Weekly Roundup Friday 15 February 2013

The 787's grounding has now reached one calendar month, with no end in sight.
The 787’s grounding has now reached one calendar month, with no end in sight.

Good morning

We are now on Day 31 of the Boeing 787 grounding, with most of the media starting to lose interest in the subject, and little now visibly happening.  But we’ve got an update for you below, and also feature the startling – very startling – results of last week’s reader survey about if you’ll fly the 787 once it is certified ‘safe’ again as a second item appended to this week’s roundup.

The big news this week is the increasingly anticipated formal announcement of the AA/US merger.  If you enjoy drinking airline Koolaid, you’ll agree with them that this will be a boon for everyone who travels.

But if you’re a little less receptive to airline propaganda and can think for yourself, you’ll realize that the further collapse of the US airline industry now down to three mainline carriers plus Southwest and a few assorted much smaller airlines is nothing bad but bad news for us all.

Anyway, please read on for :

  • Single Travelers Sought
  • Christmas Markets Cruise – Only Two Weeks Until Close-Off
  • 787 Grounding Update
  • Airline Safety – Better than Ever
  • US/AA Merger Now Confirmed
  • Some Airline Alliance Lies Exposed
  • Singapore Airlines – Doomed by its Geography?
  • Warrantless and Suspicionless Search of Your Devices Approved by DHS
  • Man Arrested and Charged with Felony for Having Peanut Butter at TSA Security
  • The Dumbing Down of Everything
  • Carnival Triumph Disaster
  • And Lastly This Week….

Single Travelers Sought

We now have both a single gent and a single lady for the first part of the Balkan & Baltic Bucket List tour, each hoping to find a share companion for the tour.  And we have a single lady on the Christmas cruise also looking for a room-mate too.

Let me know if you’d be interested in joining either of these folks on either tour, and saving on the single supplement.

Christmas Markets Cruise – Only Two Weeks Until Close-Off

Could I remind you of our lovely Christmas Markets Cruise this coming December.

We have grown to become a wonderful group of 27 Travel Insiders all eagerly looking forward to this trip, and with two weeks and two cabins remaining available at the gloriously generous 40% discount, you still have a chance to join us.  Sure, you can also choose to come at any time subsequently, too, but the 40% discount is scheduled to expire at the end of February.

So save yourself $1000 or more per person, and join us for this, the most popular of all our Travel Insider tours, and for what seems likely to be our best ever Christmas Markets cruise.  The best ever ship, the best ever Prague extension, the best ever value, and, at least for the 27 people coming so far, the best ever group of Travel Insiders too (and that’s saying something, because all our groups are good).

787 Grounding Update

Until this week, Boeing has proudly referred to the 787 as ‘the most extensively tested plane ever’ but now that claim is not being so regularly trotted out, with continued concern as to the level of ‘self certification’ that Boeing was allowed to provide, and the veracity of the testing assumptions that went into its self-certification.

This article is interesting because it reveals that the usual FAA standard for safety issues is no more than one failure per billion flight hours.  That’s an impressively high standard, for sure, but somehow, inexplicably, the FAA agreed to reduce its high standard one hundred fold, requiring a mere 10 million hours between failures for the 787 battery system.

The observed reality, so far, has been two failures in 100,000 hours.

Two obvious questions – why did the FAA allow a one hundred times increase in risk by deprecating its standard in the first place, and how could Boeing have estimated the risk so wrongly in the second place?

The earlier optimistic claims by Boeing and its supporters that the planes would be back in the air in no time at all are now starting to be less frequently heard, and instead debate is focused not on how many days or weeks, but rather on how many weeks or months the planes will remain grounded.

Boeing is apparently giving some guidance to some customers, telling them to expect delays in deliveries, while other customers seem to still be confidently expecting their planes on whatever the current schedule may suggest.  This article suggests that British Airways expects to start receiving its 787s – scheduled for delivery starting in May – more or less as scheduled.

Although BA are told not to worry, Boeing is starting to ‘fess up to other airlines and tell them that even though it is still making the planes at its standard assembly line speed, it probably won’t be in a position to deliver them as and when promised.  In particular Norwegian Air Shuttle was expecting its 787 deliveries to start in April, and only a few weeks ago were claiming they would still get their planes on schedule, but are now saying they have been told by Boeing to expect delays.

Over in Toulouse, word is coming out that Airbus might be rethinking its plans to use any type of Lithium-ion battery in its new A350 planes.

Currently Airbus says that it is developing both a traditional (nickel cadmium) battery system for the plane as well as a Lithium-ion battery solution.  Until last week, the manufacturer had insisted it was completely confident in its Lithium-ion battery design, but now it is hedging its bets and has indicated that it is developing both types of battery systems in parallel.

Update – on Thursday Airbus stopped ‘placing a bet each way’ and said it was concentrating solely on a Ni-Cad type battery for the A350.

Meanwhile, the ICAO – the UN organization involved in global aviation safety – is seeking to tighten up the restrictions on the carriage of Lithium-ion batteries as freight, as explained here.  This will have the bizarre result that 787s would not be allowed to carry their own batteries as freight.

On Sunday, Boeing triumphantly carried out a ‘successful’ test flight of a 787, and it has had at least one more ‘test’ flight subsequently.

Presumably by ‘successful’ Boeing means that the plane didn’t crash or burn, before, during, or after the flight.  Whether their knowledge of battery problems was advanced at all by the flight is unclear, and one wonders if the event might not have been staged for the media, simply to show that a 787 could indeed fly for a couple of hours without untoward events occurring.

Meanwhile, although we were told a couple of weeks ago that the batteries were no longer suspected as the cause of the problems, the slightly strange logic behind that is unraveling.  Maybe it was something else that was the original start of the chain of events, but, semantic pedantry to one-side, no-one can deny that it was the battery itself that was the source of the heat, the smoke, and the flames.

There’s a new thought as to what may have caused the battery failures.  Dendrites.  Here’s a strange article all about dendrites, but it leads off with the seemingly contradictory statement that they are not a focus of the NTSB probe of the batteries.

There’s one amazing thing that might seem counter-intuitive to the mess of the 787.  Boeing’s share price.  On Friday 11 Jan, the FAA made its ‘We’re investigating the 787 approval process but everything is perfectly safe’ announcement, and on Wednesday 16th, the plane was grounded.

Now have a look at the last month of this three-month share price chart for Boeing.  Notwithstanding a solid month of wall to wall bad news, and its darling new plane remaining forlornly on the ground, as best I can tell, the share price now is higher than it was on 16 Jan.


So perhaps the lack of action by Boeing’s Board of Directors is not untoward after all, although this opinion piece roundly (and to my mind, deservedly) castigates the directors for their passive non participation.

In other Boeing related news, it had to report about a possible engine problem that has occurred 32 times on its NG series of 737 planes in the last five years.  Boeing can’t really be blamed for engine-related events, but it is more bad news at a time the company could well do without bad news.  Details here.

Airline Safety – Better than Ever

Although you could be excused for thinking otherwise, particularly after the wall to wall bad news for the last 31 days to do with the 787, the happy truth is – and particularly from a US-centric perspective, air travel has never been safer.

It is now a couple of days over four years since the last fatal airline/airplane crash in the US, the longest interval in over 50 years.  Internationally, 2012 was the best since 1945, with 23 deadly accidents and ‘only’ 475 deaths.

Over the last five years, the risk of dying on a passenger flight in the US has been one death per 45 million flights – or, if you find this alternate statement of risk even more reassuring, you could fly every day for 123,000 years before being in a fatal crash.  Details here.

US/AA Merger Now Confirmed

For more than a year, US Airways has been patiently stalking and wooing American Airlines, its creditors, and its staff and unions, creating an implacable and eventually irresistible pressure on the airline and ultimately getting AA to agree to be merged into/bought out by US Airways.

Just as when America West Airlines reverse merged with US Airways in 2005 and adopted the larger airline’s name, the same will happen here with the combined airline now to be known as American Airlines.

So, at the turn of the 21st century, we had ten major US carriers.  Today we have the big three – AA, DL and UA, plus Southwest (WN) and then some very much smaller airlines such as Jetblue, Virgin America, and Alaska Airlines.

It is no coincidence to note that the three major/international US airlines each belong to one of the three international alliances – AA with Oneworld, DL with Skyteam and UA with Star.

There’s not a lot to be said that isn’t obvious about this latest consolidation in the industry.  While you could argue somewhat over the exact count of ‘meaningful/major’ airlines now based in the US, you can’t argue that there is a much greater concentration of market share in just four airlines now than ever before.

You also can’t argue that this will benefit us – passengers – at all, and while the airlines all unite in agreement that bigger is better in terms of their potential profitability, there is precious little hard evidence to support that either.

Joe Brancatelli puts it wonderfully when he says, talking about the standard series of claims made to support all airline mergers (the bracketed comments are also part of his narrative) :

The combined carriers will grow and continue all routes and maintain their service standards. (A lie.) Employees are going to be just fine. (A lie.)  Your frequent flyer miles are safe. (True, so long as you don’t consider the value of your miles in a combined carrier.)  There’ll be billions of dollars of merger synergies. (The airline equivalent of pols saying they will cut the federal budget by “eliminating waste, fraud and abuse.”)

It is interesting to see how air fares stopped their steady fall about ten years ago, and since then have steadied and now started to increase.  From 1979, when the airlines were deregulated, through about 2003, airfares dropped, in real inflation adjusted terms, to almost half what they were at their peak at the start of deregulation.

But as competition has dwindled, airfares have steadied and now, with competition at a historic low, airfares have now started to steadily climb at rates greater than inflation.  This trend can be seen in one of the charts illustrating my recent article on airfare trends.

If the past couple of mergers have indeed created cost savings and efficiencies and synergies, it sure hasn’t flowed through to the ticket prices we have to pay.  There’s no reason to expect any different this time.

Some Airline Alliance Lies Exposed

It is relevant to note that no airline has ever said to the DoT or DoJ ‘Please let us join this alliance so that we can screw the passengers and make undeserved profits due to reduced competition’.

Instead, their applications have always been based on being ‘stronger competitors’ and giving much greater customer convenience.  Hassle-free seamless transfers between flights on one alliance partner and the next was one such benefit often cited in support of being allowed to join these competition-killing alliances.

So last week I got to experience the ‘benefit’ of an alliance in person.  I was booked to fly to London on Delta, and then decided to continue my travels on to central Asia without stopping in London at all.  The easiest way to do this was to change from the Delta flight in to Heathrow to an Aeroflot flight (SU) on out of Heathrow three hours later.

Both DL and SU are full members of the Skyteam alliance.  So I rang up Delta happily, looking forward to the wondrous convenience I’d experience changing flights from the Delta plane to the Aeroflot plane.

Me :  Will you please check my bag from Seattle all the way through to my destination, without me needing to collect it at LHR and recheck in for my SU flights?

DL Agent :  No, you’ll have to clear immigration and customs, collect your bag, leave the secured area of the terminal, check your bag in for your next flight on SU, get a new boarding pass, go back through security and then board your next flight.

Me :  But, wait.  Aren’t you and SU both full Skyteam alliance partners?

DL :  Yes, we are.

Me :  So doesn’t that mean you’ll through-check my bags?

DL :  Only if the SU flights are part of the DL ticket.

Me :  Well, can you now ticket my SU flights for me?

DL :  No.

Me :  So how do I get my bags through checked on your alliance partner?

DL :  You can’t.

Another part of the great tissue of lies that surrounds the claimed benefits of alliances relates to that unholy abomination – code share flights.  These are supposed to make it easier for us – don’t ask me how.

So, changing my focus now from the Aeroflot option, I decided I wanted to fly on both Delta and its Air France codeshares to my ultimate destination.  The only problem was that Delta’s computer system refused to acknowledge the existence of one of the AF/DL codeshares.  It would correctly offer the flights, but when I went to book them, I was told that one of the flights (it wouldn’t tell me which of the three or four flights involved) was unavailable or not operating that day (even though it was).

There was no way I could ‘get there from here’ due to the missing flight in the DL system.  Or maybe it wasn’t missing, but instead was ‘full’ on the DL side of the codeshare, and so ‘for my convenience’ was no longer showing in their availability displays, even though the AF website showed available seats on whatever part of the plane was available for AF to sell.  Who only knows!

Well, maybe a travel agent would know.  So I decided to get professional help.

One other thing that has changed since the ‘good old days’.  In the good old days, any passenger could book flights with an airline and then ‘release the record’ to any accredited travel agency to be worked on some more, changed, and ticketed.

I decided I needed a real live travel agent to help me solve the increasingly nightmarish problems with trying to complete my travels based on what I already had booked with Delta.  So I called up Delta and asked them to release the record to my chosen travel agent.

Delta refused to do so.

Whereas, a decade and more ago, any airline would release any record to any travel agency, and even the pay full commission when the travel agency issued the tickets, now not only do most airlines not pay any commission, but it seems they won’t even allow travel agencies to work on bookings for free.

That’s mean-minded of Delta in the extreme.  It has also cost them almost 30 minutes of one of their call center agents’ time on the phone with me (so far).

Singapore Airlines – Doomed by its Geography?

Singapore Airlines recently announced its latest quarterly result.  The good news – they made a S$131 million (US$106 million) profit.  The bad news – this was 17% down on the same quarter last year.

Always insightful Australian blogger Ben Sandilands offers up a very interesting analysis of this outcome.  When stripped of the necessarily Australian-centered perspective, Ben’s comments are stark and incontrovertible.

His points are that, until fairly recently, Singapore, the destination, was the pre-eminent center of Asian commerce, and Singapore, the transit point, was a logical and essential stopping-off/refueling/plane-changing part of many itineraries from many parts of the world to many other parts of the world.  Plus, for a bonus third point, and again until recently Singapore (the city/state) has had few low-cost airlines available as alternates to Singapore Airlines (SQ).

All three of these circumstances are massively and probably permanently changing.  How can Singapore Airlines respond?  Ben has no ideas or suggestions, and I fear, neither does SQ itself, either.

What does an airline do when technology and global shifts of power make its sole hub obsolete, and when competitive forces provide new solutions?  You might say ‘invest in other airlines’ and in that context it is interesting to note that rather than investing more in third-party airlines from elsewhere in the world, SQ recently sold its 49% stake in Virgin Atlantic.

Will the ‘Singapore Girl’ remain an iconic part of our future?  Read Ben’s excellent article and then come to terms with the inevitable answer to this question.

Warrantless and Suspicionless Search of Your Devices Approved by DHS

Your ‘rights’ (alas, note the scare quotes) to privacy when you travel through airports have been either a grey or black area for some time.  We all know, and generally accept, that we need to submit to some form of inconvenient, intrusive, and largely unnecessary ‘security screening’ when entering the secured area of an airport.

And we also understand that, in the interests of allowing countries to preserve their national security in the many forms it takes, we have to allow Customs to search our bags, looking variously for prohibited and dangerous items we might be seeking to smuggle in to the country we’re arriving in.  Some people simply don’t appreciate the danger posed by various agricultural items, especially to island nations, with the risk of introducing bugs and germs that could destroy much of the nation’s agricultural production.

We also know we have to allow the Customs officers to collect duty on the goods we import into each country, and as part of that, they need to be able to check we don’t have additional items undeclared, hidden rolled up in our socks or wherever.

But the appropriateness of allowing officials to inspect our digital media has been less clear-cut.  These days, with enormous capacity hard drives and tiny solid state memory, even a small iPod, smartphone, tablet or laptop computer might have literally millions of pornographic images on it, for example.  Or a thousand hours of pirated movies, or ten thousand hours of pirated music, and so on.

So does that mean that Customs officers – and also homeland security agents in general – should be allowed to search through everything we have stored on digital media?

The answer to that has varied over the years, from ‘maybe’ to ‘sometimes’ to ‘it depends’.  Until now, it seems that a Customs official has had to have a ‘clearly articulable suspicion’ in order to demand access to our digital media.

But the DHS has now decided it can search your devices for any reason, and also for no reason at all.  It has also decided it can keep your devices for up to five days while it executes the search (rather than just cloning the memory in a short less than one hour procedure), and if five days isn’t long enough, it can extend the time it keeps your equipment.

How do you feel about that?  Every written document, every email, every text message, all your internet searching history and all your passwords, all can be viewed, copied, and probably kept by faceless agents of the Orwellian Department of Homeland Security, whenever you cross into the US – or are within 100 miles of the border.

Have a look at a map of the US.  Draw a shape that is 100 miles inside the country – ie, 100 miles down from Canada, up from Mexico, and inland from the coast.  I’ll guess than over three-quarters of the country’s population lies within 100 miles of a border.

Now I’m not going to say that if you protest at a warrantless stop by border agents anywhere in this region they’ll react by taking all your electronic devices from you and telling you to come back for them in maybe five days, maybe more, but I am saying that this is the right the DHS now claims it has.  Details here and here.

Imagine if you suddenly lost your cell phone for five days.  Oh yes, and your computer too.  What would you do?

Imagine further than you keep sensitive documents on your computer – company confidential material, trade secrets, and such like.  Or, even if you keep such things ‘in the cloud’ the chances are that your access details and passwords can be gleaned by someone who has five days of time to work over your computer.

Imagine you are involved in government to government level negotiations or policy making on something – do you really want your high level position papers accessed by government forces?

I’ve carefully read the Fourth Amendment several times and don’t see where it says ‘except if you are within 100 miles of the border’, and most of the framers of the Bill of Rights and Constitution as a whole lived within 100 miles of a border, so you think they’d have mentioned it if they thought it a valid exception.

What I do see is the following simple statement

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

There’s one last chilling thought about this to share with you.  If the US starts happily seizing and searching the electronics of arriving people – both US citizens and visitors alike – how long will it be before other nations start retaliating by seizing and searching the electronics of US visitors.

Maybe you have nothing to fear and nothing to hide.  But imagine you’re – well, imagine you’re on a Travel Insider tour.  You arrive into the country where the tour starts, and your electronics are seized.  Don’t worry, they say, come back in five days time and retrieve them.  But three days later, our tour moves on to another city, and then to another country.  How do you go back to get your electronics?  Or are you forced to abandon your wonderful tour?

Maybe you’re a businessman flying in for two days of meetings, with all your documents, presentations, and other materials on your laptop.  But – ooops – no laptop!  By the time you urgently buy another computer, buy software to install on it, and then download copies of your data and get everything up and running again, you’ve probably spent both the two days you had scheduled for meetings.  Wasted visit.  Lost business opportunity.

And – most of all – sophisticated ‘data smugglers’ (whoever/whatever they may be) can very simply avoid all of these problems.  They don’t travel with their data in their computer.  They have it ‘in the cloud’.  When they arrive at their destination, they then download whatever data they need, totally circumventing any border checks.

So this new interference with our freedom of movement and travel is not only massively inconvenient and intrusive, it is also pointless, because the people who truly have something to hide will have that data easily hidden. It is applying yesterday’s solution to today’s problem, and is totally ineffective as a result.

Man Arrested and Charged with Felony for Having Peanut Butter at TSA Security

A 50 yr old man traveling with his wife and children had the TSA seize a jar of peanut butter and examine it suspiciously when he tried to pass through security at LaGuardia.

He turned to his family and said incredulously, doubtless rolling his eyes as he said it ‘They’re looking to confiscate my explosives’.

An alert TSA agent heard the comment, called the police and had the man arrested.  He spent 25 hours locked up and was charged with the felony crime of ‘falsely reporting an incident’.

Now free, the man is suing the TSA for $5 million.  His lawyer states the obvious when he says ‘It’s a sorry state of affairs in this country when sarcasm is considered a felony’.

The biggest crime here?  The stupidity and lack of common sense on the part of the police and TSA officers.  They should be made to pay the $5 million personally.  Winning $5 million from the faceless TSA changes nothing, and in no way directly brings consequences to the unspeakable idiots who complained, arrested and charged this ordinary passenger with a felony and made him suffer 25 unpleasant hours in jail.

Details here.

The Dumbing Down of Everything

After the security inanities and insanities described in the two articles above, this seems a sadly appropriate heading.

There was a time when politicians made complete speeches, and we listened to them from start to finish.  Think FDR or Churchill, for example.  Indeed, more recently, many of us may recall Ronald Reagan’s extremely engaging style.  At the same time, magazines and newspapers wrote feature articles, and our concentration spans measured about 45 minutes (it is no coincidence that an ‘academic hour’ lasts 50 minutes).  Movies progressed at a sedate pace with long scenes and few camera changes.  People wrote extensive personal diaries and mailed letters.

But the pace of things has been speeding up since then.  Political speeches reduced down to punchy paragraphs.  USA Today popularized the concept of flashy news in small bite-sized pieces.  Commercials interrupted our television viewing, and average concentration levels dropped to about 15 minutes.  Movies sped up with shorter intervals between cuts.  People faxed short letters and email started to appear.

The pace of things continued speeding up.  Political speeches became ‘sound bites’.  MTV came along.  Attention spans grew shorter.  People would check their emails not just every day or two, but every hour or two.  Texting started to become a mainstream communication source.

When Twitter appeared in 2006, it reduced the maximum length of a communication to 140 characters.  To my astonishment, people started to use Twitter not merely as a way to refer their ‘followers’ to lengthier commentaries and articles elsewhere, but as a prime means of communication.  Politicians would now announce major policies and give their opinions on current affairs in 140 character sound bites.  Rather than checking their emails every hour or two, people started checking their emails, Facebook walls, and twitter logs every few minutes.

As one who writes at great length about things, I’ve been increasingly perplexed at how people believe they can either adequately convey a concept, or, reciprocally, adequately understand that same concept, in a maximum of 140 characters (including spaces, punctuation, ‘hash tags’ and other stuff).

But now, to my horror, even 140 characters is apparently becoming too long.  This article about how to optimize one’s Facebook feed includes these three paragraphs.

Keep it simple. Don’t ever make the mistake of writing lengthy Facebook posts (of over a thousand or 500 words) because Facebook users get bored with lengthy posts.

If you’re a brand or marketer, you’d notice that reading is not the habit of most people these days; people don’t like spending the bulk of their time reading.  They prefer reading short, simple, and insightful posts (posts under 80 characters).

Hint: Do you want to increase conversions through your page? Then keep things simple. Try writing insightful and short 80 character posts and measure your results.

Amusingly, their three paragraph exhortation to limit posts to 80 characters totaled 574 characters – more than seven times the length they advocate, and requiring five Twitter posts too.  Their entire article was 568 words and I’ve no idea how many characters in length.

Short simple and insightful?  Sure, 80 characters is indubitably short, and unavoidably simple.  But insightful???

Carnival Triumph Disaster

You may have heard about the engine fire and subsequent loss of power on board the Carnival super-cruise ship, Triumph on Sunday, and the inconvenience suffered by the passengers between then and the vessel finally making it to Mobile AL late on Thursday.

Four hour queues for food, no working toilets, sewage running down walls and squishy carpets due to toilet overflows decks above, no air conditioning, and the vessel listing such that some passengers were anxiously sleeping in life jackets for fear of either the ship capsizing or themselves falling off are just some of the unexpected experiences encountered by the 4200 people on board the ship.  Some details here and an updated account here.

This is all terrible – beyond terrible.  But can Carnival be vilified for these events?  Probably not.  Problems occasionally occur, on ships as on planes, and if a ship becomes disabled in the middle of the ocean, there’s not a lot the cruise line can do except apologize, compensate, and do the best they can to mitigate the inconveniences suffered.

In this case it seems Carnival did about all it could do, and it was just ‘one of those things’ that very seldom but sometimes can happen.

At least on a Travel Insider Christmas cruise, your cruise ship is no more than 10 seconds away from a river/canal bank, and no more than an hour or so from the nearest town!

And Lastly This Week….

It is true that air travel isn’t what it used to be.  People no longer put on their best clothes to fly (and who remembers when you would dress up even simply to go to the airport to see people off or meet them).  And it is also incontrovertibly true that people are no longer on quite their best behavior.

But it isn’t just us, the passengers, who are no longer models of decorum.  Read this story of a British Airways crew and their behavior.

How would you feel if you’d paid $10,000 or more for the tranquility of First Class only to have this bunch of drunken hooligans about you for the eight or so hour flight?

Talking about misbehaving airline employees, reader Norman sent in this story

The pilot was sitting in his seat and pulled out a .38 revolver. The navigator eyed him suspiciously as he placed it on top of the instrument panel.

After an uncomfortable pause, the pilot asks him, “Do you know what I use this for?”

“No, sir. What’s it for?” the navigator asked, even though he was pretty sure what was up.

“I use this on navigators who get me lost!” the pilot said.

The pilot smirked, and turned back to his flying.

A few minutes later, the navigator proceeded to pull out a .45 and place it on his chart table, in full view of the pilot, but he didn’t say anything.

The pilot finally had to ask: “What’s that for?”

“To be honest, sir,” the navigator replied, “I’ll know we’re lost long before you will.”

Talking about death, the Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas has just lost their unofficial spokesman (and that in itself is a strange enough a story).  He died, in front of the restaurant famous for its Guinness World Record winning 9982 calorie ‘quadruple bypass burger’; of a heart attack, natch.  Details here.

I’ve been a bit distracted while writing today’s newsletter – I’m also preparing for a short but strenuous trip to central Asia, departing today (Friday); with a large part of the distraction being that, as I write this on Thursday evening, I still don’t have the slightest clue what flights I’m taking, at what time on Friday I should be at Seatac, or via where the flights will be going and when I’ll reach my destination.  And ditto for the return.

Thursday or Friday next week sees me flying back, and with a truly intense schedule between now and then, I don’t expect a newsletter next week.

So, until probably the week after next, please enjoy safe travels







1 thought on “Weekly Roundup Friday 15 February 2013”

  1. David, re: TSA and your electronic media–things were the same in the pre 9-11 days.
    At least sometimes they were.

    In 1983 we were breaking from a long-term research sabbatical in India–heading home to visit family in Colorado. Enroute we stopped three days in Bangkok. On arriving LAX the customs officer took us apart–but not our suitcases; rather my brief case. He questioned why were were returning; and demanded to see our return ticket to Delhi. He pulled out the contents of my briefcase and started piles saying “what is this?” A few were research notes, but most were our receipts for the 1983 portion of the trip–for later filing our income tax.

    He also saw receipts for furniture and clothing. “Why aren’t this with you?” Because we return to India in January. (He had already seen our return ticket). So then he sorted receipts into lodging, meals, misc., travel etc. AND then read through the carbon copies of letters I had sent back to my university. After two hours he found nothing ‘interesting’ I guess, so he let us come home. I learned from the experience that your rights as a citizen will be inoperative before you have been admitted ‘home.’

    Fortunately on that day, we had something like a six hour wait for our connection, so could remain calm in appearance. But an ordinary passenger with a conventional two hour connection would no doubt get antsy and thus engender even more attention. It was complete Kafkaesque security theater.

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