Weekly Roundup Friday 3 January 2014

Honolulu's International Market Place 1957 -2013, RIP (story below).
Honolulu’s International Market Place 1957 -2013, RIP (story below).

Good morning

A very happy new year to you.

I hope your Christmas and New Year celebrations were appropriate – and you can be the best judge of what ‘appropriate’ allows and/or requires.  May 2014 be a wonderful year for us all, marked with lowered air fares, friendly airline employees, empty seats always next to us, plenty of spare space in the overheads, an abolition of fuel and many other surcharges, and – – – oh, wait.  Sorry.

But let’s at least hope for a reasonably good year, and that the soaring profitability of the airlines might see them reinvest a bit of their excess earnings into improving our experience as passengers on their planes.  Surely that’s not beyond the realm of possibility.

Happy birthday on 1 January to the birth of regular scheduled commercial aviation.  Yes, the first scheduled aviation service commenced on 1 January 1914, with service across Tampa Bay between St Petersburg and Tampa.  The first flight, 21 miles in length and 23 minutes in duration, had one paying passenger – the Mayor of St Petersburg, who paid $400 for the privilege at an auction.  As a side-bar comment, these days with the bridges across Tampa Bay – and even without, the land journey this flight replaced seems trivial rather than epic, but apparently it took 11 hours by train to otherwise get from one city to the other.

In 2014 it is expected that, in total and worldwide, 3.3 billion people will fly – about 9 million every day (2013 is estimated to be 3.1 billion, the best year ever for aviation, with 2014 expected to be better still).  Aviation overall generates $2.2 trillion in annual economic activity and supports over 57 million jobs.

To commemorate the first 100 years of aviation, the international airline association IATA has launched a special website www.flying100years.com.

Plenty of people have been using the occasion to make utterly predictable comments about the evolution of aviation, its present state, and to express opinions variously optimistic or pessimistic about the future – here’s an article quoting various airline CEOs on their predictions for the future, ie five years ahead, 25 years ahead, and 100 years ahead.  Some of the predictions are, well, predictable, and others are downright amusing.

I’ll spare you more of such comments, and simply say that if it weren’t for the growth of aviation, I’d not be living in the US, and I’d not be doing the job I do and enjoy so much; so even though I complain about many aspects of modern-day travel, I’m also truly grateful for it and my own life has been profoundly and positively transformed.

But – well, I can’t remain totally silent, and so have taken the advantage of some quiet time over the holidays to put together an article lamenting the enormous and totally inexplicable failure of the airplane manufacturing industry over the last almost 50 years.

A failure?  Lack of innovation?  Was I enjoying too much ‘frivolity’ when writing the piece?  Please read it before leaping to judge, and be prepared to be surprised.  Yet again, one of the biggest untold aviation stories during this centenary, with lots of retrospectives and future-gazing, is being told only here at The Travel Insider.  Our glass isn’t half full.  It is half empty.

In related news, today (Friday) is a big day for Boeing and the Seattle area.  Boeing’s machinists are voting today on a revised offer from Boeing – their acceptance might see Boeing keep more of a presence in the Seattle region; their refusal increases the probability that Boeing will continue to move work away from Puget Sound with a view to perhaps departing the region entirely within the next decade or so.  Poof – 75,000 direct jobs, and as many more related jobs, most high paying – could be gone, just like that.

I’d feel better if I thought the money Boeing hopes to save, either by paying its Seattle machinists less, or by moving to a less expensive location, would be channeled back into R&D and new plane development.  But what are the chances of that, compared to another boost to six and seven figure executive salaries, benefits, and stock buy-backs?  Although it won’t be part of the evaluation process, it seems to me that the hourly paid machinists have as much a fair claim to the money in dispute as do the probably overpaid and dubiously performing executives.

What else this week?  Precious little travel news, but sometimes that’s a good thing, right?  And of course, for some of you, you’ll be anxiously checking on flights today, due to the latest round of winter storms and extraordinarily cold weather.  Whatever your view on global warming, I hope you enjoyed a laugh at the irony of a team of global warming advocates sailing down to Antarctica to find ‘proof’ of global warming, and getting trapped on their ship by much heavier than normal ice floes (albeit a point omitted from most main stream media reports of the situation).

If your New Year resolution was to treat yourself to a special travel experience in 2014, we’ve a couple for you to choose from, and other things to read about too :

  • NZ Tour, October 2014
  • Help Design Our April 2015 Italy Tour
  • Christmas Markets Cruise, December 2014
  • United to Copy the Happy Meal Concept
  • Is Delta Getting Better?
  • Everything Old Becomes New Again
  • Update on Dispatch
  • Waikiki to Lose Some of its Personality
  • What Is It With New York’s Mayors?
  • And Lastly This Week….

NZ Tour, October 2014

I am delighted to now share with you the full details of our New Zealand Epicurean Extravaganza Tour this coming October.

Although just now released for booking, six people are already participating, and once we’ve filled the small number of rooms in our ‘Headquarters Hotel’ for this tour, we can’t get any bigger; so please do choose to join us while there’s still space.

There’s more about the tour in a separate article after this newsletter.  Suffice it to say that as a New Zealander, this will be my ‘signature tour’ for 2014 and I’m very excited about the itinerary and activities offered to you.

I hope you’ll feel the same way and choose to join me and your fellow Travel Insiders.

Help Design Our 2015 Italy Tour

Talking about signature tours, I’m joining forces with a colleague, Joe Brancatelli (see www.joesentme.com) to jointly create a tour, primarily to Rome, for both Travel Insiders and his readers (there’s a lot of overlap – many of you read both) that we’re planning for late April 2015.

The core part of the tour will be a five night focus on Rome.  While the tour would work for someone on their first ever visit to Rome, it is intended to be an in-depth immersion experience rather than a rushed and superficial overview of the highlights such as is all most people get to experience.  We’ve chosen late April as being the best time of year from a weather/not-too-many-tourists/not-high-season-prices perspective.

Joe and I have traveled together before, and I’m looking forward to sharing this tour with him too – he is as much fun to talk to and travel with as he is to read, only less irascible (hopefully the same can be said of me!).  Joe is intimately familiar with Rome, ‘the eternal city’, and with the many different layers of experiences the city offers.

To show it best to you, our plan is to split the city into districts, and each day to focus in on one district, primarily by walking around the neighborhood.  What with traffic and narrow streets, tour buses are seldom feasible, and we’ll get so much closer to the ‘real Rome’ by walking the streets, and experiencing the sights, sounds, smells, and everything else directly rather than through the tinted windows of an air-conditioned tour bus.

Each day will include a visit to a local market, a look at something historic/important, plus a detour somewhere usually overlooked by tourists but well worth visiting, and we’ll have a different daily food theme as well.  As well as classic Italian dishes, Joe even knows where you can get truly good gourmet pizza (something that has always eluded me in Rome) and as the ultimate in temptations, promises some gelato to die for.

We’re also lining up a truly Insider ‘behind the scenes’ tour of the Vatican for one of the days.  More on that, later.

Now, for the big question we’d appreciate your thoughts on.  Where would you like to go before or after Rome?  We’re considering several options, and rather than guess at what would be most popular, we thought we’d simply ask you directly.  Here are some concepts we’ve been considering :

  • A Sicily extension.  Often overlooked by American tourists, Sicily has an enormous amount of history, some great foods and wines, and a lot of natural beauty.
  • Somewhere north of Rome.  Genoa/Cinque Terra to the west, possibly extending on to Nice, Cannes, maybe even Marseille.
  • Somewhere north of Rome.  Venice to the east and maybe on to Trieste.
  • Some train travel, either during or after the main tour, with a chance to experience Italy’s unique situation with two competing high-speed rail operators – perhaps a day excursion to Florence, going up on one train service and back to Rome on the other.
  • Taking a ferry over to Dubrovnik, then traveling up the Adriatic Coast and ending in maybe Zagreb, or Ljubljana, or even back into Italy and Trieste (or Venice).

What do you think?  Does any of this have interest to you?  Maybe you have a completely different idea.  We might end up offering one as a pre-tour and the other as a post-tour option, so you can certainly indicate an interest in more than one of these options.  Please let me know.

Christmas Markets Cruise, December 2014

Yes, Christmas 2013 is still a very recent memory, and you probably still have your decorations up.  But with the ever faster passing of each year (or so it seems to me) it is never too soon to start thinking of next Christmas, and in particular, of our wonderful Christmas Markets cruise, this time offering optional pre-cruise touring in Switzerland and Bavaria, and after the cruise the de rigeur opportunity to visit beautiful Prague too.

We’ll be on a river cruise super-ship so new it won’t be launched until mid-way through this year, and enjoying a wonderful experience with a wonderful group of new friends.  Oh yes, and did I mention, you can get it for a 30% discount if you choose to get your deposit in by the end of this month?

Full details of the 2014 Christmas cruise and options here.

Even better still, if you’ve ever cruised with Amawaterways before, you can get an incredible bargain that I can’t mention in the newsletter, but if you ask me, I can tell you directly in an email.

United to Copy the Happy Meal Concept

As a parent myself, I know that the success of the McDonalds Happy Meal is nothing to do with the food.  It is all to do with the toy that the child gets ‘for free’ along with the meal.

United apparently wishes to use a similar approach, along with the ‘be sure to get all pieces of the valuable collectors set, supplies limited’ tag line off late night infomercial television.  Adapting this to airline terms means that United’s de minimis amenity kit that it gives to international BusinessFirst fliers will be packed into one of a set of eight ‘special edition’ tins rather than in the usual pouchy sort of thing.

Doesn’t that make you want to rush and book a gratuitous unnecessary premium cabin international flight on United?  All you AA and DL fliers – don’t you now want to fly UA instead?

Personally – perhaps because I still have memories of many decades ago when my perception (but perhaps not the truthful reality) was that airline amenity kits were amazingly special, any and all amenity kits these days are always a crushing disappointment, no matter if they are in a tin or any other sort of container.

The small kid in me wonders why, for fares sometimes costing $10,000 and more, the airline can’t give a truly valuable gift.  I’ve got some really nice things from past flights – clothing items, jewelry, CDs, good pens, and so on, but now all amenity kits seem to be nothing other than a jumble of esoteric overpriced smelly potions and unguents that I never use – oh yes, plus a pair of one size (ie wrong size) socks, a claustrophobic eye shade, uncomfortable ear plugs and a 25c plastic orange Bic razor.

Details and pictures here.

Is Delta Getting Better?

Well, okay, so you might retort that it could hardly get any worse, but that would be a facile comment, because the airlines can always get worse.

Here’s an account of one flier’s recent experiences with Delta, which seem to have been all good, including repeated situations where employees broke rules in his favor and went above and beyond to help him out.

I’ve been on three Delta flights in the last month or so, and can’t really comment about the staff.  Sure, I can tell you about the uncomfortable seating (I have a new theory – exit row seat cushions are firmer than regular row seat cushions – I’m not sure why, but that seems to be the case, and while acceptable on a short flight, it is regrettable on a long flight, especially when having paid almost $90 more for the privilege of a less comfortable seat!), and the meals continue to be as awful as ever, but I did sense a more liberal approach to serving drinks.

The writer thinks he is seeing a formal corporate push by Delta to be better at customer service – let’s hope he’s right.

Everything Old Becomes New Again

Talking about Delta trying to improve, it is trialing an innovative new program at McCarran in Las Vegas to try and cut down on the incidence of baggage thefts off luggage carousels.

Delta’s innovative new idea?  A ‘positive bag match’ program where passengers have to show their baggage claim check to an employee and have it matched against the tag on the suitcase before taking their bag out of the claim area.

Innovative new idea?  Hmmm……  As most readers will surely know, this system used to be semi-common all around the US in years gone by, but disappeared over the last decade or so, perhaps as a result of cost cutting, and perhaps as a result of its probable ineffectiveness.

I’d usually be able to assertively barge on past the staff doing the tag checking, or simply walk along a carousel or two and then go out through an unguarded exit (not that I was stealing bags, of course; merely seeking ways to avoid one last line and piece of hassle-filled bureaucracy at the end of a flight, and sometimes having lost/thrown away my claim check).

There are plenty of ways to still steal luggage without having a claim check.  That’s not to pour cold water on Delta’s trial; well, actually, perhaps it is.  I don’t know of anyone who has had a bag stolen off a carousel, but I know of many people who have had other problems with other parts of the flight experience (and even other problems with their bags getting lost or damaged, rather than stolen), so is this the best part of the flight experience for Delta to be trying to upgrade – a process that involves inconvenience for the 99.999% of people who aren’t baggage thieves and only little inconvenience for the 0.001% of people who are?

Update on Dispatch

I wrote about a wonderful product for PCs last week, Connectify Dispatch.  It is a great and easy way of sometimes significantly increasing your internet connection speed and reliability, particularly when traveling.

By good fortune, I was at a hotel a couple of days ago and able to add a couple of screen shots showing exactly how Dispatch adds extra bandwidth when connected to multiple internet sources simultaneously.  So, if you missed the article last week, or were skeptical about how good it might actually be, please (re)visit now and see the graphical proof of the value Dispatch adds.

I certainly plan to never travel without it again, myself.

Waikiki to Lose Some of its Personality

Not a lot of people like Waikiki, and I’ll agree it is commercial, crowded, and increasingly generic.

One of its distinctive features has been its International Market Place, a landmark feature on Kalakaua Ave for 57 years.  It could always be counted on to regale you with junk and nonsense, average food, but also some vaguely perceptible native Hawaiian charm and even almost innocence.  Clearly it has been a low-value use of an increasingly expensive piece of property, and so part of its appeal has been to marvel at how such a bazaar has managed to survive.

Plans have now been announced to replace it with – gack – yet another ‘modern, multi-level, high-end, shopping mall’.  Just what Waikiki needs – not.

The International Market Place closed on 31 Dec 2013.  I never really thought I’d be sad to see it go, but who reading this hasn’t wandered through the Market at one time or another, and probably ended up buying a junky souvenir, or eating/drinking something they also probably didn’t need?  Instead, we’ll have a chance to shop at a Saks Fifth Avenue store, and a Macy’s right next door – just like back home, but with the added penalty of airline excess baggage charges if you actually buy anything in the stores.

What Is It With New York’s Mayors?

Talking about changes, there’s change afoot in New York.

The last mayor, now thankfully departed, wanted to regulate the soda we drink (and just about every other aspect of New Yorker’s lives).  The new one is approaching his duties from a very different perspective and has already stated his opposition to something the previous mayor supported.

Apparently one of the most important things on new Mayor de Blasio’s list of things to do is to ban horse-drawn carriage rides from around the Central Park area.  While it is true that no-one travels to NYC just for a carriage ride, one wonders if the new mayor really ‘gets it’ when he suggests that rides in vintage limos might be a suitable substitute.

And as for animal activists worrying that the horses are forced to breathe traffic fumes, isn’t that what all New Yorkers do, most of every day, anyway?

To be fair, New York is not going it alone with this.  Las Vegas, London, Paris and Beijing have already banned horse drawn carriages, although one wonders if the reasons are more to do with traffic optimization than concern about the horses.

More details here.

And Lastly This Week….

Okay, so we know that being in an airplane incident – a near crash type event – is a mega-scary thing for sure, and after such an experience, one can sometimes react slightly less than fully rationally.

But perhaps it is best not to write about such experiences when still in the grip of what you feel to be your near death experience.  For example, this regrettble outpouring from a person on a Virgin America flight who seems to have decided that the humorous quote from Sir Richard Branson on the side of the plane reveals a cavalier disregard of safety requirements.  Puhleeze.

It is always interesting to see predictions from the past, many years ago, that were made about the present day.  Here’s an interesting list of predictions by former science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, who wrote 50 years ago of his vision of 2014.  Most are impressively close to present day reality, but there’s one massive miss as well :  We will live in a society of enforced leisure and the most glorious single word in the vocabulary will have become ‘work’.

Hmmm.   If only.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels, and don’t work too hard







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