Weekly Roundup Friday 25 January 2013

Fire damage around where the battery that exploded was located on the 787 in Boston.
Fire damage around where the battery that exploded was located on the 787 in Boston.

Good morning

It has been an interesting week with the 787 grounding moving into its second week, and showing every sign of probably extending into a third and maybe fourth week too.

I felt the need to ‘keep Boeing honest’ last Friday and published an article in response to its calls for a fast return to service for the planes with what I believe to be a shamefully inadequate ‘solution’.  Fortunately the FAA resisted Boeing’s pressure to allow this procedure to be adopted.  The article follows in today’s newsletter compendium.  There’s an update below in along with everything else.

Also attached to the newsletter is an article I’m quite pleased with.  I read an item on The Economist’s travel blog earlier this week attributing the fall in airfares to the rise in baggage fees.  Now, I’m a fan of The Economist, but something felt wrong about that claim, so I did some digging, and then some more digging, and indeed, in total sent 14 different requests for data to the excellent Bureau of Transportation Statistics, and came up with what I hope you’ll agree is an interesting article that both rebuts the suggestion that we have baggage fees to ‘thank’ for airfare reductions and also looks at why airfares have reduced in the past.

Oh – one other thing that came out as part of the 2,000 word article (complete with not just one or two but eight different charts!) is that the reductions in airfares that often get cited in the popular press – alas, they’re a thing of the past.  In constant inflation adjusted terms, airfares pretty much stopped dropping about a decade ago, and the last three years have seen consistent increases.  Ouch.

Two more items in this introduction.  If you are a Travel Insider Supporter and haven’t yet responded to the survey in the newsletter I sent you earlier this week, and if you have a few minutes free, it would be helpful to get your feedback.  Even if the concept is of no interest/relevance, telling me that is in itself helpful.

Secondly, we now have fourteen people taking this year’s Christmas Markets cruise.  Now, you probably think ‘there’s no need to hurry to decide to join’ and on the face of it, that is true.  But we only have a limited number of cabins allocated to us at the special 40% discount basis, and we only have the 40% discount for a limited period of time.

So if you’d like to enjoy this perennial favorite at the best value ever, and if you’d like a full selection of cabin types, please do hurry to add your name to our list.  I know this will be a great group this year because twelve of the fourteen are Travel Insider alumni, having traveled with me in the past.

One last thing.  I am now unhappily convinced that my decision to switch blog hosting from Go Daddy to In Motion Hosting was a mistake.  I like the faster page serving times, but I can not accept the appalling amount of down time, every day, that this company is complacently causing me to suffer (currently it is averaging about 97% uptime – in other words, down for 43 minutes every day).

Can anyone recommend a better WordPress blog hosting service?

And also this week, please read on for :

  • Reader Survey – Frequent Flier Programs
  • 787 Update
  • World’s Largest Airport to be Built – Guess Where?
  • Firing a CEO
  • Not (yet) Firing a CEO
  • Travel – Good for the Heart?
  • Headphones for Active Lifestyles
  • New NZ Based Cloud/File Storage Service
  • Most Original Justification for a $120 billion High Speed Rail Project
  • Most Expensive Countries to Visit?
  • TSA to Junk its Probably Dangerous X-Ray Scanners
  • Airborne Swatting
  • And Lastly This Week….

Reader Survey – Frequent Flier Programs

Here’s an interesting but incomplete article that hints at a lessening loyalty by fliers to the airlines they preferentially choose.  I say incomplete because we’re not really told how the degree of loyalty has shifted over time.

These types of surveys are notoriously unreliable, for the simple reason that people tend to lie and make themselves out to be more honorable and ethical than they really are, especially when being interviewed in person.  ‘Oh yes, of course I never give any thought to the frequent flier miles when choosing the absolutely lowest fare possible’ people virtuously boast, while the reality may be completely different.

So here’s a completely secret and secure way that you can honestly answer these questions, without any danger at all that your boss, your colleagues, or the people working for you will ever know the ugly truth of your answers.

I’m trying out a new survey format.  Please go to this page and answer the short simple questions.

As always, I’ll share the answers (but of course, not who said what, because even I don’t know that) and some analysis next week.

787 Update

In a way, I sense that the political and commercial issues surrounding the 787’s grounding are – at least in some circles – of at least equal importance as is the imperative need to resolve the pressing safety issues, with an early battle being fought to try and minimize the scope of the review and accelerate the plane’s return to the skies.  That battle was – thankfully – lost.

Certainly, it seems plain the FAA is under pressure for grounding the planes, and also – hopefully – for having approved the 787 in the first place.  If you click no other link in today’s newsletter, do please click to read Ben Sandiland’s thundering damnation of the FAA (and the 787).

It now seems that a Senate committee wishes to get involved in understanding how it was that the FAA allowed Boeing to ‘self-certify’ the safety of its plane with what now seems to be insufficient oversight and checking.  Let’s hope they read Ben’s piece as well.

Boeing, for its part, remains in denial.  It continues to express confidence in the safety of its plane and considers the grounding an unnecessarily drastic step.  Some people might find that reassuring, others might be dismayed that Boeing is so out of touch with the perceptions of most other experts that this is a major issue.  This begs the question – might there be other things that Boeing is also complacently confident about, and which it has largely self-certified, just waiting to surprise us and cause problems?

The NTSB side of the investigation remains strongly assertive of the correctness of grounding the planes, and their chairwoman, Deborah Hersman held a press conference call on Thursday to emphasize the seriousness of the two recent battery fires and her Board’s determination that the planes must not be allowed back into the air until the problem is fully understood and satisfactorily resolved.  Key phrases she employed included ‘unprecedented event’ (the two recent fires and one earlier fire) ‘very concerned’, ‘serious air safety concern’, and that the investigation is far from complete and is likely to take some weeks more time.

This is a good article that talks more about the batteries and the issues with them, and points out another important difference between the Boeing approach and the nearly universal approach adopted by all other Li-ion users.

If you, for example, buy a Tesla motor-car, you have the entire floor of the vehicle filled with Li-ion batteries, but Tesla, along with almost everyone else, uses tiny sized cells, each little more in size than a standard AA ‘penlight’ battery.  There are about 7,000 of these cells in the car.  Smaller cells apparently pose less risk than bigger cells.  But Boeing decided not to go that route, preferring instead a few large cells, an approach generally considered to be riskier by most battery users.

So Boeing has the biggest cells – and with the riskiest type of Li-ion design.  What a terrible doubling of risks, all to save an insignificant few pounds of weight in the half million pound plane, while – as is now a matter of clear fact rather than abstract probability – adding greatly to the danger factor and risk of airplane losses.

Does Boeing not understand that technological advances must remain on the safe side of the ledger?  Any fool can develop a new ‘better’ technology that is also burdened with unacceptable risks.  The key is to come up with improved technology that doesn’t simultaneously sacrifice safety.

Boeing continues to trot out its hollow expression ‘The safety of passengers and crew members who fly aboard Boeing airplanes is our highest priority’.  Perhaps the spokesmen who regularly offer this empty statement could reconcile that with their decision to double down on risk with their battery design choices.  And perhaps a journalist with balls could ask them that question at their next press conference, rather than slavishly writing it down and repeating it without comment in their article.

A cynic would be unsurprised how the investigation initially proceeded.  In Japan (where the batteries are made), investigators pursued concerns that maybe the batteries were okay, but overcharged by the (non-Japanese) charging circuitry; while in the US investigators pursued concerns over the batteries while accepting the charging circuity’s validity.

One last thing about this.  It is great to see the main stream media finally starting to pick up on the interesting fact (mentioned in my article last week) that one of these batteries that are used in the 787s exploded in a 2006 test, creating such a virulent fire that the entire building burned to the ground.

World’s Largest Airport to be Built – Guess Where?

Just a month or two ago we reported on the new gargantuan airport to be built in next to no time in Beijing.  Now we can tell you about a new airport project, announced this week, and which will result in the world’s largest airport, to be built in four stages, with the first stage to be open a mere three or possibly four years from now (some accounts say 2016, others 2017).

Can you guess where this airport will be constructed?  It will have a capacity of 150 million passengers a year when completed, and is being constructed in a metropolitan area that already has two airports that handle, between them, 60 million passengers.

I don’t care what/where you’re guessing, you’re almost certainly wrong.  If you’d like a clue, the country’s flag carrier is the airline that flies to more countries than any other airline.

Read on for the answer, a couple of page downs further in the newsletter.

Firing a CEO

Talking about airports, Berlin’s new airport, cursed with the unwieldy name of Berlin Brandenburg Willi Brandt, was scheduled to open for flights back in 2010.  Initial planning for a new airport to serve the unified Berlin started in 1990, and in 1996 the location that will now become Brandenburg Airport was settled upon.

Ten years of objections and appeals through the courts followed before a 2006 final decision anointing that location as the definite for-sure site.  Construction started that year.

The first director for technical affairs was fired later that year, because the project was already off to a bad start, but the CEO survived that and several subsequent issues and delays and embarrassing failures to meet promised completion dates.

But last week, after the fourth ‘official delay’ and latest revised ETA for the airport’s opening, the new airport’s CEO was fired, and the airport’s opening was deemed to be unlikely to occur any time this year.

This week has seen yet another setback, with a court decision finding the airport has failed to sufficiently assess the risk of plane crashes on the approach path in/out of the airport and over Berlin’s Wannsee suburb.  The airport’s opening is not now expected until 2015.

So the project looks likely to take more than twice the anticipated time to be completed.  Nine years instead of four.  Unsurprisingly, that’s not the only thing that might be more than twice what was originally anticipated.  The construction cost, initially set at €2.83 billion, has so far exceeded €4.3 billion, and there’s clearly another two years (and possibly longer) still to go.  Ooops.

Not (yet) Firing a CEO

Ryanair’s CEO, Michael O’Leary, has made himself into an ultra-high visibility icon for the airline he heads.  Other CEOs have of course occasionally done similar things, both within and outside the airline industry, with perhaps the most notable current example, standing out from the sea of grey suits, being Sir Richard Branson and his various Virgin branded airlines.

But unlike Sir Richard, who enjoys the more gentle art of subtle innuendo and gung-ho underdog bravado, O’Leary delights in being as offensively rude as possible.  His press conference in which he described a proposed (but yet to eventuate) trans-Atlantic service as offering ‘Beds and …’ (we’re much too genteel to refer to the alliterative other item proposed but click the link or search for it on Youtube if you want to actually see/hear him discussing it in great glee) is just one classic example.  There are plenty more where he delights in insulting everyone from his hosts at conferences to the public at large to individual passengers in particular.

Clearly he is a proponent of the belief that all publicity is good publicity.  And, equally clearly, to date he has been close to correct, benefitting from splurges of free publicity for himself and his airline every time he makes some offensive comment.

It now comes to light that he is similarly insulting in private as he is in public.  In a series of letters between himself and Ireland’s Aviation Commissioner, O’Leary offers up a series of insults, culminating in calling the Commissioner a Village Idiot.  These letters subsequently somehow found their way into the press.

Until now, O’Leary has been running on a very long leash, with his Board of Directors passively happy to sit back and enjoy the show.  But possibly O’Leary has finally managed to go one insult too far, with the Chairman of the Board now publicly expressing his unhappiness with the nature of the correspondence and requiring O’Leary to tone down any future correspondence.

Normally, most CEOs would find it difficult to honorably stay in their position after such a public admonishment by their Chairman, speaking on behalf of the Board in general.  But one thing is for sure – Michael O’Leary ain’t no ordinary CEO, and perhaps as long as he continues to ‘deliver the bacon’ his board will allow him to continue to act like a pig.

Travel – Good for the Heart?

It is probably fair to say that leisure travel is a major personal indulgence.  You spend thousands of dollars for an experience that leaves you with nothing but some junky souvenirs, some photos of things and people you’ll have forgotten all about in a year or two’s time, and little else.

Now of course we’re not saying this makes travel a bad thing.  Quite the opposite!  Life is all about what Abraham Maslow so famously referred to as ‘Self Actualization’, and travel is definitely an example of that, an activity correctly at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

It is interesting however the lengths some people go to in order to justify their travel experiences and expenses, both to other people and to themselves.

Capitalizing on this is a cacophonously ugly new website published by the US Travel Association.  According to the USTA, travel can almost halve your chance of a heart attack, promote happy marriages, and do many other great things.

So, if you need to be persuaded to join us on one of our tours this year – to the Balkans and Baltic in June, to North Korea in September, or along the Danube Christmas Markets this December, please visit the USTA website and see why you need to come join us.

World’s Largest Airport – Answer

Did you guess it?  The clue about the airline may have helped.  The airline is Turkish Airlines and the city is Istanbul.

This is just one more indication that the biggest and best of just about everything is moving away from the US and the western world.  How extraordinary that Istanbul (a contender for the 2020 Olympic Games) should be constructing the world’s largest airport.

To put the 150 million passenger capacity into context, currently the world’s busiest airport is Atlanta.  For the last full year analyzed (2011), ATL handled 92 million passengers.  Beijing Capital was second (77 million) and Heathrow third (69 million).

There is some ambiguity about Istanbul’s valid claim for this title, and we’ll have to wait and see the reality of it, because the new Beijing Daxing Airport is reported to have a projected passenger capacity of somewhere between 120 million and 200 million passengers a year.  Depending on if it comes in at the low or high-end of that range will depend on which airport gains the title.

Amazingly, the cost of this huge airport in Istanbul is being stated as only $5.6 billion.  Compare that to the $5.8 billion spent – so far – on the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport, which is projected to handle a mere 25 million passengers a year, and the $11.2 billion budgeted for Beijing Daxing Airport.

More details here.

Headphones for Active Lifestyles

A friend asked me recently if I could recommend headphones that wouldn’t fall out while running or exercising in the gym or doing other activities.

I’m not quite sure why he asked me, as I’m very seldom to be seen running, and even less frequently in a gym, but that reminded me of some headphones I got a while ago and find both comfortable and reasonably securely affixed to one’s ears.  These are the Wicked Audio Helix earbuds – they are light and they are held in place by a behind the ear retaining piece rather than requiring to be jammed uncomfortably tight into your ears.

At a discounted cost of only $13 on Amazon, they’re pretty much a no-brainer.  Sound is about as good as you can expect, and they are both secure and reasonably comfortable.

New NZ Based Cloud/File Storage Service

Clearly you have a computer, or else you’d not be reading this.  Maybe (and – ooops – maybe not) you also have some type of regular backup procedure for your data.

In my case, my data is being continuously and automatically backed up to an external hard drive, conveniently next to my computer.  So I’m safe, right?  My computer can die any which way, or be stolen, or whatever, and I’ve got a full backup copy of everything, ready to reload onto a new computer?

Hopefully you disagree with that suggestion.  Hopefully you said ‘But, David, what if a thief steals your computer, and also the nice attractive looking external hard drive right next to it?’.  Or maybe you said ‘But, David, what if you have another house fire, and both your computer and your backup burn down?’  Or, for that matter, any one of a dozen other mishaps that impact on both the computer and the backup, located close to it.

If you have a similar approach to backup – ie, exclusively ‘on site’ then you have similar vulnerabilities.  Okay – so, in my case, I occasionally take an extra backup copy and secure it in my massive safe that is allegedly fire-proof and burglar-proof, and hopefully Feinstein-proof as well.

There’s another approach to backing up, and that is copying your data ‘into the cloud’.  This has the huge benefit of having your data available anywhere at anytime, but comes with potentially non-trivial monthly costs for renting the online storage.

How would you like 50GB of online storage ‘in the cloud’ for free?  And the lowest rates of anywhere for extra storage space, if needed?  That’s the promise of a new service, based in New Zealand, that launched this last weekend – Mega.co.nz.

The service is the brainchild of a person with the unlikely name of Kim Dotcom – he is actually German, but now resident in New Zealand and he changed his name by deed poll.  His earlier business, Megaupload, was unilaterally closed down by US authorities under some rather weak legal authority that is collapsing with each successive round of litigation, but meantime, Dotcom has started up this new and improved service which he feels will avoid the liability issues he may have incurred last time.

You really need to use the Chrome browser to get best results with the service.  I’ve had consistent problems with the service this week, doubtless due to its meteoric growth – it gained 100,000 users in the first day, and claims to now have over half a million, and to be experiencing more traffic than its huge and well-established competitor, Dropbox.

But hopefully those issues will diminish and the service will stabilize, and meanwhile I’m filling up my free 50GB with backup data, ‘just in case’.  You should, too.

I’d never risk putting my only copy of something on Mega or any other cloud site – thousands of people who did that previously with Megaupload are currently left in the lurch due to the FBI turning off that service, for everyone, not just those people accused of sharing copyrighted files.

But as another backup of data I already have copied elsewhere, and now as a convenient way to access things like pictures and relevant data files, it is a helpful service at a great price.

Most Original Justification for a $120 billion High Speed Rail Project

California – take note.  We’ve repeatedly pointed out the appalling shortfall between what California has been promising its residents and what it may actually deliver when it comes to its proposed High Speed Rail project, a close on $100 billion project (depending on what you choose to believe) that might create about 430 miles of high-speed rail service between Los Angeles and San Francisco.  Our most recent of many articles is here.

However, that project has nothing on Britain’s controversial ‘High Speed 2’ project, which according to this article will, in its first phase, cover a mere 90 miles but at a cost of $120 billion.  That’s an incredible cost of $252,000 for every foot of track, and six times more than the Californian project is currently anticipated to cost (per foot).

Not only the cost, but the route – running through the heart of some of England’s most beautiful countryside – has occasioned a lot of concern in Britain.  Unlike leisurely Amtrak trains that amble past in a tranquil and relaxed manner, high-speed trains create a lot of impact on their surroundings – not only might they consume more energy than a plane (see our attached article on air fares for an apocryphal discussion on that) but they have at least as much noise impact, and not just where they start and finish, but all along the route as well.

It is a curious thing that the same people who one day campaign for train travel as more eco-friendly than air travel now find themselves, on alternate days, campaigning against train travel.  No – horse and cart is no good either – horses probably release more carbon materials both into the atmosphere and onto the road, per passenger mile, than do trains or planes.

So the British government’s latest justification for this extraordinarily expensive project (it represents a cost of $2000 for every person currently living in Britain) is that building this high-speed rail line from London to Birmingham will not only create slightly faster trains (the present service is, by US standards, already blindingly fast – the 90 miles takes 72 minutes currently and would reduce down to 49 minutes), but it will also facilitate the roll-out of high-speed internet and ‘faster water’.

We’re not entirely convinced of the article’s accuracy (for example, it talks about the rail line going through the Cotswolds, but that is wrong, the line goes through the Chilterns, not the Cotswolds) but the thought that building a $112 billion short piece of rail track is the best way to route high-speed internet or ‘faster water’ rather beggars belief.

Most Expensive Countries to Visit?

Continuing the concept of extravagance, here’s another of the lists that appear with dubious provenance, claiming to list (in this case) the most expensive countries in the world to visit.

Of the 42 countries surveyed, the most expensive five countries were South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, China and Canada.

How ridiculously wrong is that?  Well, one could also ask how unsurprisingly wrong is that – the list was created on the basis of a strange basket of eight costs :  a coffee, a beer, a packet of cigarettes, a can of Coke, a glass of wine, suncream, a bottle of water, and a three-course meal for two.

It is hard to know where and how to critique that list other than to point out, for example, that a much larger budget item for most tourists than the amount they have allocated to bottles of water or suncream is surely accommodation costs.  And local transportation/sightseeing.  And so on and so on.

How many tubes of suncream do you even buy on vacation (I always buy mine at home before traveling).  And with much less than half of us smoking, and those of us who do typically loading up with cigarettes as they go through duty free, is the cost of a packet of cigarettes – a cost which reflects more of the country’s social attitude to smoking than underlying typical costs of living – a sensible measure either?

But if your travel plans revolve solely around these eight items, buying equal quantities of each and nothing else at all, then by all means be sure to avoid these five countries.

TSA to Junk its Probably Dangerous X-Ray Scanners

Oh no, the TSA isn’t saying they made a mistake when they purchased 250 probably dangerous whole-body x-ray scanners and deployed them at airports around the country, while failing to observe the requirements imposed on it by law and subsequently affirmed by court order (which it has consistently ignored) to first enter into a period of public consultation.

Neither is it saying that the machines might be dangerous, either to us or to their own staff.  The TSA is sticking to its guns and saying ‘trust us, we refuse to prove it, but trust us – the machines are perfectly safe’.

Neither is it accepting that the machines simply do not work as advertised.  The TSA still prefers to pretend that Youtube videos showing a student smuggling metal objects through the X-ray scanners didn’t happen, and still prefers to ignore leading airport security consultants who consistently claim the units to be full of loopholes and weaknesses.

Neither is the TSA taking note of the fact that only Australia also uses the machines, and that they are forbidden to be used in all of Europe and not used in the rest of the world, with the Israelis in particular rolling their eyes at any suggestion of deploying X-ray people scanners.

Instead, the TSA is saying that due to the fault of the manufacturer (Rapiscan), which is unable to update the machine’s software by a capriciously set deadline imposed on it by the TSA, the agency is forced to junk all the machines and replace them with millimeter wave radio scanners instead (another technology of dubious safety, but vastly better than the X-ray machines).

So let’s all graciously allow the TSA to save face.  Oh no, they didn’t just admit to having flaunted the laws, violated prudent procedure, normal practice, and ignored authoritatively stated concerns about the health and safety impacts of the machines.  And the hundreds of millions of dollars consumed by purchasing, installing and operating, then subsequently junking the machines again is not wasted.  Oh no.  Besides which, the TSA assures us it is confident of selling the machines on to other users.

You might wonder – who in their right mind would choose to accept these machines at any price?  They don’t work, they’re dangerous, and they’re inefficient.  You couldn’t pay me to take one.

Who indeed?  The TSA expects them to be sold to other government agencies….

More details here.

Airborne Swatting

There’s a new craze, particularly in the Los Angeles area.  It is called SWATing.  A person dials 911 and places a phoney call, claiming they’ve heard multiple guns shots, screams, and general mayhem, and possibly seen multiple armed offenders who have taken over a residence, created a hostage situation, and so on.

This excites the police department sufficiently to immediately deploy their SWAT team, which typically then rushes at full speed to break into the reported location, loaded for bear, and ready to shoot anyone and anything that moves, much to the surprise and chagrin of the residents, who have been quietly at home doing nothing out of the ordinary.

Ha ha.  Big joke, right?  Apparently movie stars in particular are being the focus of these hoax SWAT calls.

Such behavior has now been taken to the next level.  As this article reports, a hoax caller phoned the Seattle FBI reporting a suspicious passenger on a flight from Hawaii in to Seattle.

You’ll be astonished to learn that an anonymous call, with no other validation or verification, resulted in two fighters being scrambled to ‘assist’ the plane in to Seattle (translation – to shoot it down at the slightest imagined provocation), and an unknown number of FBI agents swarming the plane upon its landing in Seattle, detaining the passenger accused of being a terrorist, and interrogating him for almost three and a half hours before letting him go.

The man was of course totally innocent of anything and everything, and had been doing nothing other than sleep peacefully in his seat for almost the entire flight.

The FBI now have another case to work on.  Trying to work out who the anonymous caller was, so they can charge him with a federal crime.

Question :  Do you really think this was a sensible response?  To take the uncorroborated word of an anonymous tipster – to not even attempt to get any details of who the informant was; to then scramble two fighter jets and tell them to be prepared to shoot down the plane, to despatch a team of many agents to the airport, surge onto the plane, and then detain an innocent sleepy passenger for almost three and a half hours and force him to prove he was innocent before letting him go?

Let’s try to guess the conversation the FBI may have had with the Air Force.

FBI :  Ummm, yeah, could you scramble your ready alert fighters and send them out to intercept the Alaska flight from Kona to Seattle.  There’s a suspected terrorist on board who we believe is about to hijack the plane.  Make sure weapons are hot and free.

AF :  Roger that, sir.  Ah – we have a checklist we need to complete before we can do this.  Sorry about that, do you mind if I ask you a few questions first?

FBI :  I guess that’s okay, but we can’t reveal anything secret, and this is an emergency.  Can you get the planes rolling and let’s do the paperwork later?

AF :  Well, sir, you see, it costs us $20,000 an hour for each of these fighters.  You’re asking us to spend at least $50,000 on this sortie, and advising us to be prepared to shoot a plane full of passengers down.  You’re in the government too, you know how it goes.  We’ve got to fill out the ‘Approval to Kill 200 Civilians’ form first.

FBI :  Okay, but make it quick.  Every minute we delay brings the plane 8 miles closer to crashing into a tall building somewhere – maybe even the Federal Building.  OMG, I’m on an upper floor!

AF :  Sure thing.  Now, let’s see, nature of threat?

FBI :  Come on, we’ve already told you that, a terrorist who is about to hijack the plane.

AF :  Okay, now how did the terrorist get through TSA screening?

FBI :  We’ve no time for jokes!

AF :  Heh, you’re right.  Okay, so, how do you know this guy is a terrorist if he hasn’t yet attempted to hijack the plane?

FBI :  We’re the FBI.  It’s our job to know these things.

AF :  I don’t know how to put that down on the form.  Could you tell me specifically how you know this?

FBI :  We had an anonymous tip-off.

AF :  I’m sorry, I’ve got to fill this form out and it is requiring me to show the informant’s name, address, date of birth, and super secret government file identifier.  Do you have those details?

FBI :  What part of anonymous don’t you understand?

AF :  Oh yeah.  Alright then, next line – credibility of threat?

FBI :  We’ve no time for this nonsense.  Scramble the planes.  I’ve got to go, I’m off to lead the HRT squad at the airport, and it takes forever to get through security.  This tango’s going down, baby.  Down.

AF :  Just a few more questions.  So, let’s see.  Have you spoken to anyone on the plane?

FBI :  Yup, we’ve done that.  Come on now, launch the fighters.  We’ll come back to the paperwork later.

AF :  We’re nearly finished.  And what did they tell you on the plane?

FBI :  I need to speak to your commanding officer.  You’re deliberately obstructing a priority national security alert.

AF :  I’m sorry, sir.  I promise, this will be the last question.  What report did you get from the plane?

FBI :  Of course we spoke to the pilot and the lead cabin attendant.  Don’t you think we know our jobs?  The terrorist is really tricky.  He is not drawing attention to himself – the crew didn’t even realize he was a terrorist.  He is pretending to be asleep – even making real snoring sounds.  I tell you, this guy has got to go down.  Now get those planes airborne!

AF :  Could you call your informant back and make sure you’re focusing on the right flight and the right guy.  Something doesn’t sound right here.

FBI :  We’ve no time for that!  We didn’t waste time with irrelevant details like how to call the informant back.  As soon as our receptionist finished talking to him, she called me, I called the plane, confirmed the threat, and now I’m calling you.

AF :  Why don’t you just have the cabin crew restrain this person?  Do you really need two fighter jets – all we can do is shoot the plane down?

FBI :  Do you think I’m a fool?  Of course I know that!  This is s a national security matter that I’m not authorized to reveal.  I’m requiring you to scramble the fighters and intercept the flight.  Enough of the stupid questions.

AF :  Yes sir!

Just remember – it might be you next time.  Add an overly excited police officer or fighter pilot, or the airplane pilot asleep at his controls or ‘distracted by working out his crewing schedule on his company laptop’, and this could end in a mass tragedy – all because of an anonymous tipoff from an unknown third-party.

It is a funny thing how due process has evolved, isn’t it.

And Lastly This Week….

London’s new Shard skyscraper opened this last week, with a sightseeing observation deck at the top, offering what it claims to be the best view of London.  Whether or not it is the best view is a matter of opinion (I’ve yet to come across an old city that looks very interesting from high up – all you see are boring rooftops) but it is definitely the highest view.

And one of the most distinctive views in the Shard can be enjoyed, ummm, very ‘conveniently’.  Details here.

If for some reason you like high places, here’s another travel opportunity for you.  Just remember, as you stare down at the heartstopping view beneath you, that travel is good for your heart.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels






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Usually weekly, since 2001, we publish a roundup of travel and travel related technology developments, and often a feature article too.

You’ll stay up to date with the latest and greatest (and cautioned about the worst) developments.  You’ll get information to help you choose and become a better informed traveler and consumer, how to best use new technologies, and at times, will learn of things that might entertain, amuse, annoy or even outrage you.

We’re very politically incorrect and love to point out the unrebutted hypocrisies and unfairnesses out there.

This is all entirely free (but you’re welcome to voluntarily contribute!), and should you wish to, easy to cancel.

We’re not about to spam you any which way and as you can see, we don’t ask for any information except your email address and how often you want to receive our newsletters.

Newsletter Signup - Welcome!

Thanks for choosing to receive our newsletters.  We hope you’ll enjoy them and become a long-term reader, and maybe on occasion, add comments and thoughts of your own to the newsletters and articles we publish.

We’ll send you a confirmation email some time in the next few days to confirm your email address, and when you reply to that, you’ll then be on the list.

All the very best for now, and welcome to the growing “Travel Insider family”.