Weekly Roundup Friday 10 January 2014

An Airbus project for a zero emission supersonic jet traveling at Mach 4 - twice the speed of Concorde.
An Airbus project for a zero emission supersonic jet traveling at Mach 4 – twice the speed of Concorde.

Good morning

I do hope the cold weather hasn’t affected your week too severely, and that yours weren’t among the 13,000+ flights cancelled during the earlier part of the week.

There’s a sad inevitability to these winter weather travel disruptions.  The sadness is that in largest part they are preventable.  More robust snow management systems at airports and better air traffic control, would greatly reduce the disruptive effect of cold weather, but it seems that the airlines, airports, and the FAA all would prefer to ‘save money’ rather than provide a reliable robust transportation system (see also the article below about the ever-increasing government fees and taxes on airline tickets).

As for me, the cold weather has had me inside and writing – there’s a huge newsletter for you this week – together with the attached article, over 10,000 words!

Happy seventh birthday, on Thursday, to the iPhone, which was announced on 9 January 2007.  At the launch, Steve Jobs described it as a revolutionary phone that was going to change everything – and who can dispute the accuracy of that claim.  He also described it as being ‘literally five years ahead of any other mobile phone’ – a claim that was perhaps not quite so accurate.  The first Android phone came out a mere 18 months later (the HTC/T-Mobile G1).

Still on an electronic theme, this week has seen the annual Consumer Electronics Show extravaganza in Vegas, and I’ve been struggling to get an article published reporting on what is clearly the biggest new thing to come out of CES this year – the move from previously being high-end/esoteric to now becoming normal (and normally priced) by 4K resolution video displays.  You mightn’t yet realize this, but your next big screen should have a 4K not ‘just’ a 1080p resolution.

The struggle in writing this article was that each day, new product announcements required further updates to the text, and indeed, I had to update it even more, shortly after finally getting it published on Wednesday afternoon, due to a new lowest-ever price for a 4K set ($799 for a 55″ set) being advertised at, of all unlikely places to find a high-end innovative piece of home electronics, Sears.

I’m very pleased with the final piece that I wrote.  It is lengthy (4700 words) because it includes a wide-ranging look at this new technology, what may follow it, and the implications for us and our future.  Bottom line – if you’re about to go out and buy a new 1080p screen, I urge you not to do this.  Hold off until the new Vizio or other reasonably priced 4K units arrive and get a more ‘future-proof’ 4K unit instead.  The article follows this week’s roundup, below.

This is, alas, also a classic case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’.  An early Christmas present for me was a lovely new 1080p screen, which in a mere month has gone from a state of the art thing of pride and joy to now being something I look askance at and (almost) wish I’d not received.

Although I ended up writing this detailed piece on the evolving nature of video screens, it wasn’t actually the thing I was most looking forward to or hoping to write about from CES.  But, alas, with CES now all but over for another year, there’s been no mention at all of the much rumored new Google tablet, its updated Nexus 10.  But I still manage to write several paragraphs about something that didn’t happen, below.

On the lighter side of CES, here’s an amusing article that challenges you to choose which new products are imaginary and which were announced at CES.  It is harder than you think.

Switching gears, the launch of our October NZ Epicurean Extravaganza tour was greeted with much excitement, and we now have potentially filled ten of the 18 rooms we have available for our group.

This truly is a great way to see and enjoy New Zealand, whether you’re on your first visit there (as some of the people joining us will be) or whether you’ve visited many times before (or even lived there, like me).  There’s lots for everyone to experience and enjoy, and I do hope you’ll consider joining us.  Full details here.

My request for your thoughts/preferences about an Italian tour in late April 2015 showed a clear preference for Sicily as an optional extension to the core Rome experience, and so that is what we’ll feature.  Thank you for your comments and help.

Please also don’t overlook our 2014 Christmas cruise, because at present, the 30% discount is only on offer through the end of this month.  This year we’re offering a Bavarian and even Swiss extension prior to the cruise, as well as the essential Prague option after the cruise, and for all the past cruisers who might be thinking about another cruise, remember to ask me about the unpublished special discount for past cruisers.

What else this week?  Please read on for articles about :

  • Airbus Showcases its Innovation
  • Boeing’s Burgeoning Sales – The Good News and the Bad News
  • Should Airline Fuel Surcharges be Regulated?
  • The Outrageous Ongoing Increases in Air Ticket Taxes
  • It is Time to Let Foreign Carriers Fly Domestically in the US
  • Delta to Spend $770 million on Airplane Cabin Improvements
  • 2014 to be a Record Breaking Year for European River Cruising?
  • Crewless Ships
  • High Speed Rail Notes
  • The Device That Wasn’t Announced at CES
  • Why Cell Phone Usage Is Inevitable on Planes
  • And Lastly This Week….

Airbus Showcases its Innovation

I wrote last week about the extraordinary slow-down in passenger airplane design and development.  The latest truly new design was the 747 back in the mid 1960s – everything since then has been a derivative of the single or dual aisle, one or two level, flying cylinder with center wings, wing mounted high bypass jet engines, and traditional tail type plane that we’re so familiar with.

Not only does airplane design seem stuck in the sixties, but the ‘new’ models that come out, while almost imperceptibly different, inside and out, from each other, take more time and money to develop than ever before.  A strange contradiction, for sure – if you missed my article last week, it is still just as relevant this week so please do go enjoy it.

At much the same time I was writing that article, Airbus was boasting of some of its futuristic airplane concepts.  None of them are being disclosed for the first time, and none of them have much corporate commitment behind them, so we shouldn’t expect to see any of the four different concepts aired by Airbus in the air and carrying passengers anytime soon.

In a way, this further proves my point.  Airbus has offered up four different ‘disruptive’ airplane technologies, so it is clear that there are opportunities to develop different and possibly better forms of air transport.  But at the same time, the company has little or no commitment to pursuing these concepts and making them into commercial reality.  Alas.

Boeing’s Burgeoning Sales – The Good News and the Bad News

Boeing announced its 2013 orders and deliveries this week.  The numbers seem good – its second best year for orders, and its best year ever for airplane deliveries, and the company is posting healthy profits too.  We’ve added those numbers to our ongoing annual tables of orders and deliveries for Boeing and Airbus (the Airbus results are expected next week).

So what’s not to like about that?  There’s an interesting article in the Wall St Journal headlined ‘Boeing’s Key Mission: Cut Dreamliner Cost’ (if the link doesn’t open, search for the headline in Google to get access to the story that way) which quickly becomes rather complex and technical, giving a good example of how accounting is more than just adding up columns of figures – it truly can be a very complicated and nuanced subject.

The point of the article is to show that Boeing is currently losing money on every 787 it delivers, with the costs of making each plane exceeding the average selling price ($115 million) by about $45 million.  If that sounds bad, earlier in 2013 Boeing was losing $73 million on every plane delivered.  But Boeing is reporting a profit on each plane, due to deferring some of its production costs using an accepted accounting formula.

Using Boeing’s ‘deferred production costs’ method of accounting, the company will end up in a $25 billion hole for its 787 program (total deferred production costs) before it starts to slowly climb out of this and move towards profitability.  Ouch.

How is it possible to make a $25 billion loss on the 787 program, even after allowing for the sale and delivery of perhaps 500 planes?

Should Airline Fuel Surcharges be Regulated?

Let’s not just rush to the sadly obvious ‘yes’ answer, and instead look at the process that seems to call for fuel surcharge regulation.

Here’s an article that quickly deteriorates into some complex accounting, but which points out still more underhandedness on the part of the airlines and their fuel surcharges.

In support of its probable view that surcharges should be regulated, the article first gives several examples where the fuel surcharges eclipse the fare itself, and it is relevant to further note that the fare before fuel surcharge is often unbelievably low.  For example, $291 for a San Francisco to London fare?  When was the last time you saw that sort of fare on offer?  Fifteen years ago?  Twenty?  Twenty five?  The $291 fare has a $458 fuel surcharge, meaning that your actual cost is $749, which further hints that the fuel surcharge is as much regular fare as it is special extra temporary surcharge.  Under what circumstance could any airline profitably operate a roundtrip flight SFO-LON-SFO and make money off $291 fares these days?

But the really interesting point in the article is that if you don’t actually fly on a ticket, then no matter if the airfare might be non-refundable or not, surely the ‘fuel surcharge’ should be fully refundable, because the airline didn’t use the fuel to fly you that it is charging you for.

In the example cited in the article, a person changed a ticket for flying from SFO to Delhi (through Europe on LH) to a shorter ticket from the East coast to Delhi and back.  Unsurprisingly, the shorter distance ticket had a lower fuel surcharge attached to it (although the fare was higher!), but the airline refused to refund the passenger the $220 difference in fuel surcharge.

So, we have egregiously dishonest fuel surcharges to start with, overlaid with unfair policies when it comes to exchanging or refunding them.  In cases where an industry shows itself to be incapable of self-regulation, and in cases where competitive forces have failed to act positively, what is left?

Yes, it seems we must call upon the government to regulate fuel surcharges.  Fortunately, such regulation would be simple.  Two small requirements would be all that is needed.  Firstly, fuel surcharges need to be factually based on the difference between, perhaps, the actual cost of fuel on a quarterly basis and maybe the average cost of fuel paid for the previous year, and should be adjusted every quarter.  Oh yes, and if fuel prices drop below the previous year’s average cost, then there would be a fuel credit instead of a fuel surcharge applying to that quarter’s tickets.

Secondly, fuel surcharges would be fully refundable in the event that travel does not take place.

These are easy simple measures to put in place, and would force the airlines into fairly and honestly accounting for fuel surcharges.  Who could disagree with that?  Indeed, my guess would be that we’d see fuel surcharges disappear entirely in double-quick time, particularly if airlines had to zero them out or even give money back in quarters when fuel prices were dropping (as they often have been over the last few years).

The Outrageous Ongoing Increases in Air Ticket Taxes

Talking about governments and airlines, how about air ticket taxes?  You probably haven’t been tracking this (which is what the government hopes).  In 1972, government taxes and fees levied on a $300 domestic roundtrip airline ticket came to $22 – a 7% cost.  Twenty years later, in 1992, this had nearly doubled, and was $38, a 13% tax levy.  Skip forward another 22 years to now, and that same $300 fare now attracts about $62.60 in government taxes and fees – 21%.

Needless to say, the airlines don’t think that is very fair, although of course they see the extra $40 in taxes not as money that should be given back to us, but rather as money that they should get to keep, rather than share with the government.  We’ve already seen what the airlines do in the rare case of an airline tax decrease – when the FAA was shut down temporarily last year and so the FAA 10% or thereabouts tax was no longer being collected on airfares, the airlines promptly increased their price by the same 10% amount.  So we need to realize that when the airlines complain about ticket taxes, they’re not advocating on our behalf.

However, it is also regrettably true that the government has almost trebled its tax take on a typical airfare over the last 42 years.  But what are we getting, now, that is three times better than it was back in 1972?  Should I remind you of the latest bout of air travel disruption, notwithstanding the huge fees we and the airlines all pay to airports (presumably to cover the costs of snow removal and other foul weather mitigation activities) and to the government (for air traffic control)?

Here’s a very interesting article that talks about this, and mixes in a curious jumble of other fascinating statistics.  For example, in the five years from 2007 to 2012, while the major US carriers have reduced their widebody fleet from 508 to 464 airplanes, three UAE airlines alone (Emirates, Etihad and Qatar) have almost doubled their fleet from 174 to 311 planes.  But can we lay the blame for the decaying US airlines at the feet of excessive US govt taxes and fees?  Almost certainly, not!

There’s another interesting table in the article as well, comparing the level of federal reporting requirements imposed on airlines compared to other industries – both travel related such as hotels, cruise lines, rental car companies and even government-owned Amtrak, and other regulated industries such as cable and telecoms.  For the eight factors analyzed, rental car companies didn’t have to lodge any reporting or comply with any regulations at all.  Amtrak and hotels only had to comply with having operational contingency plans, nothing else.  It is a fascinating example of governmental intrusion into airline operations – an intrusion that alas (see previous point, for example) seems to do no good to anyone.  It hasn’t helped with uncompetitive airline mergers, it hasn’t helped with outrageous baggage fees, and it hasn’t helped with all the dishonesty surrounding the fuel surcharge topic.

Maybe less regulation – but more effective regulation, combined with fewer taxes and fees, might work better for us all?

It is Time to Let Foreign Carriers Fly Domestically in the US

We’re down to only three legacy carriers (UA, AA and DL) that operate comprehensive domestic and international route networks.  Yes, Southwest is another major domestic carrier, but for all intents and purposes, it has no foreign routes.

Having only three American airline choices for foreign travel – and many times, effectively only one or two depending on where we want to travel from and to – would have been unthinkable only a very few years ago, but is now the new reality for 2014.

Our domestic choices are only sometimes better – maybe you’re flying somewhere that also has a regional or smaller airline such as Jetblue or Virgin America or Alaska Airlines, or one of the niche airlines such as Spirit and Allegiant flying, but maybe also you’re flying somewhere that doesn’t have these and only has one or two of the major airlines.

There might have been a time, decades ago, when our domestic carriers deserved protection from rapacious foreign airlines seeking to swoop in and steal domestic traffic from the local carriers.  But now that we, the passengers, have lost the variety of choices we used to enjoy, surely it is only fair that a competitive environment be restored by allowing foreign airlines to operate domestic flights within the US?

Who wouldn’t be pleased to see their next flight between Los Angeles and Chicago, say, now offer flight choices on not just ‘the usual suspects’ but perhaps also Singapore Airlines and Ryanair, Lufthansa and Emirates, even Qantas and Aeroflot?

Indeed, think about that.  Six foreign carriers, all with very different images, identities, and service ideals.  You could never be confused about which airline you were on when flying on any of these six.  But what about the differences between AA, DL and UA?  There aren’t any, are there?  They seem to operate close to completely interchangeable planes, cabins, crews, fares and fees.  We desperately need some truly different competitors, and if we can’t find them domestically, we need to allow them in from other countries.

We’ve allowed the US carriers to merge and merge and then to merge some more, all in the name of supposedly making them stronger and more competitive.  Let’s now take the airlines’ assurances that they’ve become stronger and more competitive at face value, and allow some competition to appear.

Oh yes, by all means require foreign airlines to hire US crews, and of course to comply with all FAA regulations – that way, it truly is a level playing field for all airlines.  What could be the possible harm in that?  Of course, the US airlines will scream themselves hoarse in hysterical opposition to the concept.  Gosh, they’re panic-stricken by the small incursion into their international routes to the US by tiny Scandinavian discount carrier, Norwegian, so one can only guess at the level of response to this suggestion, but perhaps the more they complain, the more right the concept is.

Here’s a rather vague article that talks a bit more on the subject.

Delta to Spend $770 million on Airplane Cabin Improvements

Delta continues to show a new attitude to itself and its business, and the latest example of the airline’s drive to transform itself is its announcement that it will be spending $770 million on a three-year project to overhaul the cabins on 225 of its domestic airplanes.

Of course, the devil is in the details, and alas, part of the overhaul will be cramming more seats into already crowded cabins, but it also includes larger overhead bins and that’s got to be a good thing.

Details here.

2014 to be a Record Breaking Year for European River Cruising?

I’ve been watching the astonishing growth in cruise ships that operate along the Danube, Rhine, and other rivers in Europe with amazement.  Viking alone is launching 14 more ships in 2014, and has launched 16 others in 2013 and 2012.  Uniworld and Amawaterways continue to steadily launch one or two new ships each year, and completely new cruise lines are also appearing – for example, Australian owned Emerald Waterways.

But it seems that no matter how many additional ships and cabins are added, US travelers are keenly snapping them all up.  This article claims that many 2014 sailings are already sold out entirely, and predicts the rest will quickly fill too.

If you’ve not tried a river cruise yet, you really should.  As clearly more and more people are coming to realize every year, the experience is a million times preferable to a traditional coach based land tour.  You get to see just as much, if not more, and have the incomparable comfort and convenience of your own ‘traveling hotel’ transporting you smoothly through Europe with no need for daily packing/unpacking of your suitcase, checking in and out of hotels, and all the rest of the hassle associated with normal European touring.

Two further points based on the boom in cruising this year.  First, please remember I can offer you at least a 5% discount on all Amawaterways cruises, all the time, and secondly, if you’re thinking about our 2014 Christmas Markets cruise, please do act soon to reserve a cabin while there are still a reasonable selection of cabins available.

Crewless Ships

I’ve often advocated the development of either pilotless or remote piloted planes.  I’ll spare you what I consider to be compelling arguments in favor of such an advance, and look instead at a similar concept – crewless ships.

As an aside, something I’ve never understood is the way some passengers on cruise ships get so excited at running across the ship’s captain and fawn over him so effusively.  Certainly on the river cruise ships, the captain is someone who maybe barely understands English, who dislikes passengers, and who is in a constant state of conflict with the true and greatly underappreciated hero of the passengers’ experience, the ‘Hotel Manager’.  The captain wants to work to a schedule that is most convenient for him; but the Hotel Manager and the Cruise Director want to work to a schedule that is most convenient for the passengers, creating a continual tension and conflict between the departments.  The captain has probably spent much/most of his working life driving barges full of obedient and inanimate cargo up and down the Danube, and has little inkling of what foreign US passengers want or expect, whereas the Cruise Director and Hotel Manager have worked their entire lives in the hospitality and travel industries, and understand all about passengers/guests and are dedicated to giving the guests the best experience possible.

But put a sailor in a uniform, sprinkle some braid on it, and otherwise sensible people go weak-kneed with excitement at having their existence briefly acknowledged by this godlike creature, the captain.  As I said, this is something I’ve never understood.

It is an ugly truth that most plane crashes are caused by pilot error; and similarly, 75% of at sea disasters are attributed to human error, too.  Just like on a plane, much/most/all of a ship’s operations are automated already, and particularly on deep-sea voyages with bulk freight and container ships, the only debatably difficult parts are getting in and out of ports, and for those operations, the ships have local experts (the ‘pilots’) come on board to assist.

So do we really need crews on non-passenger ships?  This article describes a project being spearheaded by a Rolls-Royce team which would see crewless ships.

As for passenger ships, the ‘nautical’ crew on ships is getting ever smaller and smaller – a captain and sufficient reliefs to provide one person on the bridge at any time, sufficient multi-purpose engineers to fix things as they break, a couple of deck-hands, and that’s about all that’s essentially needed.  The rest of the crew are the underappreciated but essential – and much more truly irreplaceable – people working in the hotel and passenger experience departments.

High Speed Rail Notes

It is interesting to note that over the last 50 years, while air travel speeds have remained constant, rail travel speeds have more than doubled.

It is fifty years since the first bullet trains debuted in Japan (October 1964), traveling then at the stunning speed of up to 130 mph, and completing the 320 mile route between Tokyo and Osaka in 3 hrs 10 minutes – an average speed of 101 mph.  This was at a time when most trains, elsewhere in the world, struggled to get up to a 100 mph maximum and seldom averaged much more than about 75 mph over their routes.

Today of course, we are several generations into high-speed rail service in most countries in the world.  The world speed record for a train is now 357 mph, trains in several countries sometimes reach in-service speeds of 200 mph, and speeds of 170 – 180 mph are often encountered.

When understanding the improvements in rail travel, it is important to look at one other point as well.  While the very fastest trains are the headline grabbing most impressive examples of continued innovation with rail services, regular slower speed rail service has also massively improved over the last 50 years (or any other time period you choose to use).  What used to be slow chugging uncomfortable commuter trains averaging 30 mph or less on their service schedules are now higher speed smooth traveling quiet units that are managing to average 60mph or more, with the trains peaking at speeds of 100 mph or so – speeds which would have been unthinkable a few decades before.

But not in the US.  Our slow speed trains are as appallingly slow as ever, and if possible, some are even slower than before.  Apart from a tiny patch of fast service on the NY-DC corridor, trains seldom exceed freeway bus speeds and generally average much slower speeds than buses.

However, hope springs eternal, and high-speed rail proposals continue to be aired.  One of the latest has a lot going for it – it would be service between Dallas and Fort Worth at one end and Houston at the other end.  I’ve long felt there to be an excellent opportunity for fast rail in the generally flat lands of Texas, with the cities of Fort Worth, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston all crying out for a nice triangle/loop service between them.

The mooted service between DFW and Houston would see a 90 minute travel time, probably somewhat less than half what it takes to drive, and faster also than the total time to go to an airport, check-in, take a flight, reclaim baggage, etc.  It is spearheaded by a private company, although doubtless it is fully reliant on massive state and federal subsidies.  Details here.  We wish it well.

One of the difficult trade-offs that is required with high-speed rail is the balance between adding more stops so as to service more destinations, but slowing down the total journey time in the process.  By the time a train has slowed down and stopped from, eg, 180 mph, then allowing a minimum of two or three minutes at a station, then time to accelerate back up to 180 mph again, there is at least a seven minute time cost, compared to a through train that doesn’t stop.  Add four such stops and you’ve added half an hour to the train’s journey time.  If the train has very few stops, you’ve reduced the number of origination/destination points it is servicing, making it harder to fill the train with passengers and operate profitably, but if it has lots of stops, its travel time extends and it becomes less appealing to the people on the longer sectors (and the people on the short sectors don’t get much benefit from high-speed services anyway).

How to balance these conflicting needs?  One idea that occasionally appears is some way of having passengers get on and off a train while it is moving.  Now that is no big deal if the train is moving at 2 or 3 mph, and at 5 mph you could have a moving track at 2.5 mph at an intermediate point between the stationary platform and the moving train.  But clearly, this concept very quickly fails when the speed differential between stop and go increases, so how to get a person onto a train traveling at 180 mph without slowing down the train?

Here’s an interesting article that looks at some possible solutions to this problem.  I like the idea of a looped train that pulls alongside and attaches, swaps over passengers, then separates again.  But that would have to be a big loop. The loop needs to be long enough for the service train to speed up from its stopped platform, then some further distance for the two trains to be traveling alongside, then more distance for the service train to separate and decelerate.  In round figures, and allowing a three minute transfer time at, say, 150 mph, this would require at least a 15 mile length of track, and probably a bit more for additional safety margin, and it would add about ten minutes travel time for passengers when getting off the train.

But these are far from impossible compromises.  Probably not an essential feature of any US high-speed rail, but something to consider in Europe where potential stopping points are much closer together.

The Device That Wasn’t Announced at CES

As is always the case, CES was a flurry of new product announcements of all types, ranging from ‘wearable’ electronic devices up to enormous big screens, lots of in-car and at-home connectivity and automation, and a great deal of new tablet and phone announcements.  But one product, widely expected and hoped for, was not mentioned at all.

As you may know, Google introduced a 7″ tablet, the Nexus 7, on 27 June 2012.  In late October 2012, Google complemented it with a 10″ tablet, unsurprisingly called the Nexus 10.  This gave Google two similar products to Apple, also with both a smaller and full screen sized tablet on offer.

In 2013, Google updated the Nexus 7 on 24 July, which was consistent with the typical annual refreshes that most manufacturers seem to observe.  So, as October approached, anticipation and then expectation mounted, waiting for a new Nexus 10 update.  This expectation seemed to be confirmed by the increasing lack of availability and/or remainder discounting of existing stocks of Nexus 10 devices, as if Google and its retailers were clearing out the old stock prior to a new product being launched.

Nothing happened in October, and so the rumor mill then decided that the device would be announced in time for the Thanksgiving shopping rush.  We were told it would come out on Black Friday, and then we were told it would be out on Cyber Monday.  But only silence from Google greeted both these dates.

So the rumor mill revised itself without any embarrassment and pointed to various dates prior to Christmas, allowing Google to get some Christmas sales for the new Nexus 10 (and, of perhaps equal strategic importance, to take sales away from the new iPad Air, which had been released at the end of October).

But Christmas too came and went with no new Nexus 10 device.  So this caused the rumor mill to double down still further and decide that clearly Google was going to make a flashy announcement immediately prior to CES, and when that didn’t happen, it was predicted that Google would release the updated Nexus 10 during CES.

CES was indeed full of tablet announcements from Google’s various hardware partners.  Samsung in particular (the maker of the original Nexus 10 and possibly the future maker of any new Nexus 10 unit), announced a wide range of new tablets, including a bigger-than-ever 12.1″ screen sized unit that seems to be testing the limits of how big a hand-held portable tablet can get.  But no Nexus 10 announcement.  Nor announcements for a Nexus 9 or 8 (some people are wondering about other size tablets from Google, perhaps supplanting the 10″ screen size).

The rumor mill, now flummoxed, is despairingly starting to wonder if maybe there won’t be a replacement Nexus 10 at all, while the optimists are saying perhaps a new Nexus will feature the huge 12.1″ screen size.  But no-one knows for sure, and there is no word forthcoming from Google about their plans for a full screen sized Nexus unit, while its website continues to show no availability for one of the two Nexus 10 models, with the same ‘check back soon’ suggestion as has been there nonstop for over three months now.

Google’s disdainful silence about its future tablet plans is again demonstrating something between indifference and incompetence when it comes to managing their hardware product lineup.  These guys might have the cleverest search engine on the planet, but they show precious little smarts when it comes to selling hardware.

Why Cell Phone Usage Is Inevitable on Planes

Personally, I don’t understand the vehement opposition, limited almost entirely to the US, but nowhere as prominent elsewhere in the world (many jurisdictions already allow cell phone use on planes), to people using phones on planes.  We used to have seatback phones on planes a decade and more ago, and it never caused problems, in large part because – and here’s the bit most people fail to consider – the high level of ambient noise on a plane drowns out the sounds from people more than a row or two away from you, no matter what they’re doing – the only exception to this of course being screaming babies, who have a supernatural ability to be heard from one end of the plane to the other.

Anyway, lost in among all the brave pronouncements by US airlines recently that they’d never allow cell phones to be used on their flights is one teensy tiny consideration.  Money.  Profit.

And therein lies the reason why the airlines are certain to allow cell phone usage on flights.  Because they can make money from it – indeed, they can make money both ways, from people who use phones and from people who don’t.

People who do use their phones will be charged a fee to have their calls relayed through the plane’s cell.  And people who don’t use phones?  They’ll be charged a fee for the privilege of sitting in a cell-phone free ‘quiet zone’ on planes.

Here’s an article that mentions the concept of quiet zones, but fails to join the financial dots in the way the airlines are sure to do.  So remember, when you find yourself with the choice between paying to use your phone or paying to avoid people using their phones, you read it here first!

And Lastly This Week….

Coming back to the concept of cold weather, here’s an interesting thought about something we almost take for granted.  The salt that is spread on roads to combat ice and to facilitate snow removal – have you ever wondered how much ice is used in a typical season for this purpose?

The answer might surprise you.  We go through about 137 lbs of salt for every person in the US, each year (although in the Seattle area, concerns about the salt washing into Puget Sound mean the city prefers to let roads ice up and traffic snarl/stop – and, yes, you are correct; Puget Sound is a salt water inlet from the Pacific Ocean, a few tons of salt more or less would make no perceptible difference to it whatsoever).

Now I just know you’re immediately thinking ‘What happens to all the salt in the rest of the country?’.  Here’s an answer.

Time for our first bathroom story of 2014, which is a look at the cultural differences around the world as expressed in terms of, ahem, urinal usage, and a move afoot to get all us men, ummm, sitting down.

Talking about cultural differences, here’s some commentary about a new list of cultural do’s and don’t’s promulgated by VisitBritain to help British tourist operators be more in tune with international visitors.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels







1 thought on “Weekly Roundup Friday 10 January 2014”

  1. I agree that airlines will allow cell phone usage due to the profit motive. Just look at alcohol sales. I presume airlines pay about $1.00 at most for a miniature and then sell it for $7.00. Then they complain about drunk pax – a little hypocrisy I think.

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