Weekly Roundup Friday 6 September 2013

In case it isn't immediately obvious, the picture is explained at the end of the newsletter.
In case it isn’t immediately obvious, the picture is explained at the end of the newsletter.

Good morning

Happy 50th birthday this week to the lava lamp.  I suspect most of us can remember its first flash of prominence, and, certainly in my case, I still have one gathering dust somewhere.  Occasionally I even see them for sale, and as this history of the invention explains, they continue to be made.

When one thinks of all the products that have appeared and disappeared over the last 50 years, I’ll wager that very few of us would have expected such longevity from the lava lamp.

This last week, and indeed, smaller portions of many weeks over the last three months, has seen me at work on an exciting new project that I plan to reveal to you in its full glory next week (Supporters will get a Beta preview shortly).  So please excuse me for going easy on you this week, although there are two attached stand-alone articles in addition to the roundup here.  The first is a follow-on from my sad tale of woe to do with Fiji Airways’ refusal to seat my daughter and me in business class as our tickets should have allowed, on our flight back to Los Angeles last week, and the other an article that expresses amazement at a gratuitous insult foisted on football fans by the NFL, ostensibly in the name of security, but with a security ‘loophole’ so huge as to make the whole issue totally nonsensical.

Nonsense is of course the name of the game when it comes to security, alas.  Reports this week tell of new Iranian efforts to infiltrate Muslim terrorists into the US.  How will these people get through all the new rigorous controls and checks prior to being issued a visa, and the security checks before flying to the country, and the final round of inspections and checks at Immigration and Customs upon arrival?

As you know, the US is spending billions of dollars to enhance our airport and immigration/visitor security procedures.  But there’s one enormous weakness, well-known to everyone – including the Iranians.  Details here.

One good thing came out of my ten-hour overnight coach flight.  I had a great opportunity to test out the new Cabeau travel pillow/collar thing that I reviewed back in July.

I found it to work as well as I hoped.  Sure, it couldn’t help with my knees banging into the seat back in front, and neither could it help with my feet hard up against the end of the under-seat space, but it did cradle/cushion my head and neck.  I found it worked best with the ‘join’ at the back rather than at the front, and I decided to take off my large Bose noise-cancelling headphones while using the pillow.  The pillow comes complete with earplugs, but I didn’t use them.

So my earlier recommendation for this new type of travel pillow is now buttressed by a ten-hour torture test and by a number of positive comments received back from other readers who have also now tried it, too.

A few other items follow below :

  • An Interesting Consumer Protection Development at Air Canada
  • Delta Buys Some New/Old Planes
  • JetBlue Ostensibly Spurns Merger Idea
  • Norwegian Air Shuttle Expands US Presence
  • A Fun Way to Tweak BA’s Sensibilities?
  • Enormous Changes in the Cell Phone World
  • Amazon Adds to its Kindle Capabilities
  • And Lastly This Week….

An Interesting Consumer Protection Development at Air Canada

We wrote before about a Canadian flier, Gabor Lukacs, and his extraordinary (and extraordinarily successful) single-handed mission to bring consumer protections to the Canadian airline industry.

The details of his successful battle to force Air Canada to pay compensation to bumped passengers have now been revealed.  Developed by Air Canada under the supervision of the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA), the airline will pay C$200/400/800 to bumped passengers, depending on if the delay they suffer as a result of being bumped is less than two hours, 2 – 6 hours, or more than six hours.

Now for the interesting thing.  The CTA required AC to make such compensation in cash, however it can offer travel vouchers in lieu of cash, but only if at least three times the cash equivalent.   So if you were qualified to receive, say, $400 in cash compensation, if AC were to offer you travel vouchers instead, they would have to be worth at least $1200.

This three for one ‘conversion rate’ is startlingly generous to passengers.  I’ve earlier opined that you’re doing well to get a 150% to 200% voucher exchange rate, the new 300% rate sets a new high, and we can but hope it may make its way south of the border.

Currently, airlines in the US are required to offer cash compensation, but there are no rules on what conversion rates the airlines must offer if you accept travel vouchers in lieu of cash.  I continue to think that if you get twice as much in travel vouchers, you’ve done well, but you should now start your ‘bidding’/negotiating by commenting that in Canada, AC has to offer three times the cash amount in voucher form.

And, most of all, thanks again to Gabor Lukacs.  Let’s hope he comes to live in the US for a few years.

Delta Buys Some New/Old Planes

Delta has made a name for itself by buying older model planes, presumably at steep discounts off list price, in the hope that the lower capital cost, as expressed in a monthly payment, more than offsets the higher monthly operational and fuel costs of the older planes.

This week it announced an order for 40 new planes, albeit again older models.  The most interesting thing about the order was it marked Delta’s first purchase from Airbus in two decades, and Delta’s break from its former non-binding commitment to exclusively buy from Boeing.

The order was for a mix of old style A321s (rather than the new A321neo) and A330s, with planes to start arriving from early 2015 onwards.

Delta also has some 787s on order which had been ordered by Northwest Airlines prior to them merging, but Delta has deferred deliveries until 2020 or later, with some commentators openly speculating that Delta may quietly cancel the order entirely.

More details here.

JetBlue Ostensibly Spurns Merger Idea

Speaking to the Reuters Aerospace and Defense Summit conference, CEO Dave Barger said JetBlue was pursuing a policy of growth, but had no interest in merging with or being acquired by other airlines.

It is good to hear him say that, but of course, American Airlines stridently maintained it had no interest in or need to merge with other airlines too, all the way through to the point where it suddenly changed its mind and decided that a merger was essential to its survival.

So one doesn’t really know how persuasive Barger’s disavowal of merging might be, especially when viewed in the light of other airline stocks having shown substantial appreciation this year (notably Delta up 66% and Spirit up 76%) while JetBlue’s share price has gone up a mere 7.5%.

More details here.

Norwegian Air Shuttle Expands US Presence

At a time when independent airlines are becoming increasingly scarce, it is wonderful to see a maverick type airline and its gung-ho CEO adding service between Europe and the US, and yet again showing the lie that comprises the dinosaur airlines’ collective claim that the only way to survive on trans-Atlantic routes is to join forces into anti-competitive mega-airline blocs.

As this article tells, Norwegian is soon to be flying from three Scandinavian cities (Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen) to four US cities (New York, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles and Oakland).  Overall, the airline, founded in 1993, operates 79 planes (with another 270 on order) and serves 121 cities in 32 countries on four continents.  Although a regional carrier for twenty years, it is only this year starting long haul services, first to New York and Bangkok, and now successively to these other services.

Their percentage of total capacity across the North Atlantic is miniscule currently and most of their new planes on order are for their European short-haul routes.  But every bit of extra capacity and competition is welcomed, and the airline’s rich European network may give it the strength to build its long-haul network, even in the face of aggressive responses from the dinosaurs.

We wish it well.

Oh – one potential issue with the airline.  It is basing its new services on 787s – like, for example, the one that it has had to ground for four days so far, due to ‘potential brake problems’.  Ooops.

Just because you’re not seeing the headlines every day doesn’t mean that the 787s are now working perfectly.

A Fun Way to Tweak BA’s Sensibilities?

Let’s be real.  If you saw a tweet from someone you knew nothing about on Twitter saying ‘Don’t fly @BritishAirways.  Their customer service is horrendous.’ would that really influence you one way or the other?

We know that all airlines suffer from poor to horrendous customer service to start with.  So this tweet is hardly a blinding flash of revelation, and neither does it contain any salient details to enable us to understand the specific problem and BA’s specific non-response.

But an outraged individual paid an estimated $1000 to have this exact tweet distributed on Twitter to tens of thousands of people, and mixed into BA’s own tweet stream.  His beef?  His parents, flying on BA from Chicago to London to meet up with him, had their luggage ‘lost’, and so the complainer reacted with a tweet.

The thing about ‘lost’ (ie delayed) luggage is that this event does sometimes happen, to everyone and to all airlines.  When it does happen, it is as likely to not be the airline’s fault, and solving the problem is quite likely to be out of the direct control of the airline.

Sometimes the bag is being tracked during its misadventure, and that makes it easy for everyone to solve the problem.  But sometimes, the problem is that the bag ‘fell off the radar’.  In such a case, everyone is forced to rely on some airport baggage handler, in who knows what airport, where, noticing a stray bag and doing something about it.

Tweeting one’s probably misplaced dissatisfaction with BA won’t and can’t do anything to get one’s bag found more quickly and returned to one more efficiently.

I hope the guy felt better for venting, and the act of paying a substantial sum to vent in public has attracted a lot of commentary (for example here) but he’d have been better advised to have spent the money on buying his parents some emergency clothing prior to their lost bag’s arrival (which it apparently has now done).

Enormous Changes in the Cell Phone World

Wow.  In the last week or so, Blackberry has admitted that it is desperately trying to sell itself, Panasonic has given up on making cell phones entirely, Microsoft has bought Nokia, Verizon is about to buy the 45% of Verizon Wireless it doesn’t yet own, a new model Google Nexus phone was inadvertently featured in a Google promotional picture and video (about the new KitKat release of Android) and Apple advised it will have a release event next Tuesday, presumably to announce its latest generation of iPhones.

How’s that for the mega-sentence to end all mega-sentences?

Just a couple of quick comments about these changes.

In 2007, Nokia’s market capitalization was $150 billion.  Today, it is being bought by Microsoft for $7.2 billion.  In 2007, its market share was 48.7%, in 2012 it has dropped to 3.5%.

Even more amazingly, in 2006 and 2007, the dominant smartphone operating system belonged to – Microsoft.  It was overtaken in 2008 by – Blackberry.  Only in 2011 was supremacy ceded to Android, with an unclear future presently as between if Android or iOS will emerge as the sustainably most popular smartphone OS (we might know more when we see what Apple has to tempt us with next Tuesday).  There are two fascinating charts about changing market shares at the bottom of this article.

Clearly there have been enormous fortunes won and lost in this industry.  What is less clear, however, is the good sense (or more likely, lack thereof) in Microsoft choosing to now become a phone manufacturer (although of course Google did the same thing when it bought Motorola, but unlike Microsoft, Google has played an expert game of balancing its in-house relationship with Motorola and its external relationships with other hardware partners).

Microsoft’s own record at phone development is dismal (ie the extraordinary disaster of cosmic proportions that was its Kin product, and its Surface RT tablet hasn’t been much other than a disaster, too) so it is hard to know what added value Microsoft will get from fully owning Nokia that it doesn’t currently enjoy from its present symbiotic relationship.

Amazon Adds to its Kindle Capabilities

I used my Kindle a great deal more than usual on my travels over the last few weeks, and have to say that the Kindle reader software has some huge limitations and weaknesses that are becoming more and more bothersome as my eBook library ages and expands.  Some of the limitations seem blindingly easy to address – for example, better ways of sorting, filing, and ‘storing’ books, and better ways to track which ones you’ve read and when, and it is surprising that Amazon, usually a leader in user-experience issues, hasn’t been more attentive to such things.

But maybe the reason is due to Amazon being so busy on other fronts.  News this week tells us of a new Kindle reading device, with longer battery life, better screen contrast and lighting, and a faster processor.  None of these issues have been pressing weaknesses in past units, but better is always better, right?

Also announced this week is a great new program – MatchBook.  This will allow you, in some but not all cases, when buying a physical printed book from Amazon to also buy a discounted eBook copy (prices from $1 – $3).  Better yet, the eligibility will be backdated to cover all qualifying book titles you’ve ever bought from Amazon, all the way back to its founding in 1995.  This program gets released next month.

And Lastly This Week….

Have you ever been afflicted with the problem of being on your ‘trip of a lifetime’ and visiting amazing places that you know you’ll probably never return to, and desperately wanting to take a ‘selfie’ but suffering from bad weather making the picture unappealing.

One particular form of ‘bad weather’ that afflicts too much of China is smog.  I’ve been in Shanghai when the smog has been so thick that it has closed down freeways, and where you can’t see one side of the city from the other side of the river.  There’s no chance to get a wonderful picture of the amazing skyline in such situations.

Hong Kong is not quite so severely afflicted, but even so, clearly their city fathers are sensitive to the issue, and have come up with an innovative solution.

Truly lastly this week, I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how the Chinese city of Shenzhen had passed a new law that made it illegal to ‘make messes’ in public toilets.  Shenzhen is a hot bed of Chinese innovation – usually in the high-tech field, but also apparently in the lower tech arena as well, with the new law bringing about an entrepreneurial response aimed at both men and women.

Phew.  Made It.  I’ve been anxiously saving my work every couple of minutes for the last several hours, while a spectacular thunderstorm has been playing around me.  The UPSes have been cutting in and out, but happily, the power has not stayed off, so here’s this week’s effort.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels







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