Weekly Roundup Friday 18 January 2013

American Airlines' new livery
American Airlines’ new livery

Good morning

I’ve been wanting to write an article all week about the ongoing problems with the 787, but the truth has been changing daily, and it was only the announcement late Wednesday that the FAA had finally taken the extreme step of grounding all 787s that the story froze into place.  Almost 3,000 words later, you can see my analysis as one of the pieces following this week’s roundup.

Planes in trouble, of one sort or another, seems to be a theme this week, with another piece following that details one of the most disturbing abuses of power that has occurred recently – an abuse not only at the local level, but augmented by both the FBI and DHS as well.  Yuck!

Let’s talk about something good, instead.  Indeed, something not just good but great.  This year’s Christmas Markets cruise.  We’ve had a great response to the cruise already, including four past Christmas cruising Travel Insiders who have decided to come back for a second Christmas cruise this year, and four more (non Christmas) cruising Travel Insiders who are also joining, as well as some first time Travel Insiders.  Come yourself and find out the secret of what is so great about this cruise that four people (so far) are returning to repeat it a second time.

A 40% discount and plenty of advance time to plan for the cruise really does encourage you to choose this experience, and we still have great availability in almost all cabin types, so please do decide to join your fellow Travel Insiders on this wonderful cruise, this December.

As is usually the case, I’ve also heard from some readers who have said ‘David, we’d love to join you, but the dates just don’t work for us this year’.  Well, feeling buoyed by the amazingly positive initial offer from Amawaterways, I went back for more, and they’ve now released some 40% discounted cabins on other Christmas cruises too!  So if you can’t be part of the official Travel Insider group this year, you now have a few other dates to consider as well.  Details follow on that, too.

Could I also please remind you of our Balkan and Baltic Bucket List Tour.  We’ve a lot of people expressing interest in it, but with now just five months until it departs, it is time to start formally registering your wish to participate, please.  That will help us all know what the numbers of participants and therefore tour price will be.  Thank you.

What else this week?  Read on for :

  • The FAA to Help Pilots Go to Sleep on Long Flights?
  • A (re)painted Rose by (the same) Name
  • United Running a Tax Evading Sham?
  • Costa Concordia – One Year Later
  • Happy 150th Birthday
  • More Birthdays for the QE2?
  • What’s Another Zero
  • And Lastly This Week….

The FAA to Help Pilots Go to Sleep on Long Flights?

I don’t care what any pilot says.  Many flights are as b-o-r-i-n-g in the cockpit as in the passenger cabin, with nothing to do for hours at a time, in the middle of the night, at a time when the pilot would normally be sleeping, and with only the soporific hum of the engines in the background.  The occasional things that need to be done are never two-man jobs, so even if one of the two pilots occasionally gets to switch radio frequencies as the flight flits from one area control zone to another, the other pilot has nothing to do.

This is why so many pilots sleep on flights.

One solution is of course to come up with some sort of leisure/recreational activity to engage the pilots’ minds and brains, as a way to keep them alert and awake.  And what better source of stimulation than a tablet or other electronic device?

Alas, the FAA disagrees.  It claims that pilots would be distracted by their iPad, and would not pay attention to the status of the flight, and a retired pilot who now seems to sell safety related services agrees, thereby making it incontrovertibly official.

Strangely, this ‘expert’ justifies his assertion by quoting the ridiculous analogy of texting while driving a car (an environment where unpredictable events can occur with zero notice and requiring instant appropriate response from the one person driving) as being equivalent to having perhaps one of two pilots being allowed to relax and use an electronic device to keep himself awake while the other pilot engages in busy work supervising the flight – a scenario about as different from driving a car as is possible to imagine.

Even more bizarre – and indicating a total lack of meaningful data to support their position – the FAA pointed to the fact that the co-pilot in a plane that subsequently crashed sent a text message after the plane had pushed back from the gate and five minutes before it took off.  The crash of the Colgan Air flight occurred 77 minutes later and was no more related to the co-pilot having sent a text message prior to the plane taking off as was, well, the color of her panties (a detail thankfully not yet shared with us by the FAA).

The killjoys at the FAA seem to think that by taking away electronic amusements, the pilots will remain more alert and awake and less distracted.  How wrong they are.

And to make the matter even more stupid than it already is, pilots would still be allowed to use their airline-supplied iPad or laptop, just not a personal one.

Details here.

A (re)painted Rose by (the same) Name

What do you do when your airline is bankrupt and you are trying all you can to extract concessions from creditors, suppliers, and staff, while simultaneously countenancing a possible merger with another airline?

And what do you do if you’re an airline, desperate to save every pound – every ounce – on your planes, in the interest of better fuel economy and lower costs?  You’ve already cut back on in-flight magazines, in-flight drink inventories, even in-flight pillows and blankets, all in the name of saving weight.

Well, if you are American Airlines, what you do is change your planes’ livery.  Even though there’s (in my opinion) a much better than 50% chance that you’ll merge/be bought out by another carrier within the year (AA’s senior executives have clearly changed their tune and now are gently introducing the concept of a future merger/buy out), you spend untold millions of dollars developing a new logo and livery and repainting your planes in a design that might only be in use for a year or less.

Oh – and as for the weight saving.  If you’re American, you abandon your former distinctive unpainted plane concept that for years had been something you boasted about as a weight saving measure, and instead weigh your planes down with the better part of an additional ton of extra paint by painting their fuselages a silver color designed to look very similar to – hmmm – the former unpainted color.

Just think about that for a minute.  You switch from unpainted planes that save weight and money, to painting planes almost the same color as they formerly were when unpainted.  That is a good idea how?

Here is some of the vomit-inducing nonsense spouted by AA in support of their brain-fart.  Chief Commercial Officer Virasb Vahidi said, without any apparent sign of the embarrassment you’d expect would unavoidably be associated with such a statement :

Our new logo and livery are designed to reflect the passion for progress and the soaring spirit, which is uniquely American.  Our core colors — red, white and blue – have been updated to reflect a more vibrant and welcoming spirit.  The new tail, with stripes flying proudly, is a bold reflection of American’s origin and name.  And our new flight symbol, an updated eagle, incorporates the many icons that people have come to associate with American, including the ‘A’ and the star.

American says that its new 787s will need to be painted because you can’t have bare carbon-fiber fuselages the same way you can with aluminum.  Maybe that is so, but why not repaint only the 787s to ‘mock aluminum’ color, rather than also painting all the actual aluminum planes to make them look liked unpainted aluminum in color too?

United Running a Tax Evading Sham?

That’s what the Illinois Regional Transportation Authority alleges.  It says the airline has set up a sham office in the DeKalb county town of Sycamore, and causing it to be levied fuel taxes by Sycamore on a basis whereby the city then immediately turns around and rebates back to United most of the fuel taxes that United was bound to pay.

Of the apparently $14 million due in taxes in a typical year, Sycamore ends up keeping less than half a million dollars.  That’s a good deal for a small township like Sycamore (pop 17,500) that otherwise wouldn’t get a single penny from UA, but not such a good deal for the RTA.

The problem is that the RTA views the money that Sycamore rebates back to United as not being Sycamore’s to rebate, but rather being money that otherwise would – and still should – flow in largest part on to the RTA.

The agency also pointed out that when it visited United’s so-called business office in Sycamore, it found the office closed and seemingly deserted, with nothing more than a few chairs and empty desks visible through the windows and not even a single computer visible anywhere.  Apparently one person works there, part-time.

The RTA points out that it believes AA is doing the same thing, but says it is too much hassle to sue AA due to its current bankruptcy status.

More details here.

Costa Concordia – One Year Later

Black Friday, 13 January 2012, was when the Costa Concordia ran aground, with the subsequent loss of 34 lives.  A year later, and the ship still lies, listing on a rock ledge, partially submerged and partially not, albeit now with her funnel and some other superstructure removed.  It is thought the (several times delayed) salvage operation may be complete late this summer when the ship is floated away and towed to Sicily for scrapping.

As for the inquiry into the disaster, and the criminal case against the captain and first officer, those are proceeding apace but so far have yet to reach any conclusion.  If found guilty of the various charges arrayed against him, Captain Schettino could be imprisoned for up to 2,500 years.  Other lawsuits are also pending, indeed just this week it was announced that Italian lawyers are filing a criminal complaint against Carnival CEO Micky Arison as well as other American and British directors of Costa’s dual listed parent companies, Carnival Corporation and Carnival PLC.

Lawyers for the passengers on the ill-fated voyage allege that the Carnival directors ‘not only tolerated but promoted’ the ship salute that led to the disaster, viewing it as an appropriate way to entertain the passengers and boost profits.

The criminal complaint will be filed in Grosseto, Italy, by an Italian law firm in Milan.  It names 14 Carnival directors, including Sir John Parker, chairman of Anglo American plc and vice chairman of DP World Limited; Sir Jonathon Band, former First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff; Arnold Donald, president and CEO of the Executive Leadership Council; Debra Kelly-Ennis, former president and CEO of Diageo Canada; and Micky Arison, chief executive of Carnival.

In an unsurprising consequential impact, cruise lines are now being hit with an increase in their insurance premiums.  The premium – which is levied on a measure of each vessel’s gross tonnage (which, confusingly, is a calculation of volume rather than weight) is generally more than doubling this year.  Passenger ships are facing an increase of 125%, compared to 16% for tankers and 39% for dry cargo vessels.

In total, there were 106 ships lost, worldwide, in 2012 – an increase on the 91 lost in 2011, but still less than the ten-year average of 146 ships a year.

Happy 150th Birthday

Continuing an anniversary theme, happy 150th anniversary to London’s Tube – its (mainly) underground metro train system.

London’s underground was the first in the world, with the service starting in 1863.  These days it has been eclipsed by other systems, for example in New York (the most stations – 468) and Seoul (the most passenger track – 350 miles) and Tokyo (most annual passengers – 3.2 billion).  London’s network currently has 270 stations, 250 miles of track, and 1.2 billion passengers a year.

The second metro system appeared in Athens in putative form in 1869, then no more until 1896 when both Budapest and Glasgow opened systems.

More details here.

More Birthdays for the QE2?

Continuing still the further the anniversary theme, we’d reported three weeks ago that it appeared the former Cunard luxury liner, QE2, was about to be sold for scrap to China, in a deal that would see the current owners of the ship break their covenant with Cunard to preserve the vessel for a minimum of ten years since their purchase of it in 2007.

There’s a puzzling and incomplete story now doing the rounds that the ship won’t be taken to China to be scrapped, but rather to be refurbished and turned into a floating hotel.

Details are scarce about exactly where the ship would be based, and who is doing the refurbishment.  Here’s one such report.

It is strange that the new owners would spend a lot of money to restore the engines to working order so the ship could proceed under its own steam to China, rather than just tow the ship to wherever it is to be refurbished.  One hopes this isn’t all a smokescreen to quieten down the protest and controversy about the mooted scrapping of the ship.

What’s Another Zero

Turn GPS on – check.  Turn brain off – also check.  Or so it sometimes seems, with occasional stories appearing of people driving into rivers, into fields, and off the sides of cliffs because their GPS told them that was where to go next.

But at least these people have a single brief flash of – let’s be polite and call it confusion, with an unexpected sudden result, and it occurs when they are somewhere unfamiliar.

But what excuses could be offered to explain this story of a woman in Hainault Erquelinnes, Belgium who wanted to drive to Brussels (also in Belgium), some 90 miles north?  Somehow she programmed her GPS to instead take her to Zagreb in Croatia, some 900 miles in a southerly direction.

The two-hour journey ended up taking her two days, through Germany, Austria and Slovenia before continuing in to Croatia and arriving in Zagreb.

The women explains what happened (our emphasis) :

I was distracted, so I kept driving. I saw all kinds of traffic signs, first in French, then German and finally in Croatian, but I kept driving because I was distracted. Suddenly I appeared in Zagreb and I realized I wasn’t in Belgium anymore.

There is no truth to the rumor we are inviting her to drive our coach on the Balkan Baltic Bucket List Tour this June.

And Lastly This Week….

pizzabReader Peter sent in this picture of the menu he was given at the esteemed Raffles Hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia last week.

It looks like a typical restaurant menu such as you’d see in any middle/upper market restaurant in much of the US and Europe.

At least, it does, but only until you consider exactly which cheeses are offered on the Four Cheese Pizza.  Yummm?

Frequent travelers are familiar with the advice not to drink too much on a flight, because the lower pressure (aka ‘higher altitude’) in an airplane cabin means the alcohol has a stronger effect on one.  You get more drunk on fewer drinks, in other words.

But is this really true?  Here’s an article that equivocates and ends up with a mangled answer – you may not be more drunk, but you might feel more drunk.

As regular readers know, we love gadgets, and like to have the latest and greatest cell phones, tablets, and whatever else.  The same can be said of many others, including a large swathe of people in Japan, a country which seems to enjoy a year or more headstart on the US with most high-tech gadgetry.

But, in among the sea of huge screened new smartphones you’ll see on the streets of downtown Tokyo, you might be surprised to see some otherwise very self-consciously ‘with it’ people lovingly cradling old feature phones made by Fujitsu.  Why is this one old phone still so popular?

The answer may surprise you.  Go click to find out.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels, and if you’re fortunate enough to have a holiday on Monday, whether you celebrate it as Martin Luther King Day (most of the country) or Robert E Lee Day (AL AR GA MS), enjoy the long weekend.






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