Happy Birthday to WordPress.
WordPress first appeared ten years ago, originally as a simple blogging software product. Today, it has extended to a sophisticated ‘content management system’ that is used by over 60 million websites and blogs, and powers some 18% of all the content on the entire internet. It is also the underlying product which these days is used to create your weekly newsletter.
WordPress is a wonderfully approachable and easy to use product, but there’s one thing I don’t understand. Its business model. How does it make money? Whether one uses the WordPress free hosted blog product, or simply downloads their free software to run on one’s own machine, either which way there’s no apparent cash-flow from users to the WordPress organization, whatever it actually is.
However it works, I’m very appreciative. WordPress definitely has improved the ability of The Travel Insider to deliver well presented content to you. We are all beneficiaries.
Our Sri Lankan tour group continues to grow (we’re now at 22 people) and I wanted this week to point out one astonishing feature of the tour – the extraordinary quality of the hotels we’ll be staying at, making the tour’s $2445 per person price for the 13 day/12 night tour wonderfully good value – indeed, one similar tour, with an almost identical itinerary and staying at almost the same hotels, was priced at $4450 per person for a tour this year – nearly twice as much; and it will surely be more if they repeat it in 2014.
The hotels we have chosen to stay at have won awards for being the best there are. For example, we spend three nights at the Cinnamon Lodge in Habarana – this resort won the Sri Lankan Tourism Award for being the best resort in the entire country in 2011, and was named the second best hotel, across all categories in Sri Lanka, by TripAdvisor this year. Another of our hotels, the Chaaya Wild Resort where we stay two nights, is also a multiple award winner, including the Best Wildlife Accommodation Award in the 2011 Sri Lankan Tourism awards (I’m not sure if the 2012 awards have been announced yet).
The Lighthouse Hotel in Galle was designated the fourth best hotel in Sri Lanka by TripAdvisor this year, and our tour both starts and concludes in hotels that have also won multiple awards.
So while your initial perception of Sri Lanka might have encompassed third world type scenes, the reality is you’ll be enjoying high standards of comfort and hospitality in the hotels, and overall, Sri Lanka’s British colonial past softens the ‘third world’ elements, making for a great experience and a minimum of hardship in every respect.
So please do consider joining the 22 of us, plus the four support staff traveling with us – two full-time guides, a driver and an assistant – to enjoy a wonderful experience in an exotic part of the world, February 2014.
What else this week? A very lengthy review of a wonderful new range of Briggs & Riley suitcases follows the newsletter (super executive summary – they’re great), and lots more below on :
- BA’s ‘It’s Not Our Fault’ Claim Regarding Near Air Disaster Comes Undone
- 787 Battery Solution Problems
- The Most Profitable Airline in the US
- Is Emirates About to Obliterate Competitors On a Key Set of US Routes?
- Fascinating Fantastic and Fanciful Futuristic Fast Flightless Travel
- European Double Data Standards?
- The TSA Capitulates Over Knives
- The TSA Removes All X-Ray Scanners
- When is a Pat Down Inappropriate?
- Disney – Expensive? Or Maybe Not.
- Passengers Booted Off a Plane
- Passenger Not Booted Off a Plane
- Hotel Room Service at Risk
- Hotel Rooms at Risk
- And Lastly This Week….
BA’s ‘It’s Not Our Fault’ Claim Regarding Near Air Disaster Comes Undone
We rolled our eyes last week when BA disclaimed any responsibility for the problems on both engines of an A319 that took off from Heathrow, only to urgently return after the pilots called a Mayday emergency due to one engine’s covers having come off and then damaging the fuselage, wing, landing gear and a fuel line as they flew away, and the other engine bursting into flames, also – ooops – having lost its covers, too.
While it is true that airlines have some immunity in the event of ‘Act of God’ type occurrences that they could not reasonably foresee, prevent, or control; preliminary reports are now emerging that show BA’s problem was no such thing.
Instead, BA’s staff made a triple blunder. First, maintenance crew failed to correctly secure the cowlings on the engines, secondly, the pilots, when doing their walk-around the plane, failed to notice the unsecured cowlings, and thirdly, ground workers when walking the plane back from the jetway also failed to notice the loose cowlings.
How can BA view this as not their fault? We surely understand the airline wishing it hadn’t happened, and seeking to avoid what could now be as much as £10 million in arising liability, but there comes a point where honesty should triumph over wishful thinking.
787 Battery Solution Problems
Talking about wishful thinking, Boeing’s ‘solution’ to the propensity of the batteries on its new 787s to catch fire was to contain the batteries in a special fire-proof box that would vent the flames and gases outside the plane in the event of a future fire.
But in the rush to implement this fix, it seems that someone was careless in at least one case, causing JAL to cancel a 787 flight last weekend – originally due to an apparently faulty pressure sensor on the battery box, but this then caused the surprise discovery that two vent holes on the battery box had been mistakenly sealed shut. Ooops.
In somewhat related news, Japanese pilots have expressed polite concern about the efficacy of the Boeing battery fix in general, pointing out a surprising omission – there is no additional remote monitoring provided about the state of the batteries so pilots in the cockpit can understand what might be going on, somewhere in the electronics bays beneath the floor of the plane.
Boeing’s wishful thinking response? There’s no need for additional monitoring, because they’ve ‘virtually eliminated’ any danger to the planes. Details here.
Virtually eliminated? I know Boeing was hoping to reassure the pilots, but somehow, I find that phrase actually works quite the opposite!
The Most Profitable Airline in the US
Can you guess which airline enjoys greater profit margins than all the others in the US? Don’t guess Southwest, and of course, don’t guess any of the major dinosaur carriers.
The answer – and we’ve touched on this in years past – is an airline that most travelers have either never heard of or never considered. Allegiant.
Allegiant has a very successful business model, primarily involving nonstop flights from secondary cities and airports to popular leisure destinations such as Las Vegas (the airline’s headquarters) and Orlando. They operate older planes, but say the saving in capital cost more than compensates the extra cost of jet fuel used by the less efficient planes, and generally they fill the planes very full with passengers.
For the first quarter this year, Allegiant had a stunning 18.5% before tax profit margin. The next most profitable carrier was Spirit (13.4%), and then followed by Southwest, albeit a long way behind with a thin 2.3% profit margin, and Jetblue with a 1.8% profit margin.
And what of the major dinosaurs? Delta managed to barely break even, while United distinguished itself with a 4.9% loss.
The huge spread in these numbers provides proof, yet again (should it be required) of two things.
Firstly, there is no correlation between airline size and profitability. It is common to observe that the smaller the airline, the greater its profit. The specious claims made by airlines when merging that the new larger merged carrier will mysteriously become profitable are just that – specious. Both Delta and United are the creatures of recent mergers (DL with Northwest, UA with Continental) and there’s no evidence of any flood of profitability now appearing as a result of either merger.
Secondly, when dinosaur airlines and their apologists blame their chronic lack of profitability on this, that, or something else – usually ‘the economy’ or something else vaguely generic, they are again wrong. Some airlines can operate profitably, as a result of good management and good operations, no matter what the external factors are. Airline profitability reflects primarily on airline management, not on external factors. But the only time you’ll hear the dinosaurs agreeing with that is when they are profitable, never when they are unprofitable.
Here’s an interesting article about Allegiant.
One thing I noticed was how Allegiant’s own employees – surely rejoicing at the airline’s success and growth and the job security offered by such happy circumstances – are instead doing their best to harm and damage the airline. The article tells how the flight attendants (showing little potential to switch jobs to rocket science if they succeed in destroying their employer) are buying advertisements in newspapers in cities where Allegiant might choose to add new routes trying to make it difficult for Allegiant to do so.
What planet are these people from? Do they not realize that a healthy growing profitable airline means more jobs for their members, and gives them a better chance at pay raises? Do they think that inflicting harm on the airline’s future growth prospects and profitability will make negotiations for improved conditions and pay more positive?
Do they also think the airline should be obliged to keep flying unprofitable routes?
Is Emirates About to Obliterate Competitors On a Key Set of US Routes?
Whenever talking about profitable growing airlines, one automatically thinks of that airline phenomenon, Emirates, and its extraordinary growth and profitability (before you say ‘Well, what do you think, they buy their jet fuel and everything else so cheaply’, please read my analysis Does Emirates Enjoy an Unfair Advantage?).
An interesting story this week revealed Emirates is considering adding service between US cities and not just Dubai, but between the US and Singapore, Thailand, and Japan.
Emirates has ‘fifth freedom’ permissions to carry passengers on those routes, without the need to include transit through or travel on to its Dubai headquarters.
Needless to say, the ability for Emirates to take Americans to key destinations such as Singapore and Japan (and to tie in with partner airlines for travel beyond those points) should strike fear into the corporate hearts not just of airlines such as Singapore Airlines, ANA and JAL, but also other Asian operators and of course, our own US airlines too.
It is interesting to note that Emirates’ growth and profitability continues to outstrip that of almost all other airlines in the world, even though the airline belongs to no alliances, has never needed to merge to create ‘synergies’ and only has a select number of partnerships with specific airlines on specific routes. But don’t bother trying to point that out either to US carriers or US regulators, because they all have their eyes determinedly shut.
Last year Emirates added 34 new planes to its fleet, this year it hopes to add 44 more (and these are generally very big planes, not small single aisle planes!), and is impatiently awaiting a chance to order new planes from Boeing (the 777X) as soon as it is available to order, and has also indicated interest in an even larger, stretched, A380-900. Until such time as a bigger A380 may appear, it eagerly waits each additional A380-800 as it is received from Airbus.
There seem no limits to Emirates’ growth, and if it is now to be freed of its Dubai-centric shackles, allowing it to leap into the profitable primary Pacific routes, who knows where its future will take it.
Fascinating Fantastic and Fanciful Futuristic Fast Flightless Travel
Aaagh. Couldn’t think of an ‘f’ word that means travel. But you get the general idea.
Here’s an interesting article about a method of travel that seems right out of a 1930s science fiction magazine – evacuated tube transport. You settle into a pressurized pods, each holding up to six people and their luggage, and then swish across the country in a vacuum tube (for less friction and greater efficiency) at speeds of up to 4,000 mph. This would allow you to travel from coast to coast in 45 minutes, or from New York to Beijing in two hours.
According to the developers, a system could be operational within a decade, but we’re not sure if they mean a five-mile test track or a 5,000 mile network. We suspect the former, but of course hope for the latter.
Meanwhile, Japan is settling for slightly slower speeds. Japan is of course the home of the original ‘high speed’ train – the ‘bullet trains’ or Shinkansen, that first went into service back in 1964.
They seemed pretty amazing at the time, running at speeds of up to 130 mph. Over the almost 50 years since then, there have of course been upgrades and speed increases, with short stretches of track now supporting speeds of up to 200 mph. However, it is fair to observe that Japan is no longer at the frontier of train technology, with high-speed trains in Europe and China now sometimes exceeding 200 mph, China having a maglev train that reaches 268 mph, and an experimental French TGV reaching 357 mph.
But the Japanese seem eager to reclaim a position of prominence, announcing plans for a 311 mph maglev train, although with the first train not expected to enter service until 2027, who only knows what the next 14 years will see in terms of developments in other countries, too.
Fourteen years from displaying a prototype now to the first train going into service? How can that take so long, one wonders?
But when one considers President Obama’s ambitious plans to create a world class high-speed rail network, announced over four years ago, and contrast that with not a single foot of high-speed rail track having been laid in the 53 months since his Transportation Secretary promised us
And I assure you that one day, not too many years from now, ours will be the go-to network, the world’s model for high-speed rail.
it is clear that time moves at a different speed when it comes to rail projects.
Details of the new Japanese trains here. Details of our own “world’s model for high-speed rail” remain elusively absent.
European Double Data Standards?
After expressing a carefully calibrated level of protest, so as to parade its independence, the EU fully acceded to US requests (a better term would be ‘demands’) to generously share information on the passengers flying on its planes to the US.
Now the EU has been asked to provide a lesser amount of data to Russia about passengers on planes flying in to Russia – and, lest we forget, Russia has its own muslim terrorist problem, every bit as bad and active as our own muslim terrorists.
Russia published a requirement for airlines to provide this information last September, to take effect from 1 July this year. But the EU is digging its heels in, first complaining that Russia didn’t give formal notification to its bureaucrats, and now disingenuously complaining that the matter raises privacy concerns.
Let’s not forget that all these passengers have had to complete reasonably searching visa applications prior to being granted permission to fly to Russia in the first place. And let’s not forget that it is a privilege, not a right, for any person to be admitted to any foreign country. So what exact data privacy concerns does the EU have?
Russia points out, fairly enough, that there is no framework for any country formally advising other countries of changes to its internal laws and regulations and procedures, and also points out that it seeks considerably less information than that now being shared with the US.
More details here.
The TSA Capitulates Over Knives
In reality, it always seemed too good to be true – good sense from the TSA. Notwithstanding the fact that only one-third of Travel Insider frequent fliers opposed the TSA’s plans to allow tiny pocket knives back on planes, and notwithstanding that it has become internationally acceptable everywhere else in the world for people to fly with such pocket knives, and notwithstanding the lack of a single case of any passenger, ever, anywhere, causing problems with a pocket knife, the TSA has now capitulated to the raucous shouts of alarm from flight attendants, TSA screeners, and various other pressure groups.
Their plan to allow pocket knives on planes has now been cancelled. The rest of the world looks on and laughs at us again, and the muslim terrorists around the world smile in smug satisfaction as we continue to degenerate into a nation of scaredy cats. Their triumph over us grows stronger with ever passing day and every further loss of liberty and sense that we accept and demonstrate.
The TSA Removes All X-Ray Scanners
You’ll recall that the TSA bought two types of whole body scanners – one type uses X-rays that many leading authorities claim to be potentially dangerous and harmful, the other type uses extremely high frequency radio waves – also thought to be harmful, but less generally harmful than the X-rays.
After an extended amount of public complaint and TSA stonewalling, the TSA announced it was moving the X-ray scanners out of the major airports and instead putting them in smaller secondary airports, perhaps so as to only irradiate less important country bumpkins rather than more important big-city tycoons.
Public complaint continued, and then the TSA suddenly announced that it had just now discovered that the X-ray machines showed sort of nude pictures of people and their body parts underneath their clothes. They further said that because the company making the scanners couldn’t quickly change the technology to only show abstracted body forms, they would take the machines out of service entirely. This was, the TSA said, the fault of the manufacturer, and nothing at all to do with the machines being harmful to the people they irradiated.
Some of us thought this to be nothing more than a thinly disguised way of the TSA saving face and taking the X-ray machines out of all airports entirely (it seems they’re now going to prisons and federal buildings instead – prisoners, prison visitors, and people wishing to visit government departments apparently aren’t entitled to the same protections as air travelers). The last X-ray scanners were removed just a couple of weeks ago, shortly prior to a Congressionally imposed deadline.
Whatever the reason, we’re pleased to see them go, although it is my proud boast never to have gone through one.
When is a Pat Down Inappropriate?
Notwithstanding the machines that can see beneath your clothes, passengers are still sometimes subjected to a pat down – either as a random act or due to the machine spotting something it deems suspicious.
A few years ago the TSA made their pat-downs massively more intrusive and invasive, and that occasioned a great deal of comment and complaint. It still does – for example, a recent case of a woman who seems to be a professional TSA complainer, saying that she was touched ‘inappropriately’ during at pat down while being screened at San Diego. She even posts a very lengthy video here to supposedly support her complaint.
Now I’m the first to criticize the TSA when they deserve criticizing, but there are two things to consider here.
First, in this case, the TSA lady doing the pat down showed the patience of a saint as she worked with the complaining woman. If all TSA agents were like her, I’d be singing their praises week in and week out.
Secondly, it is beyond stupid to demand that parts of one’s body are a ‘no pat-down’ zone. If the TSA says ‘Okay, we’re going to pat you down here and here, but not there and there, what do you think terrorists will do? They’ll rush to load up those areas with explosives, guns, and even the tiny pocket knives you just know that people like this professional complainer almost certainly want to keep off planes.
If you’re going to pat a person down, you must pat down every square inch of their body. If you leave any part untouched, no matter how intimate or personal that part might be considered, you’ve rolled out the red carpet to terrorists wishing to smuggle things on planes.
So, my definition of an inappropriate pat down? It is one which fails to touch you everywhere. As unpleasant as it is, and as sad a situation as it is that we as a nation are reduced to this level of fear, if we truly need to be patted down, then we must be properly patted down.
Now there are some situations where it seems that TSA screeners may have done more than simply pat down on the outside of people’s clothing, and where they may have reached their hands inside women’s panties and, uh, inside. But this woman’s video shows no such thing at all.
Disney – Expensive? Or Maybe Not.
Disney theme park admission prices have massively increased this year, way beyond what you’d expect for an inflation type adjustment.
A one day, single-park ticket for admission to only one of the Disney complex parks in Orlando now costs $95, up $6 (ie 6.7%) from last year’s price. Children – as long as they are nine or younger – get a tiny reduction and pay ‘only’ $89 each.
Keep in mind that’s just the price of admission at the gate. You’ve already paid money to park, and you’re about to start paying more money, all day long, for food, drinks, and souvenirs.
Suggestion – if you’re in the Orlando area, consider a trip to Busch Gardens in Tampa instead. I like it every bit as much as Disney, and if you book your tickets online prior to visiting, you pay ‘only’ $75 for adults and $67 for children.
If you’re in the Los Angeles area, Knotts Berry Farm is almost literally just around the corner from Disneyland, and costs as little as $40/27, and Six Flags Magic Mountain, north of Los Angeles, is $45/40.
However, although we might gripe at the hundreds of dollars it costs us to go stand in inexorable lines all day at a Disney park, not everyone is as concerned. This story tells of a Saudi prince who took a group of 60 friends and family members to Euro Disney for three days. He wanted special treatment, and so he paid a bit extra to have exclusive use of parts of the park.
A bit extra? How about, in total, he paid $20 million!
Passengers Booted Off a Plane
Here’s a story which leaves me a bit perplexed. Usually I’m able to rush to judgment, sometimes on the scantiest of facts, but this time I just can’t decide.
A school group of 101 teenage students and eight adult chaperones booked to fly on AirTran from New York to Atlanta were forced to deplane because the students allegedly refused to behave. Apparently they were told repeatedly, prior to the plane pushing back from the gate, to switch off their phones and take their seats, and apparently some of them – not all, but some – were slow to comply, whereupon a flight attendant decided to offload the entire group.
Considering that the plane was apparently a 137 seat 737 (or possibly a smaller 117 seat 717), that probably emptied out almost the entire plane, changing a happily full flight for the airline into an unhappily nearly empty one.
Significantly, this time there’s a passenger witness who bears out the airline’s side of things and confirms that about ten students were unruly and ignoring repeated warnings.
One of the students was quick to play a race type card, claiming they were discriminated against for being identifiably Jewish. Puh-leeaze.
On the other hand, the sad reality is that you put a group of 101 teenagers on a plane as a group, and you’ve got to expect, in this day and age, less than perfect behavior. That some of them were laughing, giggling, and not paying attention is, alas, not exactly shocking. The airline agreed to accept the group, and the flight attendants should have tried some more honey and some less vinegar in their attempts to manage the students.
So, as I said, I’m not sure who is most in the wrong here. What do you think?
Passenger Not Booted Off a Plane
Now for a much easier situation to express an opinion on. This story just beggars the imagination – not only the incident itself, but the flight attendant refusing to do anything about it.
How is it that some passengers get taken off planes by the police after ‘staring at the flight attendants with an aggressive deadpan expression’ (as happened a month or so back), others get thrown off planes for wearing t-shirts or skimpy clothing which a flight attendant finds offensive, and others for taking photographs but stopping when ordered to do so; but this man was given carte blanche to continue what he was doing, despite a 17 yr old girl complaining?
When asked about it, a UA spokesperson was unable to say anything other than their standard meaningless li(n)e that they use in all cases :
The comfort and security of our customers is our top priority, and we will closely review this complaint when we receive it
Hotel Room Service at Risk
I hate room service in hotels. The food is usually more expensive on the room service menu than on the restaurant menu, then they charge you a surcharge on top of the increased prices, then you pay a tip to the bellboy for bringing it to your room. You have to wait a long time for the food, and if you order more than one course, it all comes at the same time, and no matter what you ordered, it is always half cold by the time it arrives.
But I also dislike dining alone in formal hotel restaurants. I feel self-conscious doing so, and I dislike that a meal which takes 15 minutes to eat takes an hour to be served and eaten in the restaurant – valuable time I could be using to work, relax or sleep. So sometimes I’ll unhappily order room service, hating myself and the meal that comes when I do so.
Now comes the story that the dislike of room service is mutual. According to a NYC Hilton, they don’t like it either and claim to lose money on providing it. Losing money on selling over-priced food? That’s a surprise.
The part of their story that I find most puzzling though is the claim that room service is a luxury. Sure, it is expensive, but luxurious? No way.
Hotel Rooms at Risk
In my younger days, working for an extremely profitable computer company with an unlimited expense account, we were encouraged to work hard and permitted to play hard too, with an ever-expanding number of hotels in New Zealand banning our company for life after we held sales meetings at their establishments – something we could never understand, because we always generously compensated the hotels for any damage caused. (It got so bad that we were forced to hold conferences in university student hostels, and even got banned from those, as my old boss and now reader Doug will vividly recall).
So with that as unasked for personal confession, I’m less than shocked to read about how a doubtless high-earning attorney got a bit overly enthusiastic and carried away when apparently holding his 45th birthday party (Hello, mid-life crisis!) with five much younger lady friends in a three bedroom 5,829 sq ft suite at the Wynn in Las Vegas.
But what really does shock me is the hotel’s claim that he caused $96,270.61 worth of damage. We are told that the room was in total disarray, furniture overturned, broken glass on the floor, and food mess everywhere. A speaker, a vase and a book were also ruined.
Does any of that sound like $96,000 worth of damage to you?
And Lastly This Week….
Strangely, none of the accounts of the lawyer’s spree in Las Vegas have supporting pictures to confirm the extravagant claims of damage caused – an omission which casts further doubt on the validity of the claims.
But we do have photos galore of food everywhere – including even on the ceiling – after a Singapore Airlines flight hit severe turbulence while passengers were eating breakfast.
And, as for the naughty lawyer who trashed the 5,829 sq ft suite at the Wynn, do we think his next hotel room will look like this?
Truly lastly, here’s an interesting article and link to five amazing representations of airline flight paths.
Until next week, please enjoy safe travels