Weekly Roundup, Friday 10 October, 2014

This poster is thought to date back to the founding of KLM in 1919.  It says 'The Businessman Travels.... Sends (mails).... Receives.... per (with/via/by) Air Express KLM'.
This poster is thought to date back to the founding of KLM in 1919. It says ‘The Businessman Travels…. Sends (mails)…. Receives…. per (with/via/by) Air Express KLM’.

Good morning

And a very happy birthday to one of our favorite Queens.  Queen Mary.  The lovely old ship, although moored alongside the wharf in Long Beach since 1967.

And an even happier birthday to the world’s ‘oldest airline’ – KLM, turning 95.  The company was formed on 7 Oct, 1919, and claims to be the oldest airline operating under the same name (but not the same ownership – these days KLM is now a part of a merged KLM/Air France).

Next Thursday sees another Apple release event, with the expectation being new iPads will be announced as part of the typically annual iPad refresh.

Rumors had been growing to expect not just another regular iPad and mini iPad, but also a new larger screened iPad as well.  The two present models have 7.9″ and 9.7″ screens; it has been suggested that Apple could be readying a super-sized iPad with perhaps a 12.9″ screen.

One of the possible ‘holy grails’ of a tablet would be to have a screen that mimics a piece of paper – ie 8.5″ x 11″.  A paper sized screen would have a 13.9″ diagonal, so this super-sized iPad would still have a screen smaller than a piece of paper.

Most recently it seems that the strong demand for large-sized iPhone 6+ screens has delayed production of larger screen sized iPads.  Anyway, we’ll know more next Thursday.

Talking about Apple, obscured amongst the new iPhones released a few weeks back was the discontinuance of their venerable iPod Classic line of portable music players.  Although I’ve owned at least three of the sleek little Nano players over the years, when it comes to choosing a good solid workhorse of a music player, the iPod Classic was always my choice to take on my travels, particularly after customizing it with the Rockbox software to replace the Apple interface and limitations.

But its loss, while marking the end of an era, was matched by the release last week of a new high-end audio player – and although a high-end player, it has a delightfully low-end price.  $99.  There’s a reason why we travelers still need some sort of music player as well as online streaming services.  Read why, and more about this new player, and its stablemates, including a new ‘American’ product being released this month, in the article at the end of tonight’s newsletter.

What else?  The last week has been enormously exciting for me, working on the new idea I hinted to you about a month or so back.  I’ve been joined by six enormously capable, experienced and successful business leaders, and we’re burning up the email lines between us all, helping to craft a new internet based service that will – we hope – take the world by storm.

What I particularly like is that we’re all in our 40s, 50s, 60s or 70s.  This isn’t some empty-headed internet nonsense dreamed up by twenty-something-year olds, a hollow venture that soaks up and spends millions of dollars of investment funding before collapsing.  It will be a solid simple service useful to us all, based on old-fashioned concepts of giving good service and good value.

Some of you have already asked to be kept in the loop.  If you too would like to be appraised of what is going on, let me know.

Please keep reading for :

  • It’s A Hub-Closing Feeling of Deja Vu All Over Again
  • Britain’s Extraordinary Hatred of Planes
  • Norwegian Air Shuttle – As Good as Hoped For
  • MH 17 and MH 370 Updates
  • A New Look for London’s Underground – Worth Waiting For, But….
  • Self Driving Cars Move a Little Closer
  • This Week’s Ebola Update
  • And Lastly This Week….

It’s A Hub-Closing Feeling of Deja Vu All Over Again

Whenever two US carriers merge, they predictably undertake to protect and preserve all existing services, and justify their merger, when seeking government approval, on the basis of giving the traveling public more choice and more competition (yes, merging two airlines into one is, they say, a way to give you more choices and competition).

And once they have merged and a polite passage of time passes, what invariably occurs?  A ‘rationalization’ of service, almost always seeing a reduction in routes, flights and hubs.  There are ghostlike empty concourses in airports around the country that bear silent witness to the truth of ‘more choice and more competition’.

It now seems that this growing group of empty airports will be joined by Charlotte, a former US Airways hub (and before that, a hub for Piedmont).  Now that US Airways and American Airlines have merged, there is less value in keeping Charlotte as a hub alongside other major nearby hubs such as New York’s JFK and Chicago’s O’Hare.  So far, all we are seeing a reduction in international flights from CLT, but we’re also seeing the bulking up of domestic flights that could have been sent to Charlotte, but instead going to and coming from another hub, Miami.

Although we’re told that CLT will remain an important domestic hub, we’re not so sure.  CLT is ringed by American’s hubs at JFK, ORD, DFW and MIA.  How long before CLT starts to slowly, flight by flight, lose domestic flights as well, and to be degraded from a hub to a ‘focus city’ and then to a regular city and then to, well, not much at all?  In its favor is a very low operating cost for airlines flying in and out, but against it are all the other factors that might overwhelm the low enplanement fee.

One of the things that seems key for a hub to ‘work’ these days is that it needs ideally to combine both a strategic geographic location and strong local market traffic (ie people flying in and/or out of the local area as well as people hubbing and merely changing flights on the way somewhere else).

We’re not saying CLT is in a bad geographic spot, but it has limited local market traffic and there are plenty of other suitable hubs also available for AA.

This article includes the bold assertion ‘While no one suggests that Charlotte’s role as a domestic hub will lessen…’ I’m not afraid to contradict everyone.  I think it will lessen.

Britain’s Extraordinary Hatred of Planes

Talking about airports, imagine if a political party in this country said ‘We’re going to freeze the roading in this country.  We’re not going to develop any more lanes of freeway or surface streets’; indeed, we’ll make it illegal for anyone in the country to do so.’

Unthinkable, right?  How about a party promising (or should that be, ‘threatening’) to freeze our nation’s airports and not allow a single new runway to be built, anywhere in the country?  Also unthinkable.

Now cross the Atlantic, where the unimaginable is being offered as an election prank plank, presumably in the belief it will win votes and help the Liberal-Democrats gain more seats in Britain’s 2015 General Election.  Yes, the Lib-Dems have said they’ll ban any new runway building, anywhere in Britain.

All three major parties are united in opposition to building more runways at Heathrow – perhaps the world’s most congested major airport presently – and frantically look the other way when confronted by the facts about the harm this is doing to Britain’s economy.  But the Lib-Dems have now said they’d ban all new runways, everywhere.  Details here.

Norwegian Air Shuttle – As Good as Hoped For

Talking about hating things to do with flying, Norwegian Air Shuttle is the airline the US carriers love to hate.  They are terrified that its low-cost service will upset their currently ultra-protected and largely uncompetitive routes across the Atlantic, peacefully shared by the three airline alliances.  Particularly now with Virgin Atlantic obediently being managed by Delta, there are few if any upstart carriers threatening to upset the applecart.

But Norwegian Air Shuttle is keen to bring lots of low-cost flights to the routes between Europe and the US.  Naturally, therefore, the Department of Transportation (you know, the guys who think that allowing airlines to merge increases competition and lowers air fares) is adopting a very negative go-slow approach to approving the airline’s requests to add new routes.

Reader David recently made a point to fly on Norwegian to see what all the fuss was about.  He writes

This note is to comment briefly on Norwegian airlines, which I had never heard of until you mentioned them relating to the 787 situation and then the problems with being certified to fly from the US.  It was enough information for me to look into, and flying with, Norwegian Air in September and early October.

My wife and  I flew  from LAX (on their 787) to Stockholm and then on to Oslo and Longyearbyen, NO; then back to LAX from Bergen via Oslo and Stockholm.  The non Stockholm-LAX segments were on 737’s.  We flew premium economy on the LAX-Stockholm segments.  The cost of the premium economy was equal to or less than coach on other airlines.

The service was superb on all segments at truly discount prices.  The premium economy was very comparable to business class on other airlines.  True, all amenities were extra but the base price was so low we didn’t mind picking and choosing on what extras we paid for, not like the US airlines where extras are added to non-discounted prices (under the guise of not raising prices?).  Their frequent flyer points could be used immediately for discounts on other flights and amenities which reduced the cost of our Bergen to Oslo flight even more.

The other observation I had was the number of young people flying on Norwegian – almost like being in a youth hostel.  These are the people who will be supporting airlines in the future.  I would expect, from my experience, they will be flying Norwegian Air.

I was not sure if you have actually had people comment about flying this airline, so thought I would share my positive impressions and hopefully their routes from the US will expand.

A friendly airline with superb service and discount prices?  No wonder our US carriers and their proxies at the DoT are doing all they can to keep Norwegian out!

MH 17 and MH 370 Updates

An interesting snippet of MH 17 news was apparently inadvertently disclosed by a Dutch politician this week.  In justifying some comments he made about passengers knowing the plane was crashing and looking each other in the eyes for a final unarticulated goodbye, he pointed out that one of the passenger bodies was found with an oxygen mask around his/her neck.

The assumption is that if the plane was opened up by a missile strike, that may have activated the oxygen mask deployment, and if passengers were still alive and capable of responding, they might have donned the masks.

This point has not been revealed in any of the official commentaries of what transpired.  One wonders why not.

Meanwhile, with little press coverage, the search for the ocean-floor remains of MH 370 (it disappeared on 8 March) has resumed off the west Australian coast.  Australian writer Ben Sandilands points out two interesting mysteries of the ‘what did they know and when did they know it’ variety; unfortunately, while he poses pertinent questions, no-one is choosing to answer them.

A New Look for London’s Underground – Worth Waiting For, But….

There are few things more unpleasant on this planet than riding on the ‘Tube’ in London in late summer.  Temperatures soar up above 100º, and there’s no air-conditioning.  The air is filled with dust and dirt and sweat, and people faint from the heat.  Such are the associated downsides with having the world’s first underground transportation system (dating back to 1863).

At last, it seems that something is being done about this, with new trains being announced that will include air conditioning, and which will no longer include drivers.  That will not only give a more comfortable temperature for riders, but will also remove an occasional source of another form of Tube-related discomfort – driver strikes.

Many of the Underground trains have been automated for some time, but the unions have ensured drivers remain on the trains, whether needed or not (a bit like planes and pilots, you might say….).

There’s only one thing about these amazing new trainsets.  The first of them is not expected to enter into service for another eight years.

Still, one should see one’s glass as half full.  At least none of Britain’s political parties are opposed to upgrading London’s Underground.

Details here.

Self Driving Cars Move a Little Closer

Thursday night saw a new product launch by Tesla.  A stunning new high-performance version Tesla that can go 0-60 in 3.2 seconds was announced, as was a package with various almost-self driving capabilities.  According to CEO Elon Musk, one of the constraints on the capabilities of the cars was not technological, but instead what is currently allowed by law.

Amazingly, the 12 new sensors and other capabilities to allow the car some autonomy are already being built into current model Teslas, and to enable them, one simply chooses the Technology package option, which costs a total of $4250 for the almost-self-driving and other things too.

As for the 0-60 in 3.2 seconds, the second drive motor to enable the extra power/acceleration astonishingly results not in reduced economy but in greater economy – about 10 miles more range per charge.  Details here.

So – new trains on London’s Underground = 8 years to wait.  Almost self-driving Teslas?  Available today.

Talking about Elon Musk, the day before launching his new, more intelligent car, he was quoted as worrying about artificial intelligence taking over the world, and possibly choosing to destroy all human life as a result.  Gulp.

And while Elon’s new semi-self driving cars might seem reasonably safe, not everyone agrees, and some people see self-driving cars as opening a whole new vector for cyber-terrorism.  Details here.

This Week’s Ebola Update

This week saw the Ebola death count climb to 3854, as of 8 October, compared to 3300 as of 2 October.  This is an increase of 554, compared to 383 the previous week, and creates a new ‘weekly worst’ – the previous being 483 in early September.

Among the 554 deaths is the Liberian national who lied his way out of Liberia and into the US.  Despite his easy access to the US, and despite experts pointing out that thermal scanning at borders won’t detect people who are infected with Ebola but not yet at the point of displaying symptoms, our authorities continue to insist we are safely insulated from the risk of more Ebola infected people entering the US.

And if you believe that, may I interest you in the Brooklyn Bridge, for sale for a bargain price.  Shipping and handling to be arranged by yourself, please.

Perhaps a more concerning infection occurred in Spain, where a nurse who was part of a Spanish hospital team caring for two Ebola victims, repatriated back to Spain after getting the disease, has now contracted the disease herself.  The CDC had earlier gone to considerable lengths to downplay the risk to healthcare professionals, and also said there was no need for the ‘spacesuit’ type protection such as the media like to show being deployed in West Africa.  Could they have been wrong?

Perhaps it is understandable to see why fear of Ebola is starting to mount, with a recent example being the cabin cleaners at La Guardia who have gone on strike because they have to, ummm, clean airplane cabins that are dirty.  Details here.

And Lastly This Week….

Here’s an interesting article, but I think it misses the main story.  While superficially chronicling the worst traffic commutes in the US, it fails to note that while commute times soared between 1982 and 2000, and continued to get worse through to 2005, commute times now are generally back down at 2000 levels.

What happened to stall the deterioration in commutes, and indeed to see travel times improve in some areas?

I’ve always loved maps.  New maps, old maps, detailed maps, overview maps.  And, of course, particularly, unusual maps.

Talking unusual, one of the traditional activities when vacationing is to take pictures of oneself while on one’s travels.  Pictures such as, umm, these?

Truly lastly this week, what with increased travel speeds during our commutes, and Teslas that rocket you to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds, you might need to know these 20 ‘insane’ excuses for speeding.  Even more insanely, apparently some of them work.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels








2 thoughts on “Weekly Roundup, Friday 10 October, 2014”

  1. Re your article on new tablets. I wish I could find (just have not researched enough I suppose) a large tablet (current ipad size or larger) that I could also use the CPU, storage drives, etc. and attach to a docking station which has a full sized keyboard, mouse, and large monitor attached (whether through wires or Bluetooth). I know there are convertibles, but not sure they can just sit on the side and be plugged into a desk setup when I want to do Laptop type activities. Any ideas as to best solution?

    1. Hi, Mike

      There are plenty of Bluetooth type keyboards that can be added to most tablets, but most of the tablets can’t support a mouse, and an external screen is probably going to be a challenge, too.

      Maybe you need to – gack! – consider the Microsoft tablet if this is the way you want to go.

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