Weekly Roundup, Friday 1 May 2015

So how did Southwest make its seats 'wider' without taking up more space?  Read below.
So how did Southwest make its seats ‘wider’ without taking up more space? Read below.

Good morning

May already, and summer just around the corner.  Many of us travel over the summer, and for some of us, that’s when we have most time to read a book or three, and so I’ve written an article updating the current options for reading eBooks.

There’s an increasingly valid solution these days for many of us – our phone.  I’ve been happily reading books on my phone since the early days of what are now seen as tiny 3.5″ screened iPhones, and it was a perfectly acceptable experience then.  With our much larger phones now, it is even better.  But if you want a ‘full size’ reader, do read the article that follows today’s newsletter.

This week sees the tenth anniversary of the A380 – a plane that, to be fair, has yet to realize its potential, but which we hope may continue to be more accepted by the world’s airlines and airports, especially if Airbus decides to do a model refresh and come out with a new A380 with improved load capacities and engine performance, resulting in appreciable improvements in operating costs per passenger mile flown.

Here’s some commentary on the A380’s strategic role in the never-ending Airbus vs Boeing battle.

Please also keep reading for :

  • Reader Survey Results
  • How Wide is Your Airplane Seat?
  • Is Airline Customer Satisfaction Increasing?
  • Ordering 7Up, in French, Should be a Fundamental Right for Canadian Air Travelers.  Apparently.
  • Save the Planet.  Cut Carbon Emissions.  Fly.
  • Malaysia Airlines Fleet Massively Shrinks
  • Friend or Foe?  Hard to Tell with Airlines
  • Do You ‘Look Young for Your Age’?
  • And Lastly This Week….

Reader Survey Results

Many thanks to all who answered the reader survey last week.  We asked whether or not the phrase ‘You’ve lived your life responsibly’ was one you felt described you or not.

As you can see from our results, it seems the older you are, the less responsible you are!  Quite the opposite of what I’d guessed, but the most responsible group were the 50 – 60 year olds, with steady decreases in responsibility with advancing age, and the under 50s not yet being sure if they are responsible or not.

Thanks for helping out with this fun survey.

How Wide is Your Airplane Seat?

Southwest had a puzzling announcement last week.  It claimed to be making its seats wider on its 737s, going from 17.1″ to 17.8″.  With six seats per row, that would be an extra 4.2″ of seat width total, and there just isn’t a spare 4.2″ of aisle to allow that, and not even Southwest can persuade Boeing to finally increase the 737’s fuselage diameter over and above that first settled upon in the mid/late 1950s, almost 60 years ago.

(As an interesting side-bar, it was a struggle to get Boeing to make its 707 as wide as it became, and it was only due to Pan Am’s insistence that Boeing ‘gave in’ and allowed the 707 to be modified from five abreast to six abreast seating – if it hadn’t done that, the 707 almost surely would not have triumphed over the DC-8 and instead of Boeing eventually buying up McDonnell Douglas, probably the opposite would have occurred instead.)

Wider seats that take up no more space?  Clearly some PR double-speak was at work, and it seems that when Southwest claims to have made its seats wider, what it actually means is it has made its arm-rests narrower.  That’s not quite the same thing, is it.  Same shoulder width (the same as is allowed for in an Extra Small size jacket from Brooks Brothers – do you fit into one of their extra small jackets?).  Same seat-bottom width.  Just a bit less arm-rest.

So that’s an improvement, exactly, how?

Here’s a related article that discusses airline perfidy when it comes to measuring seat width.  While there’s a fairly universally accepted way of measuring seat row spacing (the ‘pitch’), there’s no universal way of measuring seat width.  There should be.

Is Airline Customer Satisfaction Increasing?

The annual survey of customer satisfaction was recently released, with airlines being rated as the 40th worst out of 43 business sectors.

But at the same time, another survey shows that 81% of airline executives believe that their passengers are becoming more satisfied with their air travel experiences.  Apparently they think we like being wedged into ever smaller seats, being charged more and more and getting less and less in return; apparently they think we are delighted when they cut back on their frequent flier program benefits, and they’re obviously convinced we’re pleased to pay hundreds of dollars in change fees for something that costs them nothing except a few computer CPU cycles to do.

Wishful thinking?  Or clueless indifference?

Here’s a good article that points out that perhaps airline executives truly have no comprehension what their airlines’ service is like.

Maybe Southwest’s executives actually believe their seats have got wider, too.  Maybe….

Ordering 7Up, in French, Should be a Fundamental Right for Canadian Air Travelers.  Apparently.

A fluent English speaking Canadian, Michel Thibodeau, was upset when a flight attendant on the Air Canada flight he was on didn’t understand his French – Thibodeau was refusing to speak English – and brought him a Sprite instead of a 7Up.

So Thibodeau did what any rational French speaking Canadian would do, and what he has done before already.  He sued Air Canada.  For $525,000.

Astonishingly, he won the case in the court of first instance, with Madame Justice Marie-Josee Bedard (hmmm, I wonder what her language preferences might be) finding for Thibodeau and his equally aggrieved wife, saying that this ‘violation of their rights caused them a moral prejudice, pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of their vacation’.  She awarded him $12,000.

Air Canada appealed and won on appeal.  So Thibodeau appealed to the Canadian Supreme Court, which ruled that Air Canada was protected under the Montreal Convention and was not required to provide multi-lingual services to its passengers on international flights (but agreed that Canada’s Official Languages Act would apply on domestic Canadian flights).  It being an international flight where the ‘problem’ occured, so no pay-off for Thibodeau.

This enraged Canada’s former Liberal Party leader and still MP, Stephane Dion.  He points out, as all rational French speaking Canadians clearly believe, being able to order 7Up in French is a fundamental right all Canadians are imbued with.  So he has introduced a new bill into Canada’s Parliament that seeks to overturn the international Montreal Convention which Canada is a signatory to, and require all flights flying to or from Canada to provide service in French.

We’re not sure if the airlines would also be required to provide service in English.  But, of course, for the rational French speaking Canadians (I’ve typed that phrase three times now and it is still difficult to do so!) that’s not the point, is it.

Details here.

Oh – one wayward thought.  How do you say “7Up” in French?  Sept En Haute?  Or, is it possible, that 7Up in French is said “Seven Up”, the same as in English?  Which would of course add another element of ‘rationality’ to this entire matter….

Save the Planet.  Cut Carbon Emissions.  Fly.

Even though the claim of global warming is increasingly struggling to fit within the demonstrated reality of temperature facts, some sensitive souls continue to feel guilty when they board an airplane, and prefer to drive so as to, through some mysterious process, ‘save the planet’.  And of course, plenty of politicians love to punitively tax air travel and air travelers, also ostensibly to save the planet, because, uhhh, that’s what taxing does, right?

Here’s an interesting article that should salve your troubled conscience prior to your next flight.  Depending of course on how many people are in your car or on your plane, the average result is that flying uses only half as much fuel as driving does, per person traveling.

This is not something new.  Although, 45 years ago, cars were twice as fuel efficient as planes, the situation has been slowly changing ever since, and after about 2000, planes have been increasingly more fuel efficient than cars, now reaching the point of being twice as fuel efficient.

This is all the more astonishing an accomplishment when you think how more fuel efficient cars have become.

Malaysia Airlines Fleet Massively Shrinks

After a very bad 2014, with two plane losses, Malaysian Airlines – already in difficulties prior to its two crashes, has now announced a ‘restructuring’ of its fleet.

  • It currently has six A380s.  All six are now offered for sale or lease.
  • It currently has two 747-400F freighters.  Both are now offered for lease.
  • It currently has 15 A330s.  Four of them are now for sale or lease.
  • It currently has 13 777s.  Four of them are now for sale.

It also has 57 737s, none of which are to be sold/leased.  But this is a major curtailment of its long-haul international fleet.  Will MH be the exception that proves the rule – will it succeed in shrinking its way to profit?  Time will tell, soon enough.

It will also be interesting to see how readily it can place the A380s elsewhere.  Maybe this will allow non-A380 equipped airlines a chance to try the plane out, or maybe none will be brave enough to ‘take the risk’ in so doing.

Friend or Foe?  Hard to Tell with Airlines

A couple of months ago, the US dinosaur airlines launched a particularly ugly campaign against the new generation of super-carriers such as Etihad and Emirates, fighting the battle both in the court of public opinion and in the halls of the US Capitol building.  The US dinosaurs claim that the new super-carriers are not competing fairly, due to alleged government subsidies.  This claim is at best parlous in nature, and conveniently overlooks the tens of billions of subsidies the US airlines have received from the US government.

But while they’re urging the US government to restrict the ability of these airlines to fly to the US, they’re simultaneously getting more closely into bed with the very same airlines they are complaining about.  American Airlines and Etihad – arch-enemies, one would think by the tenor of rhetoric flowing on both sides – have announced they are expanding their codeshare agreement – Etihad flight numbers will appear on more AA flights within the US, and AA flight numbers will appear on Etihad international flights.

It would seem that our carriers want to have their cake and eat it too.

Do You ‘Look Young for Your Age’?

Here’s a fascinating little website.  Upload a picture to it and the program mercilessly estimates the age of the person in the picture.

So – I dare you.  Do you really look young for your age?

This could blow open what I gather to be a common ‘mistake’ on dating sites with people understating their age.  Now if the program could measure weight, too, online dating as we know it might be destroyed entirely.

And Lastly This Week….

Overnight sleeper trains – whether the Orient Express or much more mundane trains – are the thing of legend and lore, and sadly they’re disappearing, all around the world – in large part because trains are so fast that there are few routes that are long enough now to fill an overnight journey (many of the remaining overnight trains either go slow to fill in the time or spend half the night parked in a siding), and those journeys which do require overnight travel can usually be done less expensively and more conveniently by plane.

The railroads themselves don’t like sleeper trains any more, either.  They can only use the sleeper carriages for overnight journeys – ie, once a day, instead of pressing them into service for multiple journeys, all day long, and the trains are more bothersome to staff and manage.  The same is probably true of the passengers, too!

But while we’re seeing the steady disappearance of overnight train journeys, a bus company is trying to buck the trend and has introduced overnight sleeper bus service between Glasgow and London.  There are two tiers of single bunks along one side of the bus, and a single bunk above a double bunk running along the other side.

Oh – be careful if you get assigned a place in a double bunk.  There’s no way of knowing what stranger you might end up sharing it with!

More details here.

On the other hand, if you decide to drive between places in Finland, be careful not to exceed the speed limit, particularly if you are moderately wealthy.  Their speeding fines are calculated on your income, causing one motorist to get dinged with a $58,000 ticket for going 64 mph in a 50 mph zone.

Details here.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels





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