Weekly Roundup Friday 20 September 2013

Yealands Estate in Marlborough, NZ.  Judged makers of the world's best Sauvigon Blanc.  And definitely one of the world's most beautiful vistas.  See it on our 2014 NZ tour.
Yealands Estate in Marlborough, NZ. Judged makers of the world’s best Sauvignon Blanc, and definitely one of the world’s most beautiful vistas. See it on our 2014 NZ tour.

Good morning

Wow.  The sudden appearance of a cancelled cabin on this year’s Christmas Cruise had a rush of people expressing interest, and when all the confusion had cleared, it turned out that I had ‘accidentally’ resold it three times, to two lucky couples and a single lady.  Amawaterways agreed to allow all three requests, and there are now 56 of us on this year’s cruise.

Oh – we’ve now taken all the remaining cabins on the ship – the cruise is completely full, with over one-third of everyone on the cruise being Travel Insiders.  With all the people in our group having now paid for their cruises, there’s probably not a lot of remaining possibility for more cancellations.

Still on the subject of touring, I recently made the briefest of mentions of possibly offering a NZ tour next year, and that provoked a lot of excitement, so I’ve moved forward with that.

This will be quite a different tour to the typical Travel Insider tour, which is usually designed to be of general interest to most readers.  This tour is more ‘special interest’.  It is a food and wine appreciation tour, based on a great food and wine festival in my favorite part of NZ – my former home region of Hawke’s Bay.  It will be held in my favorite time of year, late October/early November 2014 (spring time in New Zealand).

I’m making use of my personal contacts in the NZ wine industry (I went to school with one of the more celebrated winemakers in the country) to put together a tour that will include exclusive events at wineries that ‘normal’ visitors never realize are possible.  We’ll have some very special bottles opened for us, tap a few barrels, have some fascinating vertical tastings, and get to speak to the people who actually make the wine, and rather than suffer generic bland ‘this is how wine is made’ tours, actually get down to the nitty-gritty of how a winemaker responds to the terroir and micro-climate of his vineyard and how he uses these attributes to make the best wines he can, and what he does differently and distinctively.

That’s the wine side of things, but this isn’t just a drinking tour.  We’ll be combining the wine with some of NZ’s finest restaurant experiences – sometimes at wineries, and sometimes elsewhere.  Although, half a century ago, I can dimly remember NZ as being totally bereft of any concept of quality cuisine, that has steadily evolved in the years subsequently, and these days NZ takes full advantage of its cornucopia of abundant fresh food and has world-class restaurants and cuisine, with a broad range of styles and influences.

Food and wine will be a major focus of the tour, but we’ll also see some of the other uniquely NZ things too.  Glowworm caves, geysers and mudpools, sheep, maybe a kiwi or two, and much more.

While I was happy to grow our Christmas cruise all the way to 56 people, this tour is being limited to 20 people.  If we go much over that, the ability for each person to closely interact with winemakers diminishes, and we start to suffer from the need to accept limited group style menus in restaurants, so we’re keeping the numbers low and the experience high.

I’ve had four people already express interest in joining since putting a quick overview description of the tour online on Thursday afternoon.  This is attached to tonight’s newsletter.  It is as its name implies – a quick overview only that tells you the tour dates and a bit about the tour itinerary and a guess about the price.  I’ll round this out over the next week or so, but I am accepting provisional requests to join now.

If you’re just wanting a generic tour of NZ, this would not be a good choice.  If you don’t enjoy wine, or if you do, but don’t care about the difference between, eg, a Meursault and a Merlot, it again would not be a good choice (but if you wanted to learn the difference between Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, it would be a brilliant choice – I’m hoping to persuade a friend to share some of his very special CF with us).

More positively, if you’d treasure the chance of a tour through some of the best wine regions and wineries in a country that is becoming renowned the world over for the quality of its wines, and if you’d like to enjoy wine as it is meant to be experienced – paired with high quality food, in a warm welcoming environment and shared with friends – this would be a wonderful choice quite unlike any other approach to NZ touring.  And you don’t need to be a wine ‘connoisseur’ (whatever that actually may be), but you should be interested in wine and look forward to a chance to learn more about it.

On the other hand, if you’re a wine snob, please stay away.  We want real people, personable people who enjoy real wine realistically.  Because, truly, one of the best parts of this tour needs to be the quality not just of the food and wine, but of the people we share it all with.  Fortunately, that is almost always a high point of any Travel Insider tour.

Wow, I think I wrote more introducing this tour to you than I did in the separate piece below!  But it is, as I say, a special type of tour, and it is important you realize what it is and what it is not.  If it sounds like it could be your cup of tea (or, perhaps better to say, glass of wine) then you would be most welcome to join us.

This last week has also seen the first full week of our new News site.  We’ve been averaging over ten new items added to the site each day, including some great pieces such as news of a giveaway by Air Asia of one million free seats on its flights next year – that is still up as the featured item so if you’ve not recently visited, now would be a great time to check it out.  And do keep checking back, each day, for the latest and greatest travel related news and developments, or sign up for the daily email updates.

What else in what has clearly been a busy week?  There’s also a review of a great rechargeable external battery, which is an interesting reflection on how times have changed.  Five years ago, I was selling $9.95 emergency recharger units whereby a single AA battery would provide enough power to recharge most cell phones.  Nowadays, it takes three AA batteries to recharge an iPhone once, and would take almost 20 AA batteries to recharge an iPad!  Happily, there’s a better solution also at hand, and this review covers one such product.

It is taking me a while to balance between items that I feature below and items I add to the news site.  A new paradigm for me and I can’t decide if the glass is half full – a chance to introduce you to many more items through the News site, or half empty – an inability to feature them here as well (imagine if the list below grew from its nine items to 50+ items!).  So – in the unlikely event the 4250 words on the items below don’t take you all the way through your morning reading, do go to the news site and check out some of the articles there.

Please now continue reading for :

  • New Plane Takes to the Air for the First Time – Bombardier CS100
  • New Plane Takes to the Air for the First Time – Boeing 787-9
  • And a Plane Sadly Unlikely to Take to the Air
  • Good News or Bad News for Airbus and Boeing?
  • Which Airlines Charge the Most Fees?
  • Airplane Fuel Efficiency Ratings
  • A Great Example of an Idiotic Infographic
  • Waits at Customs Cost the US $12+ Billion
  • And Lastly This Week….

New Plane Takes to the Air for the First Time – Bombardier CS100

Monday saw the first test flight of the new Bombardier CS100 plane.  With a typical passenger capacity of 100 in a two-class cabin, 110 passengers in a single class cabin, or 125 passengers in what is politely referred to as a ‘dense’ configuration (yuck), the plane is smaller than the smallest Boeing or Airbus jet, and is attacking a sweet spot in the market that the two major manufacturers have chosen to ignore.

Although the first Boeing 737-100 and -200 planes were slightly smaller than the CS100 (85 and 97 passengers in a two class cabin, respectively) Boeing (and Airbus) have slowly moved to larger and larger ‘small’ jets.  The smallest current 737 is the -700, seating 126 passengers in a two class cabin, and the smallest Airbus is the A318, albeit only very slightly larger than the CS100, with a notional 107 passengers in two classes.

But the CS100 is a precursor to a larger airplane, the CS300, which will seat 130 passengers in two classes, getting it much more firmly into Airbus/Boeing territory.  It has also proven the more popular of the two models – currently Bombardier has 63 orders for the CS100 and 114 for the CS300 (and some of the CS100 orders may be converted to CS300 deliveries too).  So that is 114 or more planes that Airbus or Boeing have not sold which they could have/should have.

It is great to see a new competitor for at least a tiny slice of the Airbus/Boeing duopoly, but just exactly how Canadian is the new plane?  Sure, Bombardier is a Canadian company, but that’s not the same thing as correctly describing the new CS100 as a Canadian plane.

Here’s a fascinating article that traces where every part of the plane comes from.  Its conclusion?  Apart from an uncertain share of the landing gear (made by a German company) and the engines (made by US Pratt & Whitney), about the only Canadian thing will be the aircraft simulators.

We hope that Bombardier has better luck with their outsourcing model for the CS100 than Boeing has had with its 787 outsourcing.

New Plane Takes to the Air for the First Time – Boeing 787-9

Talking about 787s, this week also saw the first test flight of Boeing’s second 787 model, the 787-9.  This is a slightly longer version of the plane, carrying 40 more passengers, and with an increase in range of 350 miles.  It also uses a slightly tweaked/enhanced engine, with a 1% boost in economy.

It seems that Boeing has been learning from its challenges with the first model 787-8, and has had a smoother development process and the plane is presently under rather than over its target weight.  It is proving popular, having taken about 40% of all 787 orders.

More details here.

The launch customer is Air New Zealand, and the airline hopes to fly the first 787-9 about a year from now.  Yay – those coming on our NZ tour next year might have a chance to enjoy a 13 hour over-the-water flight on a 787.  But I’m not sure I’ll be ready to try a brand new model 787; I’ll stick to a ‘classic’ 747 or A330 or whatever else is available.

Oh – one thing, which regrettably shows how Boeing (and Airbus too, for that matter) are both selling planes not on performance, price, and proven substance, but on flim-flam and sham; notice the numbering.  Whereas in the past, Boeing sensibly numbered its planes -1xx (the xx being a rarely cited code for the ordering airline, and usually the plane would be simply called a -100) then -200 and so on through the series, the 787 started at a -8 and the next models will be a -9 and a -10.  Boeing’s venerable 747 also went from a -400 series to a -8 series.

This is presumably because in China, the number ‘8’ is viewed as a very fortunate number to use.  That’s also why Airbus went out of sequence from the A340 and skipped to the A380 (and the first model A380 is the A380-800), before returning back to the A350.

It is sort of sad, if it is true, that anyone would choose one airplane over another based on its model number, isn’t it.  And as for the 787-8, is there anyone on the planet that would currently consider it a ‘lucky’ plane?

And a Plane Sadly Unlikely to Take to the Air

In case you haven’t noticed, air travel is slowing down.  Not only are new model planes no faster and sometimes slightly slower than older model planes, but some airlines are flying their planes at slower cruising speeds, and most airlines are adding extra time into their schedules to more accurately current true travel times and the impact of congestion, either on the ground or in the skies.

What is the solution?  Well, there are definitely are some improvements to be gained from the new Air Traffic Control system that is being painfully slowly developed in the US.  But beyond that, it seems we’re stuck with sub-sonic planes that fly at about 85% of the speed of sound.

Boeing tried to promote a ‘Sonic Cruiser’ that would fly about 15% faster than current planes, very close to the speed of sound, but it ended up discontinuing the concept and replacing that with what became the 787.  As for supersonic flight, the Concorde, flying at a hair faster than twice the speed of sound, is now little more than a distant memory and museum piece, and the occasional promises of future supersonic planes remain futuristic and far from promises.

Here’s a mildly interesting piece about supersonic flight.  Sadly it recycles some of the nonsense about Concorde being unprofitable (it wasn’t, it was enormously profitable for BA, less so for AF), but offers some fascinating facts.  For example, when originally designed, Concorde was designed to be as fuel-efficient as contemporary sub-sonic planes such as the 707 and DC-8, which hints at the main reason that supersonic flight is considered to be expensive these days – the lack of the tens, indeed hundreds of billions of dollars of R&D which have flooded into the design of sub-sonic airplane shapes and the engines that power them.

If the same hundreds of billions of dollars of R&D was offered to supersonic flight, don’t you think the skies would be full of super-efficient whisper quiet supersonic planes today?  If Boeing had not lost its nerve and given up on its 2707 SST, it would have anointed the concept of supersonic travel as being the new and necessary normal, and we would have seen much/most of the R&D over the last 30 years directed towards supersonic rather than subsonic technology, with corresponding benefits.

There’s another interesting comment, near the end of the article, which rather destroys any appearance of credibility or commonsense that one would otherwise attach to the article’s writer.  It says

Today’s airlines understand the value that their customers place on speed and journey times. The “connected cabin” is gradually becoming the norm. So time business travellers spend in the air can now be worth as much, if not more, than time on the ground.

Quite apart from the contradiction between ‘understanding the value we place on speed/journey times’ and the slower schedules the airlines insult us with, how about the claim that the time we spend on a plane is now worth more than the time we spend on the ground???  Really????

Maybe that might be so, but only if you have a first class suite, a phone, a high-speed internet connection, and an ergonomic chair and desk.  Definitely not if you’re crunched in to coach class, unable to open any document on your computer that is even part-way sensitive due to everyone all around you being able to watch it too, and unable to type fast or freely, or to enjoy ‘normal’ broadband internet speeds.

Further proof of the nonsense of that statement is a new study released by American Express – their latest Global Business Travel survey.

This shows that only 19% of business travelers work on longhaul flights.  Only 37% of business travelers would have the cost of in-flight Wi-Fi reimbursed by their companies, and 69% of business travelers enjoy the chance to ‘unplug’ during a flight.

So explain to me again exactly how the connected cabin is the norm and makes people more efficient and effective than in their own offices?  That’s surely not the case for 60% of longhaul business travelers, who use the time to watch movies and/or read books.  Or for the 20% who use the time to sleep.

This is one dangerous step from the airlines trying to persuade us that we should be appreciative and thankful for slowed down flights.

Good News or Bad News for Airbus and Boeing?

Lufthansa announced its decision after a heated competition between Airbus and Boeing to sell it more widebody planes.

After carefully weighing the choices offered to it, with Boeing desperate to persuade Lufthansa to toss a lifeline to its failing 747-8I program, and Airbus keen to secure some more A380 orders, Lufthansa showed itself unable to choose, and compromised, ordering a mix of both A350 and 777 planes.

Naturally both manufacturers had been hoping to scoop the entire order, and as a sometimes salesman, I have to tell you that ‘winning’ half an order is not a victory.  Your boss sees it as losing half the order, not winning half.  Your glass is definitely half empty rather than half full.

Lufthansa, while preaching the standard teaching about the efficiencies of reducing the number of different airplane types in its fleet, now has a dreadful complexity of different airplane types both in operation and slated for future service.  It currently has A319, A320, A321, 737-300 and 737-500 single aisle jets, and A330, A340, A380, 747-400 and 747-8I widebody jets in service, and in the next few years will be adding Bombardier CS100 and 300 planes, A320neo and A321neo planes, A350s and 777s.

Wow.  I guess about the best thing that can be said about that appalling mess of different airplane types is that there’s a huge opportunity for savings and efficiencies in the future.

However, an inability to pick a single winner is increasingly becoming the new norm.  In years gone by, airlines quite happily chose to be exclusively supplied by Boeing or Airbus, but now they seem more determined to play the field and to keep both manufacturers strongly in business.

We’ve seen similar split orders for single aisle jets by American Airlines, Norwegian Air Shuttle and Lion Air of Indonesia divided between current and future versions of the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 lines.  Similarly, Air France KLM and Singapore Airlines have divided up the spoils of medium-sized wide body orders between the A350s and Boeing 787s.

More details here.

Which Airlines Charge the Most Fees?

Which airline in the world earns the greatest share of its revenue from add-on fees?  For that matter, which is the worst US carrier?

As it turns out, the answer is the same.  The worst airline in the world, in terms of gratuitous fee charging, is Spirit (an average of $48.72 per passenger, making up 38.5% of its total revenue).  The second worst is also American – Allegiant ($38.86, coming to 29.9% of total revenue).

Even ‘no-fee’ Southwest actually does bag some fees – it rakes in $12.35 per passenger.

The surprising name not mentioned above?  Ryanair, famous for its outrageous fees.  It earns ‘only’ $17.51 per passenger, not even half what ‘full service’ United charges ($38.11).

Here’s a fascinating listing of airlines that disclose their fee earnings in their annual reports, showing the good and bad airlines.

Airplane Fuel Efficiency Ratings

Many people and governments castigate air travel as being very wasteful and fuel inefficient, demanding airlines pay ‘carbon taxes’ or levying extra fees on tickets to reflect these alleged excesses.

Do you have any idea exactly how many miles per gallon a modern passenger jet gives?

One interesting statistic that was disclosed in the Lufthansa announcement is that the new planes they ordered will average 81.5 passenger miles per gallon of jetfuel, a significant increase on their present longhaul fleet average of 66.0 passenger miles per gallon.

A passenger mile per gallon is a bit different to an unqualified mile per gallon.  Think of a car that gives 25 mpg.  If there is one person in the car, it is giving 25 passenger miles per gallon.  But if there are two, then you’re up to 50 passenger miles per gallon, three would get you 75, and if you have four people, then you’re enjoying 100 passenger miles per gallon.

But how often do you drive somewhere with two or three other people in the car with you?  Or, to put it another way, for journeys where the alternative is not being in a car with three or more other people (ie four or more in total), flying is probably a more fuel-efficient means of travel than driving.


So next time you fly somewhere, think of all the fuel you’re saving!

A Great Example of an Idiotic Infographic

Talking about airplanes and the environment (albeit obliquely), I’d mentioned infographics disparagingly a week ago.  I’ve found a site that seems to pride itself on creating a new infographic every day, and here’s one about ‘The Real Cost of Flying’ which is actually not much about what it costs us at all and far from real.

Instead, it purports to prove that the TSA’s restrictions on flying with liquids is costing $612 million every year – oh, and also creating many square miles of wasted plastic sheeting, mounds of bottles and millions of gallons of water.

Like many infographics, it seems to convincingly cite sources to prove its claims, but if you actually look not at what is proven and cited, but what is not, you’ll see some huge flaws in its logic.  In this case, the infographic is assuming that many people buy a new plastic bag for every flight they take (not every time they go through security, but every flight, meaning a trip with four sectors would trigger four purchases rather than one), that they buy new bottles of toiletries prior to each of these flights, and buy expensive bottles of water too.  It further assumes that all these purchases are at top dollar and are in addition to whatever we buy in our normal lives.

Sure, if you make assumptions like that, you end up with – golly, gee, an annual cost of $611 million dollars, all the ‘fault’ of the TSA and its liquid rules.

Or, to put it another way, an extra cost of 83c per passenger.  And, all of a sudden, wow, even after massively inflating every figure in the calculation, when you put it into context, it’s not all that much.

But it is a pretty infographic that pretends to get you thinking, but actually hopes you don’t think at all.  Which is the deceptive danger of all such things.

Waits at Customs Cost the US $12+ Billion Every Year

Talking about idiot numbers, I’ve regularly bemoaned the appalling delays we inflict on visitors to the US, forcing them to wait up to five hours to get through Immigration and Customs.  Officials blame this on budget cuts and no funds to hire additional officers, while conveniently forgetting that every passenger coming in to the US pays massive fees, specifically added to their ticket price, to generously more than cover all possible costs of their screening, interviewing, searching, etc.

We know that this costs us visitors, and we know that the loss of visitors costs us money.  But we’ve not really known how much.  Until now.

Here’s a fascinating report of a study which shows that we lose $416 million a year merely by the visitors having less time to spend money inside our country due to the hours they wait in line to get through the airport.  Wow!

More to the point, the analysis estimates the loss of visitor numbers due to people avoiding the US as a result of the dreadful delays (and arrogant rudeness) experienced getting in to the country cost us $12 billion in lost revenue, every year.

Please understand.  Everyone more than pays for the ‘privilege’ of prompt service when entering the country at present.  But even if it were provided free, the enormous cost of not giving halfway decent service way outweighs the trivial cost of hiring a few hundred more Customs & Immigration officers.

Doesn’t anyone care about this?  Maybe it needs an infographic.

And Lastly This Week….

We know that air travel has become sadly adversarial, and we suspect that flight attendants sometimes hate us even more than we dislike them.  Here’s an amusing article, perhaps not all entirely true, which would seem to confirm the very worst of our suspicions.

You know how sometimes you’ll be watching a movie on a flight and at the beginning it says ‘This movie has been modified for airline viewing’ – which means they edited the bit out where the hero dies in an airplane crash.

But some movies and television series don’t make it on board at all.  And perhaps the most gold-plated double guaranteed non-starter television series of all would have to be this one.

Kinda makes you want to download it onto the biggest screen laptop or tablet you can find and watch it all flight long, doesn’t it.  A totally different sort of airline (add a word that rhymes with ‘horn’ but starts with the letter ‘p’).

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels







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