May 032012
 

An artist's impression of a proposed new underwater hotel in Dubai

Good morning

I had another burst of intense self doubt earlier this week.  Are airlines really as stupid as I say they are?  Or am I missing something so thunderingly obvious as to imply I’m even more stupid than I suggest the airlines sometimes are?

This was triggered by the confirmation that Delta is indeed buying an oil refinery, and was underscored by the near unanimous chorus of approval by the usual talking head commentators out there.  If I was to maintain my position, expressed in an earlier article a month ago, that this was not a wise move for Delta, I’d have to not only disagree with Delta, but with all the esteemed experts out there too.

However, I noticed an interesting thing.  The ‘expert’ enthusiasm was all based on their apparently unquestioned acceptance of Delta’s remarkable claim that its new oil refinery would make it $300 million in extra profit a year.  Of course, if this was true – a $250 million acquisition generating $300 million a year in profits, way into the future, it would be an uncharacteristically brilliant move on the part of Delta.

Most risably of all, one of the commentators even calculated what this would mean to us as travelers.  He worked out how much Delta would be able to reduce its airfares by as a result of its new refinery income.  An airline reducing its airfares because it was now profitable?  What planet does this ‘expert’ hail from?

Will this refinery actually make any money at all for Delta?  Is Delta selling us all snake oil, or did it end up buying some snake oil itself?  Please read the feature article, further down in the compendium of articles, for my analysis.  (Hint – don’t go expecting any discounted ticket prices any time soon!)

Also in the newsletter this week :

  • Reader Poll – Should No Mean No?
  • New $100 Fee to Carry a Bag Onto a Plane
  • Airstrike on Takeoff Video Author Gets Official FAA Warning
  • Helpful Hotel Tip
  • Underwater Hotel (Deliberate, Not Accidental)
  • The Titanic to Sail Again
  • The Teatanic Too
  • Putting on Weight During a Cruise
  • Newark Terminal C Evacuated – But NOT the TSA’s Fault
  • Stripping Naked for the TSA
  • And Lastly this week…..

 

Reader Poll – Should No Mean No?

I’m sure we’ve all heard the line “Which part of ‘No’ do you not understand?  The ‘N’ or the ‘o’?”  One context in which it is often used is when people ask an airline for refunds on a ticket they purchased which clearly stated, at the time they were purchasing the ticket, that there would be no refund subsequently given, no matter what the circumstances might be that occasioned the refund request.

Keep in mind also that when a person chooses to buy a non-refundable airline ticket, they have choices to buy more expensive but partially or fully refundable tickets at the same time.  No-one is forcing a person to buy a non-refundable ticket, people make their own decisions and trade-offs between risks and ticket costs.

Here’s an article which bemoans airlines which refuse to refund non-refundable tickets.

What do you think?  Should airlines make good-will and compassionate exceptions to their non-refundable tickets, and sometimes give refunds to passengers in special situations?  Or does ‘No’ mean ‘No’ with no exceptions?

Please click the link which best describes your opinion.  This will cause an email to open with your answer coded into the subject line.  I’ll tabulate and report back the answers next week.

New $100 Fee to Carry a Bag Onto a Plane

Spirit Airlines, a pioneer in the fee game, has announced plans to increase its fee for carry-on bags which you store in the overheads from $45 to $100, as of November.

The fee does not apply if you stow the bag under the seat in front of you, and is less ($50 or $35) if paid prior to reaching the gate.  Strangely, the fee for a checked bag is lower – $45 at the airport, $30 or $35 if done in advance.  I say ‘strangely’ because a checked bag involves a lot more hassle and cost to the airline than a bag you carry on and off the plane yourself, saving the airline from any baggage handling expense.  A checked bag can also weigh considerably more than a carry-on bag.

$100 for a carry-on transcends anyone’s possible concept of fairness.

A bunch of other fees, by a bunch of other airlines, are also in the process of inching upwards.  More details here.

Airstrike on Takeoff Video Author Gets Official FAA Warning

I wrote last week about a passenger who ignored the rules on turning off electronics prior to takeoff, and as a result, happened by chance to catch a birdstrike on a Delta flight in the video he was filming.  Some parts of the video quickly made it to YouTube.

I wondered last week if he’d be charged with any violations of the ‘all electronics must be off’ policy.

We now know the answer.  He received an official letter of warning from the FAA, saying that the warning would be ‘a matter of record for a period of two years, after which, the record will be expunged’.

One wonders exactly what being a matter of record means, and for that matter, how a piece of internet history can be expunged after two years.  Some more details – but not answers to these questions – here.  Suffice it to say, in the video clip of his interview on CNN, the official FAA warning does not seem to have chastened him at all.

Helpful Hotel Tip

Here’s a helpful tip from ARTA, the best North American travel agency group.

Hotels are increasingly making their rooms shower only rather than the formerly traditional ‘shower over bath’ arrangement we’re mainly used to.  This of course cuts their costs and saves on space.  Marriott, for example, says its aim is to end up having three quarters of its rooms without baths.

This is no big deal for most of us, most of the time, but if you’re traveling with younger children who don’t like showers but are okay with baths, it is probably increasingly prudent to specifically request a bath in your room when booking.

Snippets of knowledge like this are another reason to include a professional travel agent in making your travel plans.

Underwater Hotel (Deliberate, Not Accidental)

Hotels love to come up with distinctive new twists or angles.  There are ice hotels and underground hotels, and hotels in unusual objects and structures and places, and even hotels over the water in places such as Tahiti.

Some hotels have offered rooms below the surface of the water such as this Swedish ‘hotel’ – I use the quotes because it is a one room ‘hotel’.  But only a handful of hotels plan to offer a true underwater experience, easily experienced by ordinary people (rather than scuba divers).  One in Shanghai and one in Istanbul have been promised for a number of years, and there is one in Fiji that looks like it may open at some time in the future.

The hotel that may well open first has just been announced in Dubai (where else!) – pictured at the start of this newsletter.  The 21 rooms will be 35ft below the surface.

Dubai of course is no stranger to extravagant hotel projects, but the last few years have seen most such projects shelved or cancelled.  It is interesting to see a reappearance of grand plans again, and with finance coming from a Swiss company, this seems to be one underwater hotel that is likely to get off the ground.

The Titanic to Sail Again

They’re not raising the now 100 year old wreck of the original Titanic – that is rusted way beyond repair.  Instead, an Australian mining billionaire has announced plans to build a replica of the Titanic – albeit not in Belfast, where the original was built, but in China.  Indeed, the ship seems to be going to be built in Nanjing – an inland city well up the Yangtze river, but perhaps the river is navigable by ocean liners that far up.  This would be the first time a Chinese shipyard has built a cruise ship.

The new Titanic, built to the same dimensions as the original, would have the same 840 staterooms and nine decks, and presumably more lifeboats than the original and no steerage quarters for third class passengers.  A team of historical researchers is helping to drawn up the plans for the vessel (I’d have thought that just about every square inch of Titanic has already been thoroughly researched, many times over).  The ship will even have four funnels, although the engines will be diesel powered rather than coal/steam powered.  Its cost is unknown, but expected to be several hundred million dollars.

The ship – the Titanic II – is projected to be completed in 2016, and would have as its maiden voyage, naturally, a sailing from England to New York.

The billionaire expects to add three more ships to his new shipping line, which he is calling the Blue Star Line (Titanic was owned by the White Star Line).  And when asked if the ship would sink, he answered with delightful Australian directness ‘Of course it will sink if you put a hole in it’ before going on to talk about all the features to reduce its risk of sinking.

The Teatanic Too

For those of us who can’t afford to build our own copies of the Titanic, there is this €13 item (worldwide shipping included) that might be of passing interest.

It is a tea bag holder, and of course, is called – what else – the Teatanic.

Putting on Weight During a Cruise

In other cruise news, some bad but hardly startling news for those of us who enjoy cruising.  We’ve all joked about putting on weight during a cruise, but did you know how much weight the typical person adds?

A survey of 1281 British cruisers found that the average cruise passenger puts on about one pound per day, every day.  That means 12-14 lbs over a two week cruise.

31% of people said they ate twice as much as when at home.  More surprisingly, one in six people said they ate the same as they did at home.

Newark Terminal C Evacuated – But NOT the TSA’s Fault

Here’s a news item that reads like another nonsensical TSA over-reaction.  The TSA overlooked screening a baby through the screening process – it seems the infant’s parents handed it from one to the other – from the unscreened to the screened parent, without the baby itself being screened.

Only later (more than 30 minutes subsequently), the TSA realized their error, and so they advised the Port Authority police, and – get this – recommended against evacuating the terminal, searching it for bombs, and rescreening all passengers.  They said it was a low-risk situation (and, besides which, who knows how many flights had already departed).

But the brilliant leaders at the Port Authority Police disagreed, so the entire terminal was emptied, checked, and passengers rescreened.

Congratulations, for a change, to the TSA for their burst of good sense.  What a shame the Port Authority Police weren’t likewise infected by common sense.

TSA Detect Land Mines in Carry On Bags – But Only Half the Time

The TSA weren’t quite so proud of discovering that an Army Engineer had two inert Claymore mines in her carry-on while she was going through Newark security screening.  Because – ooops – her fellow engineer, who had just successfully gone through screening ahead of her, had another one in his carry-on which was undetected.

One would think a Claymore mine is hard to miss.  It measures 8.5″ x 4.9″ and is 1.5″ thick; it weighs 3.5 lb and has 700 steel balls inside it with 1.5lb of C-4 explosive.

Details here.

Stripping Naked for the TSA

It isn’t yet mandatory, although some fear the day when this will be required is approaching – perhaps so the TSA can check for signs of recent surgery.

Nope, not a joke.  This article reports on a concern that terrorists may have bombs not just conveniently inserted in orifices, but surgically inserted in their stomachs.

How would the TSA check for that, other than looking for signs of recent surgery?  It seems like there’s no safety against such a bomb.  On the other hand, the good news is that the person’s body would absorb a lot of the force of the explosion.  But, on the third hand, any bomb maker with a modicum of skill would make a shaped charge device so as to direct the force of the explosion along a single axis, rather than evenly spread in all directions.

This is, of course, another reason why our security needs to step back from obsessing over passengers at airports with pocket knives and bottles of water, and to more aggressively go back up the chain to find terrorists in their training camps, their command cells, and so on.

However, not to waste a good headline, a couple of weeks ago, a frustrated traveler at Portland (OR) airport did exactly that (strip naked for the TSA) – and voluntarily.  His clothing tested positive for explosives, and so the high-tech worker, annoyed at the laughable suggestion he was concealing a bomb, said words to the effect of ‘I’ll show you there’s no bomb’ and took all his clothes off at the screening point.

He subsequently refused requests to get dressed again, and was arrested, jailed, and charged with disorderly conduct (charge subsequently dropped) and public indecency.

Rather than accept a minimal court censure for this misdemeanor, he has asked for a trial and is pleading not guilty, saying his actions were him exercising his constitutional right of protest.

More details here.

And Lastly this week…..

Texting and driving.  Many of us have done it, right.

But look at this interesting video of what happened when a group of driving students in Belgium were tricked into believing that a new part of the driving test would require them to prove their competency at texting and driving at the same time.

It is the Cinco de Mayo on Saturday, something you’re probably already very aware of.  That day each year when all of Mexico and much of the rest of the world erupts into the annual celebration of – actually, what is it celebrating?  Do you know?

For the surprising history of this event – an event almost completely ignored in Mexico itself, here’s an interesting article.  But don’t let it interfere with enjoying some cheer this Saturday.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels.

 

 

David.

 

 

  3 Responses to “Weekly Roundup Friday 4 May 2012”

  1. RE: Cruise weight. I wish someone would do an article on weight by finding out how much food is loaded on to a ship, cooked and eaten. The statistics would be interesting to compare ‘food in – food out’ how much stayed on passengers as extra weight compared to the amount of food prepared and served.

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