Weekly Roundup Friday 30 August 2013

The venerable Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable, 1873-2013, RIP.
The venerable Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable, 1873-2013, RIP.

Good morning

I returned from my NZ trip on Wednesday, and during the long hours of flight, worked out an interesting thing.

From Tuesday the preceding week when my travels commenced through to their end on Wednesday, there were a total of 203 hours.  Of that time, approximately 89 hours were spent driving, flying, or waiting at airports (more than three of the eight days).  Another 48 or so were spent sleeping.  Take some extra time out for ‘administrative’ things such as washing, necessary (rather than recreational) eating, and another 10 or more on the internet, and what is left?  Less than 50 hours of ‘quality’ time while in NZ and Australia.  Also allow extra time for planning, preparing, booking and packing, and then unpacking upon return, and those 50 quality hours become a surprisingly small share of the total ‘8 day’ journey.

And, no, I definitely don’t want to divide the total costs by the 50 hours of valuable time received!

My point, in sharing these numbers, is neither to boast nor complain – the chances are you’ve had many similar experiences yourself.  Rather, my point is to comment on people who become ‘penny wise and pound foolish’ – people who, for example, don’t appreciate the high cost of each minute of quality time that nets out in a vacation, and so who ‘save money’ by doing things such as spending an hour taking public transportation somewhere when for only $20 more they could take a taxi and save hassle, effort/energy, and value time worth far more than the $20 saved.  Or by staying at a hotel that is half an hour out of the center of the city, then spending extra money/time/hassle traveling between the hotel and the downtown places they want to visit.  Or any of many other similar things.

I’ve helped thousands of people with their travel plans over the years.  I’ve never had anyone come back and complain about having spent too much money on hotels that were ‘too nice’, on transportation arrangements that were ‘too convenient’, and so on.  The reality is that leisure travel is all about personal indulgence and enjoyment and spending money.  If you want to save the maximum amount possible, borrow a book about the destination from your library and read it at home while listening to some appropriate ethnic music and eating some ethnic food.  Beyond that point of ultra-rational armchair travel conduct, your travel experiences will be much better if you spend a bit more to enjoy a lot more.

Okay, it is easy for me to say that, particularly after having had an ultra-budget approach to my break, starting off with the frequent flier tickets I used, and continuing on to the budget motels I stayed at, and the ‘rent a wreck’ nine year old car with almost 100,000 miles on it that I hired.

But – and at the risk of contradicting my earlier exhortation – the curious thing is that I (actually, ‘we’ – my nine year old daughter was with me) had a better time staying at budget motels than we would have at deluxe hotels, and for half the price of a nearly new compact car, I enjoyed a good quality full size car that was more comfortable and equally convenient as the newer smaller car would have been.  Plus, being scratched up on all panels already, I didn’t have to worry about the possibility of any minor dings appearing on the paintwork!

So the second part of this homily is that while usually travel experiences are better if you don’t go all miserly, there’s more to having a good experience than just mindlessly throwing money inappropriately at the problem.

Now, talking about complaining, you just know that after almost 80 hours of concentrated contact with airlines, I’ve got a few things to complain about.  Alas, yes I have.  Please find two separate pieces following this quick roundup, one recounting the regrettable problems I suffered at the hands of Fiji Airways, and the other an opinion piece that wonders why the airlines defy the otherwise almost universally accepted model for running a successful business, and instead of loving their customers, hate their passengers?  The net result of course is that the airlines lose money by ignoring this essential ingredient, and that just causes them to double-down on their hate and abuse.  In the second part of that article, I equate airline service with running a bar – if nothing else, I hope you find the analogy amusing.

I guess this article springs from a growing epiphany over the last week.  Even the most ‘friendly’ of airline employees reminded me of a wild and cornered beast – unpredictable, savage, and likely to suddenly attack without warning, while the series of lies from other airline employees made me wonder – why do they do this, particularly when it would be easier to be helpful than to be obstructive?

What else this week?  Not quite as much as normal, but here’s a few items for you :

  • Another Airplane Crash Victim Death at the Hands of First Responders
  • An Airline Executive’s Nightmare, Revealed
  • Pilot Salaries
  • Pilotless Planes
  • And Driverless Taxis
  • Beware If Texting to Someone Who Might Be Driving When Subsequently Reading Your Message
  • Another Print Victim of the Internet
  • And Lastly This Week….

Another Airplane Crash Victim Death at the Hands of First Responders

I wrote last week about the delays in getting first responders to the Asiana 777 crash in SFO just over a month ago, but, while on the road, couldn’t find a source article.

Thanks to reader Stacy who did find one for us all, in which it is reported that within 18 minutes of being called, 17 responding vehicles were either in a staging area (ie not attending the crashed plane) or en route.  That’s not a very encouraging piece of news at all, is it.

Even more alarming is the revelation that ambulances wouldn’t go too close to the plane for fear of it exploding.

What is the point of agreeing to serve as an airport first responder if you’re not then willing to accept an element of risk in your job?  How can a rescuer assist victims of a crash if he is not willing to accept some danger as part of his task?

And reader Bob wrote in to reveal that the case of having one of the crash survivors run over by a responding fire truck is not unique.  He says :

Actually, I do know of another crash survivor being run over and killed by a fire truck at the crash site.

The year was either 1972 or 1973.  A Navy P-3 Orion crashed while landing at Moffett Field in Mountain View, CA.  The only survivor was in the tail of the aircraft and was thrown clear on impact, just as was the young lady on the Asiana flight.

He was spotted by the first responders who were Navy personnel, and was partially covered by a parachute to prevent shock.  A civilian fire truck responding to the scene crashed through the perimeter fence instead of going through the main gate in order to save time, and, not seeing the airman lying on the ground, ran over him and killed him extinguishing the life of the only survivor of the crash.

Amazing.  Two similar incidents within 25 miles of each other.  You’d think that lessons would have been learned from the first one.

An Airline Executive’s Nightmare, Revealed

As I write in one of the two attached articles, airlines and their employees hate us.  There’s no ifs or ands or buts to this.  They hate us.

This is not just my imagination.  A senior US Airways executive is quoted as having written an email to his boss, CEO Doug Parker, complaining about the need to add Wi-fi to their planes.  He said

[N]ext it will be more legroom. Then industry standard labor contracts. Then better wines. Then the ability to book on Facebook. Penultimately, television commercials. Then, finally, we will pay the NYSE an exorbitant fee to change our ticker symbol [from LCC].

Parker’s response hardly indicated any greater love of customer service.  He replied

Easy now.  Consolidation will help stop much of the stupid stuff but inflight Internet is not one of them

‘Stupid stuff’?  Truly, this is what airline executives have nightmares about.  The need to provide decent seating, and to pay fair wages to staff.  What horrors, indeed!

Pilot Salaries

Talking about paying fair wages to staff, the good news is that most airlines seem to presently be free of urgent labor problems.

Not currently striking are airline pilots, although they’ve been plenty fractious in the past.  As you probably know, the joke about the 747 is that the reason for the hump is so the pilots can sit on their wallets, but in recent years, it is true that pilots have seen their extravagant earnings diminish, to say nothing of their extremely generous benefit packages too.

It is less common these days to see pilots enjoying quarter million dollar salaries, although there is quite a large variation in what pilots earn, because they are basically paid per hour that the plane’s engines are turned on (ie from gate departure to gate arrival) and some pilots have more qualifying hours a month than others.

Here’s an interesting article that has a couple of tables showing what pilots make these days at regional and major airlines – but it makes no mention of benefits which add significantly to the total package value.  Don’t go feeling too sorry for the low paid first year regional airline copilots.  They’re getting paid for doing something they love, and it is their first rung on a ladder that might take them all the way up to the quarter million dollar levels of senior major airlines.

Pilotless Planes

With the cost of having two pilots in a plane reaching up to $500 an hour, and $750 for three pilots on longer journeys, it is little wonder that there continues to be pressure on developing pilotless planes.

I’ve discussed this repeatedly in the past, usually attracting comments from pilot readers claiming such a thing would never happen and would never be possible, while ignoring the fact that most, to the point of almost all of what they do these days is not direct interactive piloting, but rather ‘offline’ programming of the plane’s computerized control systems and managing the plane’s paperwork, neither of which really requires even one on-board pilot, let alone two.

Here’s an interesting article on the subject that echoes my own predictions about how pilotless planes could evolve.  The article becomes all the more compelling when you realize that its author – respected industry writer, David Learmount – has, until now, been a staunch critic of the problems associated with relying on too much cockpit automation.

And Driverless Taxis

With Google’s continued push towards driverless cars, it seems only logical to consider driverless taxis, too.

Although Google has been running into difficulty getting auto industry partners to work with it, they are coming up with an ambitious solution – designing and developing their own car completely.  Details here.

Maybe a driverless taxi would be a good idea – and with Google’s related voice recognition technology and growing database of knowledge about local businesses, restaurant reviews, and so on, you’d even be able to have a dialog with the car while being taken to your destination, and get sensible recommendations for restaurants and other local attractions.

Google could also use its traffic awareness program to select the best route for the car to take.  The biggest uncertainty, perhaps – would the robot expect a tip at the end of the journey?

Beware If Texting to Someone Who Might Be Driving When Subsequently Reading Your Message

Talking about driving vehicles, I’ll reluctantly agree that reading (and, even worse, replying to) text messages is not a very good thing to do while driving.  Indeed, increasingly it is being made a named offense in many states to do this, and in most other cases and states, a ‘careless/inattentive driving’ type charge could probably be levied on any drivers doing this.

But now the liability for such deeds is being extended back to the person who sent the text messages, too.  An appeals court in New Jersey ruled this week that the person sending the text messages could also be liable for civil damages if the driver was distracted by the text messages and had an accident as a result.

Do we all need to now add disclaimers to our text messages ‘Do not read if driving, and if you do, you agree to indemnify us for any and all actions, outcomes and liabilities reasonably related to your reading this text message at the time and in the circumstances that you did so’?

Another Print Victim of the Internet

I’ve always loved maps, and also railway timetables.  There’s something so very interesting at dreaming of rail journeys between far away places and further away places, and such thoughts are ill-experienced when limited by what one can find through an online rail timetable, which do at best a very poor job of constructing journeys through more than one country.

One of the ‘bibles’ of the rail traveler’s library has been the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable, an essential volume appearing monthly that has been published since 1873, and which in its present form fills 576 pages, including not just Europe but assorted other countries too, even New Zealand.

Alas, its recently published August 2013 edition is also to be its last.  Although computers and the internet have made amassing, managing and publishing the data that it contains a much easier proposition than was formerly the case, the internet has also killed off the demand for a printed version of the timetable.

More details of this wonderful and now defunct timetable here.

And Lastly This Week….

Is US Airways cheating on how it calculates the miles it gives to its frequent fliers?  This lawsuit says so.

Have you ever wondered how much your airline seat actually cost the airline?  Well, okay, probably you haven’t, but if you have, the answer might surprise you.  This article rather unquestioningly states that an airline seat must do its job almost 24 hours a day, every day, as justification for the high cost of same, but when you consider that average airplane utilization is closer to 12 hours a day, most days, and that not all seats are filled on every flight, that claim becomes a bit specious.

However, the costs are probably accurate.  Believe it or not, the article claims that airlines pay as much as up to $500,000 for an upmarket first class seat/suite.  Business class seats are much cheaper, and the article doesn’t even bother to cost out coach class seats.

As you may know, the iPhone is increasingly falling behind other phones out there with its small screen size.  The minor increase in screen size from the iPhone 4S to the iPhone 5 didn’t get close to catching up on state of the art phone screen size design, and now we are hearing rumors that the new iPhone 6 (or whatever it may be called when released later this year) might have a still larger screen size.

This is good, and it has been interesting to watch the steady advance in screen size, with phones and ‘phablets’ having screen sizes sometimes of 6″ or more (diagonal measurement).

When will this stop?  How big is too big?  The answer is unclear, but this newly obtained photo may provide some clues.  Will it be allowed as a carry-on device on planes, one wonders.

It’s Labor Day weekend this weekend, of course (where did the summer go?), and the AAA is predicting a record turnout of drivers on the nation’s roads.

So, until next week, please drive carefully, and be patient.







2 thoughts on “Weekly Roundup Friday 30 August 2013”

  1. Hi David, Just wondered if you have any current info on the SWA LGA accident. I have had reports from pilot friends passed along to me that the female captain was on a requested “do not schedule me to fly with her” list by many fellow pilots, and that she was fired by SW after this accident. The unverified report also said an American pilot was riding Jumpseat, and that both Captain and FO were knocked unconscious and the American pilot pulled them out of the cockpit. Obviously SWA wants to keep this under wraps, but what about the media and NTSB? After all the publicity on the Asiana crash, what is going on with this one?

    1. Hi, Dave

      That’s a good point. As I’ve repeatedly lamented, the NTSB seem to be on a ‘go slow’ when it comes to this accident, with the ‘Cone of Silence’ well and truly lowered about it.

      I’ll ask the NTSB for an update.



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