Weekly Roundup, Friday 7 August 2015

The Stratolaunch Carrier, due to take to the skies next year.
The Stratolaunch Carrier, due to take to the skies next year.

Good morning

I’ve now upgraded two of my computers to Windows 10 (one previously on Windows 7, the other Win8.1), something that proved to be happily easy and straightforward with only the slightest of minor glitches.  The software itself seems unremarkable, and that is a good thing rather than a bad thing.  No new interface to learn, just the slightest of tweaks from the previous Windows 7 style interface.

However, the main computer I use all day every day remains stuck on Windows 8.1.  Although several readers helpfully wrote in with ways to extract a serial number from the operating system, I’ve decided not to force the issue/upgrade, because I’m getting an ominous message that hints at the delay in getting an official upgrade as being due to some unspecified incompatibility issue.  So I certainly don’t want to create a problem where none need exist on that point!

Based on my limited experience and that shared by other readers, I’d certainly endorse your own upgrading when the official upgrade option appears on your computer.

I had a difficult article to write and share with you this week.  There have been enormous shrieks of outrage about the killing of a lion in Zimbabwe during this last week, and I want to look at an outcome/response to this which, while greeted with adulation by most, might obscure one of these insidious ‘roads to Hell paved with good intentions’ that seem to be multiplying in so many forms these days.

The airlines announced they’d no longer allow passengers to fly back from Africa with ‘animal remains’ – ie big game trophies.  But, the thing is, as ‘common carriers’, the airlines are obliged to accept passengers without any form of bias and discrimination, and, if properly permitted, there’s nothing illegal with big game hunting or the trophies from such activities, in either Africa or the US.

Do we want airlines becoming ‘gate keepers’ and unilaterally deciding what we can and can’t do?  Read my article, appended after the roundup.  I hope I successfully separated the understandable emotionalism of Cecil the lion from the important underlying issue.

Please also see, below :

  • Reader Survey Results :  How Many Email Addresses You Have
  • MH370 Update
  • Frontier Airlines Offers Up Old Wine in New (Expensive) Bottles
  • Southwest Stays the Course with its Free Bag Policy
  • Congress Toys with Baggage Fee Cap
  • A New US Airline Association
  • Airbus Toys with Supersonic Flight
  • World’s Largest Plane to Take to the Skies Next Year
  • And Lastly This Week….

Reader Survey Results :  How Many Email Addresses You Have

Thank you to everyone who responded – our survey about how many email addresses you have, last week, drew an enormous response.  And, talking about enormous, some of you have enormous numbers of email addresses – 6% of you reported having more than ten somewhat active email addresses!

Overall, most people had two or three email addresses, and the average number was 3.9.  This chart shows the distribution of responses.



I’m surprised to see 11% of readers have only one email address, but if that is all you need and all you’ve accumulated, so much the better.  As for me, I’ve 12 main addresses, and a few ‘aliases’ and other ones in the background as well.  Yes, definitely way too many!

MH370 Update

It was obvious to me last Thursday, to the Malaysians on Wednesday this week, but not yet completely obvious to the French (who merely say there are ‘multiple strong presumptions’ that the flaperon is from the missing plane), but for the rest of the world, it seems correctly accepted that the wing fragment found last week is from the missing MH370 flight.

Since then, we have learned of other items that had been noticed turning up on Reunion’s beaches over the preceding weeks, but which were, at the time, ignored as without any significance, and now, with all eyes combing the beaches, assorted other items have also been found, although not universally of such impeccable provenance as the ‘flaperon’ from last week.

Some people are now trying to divine, from the appearance of the flaperon, what may have happened to the plane.  Was it a controlled descent and landing on the water, or did the plane ‘fly itself to bits’ in mid-air as part of a violent spin?  Some people claim to see proof of the former outcome in the form of the damage observed on the flaperon, others claim to see proof of the latter outcome as implied by the same damage.  In other words, we’ve insufficient evidence presently to make any type of authoritative analysis.

But it is early days yet, and as more and more possible pieces of the plane wash up ashore, the French authorities, while slow to decide where the first wing piece came from, are showing some heartening interest in getting answers to some of the other intractable mysterious of the vanished plane, many of which are due to the Malaysian government’s various contradictions and silences about the plane, its cargo and its flight.

Here is an interesting map, however, working back from the discovery of the debris to where the currents and winds might have caused the items to have started their journey.  The possible areas of origin are however, fairly dismayingly enormous!

Frontier Airlines Offers Up Old Wine in New (Expensive) Bottles

Frontier Airlines, the Denver based low-cost no-frills airline, has started offering an add-on package of extras that can be bought in a bundle, at lower cost than buying the elements individually.

The package – which they are calling ‘The Works’ includes one checked bag, one carry-on bag, ability to reserve the best available seat when you book your flights, priority boarding, the waiver of any potential change fees, and a full refund if you cancel at least 24 hours prior to departure.  They sell this for between $49 and $83 each way.

Sounds good, doesn’t it.  But this new package, costing $98 – $166 roundtrip, is actually nothing much more than what used to be included for free in all airline tickets.  And we also used to get three 70lb bags checked for free, not now having one 50lb bag included in this package deal, and there was also probably a meal and drink being offered to us onboard, too.  Maybe even a newspaper, pillow and blanket!

It is interesting to see this stark portrayal of the hidden increases in airfares over the last decade or two.  While it is abstractly true that ‘basic’ airfares have either declined, remained steady, or increased somewhat, depending on how many years back you choose to look, the real truth is that when you compare apples to apples, we get a great deal less for our comparable airfare today, and have to pay a great deal more to get the same complete bundle of benefits as we used to.

Perhaps the most gritty expression of the airline industry today compared to in the past comes from Frontier’s President Barry Biffle, who boasted in July that the airline made more money in the last ten months than it did in the ten years prior to then.

Southwest Stays the Course with its Free Bag Policy

Talking about bag fees, there’s one airline that remains stoutly different to the others.  Southwest’s CEO Gary Kelly, hot on the heels of announcing his airline’s 156th consecutive quarterly dividend (yes, that’s 39 years of nonstop dividends – not bad for an airline that is ‘only’ 48 years old) boasted that Southwest will continue to allow passengers to check two bags, each weighing up to 50lbs, for free (additional bags are charged $75 each).

This can be a substantial saving for passengers, and there have been persistent rumors that Southwest might start to curtail its free bags policy.  Kelly says that the free bags policy is making them more money than it costs them in uncharged fees, and so has no plan to change it.

Congressman Toys with Baggage Fee Cap

Talking about bag fees, perhaps now is a good time to segue to the current political grandstanding by Rep John Mica (R-FL).

As Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Transportation and Public Assets, he has always had an interest in airlines, and has now decided that no airline should charge more to carry a passenger’s bag than the passenger has to pay in airport passenger facility charges.  His very brief bill, now introduced, is not easy to follow and it isn’t clear exactly how the one would correspond to the other, because you can be charged multiple PFCs on a single itinerary, but the headline he has been offering is that it will be limiting bag fees to $4.50 a bag (each way).

There is of course no chance at all of this bill being passed into law – the airline lobbyists are way too powerful, but it gives him a nice bit of grandstanding and may help his re-election campaign next year too.

A New US Airline Association

Talking about airline lobbying, and as you surely know, the major dinosaurs are pressuring Congress to abrogate our Open Skies agreements with the Gulf carriers Etihad, Emirates and Qatar, because they are finding it difficult to compete against these airlines superior service.

A new airline group has now been formed, calling itself the US Airlines for Open Skies Coalition, and comprises JetBlue and Hawaiian Airlines, plus Federal Express and freight carrier Atlas Air.  They wrote an open letter to government officials this week, disputing the claims of American, Delta and United, and saying that the Gulf airlines, and airline competition in general, was actually a massive force for good in the US economy.

We agree with all their points, and disagree with all the points raised by the dinosaurs, who have formed an unholy alliance under the hypocritical rubric ‘Partnership for Open and Fair Skies’ – a name which actually thinly conceals an agenda which is all about closing the open skies and making for unfair restricted competition once more.

Good background and the four airlines’ open letter can be seen here.

Airbus Toys with Supersonic Flight

There was a sudden burst of excitement this week by supersonic flying fans.  Instead of another vague announcement by a ‘no name’ company claiming to build a new successor to Concorde, this announcement involved Airbus, which in its historic form was one of the ‘parents’ of the original Concorde.

Airbus announced having been granted a patent by the US Patent Office for a new type of hybrid passenger jet/rocket that would travel at speeds of up to 4.5 times the speed of sound (Concorde maxed out at about 2.05 times the speed of sound) and at twice the altitude of Concorde.  Regular jets typically fly between 30,000 – 40,000 ft, Concorde was usually to be found around 55,000 ft, and the new plane would cruise somewhere over 100,000 ft (less air friction).

But the plane would be astonishingly expensive to operate, both in total and per passenger, because it would only carry 20 passengers.  It would have three types of propulsion – normal turbo-jets for slow speed/low altitude cruise and descent, a rocket motor to take off vertically and rapidly ascend to altitude, and ramjets for the high speed cruise portion.

Airbus also has not made any public commitments to proceed with the plane’s development.  But the thought of a New York – London flight in less than two hours, or Los Angeles to Sydney in less than three hours, is surely appealing.

More details here.

World’s Largest Plane to Take to the Skies Next Year

In other aerospace news, a new plane claiming to be the world’s largest is due to have its maiden flight next year.

In terms of wing span, the plane is the largest, but in terms of weight, it is comparable to an A380, and it isn’t so much a passenger plane as it is an airborne platform for launching rockets from, saving the rockets from the added cost of covering the first few miles up through the atmosphere.

The plane will be powered by six 747 type engines, and has been designed and built by the same people who had been working for Virgin Galactic (remember them).  That may or may not be a point in the plane’s favor, because Virgin Galactic dumped heavily on them last week, suggesting they were largely at fault for the fatal crash of their SpaceShip Two prototype last October.

More details here.

And Lastly This Week….

There’s still plenty of money out there if you’ve a product that wealthy people want.  This was shown again this week when a 128 day around the world cruise, with the cheapest cabin priced at $110,000, almost sold out within hours of being announced.

Perhaps an idea for a future Travel Insider tour?  Details here.

Lastly this week, I’ve seen some of these before (and encountered some very similar in real life), but they are fun and worth repeating.

The Top 20 Strangest Requests made of a travel agent last year (in no particular order)

1.    Can you please book the honeymoon suite for us and another couple?
2.    Can you please plan a honeymoon for me, my bride and my mother?
3.    Can you guarantee that no pet has ever been in the hotel room?
4.    Can I fish off of the cruise ship?
5.    Do they speak English in Britain?
6.    Can you book two rooms in different parts of the resort—one for me and my wife, and the other for my girlfriend?
7.    Is our relationship like a client/lawyer relationship?
8.    Does the crew actually sleep onboard the cruise ship?
9.    Don’t tell my fiancé this is where I took my first wife for our honeymoon.
10.    I would like to go somewhere where there are NOT a lot of men.
11.    I’d like to meet Elvis.
12.    I’d like to get married in the Caribbean on an island where the marriage is not legal in the U.S.
13.    Will there be shadows on my face at 4 p.m. when the pictures are taken?
14.    Will you watch my pet while I’m away?
15.    Are there toll roads on the way to Hawaii?
16.    How can I get to Europe without going by air or sea?
17.    I’d like to visit Scotland and Denmark on the same trip. (Agent then tells client he does not have time in his schedule to travel the distance). But they’re only an inch apart on the map!
18.    Can you set it up so that the whales jump in the background at the same time I’m proposing to my girlfriend?
19.    Can you ask the airline to block the seat next to me so I can stretch out?
20.    I don’t want a window seat on the plane because I just had my hair done.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels






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