Weekly Roundup Friday 20 December 2013

Making us Saferer :  The TSA seized the teensy tiny plastic gun from this sock monkey, claiming it to be a 'realistic replica'.
Making us Saferer : The TSA seized the teensy tiny plastic gun from this sock monkey, claiming it to be a ‘realistic replica’.

Good morning

Apologies for being silent for several weeks.  A flurry of combined activity with the Christmas Cruise and other matters saw me silent for several weeks, but I’m now back again and as penance will offer a newsletter next week in the quiet between Christmas (golly – Christmas already!) and New Year (where did 2013 go?).  🙂

I’m still behind on correspondence and in particular, terribly behind in responding to your many kindnesses with this year’s annual fundraising drive – an event currently observed more in the absence this year, due to technical problems and my silence.

If you’ve not yet chosen to help out this year, there’s still time to do so, and to be eligible for the extraordinarily generous range of gifts and prizes that will be given to contributors.  Please simply go to this page and choose how much you’re comfortable contributing.

The most important thing that has happened in the intervening time has been solving a terrible crippling problem that has inhibited just about everything.  I’ve been unable to edit my website.  Ooops!  Something got mangled in the process of moving to the new web publishing server, and eventually I had to give up and simply redo everything from first principles.  A long and tiring process, but now all seems to be back on track and optimized.

That is a huge relief, and it truly is a wonderful feeling to be able to easily edit and add new pages.

One comment about the lack of weekly newsletters (and thanks to everyone who wrote in about this).  Did you know that every day there is a Travel Insider compilation of travel news, complete with short pithy comments?  If you like the weekly newsletter, you’ll love this separate daily newsletter, too.  And although the weekly newsletter was in hiatus, thanks to the sterling efforts primarily of travel marketing guru Steve Wellmeier and a small team of other helpers, the daily newsletter continued to be published every day.  And, yes, it too is completely free and open to all.

XmasgroupcSo, our 2013 Christmas Cruise has now been completed, together with pre-cruise options in Dresden and Prague and a post-cruise option in Berlin.  There’s a pastiche of most of our group featured along the left of this newsletter – there were an amazing 60 of us in total, but it never felt like an unruly crowd.  We generally had two coaches and as many as four guides for our touring, giving us small group high-quality experiences throughout, and yet again, we had a wonderful group of people, all happily sharing a great experience, and blessed with good weather and no major problems.

Our 2014 Christmas cruise will be simultaneously similar and also different.  We’re cruising along the Danube in the opposite direction, and we’re offering pre-cruise options first in Zurich then in Munich and we’ll have Prague (59 of the 60 in our group added Prague this year – it really is an essential add-on) after the cruise rather than before.

Now for the great news about the 2014 cruise.  We can offer you a magnificent 30% discount on this cruise if you choose to join prior to the end of January 2014, and we have an even more special deal if you’ve ever been on any Amawaterways cruise before (either with us or even traveling by yourselves).

Why not give yourselves a very special Christmas present for this year – a Christmas cruise for next year.  More details here.

This newsletter is also essentially our last call for people wishing to come to Sri Lanka Nature’s Paradise Tour with us in February 2014.  We’ve a great group of 25 Travel Insiders currently coming along, and can probably squeeze two or three more people in at this late stage.

You can see all details here, but if you’d like to join, I’ve now disabled the signup form in case of too many last-minute applications, so you’d have to send me an email to let me know of your interest.

This week’s newsletter is somewhat brief, due to jetlag (I find that creative thinking is the hardest of all things when in a ‘wrong-time-zone’ mental fog) and general catching up, but hopefully its re-appearance is such as to delight you.  Please see below for items on :

  • An Amazing Christmas Gift from WestJet
  • A Lesser Gift from Alaska Airlines
  • Southwest Selectively Shrinks
  • Some Pilots Truly Can Still Fly Well
  • Scotland Yard :  From Jail Cells to £10,000 a Night Hotel Rooms
  • Budget Compromise Sees Higher Security Fees for Passengers
  • TSA Considers a Two Inch Miniature Plastic Toy Gun a ‘Realistic Replica’
  • The World’s Worst Tourism Slogans
  • And the Worst Infographic, Too?

An Amazing Christmas Gift from WestJet

Okay, so it was limited in scope, and probably was nothing more than a coldly calculated and commercial way of spending a little bit of money in the expectation of getting much greater positive publicity in return.  But even so, it was also a very positive and imaginative event by Canada’s WestJet, and they clearly made 100 or so passengers on a 4 hour 15 minute flight from Toronto to Calgary very happy indeed.

Well worth watching in the run-up to Christmas.

In other WestJet news, they announced plans to offer seasonal daily service to Dublin starting in June next year.  The flight originates in Toronto, but makes a mandatory stop in St John’s, Newfoundland, due to aircraft certification issues.  They are operating an unusually small plane – a 737-700 that seats only 136 people.  This means their one flight a day for part of the year will have negligible impact on overall air traffic from Canada to Ireland and beyond and an equally negligible impact on fares, but the airline said it will consider adding additional European destinations for the 2015 season if this first toe in the water proves successful.

WestJet (co-founded by David Neeleman, who subsequently founded JetBlue) has been steadily growing since its 1996 launch with three planes serving five cities, and now operates 114 airplanes (with 103 more on order) and flying to 88 destinations.  Air Canada remains more than three times larger, but if WestJet continues its steady growth, its market share, both domestically and internationally, can be expected to continue to grow.

A Lesser Gift from Alaska Airlines

Seattle-based Alaska Airlines, now finding itself facing increasing competition from semi-partner Delta, is offering free rides to the airport for people flying out of Seattle on 23 or 24 December (possibly also at other airports too).

The free rides have a maximum value of $50, and are offered in partnership with the high-profile ride-sharing/car-service app, Uber.  Details here.

Southwest Selectively Shrinks

A lot is made of Southwest’s apparently unstoppable growth, and enormous local excitement invariably accompanies its move into new markets.

Not so well-known is that Southwest sometimes closes down cities, too.  The airline has just announced its plans to end operations next June in three airports – Branson, Key West, and Jackson-Evers International Airport (JAN).

The airline has been flying to JAN (just out of Jackson, MS) since 1997, although its service to Key West and Branson is much more recent and was unplanned – 2012, as a result of merging with AirTran.  Bad news for people in those three areas (and for people who wish to fly to those destinations).

Some Pilots Truly Can Still Fly Well

We seem to be coming across too many examples of pilots who simply can’t fly in other than fully optimized (and fully automatic) modes, with disastrous results when their supposed skills are tested and found lacking.

But some pilots clearly still can fly, and here’s an amazing video showing an Emirates 777 (I think) attempting to land in Birmingham, England.  Extreme cross-winds forced the pilot to ‘crab’ in to the runway at almost a right-angle, before aborting the landing seconds before touching down.

The pilot then tried a second time, before giving up and flying down to London instead – doubtless much to the relief of all concerned.

It reminds me slightly of my own flying past, trying to land a glider at about 30 mph when the head wind was the same speed.  The net result was the glider going almost straight down – nice when you’re correctly positioned over the runway, but not so nice if you still have a way to travel, up-wind, to reach it.

Scotland Yard :  From Jail Cells to £10,000 a Night Hotel Rooms

The phrase ‘Scotland Yard’ has become synonymous with London’s Metropolitan Police Force, and particularly their detective divisions.  The Metropolitan Police were based out of the building known as ‘Great Scotland Yard’ from 1829 (when they were formed) through 1890.  But the original building and its address, (3 – 5 Scotland Yard) was superseded by what has been termed ‘New Scotland Yard’ (now located at 8 – 10 Broadway) way back in 1890, although the name has stuck.

And now the Edwardian building currently at 3 – 5 Scotland Yard is to be converted into an up-market hotel, with suites to be offered at as much as £10,000 a night when it opens in 2016.

Some might think the irony of this is that some of the people who are willing to pay £10,000 a night for a hotel room might possibly also qualify for free accommodation in New Scotland Yard, due to having committed illegal acts as part of their becoming sufficiently flush with funds as to be able to afford such a ridiculous rate for a hotel room.

More details here.

Budget Compromise Sees Higher Security Fees for Passengers

Currently the TSA is partially funded by the airlines and further funded by passengers.  The airlines are charged at rates that are sort of frozen at the same level they were paying for security prior to 9/11, and passengers pay an extra $2.50 per flight, up to a maximum of $10 per ticket.  Interestingly, the true cost of TSA airline security is more than three times this, and one can only guess how much extra is spent on other ambitious TSA projects such as the random roadblocks it throws up around the country, its occasional ‘VIPR’ teams that accost subway and train passengers, and so on (none of which have ever found a single terrorist).

But the TSA wants still more money, and so we are seeing our former $2.50 a segment fee increase to $5.60 per each way fee.  If a journey from Point A to B formerly involved only one flight, this means the $2.50 fee would grow to $5.60; if the journey was formerly two or more flights, then the increase is ‘only’ from $5.00 to $5.60.

A peculiar aspect to this fee increase is that the airlines will no longer pay anything at all for security.  As part of the deal, we passengers will pay more, while at the same time, the airlines’ contribution ($380 million in 2012) will be abolished entirely.

A cynic might think that this $380 million (or more – in 2007, the airlines paid $573 million in security related fees to the government) windfall shows the power of the airline lobby in Congress, and a well-informed observer would note that while both political parties eagerly embraced the concept of increasing the passenger fee and eliminating the airline’s share, the lawmakers who actually serve on aviation related (sub)committees opposed the change.

Something – we can only guess what – caused rank and file politicians to add another pin-prick of taxes onto the traveling public, while giving a free ride to the airlines, currently trading more profitably than almost ever before.

TSA Considers a Two Inch Miniature Plastic Toy Gun a ‘Realistic Replica’

The TSA’s voracious appetite for money and the explosion in air travel security costs might be easier to accept if there was any sustainable suggestion that we are getting value for money.

But on the one hand, the TSA itself admits there are no active terrorist threats to protect us against at present, and on the other hand, the TSA’s own Inspector General describes its billion dollar and more behavior detection project as giving useless random results akin to rolling a dice.

And, on the third hand, we see the results of the TSA’s best efforts in cases such as when a passenger recently had the TSA carefully inspect her sock monkey puppet, seize a tiny toy gun from its holster, and threaten to call the police.

The TSA offered the following nonsense statement to justify its impossible-to-justify actions

TSA officers are dedicated to keeping the nation’s transportation security systems safe and secure for the traveling public. Under longstanding aircraft security policy, and out of an abundance of caution, realistic replicas of firearms are prohibited in carry-on bags.

Since when is a 2″ vaguely pistol shaped piece of plastic a ‘realistic replica’?  And as for the abundance of caution?  Perhaps better to call this an utter lack of common sense.

Details here.

The World’s Worst Tourism Slogans

There’s something about tourism marketing that doesn’t always attract the brightest lights in the Christmas string of bulbs – perhaps it is the semi-government department nature of such offices, and perhaps it is the additional challenges inherent in essentially unaccountably marketing an intangible offering, further handicapped by not having control over the complete ‘bundle of benefits’ and pricing involved.

The limitations of destination marketers predictably manifest themselves in the form of ridiculous promotional campaigns featuring irrelevant, unwanted, and uninteresting/generic aspects of the destination – tell me a destination that doesn’t sell its culture, nightlife, and food, for example.  It also appears in the form of sometimes ridiculous slogans – and am I the only one to notice that the less distinctive a product, the more it focuses on a slogan.

Does Google have a slogan?  Does Ford?  Apple?  Exxon?  On the other hand, many tourist destinations, including ones you’ve probably never heard of and couldn’t find on a map, invest heavily in slogans (and change them regularly).

Here’s an amusing list of what are suggested to be some of the least alluring slogans.

And the Worst Infographic, Too?

I’ve several times commented on the deceptive inanity of ‘infographics’ and how they can distort the underlying data they claim to clearly present, or obscure it through the juxtaposition of other selected semi-random and not necessarily linked additional snippets of information.

Some are better than others, which is a polite way of saying that some are also worse than others.  Such as, for example, this one.

That’s it for this week, folks.  Do please remember our current travel opportunities – Sri Lanka in February and the Christmas Cruise next December, and please also, during this season of giving, consider a contribution to The Travel Insider, too.

Until next week, I hope you’ll enjoy safe holiday travels – and may your Christmas be filled with much joy, and many presents







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