Weekly Roundup Friday 26 October 2012

The $1000+ per person saving on this year’s Christmas Markets Cruise expires on Halloween. Please hurry to take advantage of it before it is too late.

Good morning

Another busy week, with Apple now officially announcing both the widely anticipated iPad mini – a device that is getting mixed reviews, and also surprising with a new iPad too, albeit only with minor tweaks compared to the predecessor model series.

Plus today (Friday) sees the ultimate non-event – the first ‘crippled’ version of Microsoft’s new Slate series of tablets goes on sale.  I’ve written about both the two new Apple products in separate articles that follow this weekly roundup.

And we’ve seen the release of the not so grand report of the grandly named ‘Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection’ (discussed below, of course).

2012 Annual Fundraising Drive – Week 2 Report

The week has also seen the second week of our 2012 annual fundraising drive.  My reference last week to redirecting your contributions away from politicians and towards The Travel Insider struck a responsive note with 93 people during the week, more than the 85 people who responded in the first week.  Included among this week’s contributors are another 21 Special Super Supporters :

Bryan G, Hilda W, Clayton H, Len G, Judy F, Maureen F, Anna R (no, not my 8 year old daughter!), Roger L, Jim J, Charles J, Steve K, Bob G, Don B, Pete R, Lynn J, Kenny N, Ken A, Bill D, J & P A, G & B K, and Paul G.

Again, thank you one and all, from the people who sent in $10 or less to the people who send in $250 and more.  Whether you choose to pay for your personal share, or whether you generously shoulder the burden on behalf of others too, your help is enormously appreciated and greatly essential.

There’s no such thing as too little – I very much realize and appreciate that a person sending in ‘only’ $5 is still helping out $5 more than probably 95% of everyone else, who will sadly end up doing nothing.

So please put yourself in the top 5% of Travel Insider readers (or, of course, even better, the top 4%, 3%, 2% or 1%) and choose to contribute to the ongoing operation of The Travel Insider.

Although it is undeniably wonderful to have another 93 people choose to respond, and often very generously, this is again a shortfall on the count for Week 2 last year, when we had 105 readers respond.

Our target for 2012 is 545 supporters, so we are now 178/545ths of the way there – a third of the way.  But two-thirds of the way remain.  So ….

Two Bribes to Encourage Your Support!

So, to bring us closer to our 545 supporter target, can I offer you a couple of bribes to encourage your participation.

First, a ‘good faith’ bribe.  I was sent a generic email and discount code by the US Cavalry online store this week.  It gives a 15% discount on just about anything you order online from their site, and is valid through 31 October.  You apply the discount in the shopping cart before giving them any personal details, so if the code gets ‘used up’ prior to then, you’ve not had to commit to anything or even tell them who you are.

If there’s anything you see in their extensive product range that you’d like, go ahead and use the R12B15A discount code, and perhaps consider sharing your saving with me in return.

The second opportunity is more directly travel related, and potentially much more substantial in value too.  As you’ll see in the article immediately after the weekly roundup, the mileage tracking company UsingMiles.com is offering to donate free lifetime premium level memberships to all Travel Insider Supporters who contribute $15 or more this year.

Their premium memberships normally sell for $30 a year; so you not only get to save on the first year’s membership, but on every subsequent year too, all of which are completely free to you.  All you need do is contribute whatever you feel fair and appropriate to The Travel Insider, and I’ll then send you details on how to take advantage of this very generous offer from UsingMiles.com.

Please remember – unlike the New York Times or Wall St Journal, or a growing number of other publications, there’s no limit on our free content.  Many publications are moving to a ‘we give you a little bit for free, but you’ve got to pay for the rest’ type of business model.  I prefer – and I’m sure you prefer, too – that everything on The Travel Insider site remains open and free for everyone.  So please help keep The Travel Insider open and free – for you and for everyone else – by responding to this once-a-year request for assistance.

Many thanks indeed.  And now, please read on for articles about :

  • Christmas Markets Cruise – Going, Going, Almost Gone….
  • Bad News for BA (and other Airlines too)
  • Are the Airlines Too Regulated Again?
  • Is This Too Much Regulation?  Or Too Little?
  • Taxi Driver Regulation Too?
  • And, Maybe, Text Messaging Regulations
  • The Best Airline in the US
  • The World’s Worst Airline?  Or Perhaps The World’s Worst Airline Reviewer?
  • A380s Aloft
  • Yelp to Name and Shame Fake Reviewers
  • Cruise Ship Passenger Demographics
  • The No Fly List Strikes Again
  • TSA Sort of Does the Right Thing, But for the Wrong Reason
  • Strangest reason for a bomb threat?
  • And Lastly This Week….

Christmas Markets Cruise – Going, Going, Almost Gone….

We only have until Wednesday 31 October to get payments in to secure the $1000+ per person saving on this year’s lovely Christmas Markets cruise from Budapest to Nuremberg.  Sure, you could still book onto the cruise with us after Wednesday, but you’d then be paying full price.

A huge $1000 per person saving will probably more than pay for your airfare to get to Europe and back; and is definitely worth taking advantage of if at all possible.  This truly is a wonderful experience, at a magical time of year.

So the time to confirm your interest is definitely now.  Please go to our main page all about the cruise and register your interest on the form near the bottom of the page.

Bad News for BA (and other Airlines too)

A two-year legal battle between BA and several other airlines, acting on behalf of all airlines, and the EU on the other side has now been concluded, with the airlines losing.

At issue was whether passengers on flights to, from, or within Europe (so that includes people outside the EU too) should be compensated identically for flights that were delayed or cancelled, when the net effect of the delay/cancellation (in terms of hours late getting to one’s destination) was the same, and for flights that were affected by reasonably foreseeable problems (and when ‘reasonably foreseeable’ became an exculpatory ‘unforeseeable’).

The European Court of Justice has now said that a rose by any other name is just as sweet – in other words, whether it be delay or cancellation, if you’re late getting to where and when your ticket promised, you’re entitled to the compensation spelled out by EU regulation, and added that in almost all cases, airlines are responsible for delays, no matter what.  This ruling is thought to cost the airlines about €90 million in currently outstanding claims they’ve been refusing to pay out on and which they must now honor.

That’s a very sensible finding.  Some wiggle-room remains for ‘extraordinary circumstance’ exceptions, but the European courts are proving to be fairly strict in terms of what they allow to be covered by this, and in particular, they are excluding maintenance related delays – something that the airlines in the US have always insisted should get them an automatic waiver from any penalties that might otherwise imply.

The reason for the US airlines’ exemption is fairly brutal.  They’ve said (my paraphrase, of course)

 If we are liable to penalties for delaying flights due to safety reasons, we’ll simply ignore the safety issue and operate the flight, risking the lives of everyone on board, and if the plane crashes and burns, it will be your fault, you will have forced us to do this.

Amazingly, our US enforcement agencies nod anxiously and allow themselves to be bullied into submission by such a threat.

Details of the EU court case are here.

In particular, the article refers to a website that you should add to your favorites list :  Flight-delayed.co.uk – they specialize in helping passengers fight intransigent airlines in cases where there may be EU compensation due.  They charge a flat fee of either £14 or £20.50 (ie about $20 or $30); a great investment on your part if you have a claim that could be worth €600 ($800).

Are the Airlines Too Regulated Again?

So, when considering cases like that above, some industry observers, particularly ones who sit most comfortably on the airline side of any issue, are suggesting that maybe the airlines are becoming too excessively regulated once more.

It is true that airlines no longer have quite the ‘free for all’ they used to have when it came to mounting an assault on the rights of their passengers.  On the other hand, we’ve seen the results of allowing them a ‘free for all’ and we didn’t like it.  They had their chance, and they messed up.  They’ve proven, vividly, that self-regulation doesn’t work.

Plus the airlines have not only attacked our rights, they’ve also attacked each other, with the result there are ever fewer airlines, and ever fewer choices for us as passengers.

Maybe they do indeed need some fatherly guidance.

Here’s the article reporting on this matter.

Is This Too Much Regulation?  Or Too Little?  Part 1

However, before we start to get too concerned about the plight of the airlines suffering from ‘too much regulation’ at present, let’s look at some of this purported excessive regulation.

This article reports how an alliance between Canada’s dominant carrier and the US’s second largest carrier (Air Canada and United) is described by Canada’s Competition Bureau as it

will protect consumers and preserve competition on 14 key, high-demand air passenger routes between Canada and the United States

Not so proudly stated is the fact that the Competition Bureau allowed the two airlines to cooperate fully and freely on five cross-border city pairs while imposing restrictions on the other 14.  The two airlines have been partners both directly and through the Star Alliance, and now have to promise not to coordinate their services in the 14 markets in return for being allowed to do so in the other 5 markets.

In other words, they got a quarter of what they wanted this time, and can still work together in a less concrete form in the other markets.  There will doubtless be some amazing coincidences as to how the two airlines act independently but identically.

The airlines, in their submission, claimed they needed to be allowed to cooperate because they in effect don’t know how to compete without destroying each other.

Still, I guess airlines that are used to bullying regulators by saying ‘if you penalize us for bad maintenance in the first place, we’ll simply fly unsafe planes and it will be your fault when they crash’ feel saying they don’t know how to compete is a persuasive argument for why they should no longer need to compete against each other any more, like the ‘bad old days’.

Interestingly, the least competition between airlines was when the most regulation was in place.  Perhaps the airlines are playing a tricky game of Poker here – maybe what they want is full regulation, including a return of the former specifically defined ‘right’ to make a profit and regulations designed to ensure their profitability?

Is This Too Much Regulation?  Or Too Little?  Part 2

I’d earlier expressed simultaneous hope and doubt that the grandly named ‘Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection’ would actually achieve anything tangible.  In particular, see my article in May and note the rhetorical questions I posed.

The committee has now published its recommendations.  You can read them here if you wish.

As for the rhetorical questions/examples I raised in May, nothing.  Oh, sure, we have some predictable political correctness about ‘encouraging airlines’ (a meaningless term) to ‘take voluntary steps’ (in case the ‘encouraging’ wasn’t a weak enough statement, this immediately following statement ensures its total lack of force) ‘that they believe’ (Bravo – Triple redundancy!  Not only are we encouraging voluntary actions, but we allow the airlines to choose what the voluntary actions should be) will improve such vital areas of passenger concern as ‘a better travel experience for passengers with disabilities’.

Not to sound insensitive to the tiny minority of people with disabilities who travel, but how about mandating the airlines take specific actions to improve the experiences of the 90% of passengers without disabilities?  Are these opening recommendations the best this committee can come up with?

Alternatively, if you agree with a focus on disabled passengers, don’t you feel the brains trust that the committee, and the people who presented to the committee represent, should have been able to come up with something specific, rather than saying (here’s the glorious text in full)

The Committee recommends that DOT should do the following to address continuing problems for travelers with disabilities:

1) Encourage airlines and airports to take any voluntary steps that they believe will result in a better travel experience for travelers with disabilities;

Why don’t they list specific steps that could be taken?

After the first section on passengers with disabilities, the next section is even more politically correct – a suggestion that airlines be reminded about their pre-existing obligations not to discriminate based on age, race, gender, etc.  If there is a problem with airlines breaking the law – something the report hints at but totally fails to specify, surely the appropriate response is to chastise the DoT or DoJ for not enforcing the laws, rather than to delicately suggest airlines be ‘reminded’ about their obligations.

There’s some complicated stuff about how the DoT handles consumer complaints, but at the end of that section, the committee concedes that the DoT is already adopting the measures the committee is now boldly talking about.  Translation – ‘You should do what you have said you are already doing’?

There’s more, plenty more, but if you want to find any unambiguous hard-hitting exact mandates being now proposed, then you’ll probably be disappointed.

Also notable is what the committee did not say.  For example, while talking about ticket pricing transparency, the committee refused to actually say that all the confusing laundry lists of airline fees should be revealed in airline computer reservation systems.  How transparent is that when the information isn’t all conveniently at hand in a standardized format?

The committee does choose to ‘get tough’ with travel agents, and suggests they should be required to disclose if they do or do not sell tickets on all airlines serving a particular route.  It also makes a delightfully ambiguous statement that does nothing other than waste paper

The committee is aware that in DOT’s planned Consumer Rule III rulemaking DOT plans to seek comment on whether it should require ticket agents to disclose the carriers whose tickets they sell or do not sell.

What does this mean?  Does the advisory committee advise this to be a good idea or a bad idea?  There’s no way of telling.  Why doesn’t it have an opinion on this matter, particularly after voluntarily bringing it up?

All in all, the committee’s report seems to be a total disappointment.

I’m also disappointed that the one ‘Consumer Advocate’ on the panel didn’t issue a dissenting statement, rather than sign off on this report without demur.

Too much regulation?  Hardly!

Taxi Driver Regulation Too?

Regulation is everywhere these days.  When is enough enough?  How about regulating the cleanliness standards of taxi drivers?  This is currently being regulated in Seattle, and the taxi drivers are saying they should be treated like adults and trusted to attend to their own standards of personal hygiene without regulatory oversight.

In theory, that sounds fair.  But imagine this – you’ve been waiting for a cab by the side of the street for ten minutes in the pouring rain.  Finally one stops; you open the door, and it smells like you’ve just gone into the city sewage farm.  What do you do?  Wave the driver off again, and wait another ten or more minutes in the rain – oh yes, you’re already late to get to the airport for your flight – or hold your nose and take the cab?

Here’s the thing – if regulation is not necessary, surely the regulated groups can’t complain about it, because they are already complying with the requirements.  It reminds me of companies that reduce the warranties on their products saying ‘Our products are now so reliable, we don’t need to guarantee them for as long as before’.

Let’s continue to insist on some minimum standards for taxi drivers.

And, Maybe, Text Messaging Regulations

Whatever next?  Regulations on text messaging?

But if you read this article, you’ll see that, alas, there are bona fide requirements and a true need to regulate who can send us text messages, particularly in cases where the message sender can do so for free, but we – the message recipient – ends up paying for the unwanted objectionable piece of ‘in your face’ spam.

The Best Airline in the US

Well, it is true that being the best airline in the US is no big deal; sadly American airlines never appear on the lists of ‘best airlines in the world’ anymore.  Being ‘best in the US’ is now a huge distance away from ‘best in the world’.

You may well bemoan our loss of manufacturing, too much of which has fled the US and gone to China and elsewhere.  But let’s not overlook the loss of our former pre-eminence in aviation as well – a pre-eminence both in the planes made by companies such as Douglas, Burgess, Consolidated, Curtiss, Thomas-Morse, Martin, Hughes, Wright, McDonnell and Lougheed, to name just a few; and in the airlines that operated them, airlines such as Air California, Air Midwest, Allegheny, Bonanza, and Britt, again to name just a few.

Yes, I’m deliberately choosing companies you’ve probably never heard of (some of which may have been excellent too) to underscore the point, which is simply that no-one, whether American or not, can claim these days that any of our airlines are world-class.

But there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be.  Our pilots and flight attendants are some of the highest paid in the world, and our airline executives are also extremely richly rewarded.  Our airlines have the most up-to-date operational, management and marketing tools available, but somehow, they no longer pursue excellence.  Unfortunately, there’s no way that either regulation – or its absence – can force an airline to be ‘excellent’.

With that as lengthy preamble, slightly muted congratulations to Virgin America for winning Conde Nast Traveler’s 2012 Readers’ Choice Awards as Best US Airline.  This is the fifth year in a row that the airline has won the prize – a telling indication that the other airlines don’t seem to care about this upstart new airline that is cleaning their clock in terms of customer facing experience and excellence.

Virgin America (VX) started flying little more than five years ago (August 2007) and now operates a fleet of 52 planes, flying to 19 different destinations in the US and Mexico, and this year grew sufficiently in size as to now meet the DoT’s requirement to be considered a ‘major airline’.

You’d think the other carriers would be at least a little curious as to how it is that this startup airline has grown so quickly, while they (the dinosaurs) have been struggling to stay the same size and/or have been cutting back on their US operations.

To be fair, Virgin America has yet to meet what surely should be one criterion of excellence – profitability.

Its most recent three months and its most recent six months both show increased losses compared to the same period last year, and at its present rate of lossmaking it would seem (as a private company they don’t publish complete accounts) Virgin America will run out of cash in the next 6 – 12 months, assuming they don’t bring in more capital or turn their operations around.

The World’s Worst Airline?  Or Perhaps The World’s Worst Airline Reviewer?

Qatar Airways was anointed Best Airline in the World at the 2012 World Airline Awards earlier this year.  This award series offers lots of prizes for things as trivial as ‘Best Airline with a name beginning with Z’ or so it seems (there are actually 61 categories of awards), but they are silent on the losers.

While some might quibble about Qatar’s win, most will agree that there are a clear half-dozen or so closely ranked and all excellent airlines, and that Qatar is one of those.

But what is the worst airline in the world?  Opinions differ, and sadly two US carriers make Zagat’s list of the ten worst airlines.  Remarkably, uber-successful Ryanair is dubbed the world’s worst airline (so how is it also rapidly growing and now the world’s largest airline by some measures?)

Here’s another list which may or may not be accurate, because I’ve never even heard of many of the airlines on their ‘Worst 10’ list.

But if you do a Google search, you’ll find one airline more commonly anointed with the sobriquet of ‘World’s Worst Airline’ than any other, apparently due to being given this appellation by Skytrax as the world’s only one star airline, and that is North Korea’s national carrier, Air Koryo.

I have to call ‘male-cow excrement’ on this, and I say so based on the experience of 35 of us flying roundtrip on Air Koryo from Beijing to Pyongyang and back last month.

Yes, the seats were a bit cramped, but – hey – at least we all had a seat!  The two flights left close to on-time, and arrived on-time.  We were served free drinks and free hot meals both ways.  We were even given free newspapers to read and keep, and the flight attendants were reasonably friendly and helpful.  No-one suffered lost or damaged luggage (more than could be said for several people and their airline misadventures getting to or from Beijing).  The surprisingly spacious bathrooms worked and were also clean.

Sure, we ended up on two of their older planes, but probably the planes are no older than some of the DC-9s still to be found flying in the US and elsewhere.  And old planes or not, Air Koryo has a 100% perfect safety record – I’d rather fly an old plane on an airline with a 100% safety record than a new plane with an airline that has an unfortunate history of complete hull-losses.

I’m not nominating Air Koryo for any type of excellence award; but to call them the world’s worst airline is plain crazy and wrong.

So how does Skytrax give Air Koryo the lowest rating it has?  There’s no easy way to tell in what appears to be an opaque process, and it further seems that Skytrax isn’t even rating Air Koryo on many attributes in which it would score somewhere between average and good, unlike its reviews of other airlines.  This is what Skytrax says it does to determine its airline quality ratings.

I’m challenging Skytrax to reveal the raw results of its Air Koryo reviews, to list the last three times it had its staff fly on Air Koryo, and to put Air Koryo’s results alongside Skytrax’ two star airlines (which I see includes a Qantas subsidiary, Jetstar Pacific, as well as Ryanair) and also the major US carriers (all of which seem to be three star airlines, with the one notable exception being four star Jetblue).  As for the best airline in the US – Virgin America – they don’t even get a rating at all!

If Skytrax wishes itself to be a credible source of airline quality information, it should be at least as attentive to its process for naming the world’s worst airline as it is to naming the world’s best airline.

Currently, and by its results, it seems that Skytrax deserves, in turn, to be nominated as ‘the world’s worst airline review/rating service’.

A380s Aloft

Another airline started A380 service to the US this week.  This time it is China Southern, with service between Guangzhou and Los Angeles.

The number of Chinese visitors to the US is expected to double between the 1 million who traveled in 2011 and a projected 2 million in 2015.  As indication of this, there were no flights between Guangzhou and Los Angeles a mere 15 years ago, and now in addition to the nonstops, two other Chinese airlines offer ‘direct’ service as do a number of other carriers too.

In other A380 news, Singapore Airlines has announced its third order for A380 planes, signing up for five more with Airbus.  It already has 19 A380s in service.

Worldwide, seven other airlines, as well as China Southern and Singapore Airlines, operate A380 planes, and in total, orders have been placed by 20 different customers for the super-jumbo.

But you’ll not find a single US carrier on the list.

Why is that?  US carriers compete on the same city pairs that foreign airlines operate A380s on; and on city pairs that other carriers are eagerly awaiting their on-order A380s to operate.

But now, five years after the first A380 started service, and with leading airlines such as Emirates and Singapore Airlines ordering A380s on multiple occasions, providing clear evidence of their delight with the plane (oh yes, the ‘world’s best airline’ – Qatar Airways, also has three on order), why are the US carriers not rushing to enjoy the benefits of these planes too?

Or am I circling back to the previous topic and asking the same question with different words – why are US airlines no longer world-class?

Yelp to Name and Shame Fake Reviewers

We regularly write about Trip Advisor’s problems with fake reviews, and point out that fake reviews cut both ways.  Some fake reviews are falsely positive, written by or for establishments themselves, and others are falsely negative, written perhaps by establishments and about their competitors.  Both types of fake review detract from the credibility and value of Trip Advisor’s service, and can appreciably impact on the business that flows to establishments.

However, Trip Advisor – while the best known – is far from the only publisher of user reviews, and all such publishers are believed to experience similar problems (I wrote a few weeks ago about even Amazon’s book reviews being gamed with companies making vast sums by selling fake book review writing services to eager authors).  Gartner predicts that by 2014, one in every ten social media reviews will be fake.  Some of the more cynical of us might guess the percentage will be higher than that, and sooner than that.

One other user-review driven company is Yelp – a company primarily known for its mobile apps that provide information and reviews on local restaurants and increasingly other types of local businesses too.

They’ve now come up with an interesting concept.  In cases where they are sure they’ve come across a fake positive review (one wonders how often that will be) they will flag their entry for the establishment that benefitted from the review for 90 days as having paid for its positive reviews.  Details here.

No word on how Yelp will handle fake negative reviews.  And while their action is clearly far from a 100% solution (and 90 days probably too short a ‘penalty), it is equally clearly a positive partial measure, and to be commended.

One suspects that part of the reason Trip Advisor has been reluctant to do the same and go public with fake reviews is that the company is unwilling to reveal how often it stumbles across fake reviews, and would rather keep the entire problem as much off the radar as possible.

Cruise Ship Passenger Demographics

Here’s an interesting article, and with interesting comments as well.  It clearly shows that you can’t please all the people all the time, and that’s hardly startling news.

The cruise lines are to be commended for transforming and growing their market from the sleepy sedate retiree market which it largely was, 20 or so years ago.  If you’re a younger person seeking action, fun, nightlife, and so on, some of the new cruise ships, their amenities and their activities, will be exactly what you’re looking for.

Perhaps the most important unstated part of the article and its associated comments is the need to be sure you are matching the cruise line, the ship, and the cruise itinerary to your life style and your expectations.  If you’re a 20-something on a ‘grey-rinse set’ cruise, you’ll be miserable, and of course, vice versa too.

You can get some clues about the target markets for cruises by looking at the brochure pictures.  The models used to show passengers are usually aspirational examples of the target markets the cruise lines are seeking.  Don’t choose a cruise where the brochures consistently show people who could be your children (or your parents).  Beyond that first rule of thumb, using the services of a travel agent who has actually been on a good representative range of ships is still the best strategy to ensure you get matched with the appropriate ship and cruise.

Oh – river cruising in Europe and our Christmas Market cruises?  With only a few exceptions, the youngest people on board are usually in their 40s, and while there is entertainment provided, there are also quiet peaceful areas and plenty of opportunities for relaxation and tranquility.

The No Fly List Strikes Again

Usually when we think of the nightmare that is associated with unexpectedly finding our name has been placed on the secret ‘No Fly’ list, we envisage a situation where we went from our home to the airport to fly somewhere and were turned away, meaning we had to go home and either drive, take a bus, a train, or cancel our travel plans.

But at least, while we try to sort out the mistake that got our name on the list, we’re still at home and able to go to work each day and lead the rest of our life as we normally would.

Now think about this poor gentleman who flew from his home in Gulfport, MS to Hawaii, where he overnighted prior to the next day planning to fly on to meet his wife, who is a Navy lieutenant stationed in Okinawa.

But, upon going to check-in for his flight from Honolulu to Okinawa, he is told his name is on the No Fly list, and he won’t be allowed to board the plane.  Ooops.  And – double ooops – he isn’t allowed to fly home to Gulfport, either.

What would you do in a case like that?  You surely can’t drive or take a train or bus from Honolulu to mainland USA.

Maybe you’re very resourceful and know about the opportunity to travel the world by ocean freighter.  That is true, some freight ships take a few passengers on their routes.  But they don’t have daily service, and it takes a long time to go from Honolulu to the US West Coast.

Oh – and there’s one other thing too.  An 1886 law which makes it illegal for foreign ships to transport US citizens between US ports.  And the only US freight company (Matson Line) on the route doesn’t take passengers.

So tell me again how you’ll get home?

Yes, it is possible (take a freighter to a foreign port, then fly a foreign airline to a Canadian or Mexican city, and then a bus from there back home), but imagine you’re a young man, without a lot of money, and also without a lot of time, and an employer who is impatiently waiting for your return to work, and who may be spooked by the thought that you’ve done something so terrible you’re not allowed on any plane, anywhere, no matter how much security and body/cavity searching is done on you beforehand.

Think about that last point as well.  What remaining risk is there when a person, on the ‘No Fly’ list or not, has been intimately searched every which way?

Now tell me about America with its presumption of innocence until proven guilty, its proud tradition of open public justice, of jury trials for criminal offenses, and of the requirement for proof beyond a reasonable shadow of a doubt to convict.  Where is all of this?

TSA Sort of Does the Right Thing, But for the Wrong Reason

Here’s some very good news for those of us who don’t like being gratuitously dosed with potentially dangerous X-rays.  The TSA is removing its X-ray scanners from some of the busiest airports in the country.

But there is also bad news.  The TSA isn’t consigning the possibly deadly devices to the junk-yard.  It is simply relocating them to airports with fewer passengers.

It seems that another of the claimed benefits of these machines – that they would allow more people to pass more quickly through security – is so obviously untrue as to be presenting major operational problems for the TSA.

I’ve previously done second by second analyses of the time it take to walk through a normal metal detector (a couple of seconds with one TSA agent watching) to the time it takes to get a dose of X-rays (more like 30 seconds and requiring at least two and possibly three TSA agents), but as part of the TSA’s willful refusal for any public consultation over adopting the X-ray machines, the TSA wouldn’t listen to any voices of reason, whether based on safety or simple time and motion efficiency.

While the TSA continues to assert, albeit without any independent facts to back up their claims, that the machines are usually safe for most people, most of the time; they have now conceded that they are also much slower and cost more manhours to operate.  So they’re going to hide them away in smaller airports where it apparently doesn’t matter so much if it costs the TSA more manhours per passenger processed, and where it apparently doesn’t matter so much if a machine might occasionally malfunction and squirt a dangerous dose of X-rays into a passenger.

Strangest Reason For a Bomb Threat?

A man in China called in a bomb threat about a flight to his home city.  He did this because, on the flight, was his creditor, who was coming to collect on an almost $40,000 debt.

While I’ve not seen an extended analysis, it seems from news reports that as many or more bomb threats are called in by people who believe they’ll benefit from their call, than bomb threats made by people for random or nonsensical reasons.  A common reason for a bomb threat is to delay the flight they are running late for.

Two words to such people.  Caller ID.

And Lastly This Week….

I wrote last week about strange Wi-Fi names, which started a riff with one reader who has an impressive number of Wi-Fi networks and creative names to go with them, one even being an anagram of his and his wife’s last names.  This evolved to a discussion on passwords, which are probably at least as bizarre as Wi-Fi names, and likely all the more so for being supposedly secret.

Don’t be like my reader and also quote your passwords at me, but do have a look at this list and if you, ahem, notice your password on the list, perhaps it is time to change it.

Talking about strange words, we often hear about airlines ejecting passengers due to a flight attendant deeming a slogan or image on their t-shirt to be offensive to some delicate soul.  The latest example was Canada’s generally excellent airline, Westjet, when a flight attendant required a passenger to wear his t-shirt inside out, because the flight attendant felt the t-shirt might offend other passengers.

The t-shirt (pictured in this article here) showed in muted colors a street sign from the town of Yellowknife, in Canada’s Northwest Territories.  The street’s name – Raged Ass Road.  Shirts and other things with the street sign on it are popular souvenirs.

Now you might think this to be another of the slightly unfortunate judgment calls that flight attendants make, but there’s a distinctive thing about this particular scenario.  Westjet’s CEO, Gregg Saretsky, proudly has a Ragged Ass Road sign on his office door.  It has been there for the last two years.  Ooops.

No word as to if the flight attendant has also demanded the airline’s boss take down his sign.

And talking about talking, here’s an article about what to do when you’re stuck next to a too-chatty fellow passenger.  If my noise cancelling headphones don’t do the trick, then pass me the M&Ms…

Truly lastly, may I remind you again of our annual fundraising drive.  If you’ve read all the way down to here, you’ve received 6233 words of commentary and information this week, and there are 3696 more words still to come in the three following articles.  Plus you’ve been offered two sweeteners – a 15% discount on US Cavalry purchases and a free lifetime premium membership to UsingMiles.com.

How much is that worth to you each week?  Please do choose to respond and reciprocate fairly, so as to help ensure the continued appearance of your Travel Insider newsletter in your email in the future, the same as for the last 11+ years in the past.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels





2 thoughts on “Weekly Roundup Friday 26 October 2012”

  1. My favorite response to “What do you do for a living?” is “I’m a mortician.” They almost always stop talking immediately…nearly mid-sentence. Works like a charm!

  2. Pingback: Weekly Roundup Friday 16 November 2012 » The Travel Insider

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