Weekly Roundup Friday 5 April 2013

Pan Am's California Clipper graces the air above Auckland harbor (see final item).
Pan Am’s California/Pacific Clipper graces the air above Auckland harbor (see final item).

Good morning

Today is day 80 of the 787 grounding.  Will we get to 100 days?  Boeing has become strangely coy on when it expects the plane to return to service, although it seems likely this will happen sooner rather than later.  We have clues about the confidence Boeing quietly is now exuding, due to operational deployments of things like pilot training and updated engineering manuals.

My guess is that Boeing has been told to ‘shut up’ by the FAA so the FAA can bestow its benison on Boeing’s new battery boxes with at least an appearance of independent action.

Our December Danube Cruise had another rush of reader interest at the end of last week, and we’re now a group of 51 Travel Insiders, all eagerly looking forward to maybe Dresden, probably Prague, definitely the Danube from Budapest to Nuremberg, and possibly some time in Berlin to cap it all off at the end.  Wow – the largest ever Travel Insider group.

The special discount did indeed expire on Sunday, but due to the last-minute rush, I prevailed upon Amawaterways to still extend a substantial sweetener to anyone else who might wish to join.  There’s now a 25% discount if you’d like to swell our numbers still further – the more the merrier!

However, two lucky people can still get the earlier 40% discount.  We have a single gent and a single lady, both looking for cruise-mates to share their cabins with.  I know both people and they are definitely the type of person you’d enjoy sharing a cabin with; so if you’d like to not only beat the single supplement fee but also get the now expired 40% discount, please let me know and I’ll put you in touch and you can see if you’d like to share.

Next week I hope to take the wraps off our February 2014 tour to Sri Lanka.  It will start with us arriving in Colombo on Saturday 15 Feb, and run through Wednesday 26 Feb, so keep the dates clear and get ready for the exciting details next week.

Please do read the results of our reader survey which follows the weekly roundup.  I didn’t mention last week that we’d done this survey five years earlier (so as not to skew the responses) but now I can tell you about that and you will find it fascinating to see the substantial shift in opinion since 2008.

As an aside, earlier this week, Samoa Air announced that it was to start charging passengers based on weight.  Samoa Air is hardly the world’s largest airline – more like one of the smallest, but perhaps it is a trendsetter.

And now, please read on for items on

  • 787 Update
  • Delta Doesn’t Like US Govt Subsidizing Foreign Competing Airlines
  • Should Ships Pay for Coast Guard Assistance?
  • Google’s Strange Acquisition (cont)
  • Priceline Wins Lawsuit
  • Another Beyond Stupid Security Scare
  • TSA Goes Spray-zy
  • A New Twist on a Woman in Inappropriate Dress
  • Be Careful if Complaining About Noisy Hotel Neighbors
  • And Lastly This Week….

787 Update

Boeing’s ‘fix’ of its battery problem revolves in large part around putting the battery in a fireproof box.  But just how fireproof is that box?

The existing battery box that was around the battery in the second battery fire incident (the arguably less serious incident, in Japan, that didn’t involve the airport Fire Brigade in a 99 minute battle against the battery fire, as happened in Boston) has now been found to have had ten tiny holes punctured in it, presumably from hot sparks from the battery inside.

The stainless steel the box was made from not only conducts heat rapidly away from point sources (suggesting the ‘sparks’ would have to be very sizeable) but also required temperatures of 2500 degrees F (1400 C) to melt.

That’s a lot of heat and energy.  Let’s hope the new battery boxes will withstand it – and with no actual in-flight testing of the battery boxes with burning batteries inside them, the stress should be on the word ‘hope’.

Details of the latest findings about the Japanese incident here.

The big question now seems to be when rather than if the FAA will accept Boeing’s proposed fix.  A complicating factor for the ‘when’ is if the FAA will choose to authorize the fix before the two NTSB hearings, set for 11-12 April and 23-24 April, or if they’ll at least pay lip service to the NTSB investigation and wait until either after the hearings or even until after a further NTSB report.  Some thoughts on that here.

In some unexpected good news for the 787, Boeing announced a new order for the plane.  Well, actually, it was BA exercising 18 existing options, rather than a completely new order, but it is the first 787 order since AA ordered 42 in January, and definitely an improvement on 2012 (a net of -12 orders), 2011 (13 orders), 2010 (-4 orders) and 2009 (-59 orders).

So in total, for the four and a quarter years from 2009 until now, the 787 – Boeing’s ‘huge success story’ – has registered a total of -2 new orders.  Even the 747-8 passenger jet has outsold the 787, with a modest twelve orders during the same time period.

To put the BA order in perspective, strong rumors are suggesting the airline is about to order some A350 planes too.

Delta Doesn’t Like US Govt Subsidizing Foreign Competing Airlines

We don’t understand why, but it is clear that our government hates tourists and makes the experience of getting a visa and then actually entering the US as difficult and unpleasant as possible.

It also appears that our government hates our own US-flagged airlines too.  Okay, so maybe that is easier to understand.  But, much as we willingly join the government in disliking our airlines, one has to see Delta’s point of view in its most recent federal lawsuit, seeking an injunction to stop the US Export-Import Bank from issuing guarantees of more than $100 million to help Delta’s foreign airline competitors buy new Boeing planes.

The airlines being extended such guarantees include enormously profitable airlines such as Emirates and Etihad.

Other lawsuits have already been filed over earlier bank guarantees, including $3.4 billion in support to Air India.

It is an interesting conundrum, isn’t it.  Which is more important – helping Boeing sell planes or allowing our US carriers to compete on even terms with foreign airlines?

Details of the latest lawsuit here.

Should Ships Pay for Coast Guard Assistance?

One of the traditions of the sea is that mariners will do all they can to help a fellow mariner in distress without concern for the costs or inconvenience involved.

In addition, the Coast Guard, among its eleven different missions, is tasked with general marine safety and search & rescue duties.

So here’s the question.  When a ship suffers some type of mishap and is given Coast Guard assistance, should that assistance be free, or should the ship then pay for it?

That’s a bit like asking if you should have to pay the Fire Department if they come to put out a fire in your residence, or the Police if they come to assist you after you’ve been a victim of a crime.  Of course in these latter two cases, these services are provided for the public good and funded from general tax receipts.

You might think that in other than extreme cases of negligence, the Coast Guard is simply doing what it is supposed to do when coming to the aid of ships, their crews, and – in the case of cruise ships – their passengers.  Besides which, can you imagine the mess that would arise if a ship’s captain and owners had to decide whether to accept Coast Guard assistance (and you know it wouldn’t be cheap!) or try to struggle on by themselves – a mess made all the more complicated if the ship were carrying passengers rather than uncomplaining cargo.

Take, for example, the recent case of the Carnival Triumph’s problems in the Gulf of Mexico.

Well, grand-standing senator John D Rockefeller IV (not much naming creativity in his family!) has written an offensively pompous letter to Carnival demanding all manner of information and wondering if Carnival plans to reimburse the Coast Guard for doing its duty.  In public comments, he opined that until such time as cruise lines pay 20% in tax each year, they shouldn’t be entitled to free support from the Coast Guard (one wonders what his own tax rate might be).

Does Sen Rockefeller also believe that access to other public services should be limited to individuals and corporations who pay tax rates of 20% or greater?  Or is it only cruise lines that he feels need to comply with this new standard of his?

This link has his public comments and his pompous letter to Carnival.

Carnival’s CEO/Chairman politely told him to shut up, while a VP has pandered to Rockefeller and provided him lots of information on the matters he raised.  Details of their responses here.

Google’s Strange Acquisition (cont)

I wrote last August about Google’s strange acquisition of the Frommers series of guide books.  It seemed, at the time, to make little sense for Google to spend a rumored $23-25 million for something like 230 titles in the Frommers series, although for sure that was a bargain price compared to what the BBC were paying for Lonely Planet (about $200 million before selling it last month for about $75 million – discussed recently here).

Arthur Frommer had sold his publishing business to Wiley and it was Wiley who sold it on to Google.  As also mentioned in the Lonely Planet article, Google indicated a couple of weeks ago that it was discontinuing publication of the actual printed books that made up the Frommers guidebook series, having instead in some mysterious way integrated the patchy and usually out of date information contained within them into their hopefully less patchy and more up to date databases.

And now, the wheel has turned full circle.  Arthur Frommer, at the sprightly age of 83 or 84, has bought his book publishing business back from Google.  Terms of the deal are not disclosed, and Google gets to keep all the data it presumably gleaned from the purchase from Wiley (data which has a very short shelf-life and value).  Would you care to bet that the price was massively less than the $23-25 million Google paid for it some six months earlier?

Priceline Wins Lawsuit

The creativity of attorneys (and their clients) is at times a thing of wonder to behold.

In this case, a couple sued Priceline, because the price they paid to Priceline for a hotel room was more than what Priceline actually paid to the hotel.

Are you shocked?  Simply shocked?  Who would have thought it – Priceline sells hotel rooms for more than it pays for them!  Of course Priceline is in business to make a profit, and its unique auction type approach to selling hotel rooms can see it making a little, or possibly a lot of money inbetween what a person voluntarily offers to pay for a hotel room and what a hotel is willing to accept.

The court agreed that Priceline is free to pocket as much as it wishes in the middle.  Details here.

I really like Priceline and urge you to try it.  To make it easy for you to successfully bid the lowest possible for hotel rooms through Priceline, I’ve a four part series that gives you some special tips and techniques that can greatly improve the rates you get rooms for.

Another Beyond Stupid Security Scare

A United flight from Denver to Baltimore made an emergency diversion to land in Chicago due to the pilot’s security concerns about passengers on board his flight.

The passengers in question, and their alarming actions?  Well, they were a husband and wife, traveling with their 4 and 8 year old sons.  They had politely asked the flight attendants if there were any way that the movie could not be screened in their part of the cabin – the movie being one that featured full nudity (‘Alex Cross’).  The movie is rated PG-13 for violence including disturbing images, sexual content, language, drug references, and nudity – just your usual fine family fare for United, apparently.

The flight attendant refused to do so, because turning off the shared overhead monitor would have prevented people in the row behind the family from viewing the movie.  Upon hearing this, the people behind said they agreed the movie was inappropriate for children and would be happy to have the monitor switched off.

Other passengers joined in and supported the family.  But the flight attendants then said they were not allowed to turn the monitor off (doubtless citing some invented FAA regulation as they like to do in such cases), and so the parents focused on distracting their children from the imagery overhead and thought no more of it.

An hour later, an announcement was made that the flight was diverting to Chicago due to security concerns, and upon landing, the family discovered, to their astonishment, that they were the security concern.  They were offloaded from the plane and interviewed by United staff, Chicago police, Customs & Border Protection Officers, and an FBI agent.

The unexpected stop meant that some of the crew went over their maximum allowed duty time, delaying the flight while replacement crew were found, and causing assorted passengers to subsequently miss connections in Baltimore.

Fortunately, the affected family was little inconvenienced, because it took a mere five minutes for the crowd of officials surrounding them to agree that they were blameless and the entire matter a storm in a teacup.

United subsequently issued a statement that predictably alleged (without a scrap of supporting evidence) that the passengers had created a disturbance – if that was so, how is it the passengers were released five minutes after their interview started?  Oh, United also said that they have conducted ‘a full review’ of their in-flight entertainment (without disclosing what the review determined).

But, yet again, their statement is totally off-topic.  The issue here is the idiot in the front of the plane who decided, totally sight-unseen, to divert his flight to Chicago and call down the full force of the law on a family who did nothing other than politely ask if a clearly inappropriate video could be blocked from their two young children, with the full support of passengers around them, and who peacefully acquiesced after their request was refused.  How about United conducting a ‘full review’ of that?

We’ve seen cases were passengers who have behaved inappropriately, resulting in a flight’s diversion, have been fined and forced to reimburse the airline for the tens of thousands of dollars such diversions cost.  Pilots should be required to pay for the costs they create in such egregious cases of idiocy, too – including generous reimbursement to all the passengers they caused to subsequently miss connecting flights, and a fair gratuity to the family unfairly accused of federal crimes.

Airlines and their employees must be made accountable – both civilly and criminally – for such vicious acts of false felony accusations.

Here’s the original story, and here are details of United’s subsequent (non)response.

TSA Goes Spray-zy

Sometimes stories stand so proudly on their own, there’s little I can say except link you to them.  This is probably one such case, although I will note that TSA officials are clearly very gentle delicate souls, with six of them having to go to hospital after spraying themselves with pepper spray.

That’s a courtesy police never extend to protestors and criminals (nor even to themselves when spraying each other in training).

But we’ve always known the TSA to be ‘special’, haven’t we.

A New Twist on a Woman in Inappropriate Dress

Too-low cut tops and too-high cut skirts; it is hard for a woman to dress attractively but not too attractively when confronting the fashion police on airplanes these days.

But here’s a case of a woman simply wearing her work uniform, but being refused permission to fly on Virgin Atlantic from Heathrow to Los Angeles.  The woman in question is a Royal Navy Petty Officer and she was flying to return to her US deployment posting.  Virgin Atlantic staff and security officers at the checkin counter, at the gate, and on the plane all told her that if she did not change out of her uniform, she’d be offloaded and refused passage.

With a brilliant flair for creative lying, they even had the audacity to tell the woman it was for her own safety, to protect her from possible abuse on the flight.

Be Careful if Complaining About Noisy Hotel Neighbors

Here’s an interesting article about noisy hotel neighbors, which mentions tangentially how one hotel guest chose to remonstrate with the noisy folk in the next room and had his ear bitten off for his troubles.  I agree with their suggestion that it is better to let hotel security do such perilous things, but noted with interest their suggestion that some hotels will be slow to approach noisy guests until receiving complaints, due to, well, due to not wishing to risk their own ears.

The article suggests plugging in a set of ear buds and listening to some music as a way to go to sleep.  That might work for some people, but if you decide to adopt a slightly different approach to going to sleep and watch a movie on your Blackberry (does anyone still have a BB these days, I wonder?) be very careful what type of movie it is you choose to watch.

And Lastly This Week….

It is true that I’m often very critical of pilots (and justifiably so).  But back in the ‘good old days’ such people were made of stronger stuff, and perhaps it is in witnessing the collapse of standards that I feel even more aggrieved at the unfortunate idiocy that emanates from the cockpit these days.

Here’s a wonderful five minute video of a flight crew abundantly endowed with ‘the right stuff’ and their amazing flight ‘the long way home’ from Auckland to New York.  It is hard to think of them making an emergency diversion due to a passenger politely asking if the in flight entertainment could be modified.  Do watch the video (and here’s some more information if the video caught your interest).  A great start to your Friday.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels and may all your flights home be the shortest way possible







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