We are now on Day 45 of the Boeing 787 grounding, well past the 37 days the DC10 was grounded back in 1979. There is of course much more the 787’s present status below.
As I previously mentioned, dealings in central Asia kept me out of contact last week, and while I was disappointed not to share a newsletter, it is an ill wind that blows no good. I managed to bargain with Amawaterways on the basis of my absence meaning the loss of the crucial last week of our special short-term 40% discount promotion for this year’s Christmas cruise, which was due to expire yesterday, 28 Feb.
So we now have until the end of March before this wonderful 40% discount expires, but we are also starting to fill the ship. We have taken 17 of the 82 cabins already, and of course, other people have also booked cabins too. There’s little more than a dozen cabins remains, which clearly signals that there will be no more extensions and no better discounts later on – if you’d like to enjoy a wonderful Christmastime cruise along the Danube, now is the time to quickly grab one of the remaining cabins.
We are currently a great group of 30 Travel Insiders, some on their first ever Travel Insider tour, many on their second and one couple on their sixth. Not only do we have many repeat Travel Insider tourers, but we also have many repeat Christmas Market cruisers too. That’s clearly signaling something about how special these experiences are.
I’ve had a couple of people say ‘We love the idea, but we are not Christmas Gift-givers’. That is of course absolutely okay too, and you’re not expected to give gifts to anyone on the cruise – well, except for the traditional and non-seasonal ‘envelopes’ to the crew at the end of the cruise.
The festive season, the magic of the early winter, the brightly colored markets, the beauty of the places we visit, and the friendship and fellowship with like-minded people – all these apply, to all who come. You’ll not be quizzed on what you do back home on 25 December. 🙂
Please do try and juggle your schedule and take advantage of what promises to be our best ever Christmas cruise. The best itinerary, the best value, the best ship, and – at least so it seems thus far – the best group, too.
Now to switch from a Christmas theme to a Grinch theme. You’ll find attached to this an article exposing a little of the deceit surrounding the government’s sequestration actions and how they totally unfairly target air travelers. These measures are due to start today, assuming no last-minute further ‘compromise’ – compromises which always seem to perpetuate and extend our increasingly serious deficit spending.
Immediately below, please find pieces on :
- This Week’s 787 Update
- How Much Would You Pay to Fast-Track the Line for Airport Security?
- The World’s Most Admired Airline?
- One Year Old Nominated to Aeroflot’s Board of Directors
- Airlines Can’t Be Compelled to Accept Cash
- More on the Titanic II (a Ship, not a Movie)
- Two Interesting Facts About New Super Container Ships
- Carnival Bans Complaining Passengers For Life
- Lying Flight Attendants and Passive Pilots Strike Again
- Restaurant Adds a 20% Security Surcharge
- No, It Wasn’t Just Your Bag’s Contents Shifting In Flight
- Nook, 2010 – 2013 : RIP?
- And Lastly This Week….
This Week’s 787 Update
I have to grudgingly give credit to Boeing for trying to take control of the 787 dialog, albeit belatedly, a month and more after the damage has been done and people’s perceptions already shaped.
The have now released a special website all about the 787 problem, although it seems they are leading with their chin – I visited it just now and the main headline on the home page was ‘World Class Supplier Quality’. Being as how the vast majority of problems with the 787 have been attributed to supplier problems, this is a puzzling statement to lead off with.
Maybe Boeing has yet to learn that to counter and respond to public perceptions, you have to actually meaningfully engage in dialog and offer evidence and facts to support your claims, and sometimes, you have to strategically concede points or attempt to avoid discussing them entirely.
But at least Boeing is now doing something in public, and good on them for that. However, it is certain that this is just the tip of their PR battle – most of their efforts are being conducted in smoke-filled rooms behind closed doors, and are obliquely related to as ‘briefing members of Congress’ and ‘meeting with FAA officials’. You can be certain that Boeing is mobilizing all of its lobbying forces in a desperate attempt to get its 787 back up in the air again.
The 787 Grounding is Unimportant for Most Airlines and Passengers
But let’s put the 787’s grounding in context. While estimates are suggesting that Boeing’s cost as a result of this grounding, so far, is in the order of $1 billion, it is absolutely not a global aviation crisis, even though some commentators are thoughtlessly and endlessly repeating Boeing’s assertion that it is.
Only one airline in the US has 787s – United has six. United has a total fleet of 705 planes. So United’s fleet size is reduced by less than one percent. Does that materially impact on the airline’s daily operations? Of course not.
And with some 8,000 commercial airplanes in the US in total, the other airlines can sure ‘help out’ with any problems, should United have any. Six fewer planes are nothing out of 8,000 in the US market in total.
Altogether, there are only 50 delivered 787s (and of course a growing number of delayed 787s that would have been delivered if not for the grounding too – allow another 7 or 8 under that category). This compares to probably about 20,000 passenger planes currently in service throughout the world (different sources give estimates from high teens up to as many as 40,000 so this is a conservative estimate), so worldwide, the impact is even less than for United – about 0.3%.
Sure, for ANA with 17 787s and 173 mainline planes in total, the impact is much more severe. But most airlines have no 787s at all.
So Boeing’s efforts to instill a sense of urgency are misplaced. Sure, it is urgent for them, but not for us. Most of us would rather see the problem fixed, however long it takes, before the plane is released to fly again.
The ‘Fix’ is In?
Last Friday Boeing went cap in hand to the FAA with a proposal to permanently ‘fix’ the battery problem. Their fix did include some sensible steps to reduce the chance of future runaway battery fires (where one cell fails and then the heat from the failed cell causes the next to fail, and so on in a chain reaction of ever greater intensity), but didn’t seem to include much to prevent problems from initially occurring – an unsurprising omission due to no-one yet knowing what caused the battery problems in the first place.
The other part of their ‘fix’ is to put the batteries in a ‘fire-proof’ box that in the event of a battery fire would contain the fire safely, and vent the smoke and flames out of the plane.
If this sounds familiar, it should be. The original design was said to be 100% safe and to also vent any smoke and flames out of the plane too (even though we were promised that none would ever occur). And we know how well that worked out.
Other than that, Boeing is sticking to its guns – or, more accurately, to its batteries, and says it has no intention of switching back to older safer battery technologies.
A couple of comments. First, I hope both Boeing and the FAA (independently, please) are going to massively test the safety of this fire-proof, outside-venting battery box, with a lot of induced battery fires on a lot of test flights. And please, can we have real fires on real flights, not computer simulations and ground tests.
No matter how much testing, though, my personal preference is massively for prevention rather than cure, and I’m appalled that Boeing has decided to give up on finding the problem and merely make any future battery fires safer than the first two.
Second, a battery fire, no matter how contained, and whether involving one or all eight cells, means a failed battery. In the event that the APU needed to be restarted, a failed battery would mean the APU could not restart. And without the APU, if the main engines had both stopped, they in turn could not be restarted.
How likely is it that both engines would stop simultaneously? Very unlikely, yes. But the FAA’s safety standard is for no more than one event per billion flight hours, and my guess is that simultaneous engine stops occur at probably that rate at present.
The FAA is expected to respond to Boeing’s proposal next week. Plenty of commentators have been trying to guess as to if Boeing’s proposal will be accepted or not, and – if accepted – when the planes would be cleared for flying again.
If the proposal is accepted, it seems unlikely that the planes would be cleared to fly again until May (maybe late April). Here’s an excellent analysis of what might happen and when, and here’s a great critique of the Boeing ‘fix’.
It is relevant to note that ANA – the airline most affected by the 787 situation – has cancelled all its scheduled 787 flights through the end of May, although curiously JAL is being more optimistic and currently only has its flights cancelled through the end of March. LOT is the least optimistic, having cancelled all its flights through the end of September.
Not everyone agrees with the ‘no flights until probably May at the earliest’ prognostication. This article says the third week of March could see the planes in the air again. A dollar says they are wrong.
Oh – there’s one other embarrassing problem with Boeing’s suggested ‘fix’. The battery maker disagrees with Boeing about the efficacy of the solution. But let’s not worry about that man behind the curtain.
Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right
Boeing has learned from its airline clients. The airlines have mastered the art of getting approvals to merge and generally act uncompetitively by saying ‘You let the other airline do it before, so now you have to let us do it too’.
In this case, Boeing’s argument is that because the FAA allowed the 747s to keep flying with no grounding at all after the loss of the plane operating as TW 800 in 1996, and continued to allow the 747s to operate even after ridiculously claiming the plane loss was caused by a spontaneous fuel tank explosion (rather than the missile strike which most knowledgeable people believe to clearly have been the case – search Google for TWA flight 800 or similar to see a barrage of websites and evidence to support this conclusion), and with a leisurely timetable for when airlines had to reduce this claimed fuel tank vulnerability; then now the FAA should be similarly forgiving about the 787 too.
To me, the passive response by the FAA to the TW 800 shoot-down merely confirms that the FAA knew it was a missile and therefore a one-off event – both nothing to worry about and nothing which any airplane changes could prevent.
But even if the 747 was indeed the innocent victim of a spontaneous fuel tank explosion, the strange lack of concern by the FAA in that case in no way means the FAA should be similarly passive to the 787, if for no other reason than when the 747 event occurred, there were about a thousand 747s operational, they had been flying for 27 years and there had never been a fuel tank explosion before (more reasons to suggest it was a missile that initiated the explosion, of course). That contrasts greatly with the 787, with only 50 delivered, a mere year of service on the oldest of them, two serious battery failures to date, and a worrying number of unexpected premature battery replacements too.
Airbus Gives Up on Lithium-Ion Batteries
The currently in development Airbus A350, which is sort of a competitor and also contemporary of the 787, had been expected to also be equipped with Lithium-ion batteries.
But after first professing confidence in the Li-ion technology, Airbus then waffled and said it was designing both conventional (Ni-cad) and Li-ion battery proposals for the A350, and now it has decided to nix the Li-ion option entirely.
One wonders if this decision is entirely based on technical issues, or if Airbus has decided for marketing reasons as well to steer well clear of the Li-ion battery concept.
It’s an Ill Wind that Blows No Good
The delays and more delays in the 787 program had a silver lining that was revealed last week by one airline.
In its half-year report, Qantas revealed that it had received a $125 million compensation payment for the delays in 787 deliveries to Qantas. This one-off payment allowed the airline to turn a small loss into a $111 million profit.
Thank you, Boeing!
How Much Would You Pay to Fast-Track the Line for Airport Security?
We’re not talking getting into the reduced screening lane, but simply to go through the First Class line that usually involves less of a wait to get to the point where your ID is checked. How much would you pay to skip the regular line and go to the shorter/faster line?
United is guessing that at least some people will be happy paying $9 for this perk. They announced on Wednesday that they will start selling ‘Premier Access’ to this line for $9.
Unfortunately, unless you first go and look at the security line, then go back to the checkin counters (machines) you don’t really know if the $9 will save you one minute or ten or one hundred. On the other hand, if you do this and see the line is long, or if the sequester-related threats to balloon out security line delays to as much as three hours (nonsense that is beyond shameful as discussed in the next article) a $9 payment would be money well spent.
But if you got to the airport in plenty of time, and don’t have a nice comfy airport lounge waiting for you on the other side of security, maybe you’re better advised to keep the $9 and stand in the regular line for ten minutes instead.
However, it is nice to have the option, and if you’re running late, it might be a life-saver and worth every bit of the $9 fee.
The World’s Most Admired Airline?
Fortune Magazine has just published its annual list of the world’s most admired companies. Although there is an explanation about how it has been compiled here, I find the explanation and the list very puzzling.
It seems that Apple is the world’s most admired company – one has to wonder how many weeks or months ago the survey was taken, noting the beating Apple has been taking both financially and in the press over the last month or two.
The second (or possibly 25th?) most admired company is Exxon Mobil – a surprising result.
As for airlines, maybe Southwest is the most admired (with a ‘rank’ of 7 but a score of 5.52) or maybe Delta is the most admired (no rank but a higher score of 6.37, possibly followed by SQ, LH and CX.
Very strange and puzzling numbers, but interesting to look at and wonder.
One Year Old Nominated to Aeroflot’s Board of Directors
Talking about the world’s most admired airlines – hmmm, how to segue from that to Aeroflot, I wonder?
Anyway, the Russian airline, Aeroflot, is holding elections for its board of 11 directors. Fourteen people have been nominated, including Egor Lebedev, a young gentleman born in November 2011.
His father, who nominated him, is the somewhat eccentric billionaire Alexander Lebedev, who has a 5% shareholding in the airline.
Mr Lebedev has apparently learned his lesson – he unsuccessfully nominated another son, Nikita, to the board once before. But his earlier unsuccessful nomination was for a three month old infant, although the nomination did win the support of the airline’s CEO at the time, who said ‘The idea is very good; I think his son will probably be less capricious than his father. I’d support this idea’.
Doubtless the extra wisdom gained by the one and a bit year old will help his nomination be more favorably considered.
The results of the director elections will be announced on 24 June – by which time of course, the potential new director will be one and a half, and almost 50% more qualified for the job than at present. Details here.
Airlines Can’t Be Compelled to Accept Cash
It is a wonderful business to be in, isn’t it, when you can simply refuse to sell things to customers because they wish to pay by cash.
I am of course referring to the Alice in Wonderland world of airlines, where normal rules need not apply.
An aggrieved passenger on a Continental flight (remember them) sued the airline for refusing to allow him to buy a drink or headphones on a flight from Newark to Honolulu in 2010. He says he only had cash and no credit card with him on the flight, and the flight attendants refused to accept his cash.
A lower court found for the airline, and now his appeal has also been rejected, although as this article hints, his loss was more on a technicality than on the actual facts of the case.
You should do like Karl Malden used to exhort us to do and don’t leave home without it (your credit card).
As a slightly legalistic aside, many people mistake what the Coinage Act of 1965 actually means. It says
United States coins and currency (including Federal reserve notes and circulating notes of Federal reserve banks and national banks) are legal tender for all debts, public charges, taxes, and dues
But this statement doesn’t mandate that private companies must accept US cash. It means that US currency (ie coins and banknotes) can be accepted as legal tender, but not that they must be accepted as legal tender; businesses are free to set whatever policies they like on the forms of payment they will allow.
So this quixotic campaigner not only filed his suit in the wrong court, but seems to have no legal grounds to stand on either.
More on the Titanic II (a Ship, not a Movie)
I’ve written, somewhat disbelievingly before, about an Australian mining billionaire, Clive Palmer, and his plans to build a pseudo-replica of the Titanic – in particular the bit about using a Chinese shipyard that had never built a passenger ship before and which didn’t have facilities to handle construction projects of that size made it all seem rather unreal.
But when you have a net worth of almost four billion dollars, clearly different rules apply, and it seems the project is going ahead, with the ship planned to have its maiden voyage in late 2016, on a route mirroring the maiden voyage of its predecessor.
In an eery echo of claims about the first Titanic, Palmer described the ship as being ‘the safest cruise ship in the world’, although – and revealing himself to be every bit a practical Australian – he qualified the claim with the concession that anything can sink if you put a hole in it, reminding me somewhat of this classic television interview apparently between a tv host and an Australian cabinet minister (highly recommended). For further background, see also the first minute and a half of this clip.
More details of the Titanic II here. But if you’re wanting to enjoy a great value cruise, you might be better off on our Christmas Markets cruise this December – it seems people are willing to pay up to $1 million to be on the Titanic II’s inaugural cruise.
Two Interesting Facts About New Super Container Ships
Continuing a nautical theme for a moment, here’s a fascinating article about the new breed of super container ships, or what are termed ‘Triple E’ ships. They hold twenty times more containers than the first container ships and more than twice the current largest container ships.
They are also amazingly energy-efficient, requiring 50% less carbon (ie energy) per container mile than the class of ships they replace.
The thing which really astonished me though is that one of these monsters – a quarter-mile long and almost 200 ft across – costs only $190 million to build. That’s less than you’d pay for a 747, A380, or even a 787. And about a third of what the Titanic II is likely to cost.
Carnival Bans Complaining Passengers For Life
A couple bought some artwork on a Carnival cruise and were assured both verbally and in writing that the pieces came with a full money back guarantee. But after changing their mind and seeking to return the art, they discovered that there was an undisclosed 15% fee that was kept back and not refunded.
The couple sued Carnival’s art selling subsidiary, and reached an undisclosed settlement. Meantime, bearing Carnival no ill will, they had placed a deposit on another Carnival cruise, but when they went to make payment, discovered that Carnival had banned them for life, due to their complaining about the ‘fully refundable’ artwork actually having a 15% retention.
One of the couple makes the reasonable point that a cruise line offering general services to the general public surely has some obligation to accept business from people, even if they do make a complaint.
It is true that some hotels, for example, have ‘black lists’ of nightmare guests who they refuse to accommodate due to having had extended problems with the guests over several stays, and we all know about airlines and their propensity to ban passengers too. But surely that doesn’t mean we have to roll over and accept whatever bad treatment we receive when on a cruise, for fear of being banned for life if we do complain.
There has to be some middle ground somewhere, and it seems Carnival is well away from this fair middle ground. The couple are suing Carnival again – this time to be allowed to cruise with them, and for compensation for their lost cruise.
Lying Flight Attendants and Passive Pilots Strike Again
We regularly write about lazy and downright dishonest flight attendants who decide to victimize a passenger, with their vicious lies being supported unquestioningly by the pilot and with the eager assistance of law enforcement, keen to lock anyone up on the slimmest of excuses.
Even after such claims have been incontrovertibly exposed as the shams they are, we’ve never seen any report of any negative consequence flowing to the flight attendant in question, the pilot-enabler, or the willingly duped police. Although such events should be both career harming and are illegal, nothing happens to the guilty flight attendants, encouraging them to repeat their bad behavior in ever more extreme ways next time.
The latest appalling story of flight attendant abuse is recounted here. This is not a ‘he said/she said’ situation – indeed, it almost never is. The alleged actions of the hapless passenger almost always occur within view and earshot of other passengers on the plane, but – without exception – neither the pilot nor the police asks other passengers what happened, preferring to accept without question and without confirmation the flight attendant’s unsupported and contested story.
In this case, the victimized passenger’s story was sufficiently well publicized to attract comments from nearby passengers on the flight he was booted off, all of whom completely confirmed his story.
Unfortunately, the passenger in question has now rolled over and is playing dead. A United staffer in their PR department telephoned him, and on the basis of that, the passenger is now saying
At this point, United has not offered an apology and frankly I am not expecting one. An apology would reflect horribly on the pilot and FA and I do understand the delicacy of corporate apologies in general.
How extraordinary – and kudos to the UA PR staffer, who surely earned their money that day.
But think about it : The flight attendant lied, the pilot backed her up, the passenger was marched off the plane, had to spend his own money on alternate international flights, arrived late and missed an important meeting, and now he doesn’t even expect an apology, because that would reflect horribly on the flight attendant who gratuitously caused him these problems.
With passengers like that, it is no wonder the airlines treat us as badly as they do.
Oh, this passenger also says ‘United is taking this issue seriously and has launched an extensive internal investigation’.
Yeah, sure, right. In the week since he posted that message, there’s been no further update as to the results of United’s ‘extensive internal investigation’. Does he not know that the phrase ‘launching an extensive internal investigation’ is code for ‘we’re going to do nothing at all and don’t want to have to make more excuses to you for a long time’?
Restaurant Adds a 20% Security Surcharge
Diners at Atlanta’s downtown Waffle House have noticed a strange new 20% surcharge appearing on their checks. Described as a ‘Property Management Surcharge’, the fast food joint explained that it is to cover the cost of posting a security guard on the premises in the evenings.
Needless to say, the security surcharge applies all day long, not just in the evening hours while the guard is on duty.
Do you think the restaurant might be managed by an ex-airline executive, perhaps?
No, It Wasn’t Just Your Bag’s Contents Shifting In Flight
I sometimes notice two things. The first is that on occasion it takes an unusual amount of time for my suitcase to appear on the carousel when I’m flying in to an airport on an international flight. One has to wonder why it is that a bag can quickly appear on the carousel from a domestic flight, but takes twice as long from an international flight.
The second thing is that sometimes the stuff in my suitcase seems to have shifted around between when I packed it and when I next get to open it at the end of my journey. Now, I’m not a fastidiously neat packer, and there could be lots of reasons for this, but sometimes I definitely get the feeling that things have changed more than could be explained by just the suitcase being jostled around a bit during ground handling.
What else could it be? Well, for sure, if it is a flight departing from a US airport maybe the TSA had a poke around, but if they do, they are supposed to leave a little notice inside advising that they’ve opened and inspected the bag.
The obvious other explanation is that in addition to the visible Customs ‘inspection’ process we have to go through, there is an ‘invisible’ process taking place somewhere between the plane’s hold and the baggage carousel.
Here’s an interesting article that confirms this does indeed happen, even apparently in cases where there is no legal authority to do so (in the UK). Who among us can say they are truly surprised by this?
Nook, 2010 – 2013 : RIP?
While we’ve never bought one ourselves, we’ve admired Barnes & Noble for valiantly conducting a David vs Goliath struggle against Amazon with their Nook ranged against Amazon’s Kindle.
Amazingly, although the Nook development started off after the Kindle, and B&N have had massively less resource – both people and budget – than Amazon, they have several times succeeded in coming out with better products than Amazon, and at the same general price points.
But in the just over three years since the Nook first appeared (Nov 2010, compared to Nov 2007 for the Kindle) the marketplace has changed enormously. What started off as a standalone eBook reader has now morphed into a multi-purpose tablet, and what started off as one only major competitor to the Nook (ie Kindle) has now multiplied into many major players (notably the iPad of course, plus all other tablet devices).
Most of all, books have become part of an overall ‘digital content’ solution. Whereas other competitors have reasonably complete sets of solutions for all types of digital content (games, apps, movies, and music as well as books) B&N is perhaps the least well positioned in this broader market.
Barnes & Noble now find themselves, with the release of their latest financial data, in the completely unexpected position where their traditional bookstores – the things which seemed most threatened by the new wave of eBooks and eBook readers – are profitable, while their Nook division is unprofitable – quite the opposite of what one would have guessed a few years earlier.
Even though Microsoft has bought a chunk of the Nook business, their loyalties and interests surely lie more around their own hardware and their Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 operating systems, not around the Nook running on Android.
So Nook finds itself suddenly confronting a bleak future, because winning market share is no longer about hardware superiority, it is about the entire overall integrated ‘eco-system’.
This is why I never bought a Nook. And, sadly, it is double definitely why you should not buy one now.
So – Nook, 2010 – 2013, RIP? While the date of its actual demise is as yet unclear, its limited future, at least as we know it currently, seems unavoidable.
More details here.
And Lastly This Week….
Fake or Fact? Here’s a video that was allegedly pieced together from security camera footage at a hotel. The final scene seems ‘too good to be true’ – well, actually, too bad to be true; but after having encountered something similar myself (albeit fully clothed, merely having left my wallet with ID and room keycard in my room, and having to show the ID which was, of course, in my wallet in my locked room before the front desk clerk would give me a replacement key) I’m almost willing to believe it to be true. What do you think?
Better out than in? Apparently so, although subject to special considerations in the cockpit, according to this article.
I wrote a few weeks back about private jet travel. Most private jets are nice inside, but nothing too over-the-top, because even with a private jet, space is generally preferred to be allocated for seating than for other space consuming things. But there are some notable exceptions, as shown by these images of extraordinary opulence.
To go from the most extravagant to something of least value possible, do you know what is the lowest value coin still theoretically in circulation, anywhere in the world, and do you know how much it is worth?
The lowest value coin is worth – well, let’s just say, massively less than the metal used to mint it (although the same is also true even of US nickels so that is far from unique). Its value? It takes 2,000 of these ‘tiyin’ coins to equate to one US cent.
Click here to learn where the tiyin coin is to be found, and for details of ten other low value coins.
Lastly this week, kudos to the former CEO of Groupon. He ended his employment with the troubled company on Thursday, and his farewell note to employees started off
After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I’ve decided that I’d like to spend more time with my family.
So far so boringly normal, right? But read his next two sentences.
After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I’ve decided that I’d like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding – I was fired today. If you’re wondering why… you haven’t been paying attention.
Here’s his full note. How nice to see a CEO with class.
Until next week, please enjoy safe and unsequestered travels