seem to harm it more than help it

Good morning

There are a couple of great additional articles this week; one where I gratuitously point out not just one but two ways that new airlines could be formed and viably operated, and the other where I bemoan this administration’s eagerness to disarm our pilots due to air travel now being sufficiently safe as to make armed pilots no longer needed as the ultimate last ditch defense (or so they say).

Other than that, it has been a very sad week, with my favorite airline, Qantas, discontinuing service from the US to New Zealand.  This means only one airline now offers nonstop service between NZ and the US – Air New Zealand.  That’s a surprising move on Qantas’ part, making it very difficult for people to efficiently travel to both NZ and Australia on a Qantas/Oneworld itinerary, while leaving it as very easy on a NZ/UA Star Alliance ticket.

In other words, Qantas is now showing itself to be the latest airline that fails to realize that the overall impact (call it profit if you wish) of a single city pair within their route network extends to much more than just the city pair being considered.  In this case, it doesn’t only lose its LAX-AKL business, but it will lose much of the business that formerly comprised travel US-Australia-NZ-US (or vice versa) too.  And if it is no longer the international carrier into Australia, it has less of a chance of picking up any domestic flights within Australia (eg to Ayers Rock/Alice Springs or Cairns) too.

This also means that Qantas now has to operate a much more costly and almost certainly oversized 747-400 for its daily feeder/distributor flight from LAX to JFK and back as well.

If one is willing to add another half dozen hours or so of travel time, Air Pacific (with a stop in Fiji) becomes an option, and if one is willing to nearly double the travel time and go via Australia, then a couple more airlines appear as options too.  But to simply get on a plane in Auckland and off again in Los Angeles or vice versa, the only choice now is Air New Zealand.

Airline competition?  Not at all on the route between New Zealand and the US, unfortunately.

Oh – and the under $1000 fares that have been so common in the last few years or so.  Unsurprisingly, they are all gone, even in low season.

Progress is a funny thing, isn’t it.  Anyway, on with the newsletter, including :

  • Reader Survey – What Do You Do on a Flight
  • The Best Place to Buy International Travel?
  • PeoplExpress ver 2.0
  • The World’s Best Airports
  • Tripadvisor Censorship Silence
  • Las Vegas Booming Once More
  • Tripadvisor Reviewers, Beware
  • Altruistic?  Or Self-indulgent?
  • Keeping Us Saferer
  • Not a Reader Survey – Favorite Activity when Cruising

Reader Survey – What Do You Do on a Flight

I was reading an article earlier this week about the growing use of eBook readers on flights, and that made me wonder how most of us pass the time while flying.  It seems like an interesting topic for a Travel Insider reader survey, and so please would you share with the rest of us how you spend your time on a flight.

I’ve come up with eleven different activities that people sometimes indulge in on flights, and I’ve put them in three categories (similar to the hotel amenity survey a couple of weeks ago) – one for a list of activities that you regularly/typically do on flights, one for activities you occasionally do, and one for a list of activities that you seldom or never do.  You can decide how to define ‘regularly’, ‘occasionally’ and ‘seldom’.

So, if you don’t mind, would you please click one response per line for as many as possible of the eleven line items, which will cause me to receive eleven different emails from you (!) with the answers to hopefully all eleven activities.

I’ll count them all up and report back to you on the results next week.

Reading print book/magazineRegularly OccasionallySeldom
Reading Kindle type ereaderRegularly OccasionallySeldom
iPad/tablet entertainment/readingRegularly OccasionallySeldom
Aircraft entertainment systemRegularlyOccasionallySeldom
iPod type audio/videoRegularly OccasionallySeldom
Entertainment on computerRegularly OccasionallySeldom
Work on computerRegularly OccasionallySeldom
Work not on computerRegularly OccasionallySeldom
Eating and drinkingRegularlyOccasionallySeldom
TalkingRegularly OccasionallySeldom
SleepingRegularly OccasionallySeldom

The Best Place to Buy International Travel?

Longer time readers know that I consistently continue to sing the praises of good old fashioned travel agents.  Now it is true that in some respects, online travel agencies have a lot to offer, and in some areas a regular travel agent no longer adds much more value.

But, in areas where they can truly assist, they can do so massively much better than anything on the internet.  One such example is cruising – if you find an agent perhaps with an MCC rating (“Master Cruise Counselor”) you’ll find someone who really truly knows the differences between different cruise lines and their ships and can give you invaluable assistance when choosing a cruise, based on their own personal experiences.

Another example is with international air fares.  On some routes – I guess we could call them ‘ethnic’ routes – ie routes with a lot of ex-pats going back home to visit – the national airlines from those destinations, and therefore other competing airlines too, will very often have unpublished airfares that are way below their official fares, which they make available only to specialty travel agencies that specialize in travel to those destinations, or to specialty wholesalers who will only sell through travel agencies.  By keeping such rates semi-secret, and for sure, by keeping them off the internet, the airlines preserve their ability to sell most of their tickets at much higher rates to less savvy travelers, people who might be as misguided as to think that an airline’s website is the best source of lowest fares.

Any time you’re traveling somewhere internationally, other than perhaps to a major European capital, you need to track down a good travel agent and see if they can beat the best online published fares.  You could save 10%, 20%, or even 30%+ in such a case.

Here’s an interesting story in the NY Times about how one of their reporters compared the prices through agencies and online to a number of international destinations.  Every time, the travel agency quoted price was the lowest.

PeoplExpress ver 2.0

I write subsequently about two new business models that might allow startup airlines to become successful.  And here’s a third approach, planned for a new PeoplExpress Airlines, to be based at the Newport News/Williamsburg Airport, and hoping to start offering flights around the East coast from this summer.  The airline plans to initially serve Pittsburgh, Newark, and West Palm Beach.

The original Peoplexpress airline was headquartered at Newark and operated from 1981 – 1987 before being bought by Continental.  It pioneered the concept of low cost air travel, with simple fares and no frills service, before growing too fast, and becoming more fuzzy in its corporate goals (eg by adding business class to its former all coach class cabins).  At the same time, the dinosaur airlines slowly started to respond and to offer competitive fares, and Peoplexpress suddenly found itself being squeezed on price while no longer being so low-cost.

As an interesting aside, the original Peoplexpress airline introduced the first ever checked bag fee ($3 per bag) and sold soft drinks (50c a can).

The proposed new Peoplexpress – apparently still waiting on both government approval and, ahem, funding, says it plans to offer service to niche markets that are underserved by other airlines, and will operate a fleet of all-coach class older generation 737-400s.  It says it will have an IPO to raise $50 million sometime in the spring, which makes for an extremely tight schedule between now and summer if it is to start operations sometime in the summer.

The airline says it will make flying fun again.  Really.  And unlike its namesake, it says it plans to avoid the myriad of fees charged by most other airlines.

$50 million is not a lot of money to start an airline these days.  I wish it well, but……

More details here.

The World’s Best Airports

Airports Council International has published its latest annual Airport Service Quality Awards.  The best airport in the world is Incheon (Seoul), which picks up the title for the seventh year in a row.

Changi (Singapore) and Beijing Capital Intl came second and third, with Hong Kong and Nagoya getting fourth and fifth places.

The best North American airport was Ottawa, followed by Indianapolis and then Halifax.  The best European airport was Malta, followed by Edinburgh then Porto, while the best Middle East airport saw Dubai edge ahead of arch-competitor Abu Dhabi, and Tel Aviv coming third.

Some surprises in these lists, for sure, and some disappointments too – for just about every airport in the US in particular.  More details here.

Also announced this week by Flightstats is a list of the top ten airports worldwide as measured by ontime departures thus far in 2012.  Tokyo Haneda came top, followed by Charlotte, Orlando, Frankfurt, Atlanta, Los Angeles (LAX), JFK, then Jakarta, DFW, and lastly Munich.  A bizarre collection of airports, including some big surprises.

Tripadvisor Censorship Silence

I wrote last week about how Tripadvisor is refusing to publish a review of mine that was critical of the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas.

More to the point, not only are they refusing to publish the review, but they are also refusing to respond to my requests for clarification as to what and how my review may have transgressed any guidelines they have.

One has to wonder how many other reviews are quietly being censored, and one has to doubly wonder why they are now refusing to explain the reason for their censorship.

Does their capricious censoring add to the overall value and quality of their reviews?  Or does it apply a moderating editorial filter that encourages positive reviews while discouraging negative ones?  I think we deserve to know.  They apparently feel we don’t deserve to know anything at all about their opaque censoring process.

Las Vegas Booming Once More

Maybe due to the help from filtered reviews on Tripadvisor, and maybe (more likely!) not; whatever the reason may be, Las Vegas reported its second best year ever in 2011, with 38.9 million visitors, a 4.3% increase from 2010, and almost as many as its best year ever (39.2 million in 2007).  Of course, there were several thousand fewer rooms in 2007, so while total visitor numbers are up almost to record levels, occupancy levels are not quite as good, with a city-wide average of 84%, up 3.4% from last year.

And, as the people return to Vegas, guess what?  Yes, room rates are up, too, with an average 11% increase in room rates last year to $105.11/night.

Projections suggest 40 million visitors this year.  No word on what that will do to room rates, but clearly the amazing bargains of the last few years are fading away.

Tripadvisor Reviewers, Beware

In addition to potential censorship, there is a new danger to people who write less than glowing reviews on Tripadvisor.  British hotel operators in particular have been particularly negative about Tripadvisor for some years – perhaps because, on the one hand, many more British hotels/motels/B&Bs are small owner operated properties, and on the other hand, because some percentage of these are deserving of negative commentaries which until Tripadvisor, have been unavailable as cautionary tales for other intending guests.

A new service has now started for hotel owners that coyly hints at one of its many services it will offer to member hoteliers.  It is the ability to black-list previous guests for up to 2-3 years (or even longer in ‘exceptional services’) and to share the details of such blacklisted guests to other members.

The concept is that before accepting a booking, a participating hotel will first check the blacklist to see if the guest is on the blacklist as a result of problems any other hotelier had with them.  If the guest appears on the blacklist, the hotel can decide if it wishes to accept or refuse the booking request.  The guest will never know they are on the blacklist, they’ll just be told ‘sorry, we have no rooms available’ or some other polite fiction like that instead.  Maybe blacklisted guests will still be offered rooms, but at higher than normal rates.

Specific reasons for blacklisting include fraud, nonpayment of bills, and damaging hotel property.  And then there are other vaguer suggestions such as being a ‘nightmare’ guest, and the really big one – ‘malicious Internet reporting’.

In other words, if you post a bad review of your hotel experience, the hotel you write about may blacklist you for 2 – 3 years, maybe longer, such that you may find that no other hotels that participate in the service will accept your bookings during that period.

This is a terrible system.  It seems participating hotels can capriciously deem a guest to be a nightmare guest, or can decide that a bad review was ‘malicious’, and then blacklist the person, causing them potentially great inconvenience for years into the future.  There is no formal review or appeal process, no chance for the guest to put their side of the story, and also, no opportunity for identity confusion either.  At least Tripadvisor allows hotels to post responses to reviews.

What happens if you were traveling with a friend, and the booking was in your name, but it was your friend who was the ‘nightmare guest’ or the ‘malicious reviewer’?  The hotel only knows your name and details, and probably doesn’t even know which of you broke the desk lamp and stole the towels, so who will they blacklist?  You, of course, even if it was your friend.  So when you next hope to travel, alone or with someone else, you find everywhere strangely unavailable, while your friend, traveling with someone else this time, has no problems at all.

The moral standards of this service can be further ascertained by how they take an oblique and vague snippet of commentary by the UK Minister of Tourism and label it ‘as recommended by the Minister of Tourism’.

So heads you lose (Tripadvisor doesn’t publish your review) and tails, you don’t win (your negative review gets you blacklisted).

Altruistic?  Or Self-indulgent?

I regularly get emails from publicists seeking publicity for their globe trotting clients.  The challenge that the travelers and their publicists have is to come up with a new twist as to why and how their personal ‘trip of a lifetime’ could possibly be of any interest to anyone else.

A further challenge that some of these people attempt to resolve is ‘how can I get someone else to pay for my travels?’, with one approach being to come up with the ubiquitous Facebook or Blog/Twitter account chronicling their generally massively mundane experiences.  These people cling to an unlikely hope that their site will ‘go viral’, that they’ll get millions of page views and make money from on-page advertising, and/or attract sponsors for their ongoing indulgences.

Generally I delete these emails within a second or two of scanning the first couple of lines.  But once in a while I find myself drawn into something that seems so eye-rollingly awful that I can’t help myself but to read further.

An example of this came in earlier in the week.  An empty nester pair of retirees are going on a 424 day world tour, based on a series of Princess cruises, which they’ve managed to get for free from Princess (well done!) and supplemented by various extended ground stops between cruises.  Their claimed purpose for doing this :  To raise geo-literacy for K-12 school children.  They are quoted as saying :

Our dream is to educate children about geography and world cultures so we’ve planned the ultimate trek around the world to do just that.

And, not to forget the de rigeur political correctness that suffuses such stuff :

We wanted to use cruise ships as part of our travel method during the trek because they offer an efficient way to reach all the different stops on our voyage while minimizing our global footprint.

One could actually debate just how efficient a cruise ship is to travel internationally (it doesn’t use a lot of fuel per passenger mile, but think of all the days of time and food and drink and entertainment and all the man hours/days of time it costs for each passenger journey), but that’s not really the point, is it.  And one could also wonder whether this nondescript couple’s 14 month world tour is actually the best way to bring a better appreciation of geography to (using their words) ‘as many young people as possible’.  But, realistically, that too isn’t really the point, is it.

As I said, eyeball-rolling stuff.

Keeping Us Saferer

Mr Abdifateh Ahmed Mohamed, who is actually Swedish, wanted to fly from Oslo to Mexico City for a vacation.  But because there is an Egyptian terrorist, Ahmed Mohammed Hamed Ali wanted by the US authorities, they (the US authorities) did not allow Mr Mohamed to fly to Mexico from Norway.

What’s that, you say?  A Swedish man with a similar but far from identical name to that of an Egyptian terrorist is banned from flying to Mexico from Norway by the US authorities.

Well, the flight would have overflown the US on part of its journey, so the US asserts the right to selectively allow or refuse passengers onto the flight, even though the airline is not American and the plane does not stop in the US on the way.

As to why a Swedish man with a different name is refused travel due to the existence of an Egyptian terrorist with a different name, that’s something none of us could ever hope to comprehend.

I guess we should all be thankful there are no terrorists with names similar to Smith, Jones, or Robinson.

Not a Reader Survey – Favorite Activity when Cruising

Lastly this week, here is an interesting article listing people’s favorite things they enjoy doing while on a cruise.  I thought briefly of asking Travel Insiders for your preferences too, but decided against it for a reason that may become obvious.

Shopping, nightlife options, and sitting by the pool are the numbers four, three and two most favorite activities.  But to learn the most favorite activity, you’ll need to click the link to the article.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels (and wonderful cruises)







4 thoughts on “Weekly Roundup 17 February 2012”

  1. I wonder if the couple who came up with this astounding way of justifying their wish for a cruise have been well trained in one of today’s large corporate companies. I’m trying to keep a straight face while I think of all the ridiculous “politically correct” justifications for trips away to nice places that I’ve seen corporate executives somehow justify. But to blag a free RTW cruise from Princess….. wow this guy is a master of the art. Kudos.

  2. You wrote “I guess we should all be thankful there are no terrorists with names similar to Smith, Jones, or Robinson.”

    Evidently there are! A former employee of ours with the seeminly innocuous name of (an ordinary first name that I’ll withhold) Smith found out last year that she (and her husband, with about as common a first name as is possible) were on the no-fly list.

    They had to go through a lengthy process to obtain DHS Redress numbers so they could travel.

    What insanity!

    1. Thanks for the comment.

      There’s one derivative thought that I have as well. If these two people with common ordinary first names and a totally common last name are having problems, how many other travelers with the last name Smith (and the same first names) are having similar problems.

      Not only is this a huge inconvenience to hundreds, thousands – maybe even tens of thousands of innocent Americans, but think some more about the insanity. The TSA is in effect saying ‘We don’t know which one of these many thousands of ordinary Americans might be a terrorist, and so until we work out which one it is, they are all guilty until/if/unless they prove their innocence’.

      That’s not really the way things should be in our allegedly free and just society.

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