Weekly Roundup Friday 15 June 2012

A scene from North Korea’s Arirang Mass Games – the background image is formed by thousands of people holding up cards to form a mosaic style picture. This is the last year they will be performed.

Good morning

If you’ve been debating whether or not to join your fellow Travel Insiders on our tour to North Korea this September, there’s now another reason to come.

One of the huge highlights of the tour – the Arirang ‘Mass Games’ – an extraordinary extravaganza staged by over 100,000 performers in a huge stadium, is ending this year.

While it is expected that something will be offered in its place next year, it is unclear as to the style, nature, size or scope of whatever will be presented.  All we know for sure is that the Arirang performances, an event of unprecedented size and scale – will be ending this September.

So perhaps you should come join us for our North Korean experience this September.  Note also the tour price is about to slightly drop due to an improved exchange rate.

And what else for the week?  A couple of extra articles plus the usual roundup of news you might have missed :

  • True First Class Luxury
  • Oil Prices Drop.  Bad for Airlines?
  • Oil Prices Drop.  Airlines Increase Fuel Surcharge.
  • Checked Baggage Fees Also Increase
  • Airline Horror Stories
  • Airline Fightback against EU Levies Intensifies
  • China’s Bad Air Quality – a State Secret?
  • Chinese Tourism
  • The Largest Online Travel Agency in the World
  • And lastly this week….

True First Class Luxury

It isn’t actually new, but it seems the press has (re)discovered the ultra-luxurious first class suites on Singapore Airlines’ A380s.  Here’s an article that surfaced this week showing the sumptuous appointments in the twelve suites on each A380.

They have privacy screens up to eye level, and come in either single seat configurations (on the window sides) or a double configuration (for the two seats in the central row).  The seats have what SQ describes as true beds rather than converted seats, and – you guessed it – the double seats have, naturally, a double bed.

But if you’re thinking what I think you’re thinking, the official response is to stop thinking that immediately.  Unofficially?  Well…..

Oil Prices Drop.  Bad for Airlines?

Oil prices – and therefore jetfuel – goes up, and the airlines all rush to outdo themselves at complaining theatrically about the impact of the extra jetfuel costs on their profitability (while simultaneously increasing their fuel surcharges, base fares, and other surcharges way more than the actual impact of the increased jetfuel costs).

But, when oil prices drop, do airlines then start making bullish commentaries and boast about their future profitability that is presumably sure to follow?  Actually, no.

Here’s a remarkably forgiving story from Reuters with the headline ‘Airlines face sting in the tail from cheaper oil’.

Perhaps we should all pity the poor airlines (as clearly the Reuters reporter does).  It seems nothing that happens in the world is good for them.

Oil Prices Drop.  Airlines Increase Fuel Surcharges.

As you know from the pump, gas prices have been steadily declining over the last couple of months, and are now based on crude prices in the mid $80s a barrel, 40% down from highs in March in the mid $140s.

It is bad enough airlines asking for way more in ‘fuel surcharge’ than they actually pay as increased fuel costs.  But how to explain several airlines’ requests to regulators to increase surcharges over the last few weeks at the same time that their fuel prices are dropping?

Delta’s request to increase its fuel surcharge on flights between the US and the Philippines from $150 to $170 seems mild compared to Etihad, which wishes to increase its surcharge on flights to Europe, the Americas, the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Africa from $105 to $171 – that is a 63% increase.  For closer to home flights, it wants an even bigger 78% increase ($85 now to increase to $151).

Cathay Pacific, on the other hand, asks for an increase so small that you wonder why they even bother.  They would like a 3% increase (from $145.10 up to $149.20) on flights between Hong Kong and South West Pacific, North America, Europe, Middle East, Africa, and South Asian subcontinent including the Philippines.

I wonder how Reuters will report on this?

Checked Baggage Fees Also Increase

Airlines are also increasing the amount they charge passengers to check a bag, particularly for international travel.  This week United announced that the cost of taking a second bag would go up again, making the second increase in a year.  A year ago, a second bag was costing $50 each way, then it went up to $70, and now it has gone up all the way to $100.

United said the reason for the increase was to reflect the increased cost of handling – oh yes, and the increased cost of fuel, too.  Details here.

I guess when they say ‘reflect’ they truly do mean ‘mirror image’ in the sense of opposite.  They get more productive staff working for less money, and the cost of jet fuel goes down, so to ‘reflect’ that, the cost of checking a second bag doubles in less than a year.

We await Reuter’s sympathy on this issue, too.

Airline Horror Stories

There’s a good article – and excellent reader comments – on the NY Times travel blog with readers sharing some of their worst flight experiences.

I’m sure they’d welcome your contributions too, and I know many of you have great stories to tell.

Airline Fightback against EU Levies Intensifies

The slow-motion train-crash in the making that is the EU’s insistence on levying fees on non-EU airlines for portions of flights operated outside the EU’s jurisdiction continues to unfold.

Chinese carriers have been directed by the Chinese government to refuse to provide any data about their ‘carbon emissions’ to the EU, and the 31 March deadline for providing that data expired some ten weeks ago.

The EU bureaucrat in charge of this scheme to gather more revenue save the planet has given the airlines a final final final deadline of today – Friday 15th – to provide the information demanded.  If the airlines continue to refuse to do so, possible consequences will range from a further extension of deadline, to the official going off in a snit and sulking in the corner, to fines being levied against the non-cooperating airlines and possibly even the impounding of their planes.

China has pointed out that whatever the EU does to its airlines, it will in turn do to EU airlines, too.  In the meantime, its up to $14 billion worth of orders with Airbus remain on indefinite hold.

Don’t the Chinese realize it is nothing  more than a chance for the EU to take money from non-EU companies less than the future of our planet that is at stake?  More details here.

Here in the US the airlines’ lobbying group ‘Airlines for Themselves America’ is urging the government to do something – perhaps to be decisive and, ummm, file a legal challenge against the EU order in an attempt to get the EU to negotiate some sort of compromise settlement – a dubious value strategy as the EU has already indicated a complete unwillingness to compromise.

The airlines have pointed out that if the US allows the EU to tax airlines on their non-European activities, what will the EU start taxing next?  Our cars that we drive on American roads?  Our food?  And so on.

The airlines want the government to pass a bill – S.1956, the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act, that would prohibit them from paying fees to the EU.

Which must be one of the first times the airlines have asked the government to regulate them and restrict them from doing something.

In the meantime, it is a race to the finish line – which will come first?  The collapse of the EU (or at least the Euro), or a trade war between Europe and China?

 China’s Bad Air Quality – a State Secret?

In other Chinese news, the country seeks to stop foreign embassies from tweeting or otherwise publishing details of the air quality in Beijing and elsewhere in China.  Apparently there is a risk of confusion at present as between the official Chinese air quality ratings – that generally classify the air as good, and the foreign ratings, which generally classify the air as unhealthy.

Clearly the obvious solution is to shut down the pesky and obviously less scientific foreign ratings.  Details here.

Chinese Tourism

Although the pollution in China’s large cities spreads distressingly far into the countryside too, there remain some compelling sights and experiences in China, and certainly sufficient as to encourage one to briefly brave the bad air in Beijing, Shanghai, and some of the other big cities.

Indeed, in the immediate area around Beijing itself, it has been decided to ‘open up’ two more stretches of the Great Wall and to improve a couple of the present areas that are open for tourists just out of Beijing.

The popularity of walking the Great Wall has become such that the (sometimes very wide) wall is now sometimes jam-packed with visitors making it difficult to walk at all.  These new extensions will provide more space and choices, reducing the density in all the open areas around Beijing.

I somehow got on a mailing list for a part of China I know little about, but which seems to be stunningly beautiful – Zhangjiajie, calling itself China’s National Park.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, or as they now term these things, a UNESCO Global Geopark.  Have a look at some of the images on their website – chances are you’ll end up wanting to include a visit there on your next trip to China.

We offered a China tour in 2008; maybe it is time to think of another one in 2013?

The Largest Online Travel Agency in the World

Guess which is the largest online travel agency in the world?  Hint – its headquarters are not far from here, in Bellevue WA.  Yes, it is the Microsoft off-shoot, Expedia, in all its many different forms (there are about 140 different travel sites and brands all forming parts of the overall Expedia empire).

Well done, Expedia.  Details here.

And lastly this week…..

Good news for visitors to Thailand.  Their Health Ministry has said it will replace traditional squat type toilets in all public toilets with western style sit-on toilets.

Interestingly, they are not doing this for our more delicate sensibilities.  They are doing it because apparently the older Thai folk have difficulty managing the squat toilets.  Whatever the reason, those of us who find such things a bit of a terror can now consider travel to Thailand with less apprehension.  Details – should you wish them – here.

And, talking about toilets, as we so often seem to at the end of a newsletter, we know that anywhere in the world where there is a shortage of clean good restrooms, to always go to a McDonalds.  They are a reliable oasis of sweet smelling cleanliness, no matter what the standards may be in the rest of the country they are located within.

But apparently not all US fast food chains are as good as McDonalds, as this bizarre story about an Arby’s restaurant indicates.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels





2 thoughts on “Weekly Roundup Friday 15 June 2012”

  1. China sounds great! We went to Bejing and also saw the Terracotta Warriors in 2011, and are anxious to go back for a more substantial visit.

  2. Pingback: Weekly Roundup Friday 22 June 2012 » The Travel Insider

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