Weekly Roundup, Friday 28 November

Edinburgh's enigmatic Rosslyn Chapel, featured in our Scotland's Islands and Highlands Tour, has just won a prestigious tourism award.
Edinburgh’s enigmatic Rosslyn Chapel, featured in our Scotland’s Islands and Highlands Tour, has just won a prestigious tourism award.

Good afternoon or evening

My plans to write last night rather collapsed after a lovely large Thanksgiving meal and a glass or three of wine.  Oh well…..

Here’s a quick little something for later in your Friday instead, and of course, there was also the unscheduled special email earlier in the week about our expedition cruise next May.  One person has already joined the cruise – that’s lightning fast decision making!  So we still have 19 spaces available; please do consider joining us.

The cruise can be done either as a standalone experience or as a pre-tour option immediately before our Scotland’s Islands and Highlands tour in June.  And talking about the Scotland tour, we had another couple join last week, so we’re now up to 11 people for this lovely tour.  Please do think about this, too.

Apropos the Scotland tour, congratulations to Rosslyn Chapel, that mystic medieval church just out of Edinburgh which we’ll visit on our Edinburgh extension after the main tour (or could visit during the Edinburgh port stop/embarkation on the expedition cruise).  This week saw it become just the fifth recipient in all of Scotland of a five star Historic Attraction Award.  Definitely a must see/do place.

I realized an interesting thing last Saturday morning.  I was a guest on the radio show Rudy Maxa’s World (an always interesting compilation of travel related news and information); and whereas in the past, they  wanted to interview me through a landline for best voice quality, this time the desired method of contact was through Skype.

Indeed, not long ago, I was asked to participate in a television interview, also through Skype, (requiring me to buy a better webcam ).  A tv interview formerly required me to drive into a studio in downtown Seattle, struggle with traffic and parking, and easily waste at least an hour just in the getting to and fro, now it can be done from the comfort of my home office.  So technology is certainly impacting around the edges of needing to travel.

Of course, the related downside to these technological advances is that much of the same technology is now taking the audiences away from both radio and television!

There’s also a product review after this brief newsletter – a business-style backpack, good for a laptop and a few other essentials, deliberately designed to be small, slim, discreet and ‘business-like’, rather than capacious and suitable for a world tour.

Just a few items below (but still almost 2000 words).  A full newsletter next week, of course.

  • Norwegian Air Shuttle – Growth Limited by Plane Availability
  • IATA – One Rule for the EU, Another for Us (and US)
  • Well Done, Amtrak (Sort of)
  • TSA – It Isn’t Random.  It’s ‘Managed Inclusion’
  • A Pub With No Beer?
  • And Lastly This Week….

Norwegian Air Shuttle – Growth Limited by Plane Availability

One of the bright stars on the horizon for trans-Atlantic travel is the low cost Norwegian Air Shuttle operation – an airline with ambitious plans to grow its services between Europe and the US (and between Europe and the rest of the world, too).

The airline is however struggling to grow for two reasons.  The first regrettable reason is the unwillingness of our Department of Transportation to approve its new route requests.  The DoT apparently sees ‘public benefit’ and ‘competition’ only in the form of allowing high cost carriers to join together and present us with fewer alternatives, fewer flights, and higher fares.  Clearly, with such a paradigm, the thought of additional flights, from an additional airline, at lower prices, is something to be delayed and resisted as long as possible.

The other reason for slower growth is an interesting reflection on the ‘behind the scenes’ transformative effects of Boeing’s new 787.  The fuel efficiency and cost savings inherent in operating that plane are one of the key parts of Norwegian’s business plan, and at present, the airline just can’t get more 787 airplanes.  As a result, its 35% growth this year is expected to dwindle down to a mere 5% growth next year.

Another interesting point is that when Norwegian starts getting deliveries of the new Boeing 737 MAX 8, it plans to start flying these planes to the US.  That’s amazing – flying a 737 across the Atlantic.

Lastly, and showing exactly why the airlines in Europe (as well as the US) are so worried about this as-yet still tiny carrier, in this article there’s an astounding statement that Norwegian’s costs are about one quarter of SAS.  Let me clarify.  Not one quarter less.  But one quarter of.  So what it costs SAS $100 to do, Norwegian can do for $23.

You might wonder how it is possible to have such an extraordinary cost differential, and while that reflects partly positively on Norwegian, its new planes, and its sensible operational efficiencies, in largest part it reflects negatively on SAS.

The sooner we see more of Norwegian at our airports, the better.

IATA – One Rule for the EU, Another for Us (and US)

IATA – the airlines’ international lobbying group – proudly announced earlier this week a new voluntary ‘customer protection agreement’ with the vaguely familiar sounding name of ‘No Passenger Left Behind’.

The airlines have decided that, for passengers flying to, from, or within the EU, if their airline goes broke and ceases operation, then other IATA airlines will help the passengers return home by offering discounted fares for stranded passengers to complete their journeys.

This doesn’t cover much (for example if you’ve yet to start your travels, then you’re totally left high and dry), and note passengers will be offered discounted fares, not free travel, so in terms of just how generous a concession this is, well, let’s just say the jury is still out.

The curious thing about this is – why does the international airline organization come up with a policy only for the EU?  I wrote to their press office early in the week asking them this question; would you be surprised to learn that I didn’t get an answer?

My guess – the European measure was cynically introduced to head-off proposed new legislation that would have imposed more onerous obligations on the airlines.

There formerly was legislation in the US obliging the airlines to help out in such cases, but it failed to be renewed and now there is no protection of any type for us here.  On the other hand, the risk of an airline suddenly going bankrupt – in the US or EU – is currently very very low; the airlines are all enjoying record profits, and the continuing plunge in oil prices will only see airline profits soar even higher.

Details of the IATA offer here.

Well Done, Amtrak (Sort of)

This week, Amtrak reported its best year since 1973, at least as measured in terms of its net loss.  Its federally funded net loss for the last fiscal year was ‘only’ $227 million, a 37% decrease from the year before.

However, if you read this article, you’ll see a credible comment appended to it which points out that the concept of a ‘federally funded net loss’ is not something that is consistent with regular commercial accounting practices, and the writer suggests there are deferred maintenance costs that have obscured the actual financial position.

Any which way, it is hard to feel good about 40 years of losses, even if the last year’s almost quarter billion dollar loss is the lowest during that 40 year period.

I’ve often pointed out to the successful investment in and growth of railways in other countries.  Somehow, many people in the US feel that just because railways receive massive funding and operate efficiently in Europe, or in China, that doesn’t mean we should expect similar positive experiences in the US.

But how about Mexico, another very large, but very impoverished country.  Did you know they are currently going through a convoluted bidding process for a 130 mile high speed rail line between Mexico City and Queretaro, probably costing around $4 billion, and with service hoped to start in 2017?

How is it that even Mexico can develop high speed rail, while we can’t?  Details here.

TSA – It Isn’t Random.  It’s ‘Managed Inclusion’

I wrote last week about how the TSA’s promise to stop diverting unqualified people into the Pre-Check line was being broken all the time.  It now seems that, to dignify its broken promise, the TSA has come up with a special name – ‘managed inclusion’ and offers the usual nonsense about ‘multiple layers of security’ protecting us, even when the screening part is waived.  But we all know the people diverted into the Pre-check line haven’t gone through any other alternate layers of security – they’ve just been randomly selected.  Details here.

I’ve also been thinking a bit more about my own experience, inadvertently taking two ounces of metal in my pocket, and more ounces in my ankle, through the ‘metal detector’ – a device which can be set sufficiently sensitively as to detect ten or twenty times less metal, but which clearly on that occasion was either set very insensitively or was simply switched off.

I’ve also noticed a high incidence of ‘random’ secondary screening at the Pre-Check line, and reader Donna writes to confirm this :

My husband and I jumped through all the hoops to get Global Entry & TSA Pre-Check status.  My girlfriend was too lazy but she flies a lot too so she almost always get it “randomly,” which is of course annoying.

I was thrilled when I read not only in your blog but elsewhere that TSA was going to stop giving it away as the Pre lines have been getting longer as you have observed.

But lately both my husband and I have beeped the metal detector — not due to any metal alert but based on some “random selection”, according to TSA, so they send us through the whole body X-ray machine too.  You can imagine how frustrated it makes me to be forced to get X-rays after all the trouble I went to not to have to be subjected to their stupid X-rays!

Could it be that the ‘secret sauce’ of the Pre-Check program is that, in obscured reality, the metal detectors are secretly switched off, but to compensate, there’s a higher level of random secondary screening than with regular passengers going through the regular line?

A Pub With No Beer?

Is there anything sadder than a pub with no beer?  How about a London hotel with no alcohol at all, and restrictions on the food it serves guests as well (ie no pork).

This is because the new owners of the Bermondsey Square Hotel – formerly voted as Britain’s trendiest place to stay –  have decided to comply with strict Muslim standards, even to the point of not using batter that includes beer for their fish and chips (notwithstanding the fact that the alcohol boils out of the batter very quickly when the fish is being fried in the hot oil).

Details here.

And Lastly This Week….

Many people like to get access to the internet, when traveling, via free Wi-Fi hotspots.  But did you know, in Germany, there’s a dearth of such things, and indeed, not even many pay hotspots, either (15 times fewer, per head of population, than in the UK)?  More to the point, can you guess why?

As some of you may have discovered, weather made for bad travel this Thanksgiving.  But it could have been worse.  For example, you might have been asked to get out and push your stalled plane….

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels







2 thoughts on “Weekly Roundup, Friday 28 November”

  1. RE: TSA Pre-check. Recently I flew Lufthansa from Dulles (IAD) to Frankfurt (FRA) and although I have a Global Entry card, I was refused TSA pre-check because LH does not participate. I showed the gate minder my Global Entry card and he said tough – go to the regular line. I do not understand why if you fly some airlines you can use TSA-Pre and others you cannot not. I have not flown any non-US airlines except LH (and it is a partner with United) but it made no difference. I am the same person. Any idea what gives?

    1. That’s a new one on me. I don’t even understand what it has to do with the airline, other than perhaps they refuse to share PNR booking details with the TSA due to privacy issues.

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