Oct 162015
 
A very happy Travel Insider group on an earlier Christmas cruise.

A very happy Travel Insider group on an earlier Christmas cruise.  Why not join us this December for the 2015 Rhine River Christmas Markets Cruise.

Good morning

Most importantly this morning, something I can do for you.  If you didn’t see it yesterday, please note the attached article below about the astounding business class airfare sale being held yesterday and today by British Airways.

Even better news – other airlines are matching the sale, too.  So if BA and Oneworld isn’t your airline/alliance of choice, check out United or Delta or any of the other airlines also offering these sale fares – for little more than coach, you can fly from many US cities to London and Europe in business class, pretty much any time between mid November and the end of August next year.

Several readers wrote in excitedly to tell me they managed to take advantage of this deal, and last time I looked, there’s a lot of availability, and a lot of flexibility and choices.  One couple are using the fares (on United) to travel over to join our Christmas Markets Cruise.  We still have two cabins available – why not consider treating yourselves to a pre-Christmas indulgence too, and come enjoy the tranquility and festivity of a cruise along the Rhine, rather than the struggles at your local mall.

But danger lurks within that suggestion – with saving probably $1500 each on the cruise, and possibly many thousands more, each, on business class airfare, you might feel very tempted to spend up large in the markets along the journey!  But do go ahead and risk it, and please do come.

Talking about money, ahem, the second week of our annual fundraising drive saw us pass the 100 supporter mark – we now have 118, including another ten ‘super supporters’ (ie people very kindly sending in three figure sums).  So, a special thank you this week to Phil S, Steve N, Lynne H, Kim H, Ed A, Terry C, Cosmo B, Jinny M, Barbara K and Larry W.  And would supporter ‘DBEnterprises’ please say hello – your email is bouncing.

If you’ve not yet participated, you might be wondering ‘Why have 118 people voluntarily sent in money to David?’  Perhaps an analogy might be the old fashioned ‘honesty boxes’ that dispensed newspapers and other things.  You’d put your money in the tin, and then help yourself to a copy of the newspaper; with the publisher relying on most people being honest and actually paying for their papers.

We have a ‘virtual’ honesty box of sorts – maybe better to call it a ‘decency’ or a ‘kindness’ box.  Your weekly newsletter and other articles are always free, but we hope that some of you will honor our free gift with a voluntary reciprocal contribution.

A single copy of USA Today out of a box now costs $2.  A subscription for a month costs $25.  So what would be a fair value for a year of The Travel Insider?  Whether you decide it is $5, $50 or even $500 (and people have already contributed at all three levels) please then go to the next step in the process and actually do help out.

How much content do you get from The Travel Insider each year?  Well, each year, we write almost twice as many words as is added to the US tax code and regulations (here’s a stunning article about the extraordinary growth in those documents, which this year is believed to have now grown to over 10 million words).

May I also put forward a very weak reason to participate in our annual fundraiser.  Because your help is necessary, is needed.  Without your help, the ‘business model’, such as it is, of this citizen-journalism project will fail financially.

It only takes a click to quickly send in a credit card payment.  Please do so now.  The rest of the newsletter will wait!

2015 Travel Insider Fundraising Drive :  Four Ways to Contribute

1.  Simply click this link now to send in any one-off amount via secure credit card/Paypal payment.  Any amount, and any currency – all is welcome!

2.  If you’d prefer, email me (or fax to 206 338-3381) your credit card number, expiry, code on back, billing zip code and the amount you’d like to contribute and I’ll process it through Square rather than Paypal.  If you’re concerned about security, by all means send the details split over two messages.

3.  For ongoing ‘voluntary subscriptions’ please visit this page.

4.  Yes, there’s a place for ‘the old fashioned’ way too!  Simply mail a check to The Travel Insider, 17321 NE 31st Ct, Redmond WA 98052 – and be sure to enclose your email address so I know who to email and thank.

(Oh – you don’t need to contribute all four ways!  But please do choose one of these options and join with your fellow readers in choosing to support The Travel Insider.)

 

What else this week?  We’ve analysed and tabulated the results of the ‘most beautiful airplane’ survey, and I’ve written a bit more about the 25 planes that got the greatest votes.  That is below, too.

Plus, please keep reading for :

  • Justice Dept Disagrees with US Carriers
  • Airlines Play the ‘Mine is Longer than Yours’ Game
  • American Airlines is ‘Sparing No Expense’
  • The Mystery of the Air Traffic Controller Shortage
  • The Mystery of MH 370 – More Theories and Possible Findings
  • Travel Like the Rich and the Famous – or Like the Rolling Stones
  • What Happened to Amazon’s Travel Service?
  • Tesla’s Novel Interpretation of ‘Self-Driving’
  • And Lastly This Week….

Justice Dept Disagrees with US Carriers

That’s a stunning headline.  The Justice Department, which along with the Transportation Department seems to have never met a merger that it didn’t like and that it didn’t think would somehow add to airline competition, found itself forced to take sides between ‘our’ airlines and ‘their’ airlines, and, in a surprise move, sided with ‘their’ airlines.

We’re talking about the attempts by the three remaining major US carriers to get limits imposed on the Open Skies agreement (the one they were so keen to get, to start with) between the US and the Gulf states where the new ‘super-carriers’ are headquartered.  In case your local airport hasn’t yet been ‘invaded’ by one of the Gulf carriers, you mightn’t have noticed the stunning growth by airlines such as Emirates.  The US carriers feel this is unfair, and claim the offshore carriers are subsidized.

But the offshore carriers deny such allegations, and simultaneously they and US consumer groups point out that the level of subsidy given to the US carriers is vastly higher than any of the allegations made by the US carriers about the Gulf airlines, so even if there were subsidies, it is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

The Justice Department has now apparently said that the ‘overall public benefit’ needs to be considered, not just the impact on US airlines – a comment which doesn’t appear to augur well for the US carriers.  But the DoJ is being rather backward about being forward with its comments, as this article indicates.

Airlines Play the ‘Mine is Longer than Yours’ Game

A combination of fuel efficient long range medium sized planes, extended ETOPS certification allowing for more route flexibility, a dislike of plane changes through hubs by both airlines and passengers alike encouraging single flights to go ‘all the way’ between secondary destinations, and a general growth in air travel have made long flights much more common than they once were.

Singapore Airlines used to operate the world’s longest flight, between New York and Singapore with an A340, but discontinued that in 2013.  However, this week has seen a series of new long range routes being announced, meaning that the current longest flight – approx 7450 nautical miles operated by Qantas between Dallas and Sydney in an A380, will be upstaged in 2016 when Emirates starts 777 service between Dubai and Panama City – albeit only 11 miles longer.

And then, in 2017, Qantas will snatch back that title, with new service between London and Perth – 7829 miles in a 787.  But in 2018, Singapore Airlines restarts its service between Newark and Singapore in a A350, and clearly regains its crown with the 8285 nautical miles involved.  Details here.

The most surprising part of this for me is the part that hints at the problem faced by the US dinosaur carriers.  Nonstop flights between Panama City and Dubai?  Less than a decade ago, such a route would have been laughably unthinkable.  But next year, Emirates are starting daily service, in a 266 seat 777.

So when does this all stop?  Will flights keep getting longer and longer, without limit?  Well, no, for two reasons.  The first is that the longer a flight, the less efficient/economical it is, because the plane is devoting more and more of its total carrying capacity just to carry fuel, and the greater the weight of fuel it carries, the more extra fuel it must carry to burn because of the weight of fuel it has, and so on in a vicious cycle.

The second reason is because nowhere on the planet is more than 12,500 miles (10,850 nautical miles) from anywhere else.  Sure, air routings are seldom straight lines, but with flights of up to 8285 nm already out there, it is only another 2500 nautical miles before you’re as far away from anywhere as you ever can be.

We’re not going to be seeing the end of hubs.  They’ll still be important for connecting the truly small airports to the not-quite-so-small ones, but perhaps the primacy (and inevitability of passing through) the mega-hubs is no longer as certain as it once was.  This of course is at the heart of the controversy – should airlines be buying A380 type planes for major routes, or should they be buying smaller planes to provide nonstop service between ‘thinner’ routes between secondary cities?

There is a clear trend towards the latter approach, but Airbus hopes that the anticipated growth in all air traffic will make congestion at major airports even worse than it is, forcing airlines to operate fewer flights with larger planes, at least on the routes that can support them.  Airbus is hoping that the answer isn’t ‘either/or’ but rather will prove to be ‘both’.

Here’s a blast from the past, a time when hubs were viewed differently.  Guess who said this, on 23 March 1963, and what airport the person was referring to.  Answer at the bottom of the newsletter.

There is no other airport in the world which serves so many people and so many airplanes. This is an extraordinary airport. . . it could be classed as one of the wonders of the modern world.

American Airlines is ‘Sparing No Expense’

There’s a headline that immediately has my eyes rolling.  AA says it has spared no expense in preparation for its Saturday switch from the former US Airways reservation system to AA’s system.  This, it assures us, has allowed the airline to do ‘everything it can’ to anticipate and mitigate any problems which might arise.

Let’s think about some of the other ways AA is sparing no expense in eliminating the US Airways brand.  Let me see – would that include repainting planes?  Nope.  How about giving employees AA uniforms to replace their current old US Airways uniforms.  Again, nope.  Sparing no expense?  Only on computers, it seems.

The merger details were finalized in late 2013 – almost exactly two years ago.  The last US Airways identified flight leaves Friday night for a redeye from San Francisco, where it will leave as US 434.  Then, somewhere on the overnight flight, magic will occur, and the plane will land in Philadelphia on Saturday morning as AA 434.

The Mystery of the Air Traffic Controller Shortage

One of the most predictable things out there is staffing air traffic control towers.  There’s nothing very surprising or sudden about adjusting for the usually very slow and slight growth (or decline) in manning levels needed.  Plus you know all about your current staff and their projected lengths of service/retirement dates, and you have so many of them that things should average out smoothly (there are almost 11,000 certified controllers in the US).

If there is a projected shortage, you simply hire some more.  If you’re having difficulty hiring, you up the rates you pay until you get enough people responding.  And, depending on who you believe, the country has way too many people who would be keen/desperate for full time employment.  And – oh yes, did I forget to mention?  According to the Glassdoor website, the average ATC employed air traffic controller pulls in a lovely $141,288 a year, plus all the generous government benefits too.

With that sort of pay scale you’d expect there to be a line around the block any time the FAA hires more controllers.  But, wouldn’t you know it, the FAA is its own worst enemy when it comes to hiring suitable new controllers.  After a study found that too few black people were being hired, they came to the conclusion that the problem and solution was to remove the preference they were giving to applicants with a relevant college qualification, because too few black people were willing to get that.  Instead, they’ve come up with a self-assessment ‘test’ that relies on the honesty of the applicants, and asks searching questions that are clearly relevant to being an air traffic controller such as about what sports the applicant played in high school.  Details here.

But the FAA isn’t blaming itself for this problem.  It says the problem is it doesn’t have enough money, as is detailed in this article ‘Chronic Shortage of air traffic controllers a crisis‘?

Maybe there is a shortage of money too, but that shouldn’t be a problem.  The government levies the airlines to pay for much of the FAA infrastructure.  If it can’t afford more air traffic controllers, it should simply increase the airline levies.  That’s not rocket science.  It is very simple.  The FAA shouldn’t overwork its controllers (which accelerates the attrition rate), it should hire more.  Today.  And with a focus on finding well qualified applicants, no matter what their racial origins may be.

Is it racist to say that if I had to choose between a well qualified controller of any color or a poorly qualified controller of a different color, I’d prefer to have the well qualified controller, rather than the controller with the politically correct skin color looking out for my plane and the planes around it?

Or is it perhaps just common sense?

The Mystery of MH 370 – More Theories and Possible Findings

A very different sort of mystery surrounds the disappearance of the MH 370 777.  Here’s a story that conjectures the plane suffered from a battery fire (not like the 787’s internal battery fires, but a fire in batteries traveling as inert cargo), but not that there’s a lot more conjecture than fact in the article, not that the writer concedes that himself.

And this week also saw several stories appear about possible wreckage and even dead bodies being found in the Philippines.  We linked to several of the stories on our News site.  But none of the stories have yet to be confirmed, and understanding how the plane could have traveled to the Philippines requires a rework not only of the ‘official’ guess about what might have happened and where (but not how or why) and pretty much all the less authoritative stories, too.

Travel Like the Rich and the Famous – or Like the Rolling Stones

Even if we don’t know the details, we’ve heard the stories, right?  How famous stars have extraordinary lists of demands for things that must be provided in their hotel rooms – a particular brand of bottled water served at a specific temperature, their favorite snacks, a specific type and color of sheet on the bed, preferred toiletries, brand new toilet seats, pre-stamped local postcards, bait to go fishing with (even if nowhere near any body of water), clear plastic cups, replacement underwear to keep, and so on.  For example, Weird Al Yankovic requires 48 extra large high quality bath towels and 24 hand towels in his room – I guess he hasn’t read the little card about saving the planet by reusing towels!

So what is the most surprising requirement when the Rolling Stones go on tour?  Written instructions for any/all electronics in their hotel rooms.  Understandable, really, and something I’ve never found for any of the devices sometimes featured in rooms.

What Happened to Amazon’s Travel Service?

Now you see it; now you don’t.  The giant online retailer has been wading into selling travel products – an obvious extension of its present very wide range of products, and something wide open to innovative new ways of packaging/presenting products to possible travelers.

Their ‘Amazon Destinations’ featured hotel packages, barely six months new, suddenly closed down earlier this week, with zero advance notice.

With the current marketplace concentration seeing Expedia dominating the rest of the industry, and Google sniffing around with interest, another major player who has consistently innovated in other market sectors would have been a very welcome development.  Hey, Jeff – give me a call, will ya.

Tesla’s Novel Interpretation of ‘Self-Driving’

Almost exactly a year ago, Tesla excited its devotees with the news that new Model S cars would be capable of self-driving via a new ‘autopilot’ feature.  This would not only do the same things cars have been doing for some time such as adapting their speed to stay a steady distance behind the car in front, or self-parking, or even staying in its lane while driving along the freeway, it would also do other things such as automatically change lanes in response to a driver command initiated by merely tapping on the indicator stalk.

Like most things to do with Tesla, the actual release of the product was delayed repeatedly, until it suddenly appeared on Wednesday this week.  A blog post at Tesla says

Tesla Autopilot relieves drivers of the most tedious and potentially dangerous aspects of road travel. We’re building Autopilot to give you more confidence behind the wheel, increase your safety on the road, and make highway driving more enjoyable. While truly driverless cars are still a few years away, Tesla Autopilot functions like the systems that airplane pilots use when conditions are clear.

Wow – an autopilot, just like an airplane pilot uses.  We all vaguely know about those – you dial in your directions, then have a snooze for the next couple of hours while the plane flies itself better and more safely than if it were under direct pilot control.  Sounds great, yes?

Actually, no.  Sure, you can tell the car to change lanes by tapping on the indicator, but you – not the car, but you – are responsible for determining if it is safe to do so (the big risk being a car rapidly coming up from behind in the lane you’re about to move into), and, get this :  You have to keep your hands on the steering wheel while the car does its lane change!

Automatic?  Self-driving?  Just like in an airplane?  Do pilots have to keep their hands on their control columns while the auto-pilot is engaged?  No, they don’t.

This article points out some of the nonsense in Tesla’s wildly inflated claims, and this article explains some more about what the auto-pilot does(n’t) do.  A self-driving car that requires you to keep your hands on the wheel – only the reality-distorting field that surrounds Tesla allows this concept to escape close scrutiny.

And Lastly This Week….

The airport quote, above, was by President Kennedy, and referred to O’Hare.  These days, all the ‘wonders of the world’ airports seem to be in other countries, and none in the US, and the distinction most commonly awarded to O’Hare nowadays is its consistently scoring as the worst of the 29 largest airports in the country for flight delays.

On the other hand though, hooray for O’Hare this week, with it opening another new runway.  It opened an extra runway also in 2013, but that one failed to create the operational efficiencies hoped for.  Maybe this next runway will, and you won’t need to take major detours on your itinerary to avoid O’Hare much longer.

Talking about delays, I mentioned last week a terrible traffic jam in China.  But there have been worse ones, such as the one which had people stuck for 12 days.  Here’s an interesting list of the worst traffic jams, ever.

Makes flying – even through O’Hare, seem almost preferable, doesn’t it!

Truly lastly this week, if you’ve not done so already, please do choose to become a Travel Insider supporter.  Your help really is very important, and truly is much appreciated.  Just a quick click, and you too can send in your support.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels

Davidsigblue285

 

 

David.

 

 

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