Weekly Roundup, Good Friday, 18 April 2014

A new approach to business class seat design and space saving with one person's legs above/below the other's.  See article below.
A new approach to business class seat design and space saving with one person’s legs above/below the other’s. See article below.

Good morning

And a very happy Easter to you, wherever in the world you may be celebrating it.  One of the few disadvantages of living in the US is that Easter is not celebrated here – in New Zealand, it is marked by both the Friday and Monday being holidays.

Talking about New Zealand, I am approaching the ‘last call’ point for people who might be considering joining our Travel Insider NZ tour this October.  We’ve a great group of 20 people already coming, and room for another few people if you’d like to join us.

Anyway, treating this as a normal work week, you’ll find two additional articles as well as today’s roundup.

I was cringing in a hotel room earlier this week while reading the prominent bathroom placard none-too-gently suggesting that I not even leave the tap running while brushing my teeth, so as to ‘save the planet’ by using less water – a strange request for a resort located in the middle of the rain forest and surrounded by abundant water everywhere.  And then later in the week, I found a story about Portland, OR capriciously/ridiculously throwing away 38 million gallons of water, while boasting they have plenty more.

One wonders if the hotels in Portland also demand their guests save water.  For more, see the article below.

The second article is my addition to the 33 million articles already listed by Google when you search for ‘MH 370 conspiracy’.  It is an attempt to look at some of what we don’t know (because there’s still almost nothing we do know).  Indeed, not only do we still know nothing, but it seems that the latest greatest most scientifically calculated search area, bolstered by bearings from four different black box pings, might be wrong and be about to changed yet again.

Please also read on for :

  • The 737 Passes Another Milestone
  • New Airplane Seats on Display
  • A Bumper Year for Business Travel
  • Sydney to Get a Second Airport
  • Different Industry, Same Merger Nonsense
  • Foreign Exchange Fees Disappearing from Credit Cards
  • 4K TV Now Being Sold at Costco
  • The Ten Most Disappointing Destinations in the World?
  • And Lastly This Week….

The 737 Passes Another Milestone

This week saw the delivery of the 8,000th 737 made by Boeing, further cementing the plane’s place in the record books as the most popular passenger plane ever built.

It is only 2.5 years since the 7,000th was delivered, and with a current production rate of 42 planes/month, it will be just under two years before the 9,000th is delivered (there are more than 3,700 737s on back order currently).

It is however also more than 46 years since the first 737 was delivered, although there’s not a lot in common between the first 737 and the current 737s, other than – groan – the diameter of the cabin cylinder and the related necessary narrowness of the seats.

New Airplane Seats on Display

Talking about narrow seats, last week saw the annual Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg.  A wide range of current, future, and futuristic seating choices were on display, including new attempts by seat designers to squeeze even more seats into less airplane space.

A first class seat can cost the airline up to $500,000 each, and even such inexpensive seeming things as the seatback video display units cost, on average, about $10,000 per inch of diagonal screen size, plus another $1000 or more for the separate control unit for each display (in other words, a modest 10″ display could cost perhaps $12,000 each).

When you add in also the associated weight costs of all that electronics, is it any wonder that airlines are keen to encourage us into bringing our own devices onto planes?

This article has some interesting pictures of seats on display at the Expo.

A Bumper Year for Business Travel

The Global Business Travel Association has just revised upwards its projection for 2014 business travel expenditures by US businesses.  They are now projecting a 7.1% increase in total spend compared to 2013.

After two years of business travel declines, the GBTA is predicting a 2% increase in business travel; the balance of the 7.1% dollar increase being due to increased costs of travel this year.  It looks like 2014 is sure to be another great year for the airlines.

Apparently video-conferencing has still not yet rewritten the rules of business travel.  Maybe next year.  Or – more likely, probably not.

Details here.

Sydney to Get a Second Airport

Even fairly modest sized cities often seem to have more than one commercial airport.  For decades now, Sydney has been crippled by only having one airport, and – even worse – it is an airport with curfew restrictions limiting when flights can arrive and depart.

This is not only a problem in terms of the total number of flights a day that can be managed, but it becomes an operational problem when flights are delayed, meaning that sometimes flights can’t depart or arrive due to their delayed takeoff/landing now falling within the curfew hours.

It is a further problem for airlines seeking to get the best utilization of their planes, and trying to synchronize departure and arrival times at both ends of perhaps a very long flight.  If a flight arrives into Sydney shortly before its 11pm curfew, it is stuck on the ground for the seven hours of the curfew until 6am the next morning, and there’s nothing a well run airline likes less than seeing a several hundred million dollar plane sitting unproductively on the ground for seven hours.

The current airport (Kingsford Smith Airport, code SYD, in the suburb of Mascot) also suffers from a split design where the international and domestic terminals are on opposite sides of the airport, making for inconvenient and time-consuming transfers between domestic and international flights (a bit like Heathrow with T4 and T5 in distant parts of the airport compared to where the original T1/2/3 complex is located).

There have been plans and proposals and studies for a second Sydney airport for almost exactly 50 years, and discussions dating back to the 1940s, but it is only in the last week that finally the government has decided upon a clear way forward, with a second airport to open in Badgerys Creek, about 30 miles to the west of Sydney (compared to SYD which is a mere 5 miles to the south).

Sure, the location is less convenient for people wanting to travel all the way in to Sydney and across town to its eastern suburbs, but that doesn’t matter if you’re changing planes and continuing your journey, and it would be acceptable if there was an adjustment in ticket price for most people in any event.  Another important factor will be how well it will be served by rapid train service to/from downtown Sydney, with actual distance from the city center less important than the travel time to get to and from.

But don’t expect to be flying there any time soon.  Construction is unlikely to start before 2016, and as for its first flight arriving, the current estimate ranges from ‘it would take about two years to build a single short runway’ to about 5 – 7 years to get to the point of some domestic flights operating, to a full opening perhaps some time in the mid 2020s.  There is a current budget of $2.4 billion for the new airport.

Can someone explain how it takes almost ten years to build and open an airport?  This is not time for approvals and appeals.  This is simply the construction time, after the final approval has been received, to lay a runway or two, build a terminal or two, and the associated infrastructure needed to make it all work and to connect it to road and hopefully rail links.

China is constructing an enormous new airport in Beijing in half this time (and for half the money).

Different Industry, Same Merger Nonsense

We’ve all been way over-exposed to the nonsense about the need for airlines to merge, but it is important to appreciate that this merger advocacy nonsense is not confined to the airlines, alone.

For example, in my home country of New Zealand, there are just over 4 million people and three mobile phone service providers.  The UK, with 63 million people, has at least seven major mobile phone service providers.

The United States has almost 80 times as many people as NZ and five times as many as the UK, but according to this nonsense report, is unable to support a mere four major mobile phone service providers.  The report says that Sprint and T-Mobile need to merge together in order to compete against AT&T and Verizon.

T-Mobile, although deemed ‘unable to compete’ by the report, has right around 50 million customers and is showing massive subscriber growth over the last year or so due to the introduction of its ‘uncarrier’ type strategies.  Sprint has a few more subscribers – about 55 million – but is not showing such growth.

Why do selected parts of the US economic community believe that size alone is the only/overriding consideration when it comes to being able to successfully compete in a marketplace/industry?  As still somewhat of an outsider looking in at the US business model, this seems to be an overriding issue, and quite without parallel in many other countries, where it is not so much about the size of your company as it is the adroitness with which you operate it (hmmm – that’s a bit like another thing, too, isn’t it).

Alternatively, if size truly is the most important factor, since when did 50 million customers become a ‘too small’ size for viable success?

Talking about size, it is also relevant to note that New Zealand has half the population density of the US, making it harder for the wireless companies to provide cost-effective coverage.  But NZ can support one wireless company per 1.5 million of population, whereas it is claimed that 50 million people are insufficient for a US wireless company, and that in total, the 314 million people in the country can only support three wireless companies.

This makes no more sense than when American Airlines – an airline outlooking a profitable future as a standalone carrier – said that it needed to merge with US Airways in order to survive.

Foreign Exchange Fees Disappearing from Credit Cards

For a while it was common to see most credit cards tacking on as much as a 3% fee when you charged amounts in a foreign currency.  They would convert the foreign currency to US dollars, and presumably make a small profit from the exchange rate they used, and then they would charge an additional fee on top of that, for no reason other than they could.

These fees have always been moderately negotiable.  There have also been a few cards that notably never added such charges, including some with Chase, Citi and Capital One.

Last year saw the Chase/United card waive fees, and it now seems that Amex is removing fees from its consumer and business Delta SkyMiles cards from 1 May, and the new Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard will also waive fees.

Suggestion – call your preferred card issuer and ask them to waive fees on your card, too.  Tell them you’ve been approached by and are considering one of these competing cards, and ask them to match the no foreign transaction fees.

I’ve had Bank of America, in the past, gratuitously offer to remove the fees from my Alaska Airlines Visa card, so if you travel internationally from time to time, this could be a worthwhile request to make.

4K TV Now Being Sold at Costco

If proof was needed about the transition from esoteric to mainstream by the latest and greatest ‘4K’ resolution video monitors, I noticed three different models of 4K capable monitors on sale at Costco yesterday.

It was also great to be able to compare the 4K and ‘regular’ 1080P monitors side by side.  Yes, there was a visible difference, and there’s a great slide-over image in this article that attempts to show you the impact of the higher resolution.

The biggest benefit of 4K however is not so much a better or clearer picture as it is being able to sit closer to the screen and enjoy a larger picture without any visible scan lines or pixelation on the screen.  I checked, after going to the movies over the weekend, and already my 1080P screen subtends nearly as large a viewing angle as did the ‘big screen’ in the movie theater, and when you keep in mind that a 4K screen can be twice as wide and twice as high as a comparable 1080P screen when viewed at the same distance, it is clear that we can now enjoy appreciably bigger than movie theater screen type experiences in our own homes.

This hearkens back to my article in January, pointing out that home video finally now is capable of providing a better viewing experience than the latest state of the art movie theaters.

Bottom line – be sure to make your next big screen purchase a 4K screen.

The Ten Most Disappointing Destinations in the World?

Almost as inane as ‘infographics’ are the ever more omnipresent ‘top ten’ type lists, invariably produced through an opaque process of dubious probity.

Take, for example, this list appearing in USA Today that claims itself to be the ten most disappointing destinations in the world.  The list includes Las Vegas and Disneyworld in Orlando, so there’s every chance you might think the list to be nonsense.

Is USA Today really that desperate for travel related content these days?

And Lastly This Week….

Did you read about the hijacking earlier this week?  It happened on the way to SFO, but only four passengers were inconvenienced.  Perhaps this was because it was a shuttle bus from the city to the airport that was hijacked, rather than an airplane.

A spokesman for SuperShuttle said this was ‘not a common occurrence’ but one wonders how soon it will be before one’s ride to the airport starts off by being frisked by a TSA agent riding shotgun on each shuttle van.

More details here.

Perhaps one of the lessons of the MH370 mystery is that we’re not quite as much in control of our world as we think we are and wish we were.

Here’s an amazing video showing the power of the sea as it impacts on a modern mega-sized container ship.  Yes, the cruise ship you next treat yourself to a voyage on would do the same thing – or at least, you hope so.  Just like airplane wings are designed to flex, so too are ships.  Flexing makes them more resilient to stress.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels







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