Happy birthday this week not only to myself, but also to the Statue of Liberty, which was dedicated on 28 October 1886. And, for a second trivial pursuit gem, did you know the full name of the statue is “Liberty Enlightening the World”.
Halloween just around the corner. May you be richly rewarded with treats, and spared the tricks. Although, come to think of it, and as one perhaps more deserving of tricks than treats, I have to wonder : Does anyone ever get/do tricks these days? Did anyone every do so, even way-back-when?
As a youngster, living in NZ, Halloween was nothing more than a peculiar American thing that slightly puzzled us, but these days the marketers and merchandizers have realized there’s a chance to sell lots more junk, and so NZ has adopted Halloween with enthusiasm. Globalization – a mixed blessing…..
Not so mixed are the further blessings heaped on me by Travel Insider Supporters. We have now reached 244 supporters total, including another 14 Super Supporters who joined during last week. Many thanks to all Supporters – you all deserve another piece of candy this year! And a special mention to the Super Supporters from this week – Laszlo K, Michael L, Karen P, Jeff K, B & L B, Andrew C, Michael L, Mike S, Ian B, Elizabeth K, Ron S, Kelly N, Steve W, and P & J A.
Let’s consider this now will be the last week of the formal combined fundraiser for 2014 and 2015 (there wasn’t one last year). While, of course, we don’t refuse support at any time of the year, this is the time when it most counts, and as delighted as we are with the generous support from those of you who have responded, that still leaves close on 10,000 readers who haven’t responded.
Most of you tip your waiter after eating out for an evening. Many of you pay to check a bag or get early boarding or a slightly better seat on a plane. If you go on a cruise, the semi-mandatory tips for the crew can quickly exceed $100 per couple.
You might wonder how much a person such as myself should be earning, and it is hard to know what the answer is. But I can’t help feeling a prick of envy when reading earlier this week that United’s acting/temporary CEO was granted a $100,000 pay rise. And that $100,000 – that’s not his annual pay rise. That amount is extra every month. You ‘donate’ to United and the other airlines, all currently reporting record profits, every time you fly, so how about a small donation this way, too!
Please help keep this ‘public broadcasting’ alive, and offer an appropriate level of support to The Travel Insider too. Simply click this link to choose from four different easy ways to send in your support, and we can say no more about this matter until the same time next year.
What else this week? I’m ‘on the road’ this week, and as you know yourselves, one’s productivity inevitably tumbles in such cases, a fall made all the more precipitate by my laptop failing and refusing to take a charge. Fortunately, Dell’s Worldwide Support truly is worldwide, but I lost a couple of days between discovering the issue and getting it solved.
However, there are some items I absolutely wanted to share this week, so please keep reading for :
- Nearly Last Call for the Christmas Cruise
- Very First Call for the NZ/Oz Tour, Oct/Nov 2016
- Reader Review Survey Results
- 787 Batteries – Should be In the News But Aren’t
- When (Airline) Thieves Fall Out
- A KFO not UFO
- The EU to Ban International Roaming Fees
- More on Passport Expiry
- Did the TSA Force a 90 year old Lady to Strip?
- And Lastly This Week….
Nearly Last Call for the Christmas Cruise
It is now only an exciting 6 1/2 weeks until our lovely Rhine river cruise, starting in Basel on 14 December, and finishing in Amsterdam a week later, on the 21st.
While you can of course ‘test the limits’ and request to join us at any time up until the cruise’s departure, we are getting close to the point where it becomes difficult rather than fun to plan, so if you’ve been ‘on the fence’ about joining us, now would be a really good time to choose to come along.
Very First Call for the NZ/Oz Tour, Oct/Nov 2016
We now have dates for the 2016 NZ Epicurean Extravaganza, and for next year, we’re not only duplicating what everyone acclaimed as one of the best Travel Insider tours, ever; we’re going to make it even better still by adding an option in Australia after the main NZ tour.
The Australian add-on features the Port Douglas region in Tropical North Queensland. This is a region that the locals said I ‘put on the map’ for Americans, now some 20+ years ago. Until then, everyone went to Cairns, and while it was a good gateway, Cairns was and is way too commercial for me and many others. Think of it a bit like Waikiki – lots of tourists, few locals, and everything over-developed, whereas less well known islands and areas in Hawaii are gorgeous and relatively unspoiled.
So too with Port Douglas. It’s just an hour up the road from Cairns (even less distance from the airport) and is closer to both the Great Barrier Reef and the World Heritage Rainforest. It is a lovely little town full of relaxing ‘lifestyle’ and ambience, and we’ll have a lovely tropical style relaxing resort to base our stay at.
Today I can advise the dates for the main NZ tour featuring the wonderful Food and Wine Classic Festival, the pre-tour around the Queenstown area, and the Port Douglas extension. I’m still romancing suppliers for the best possible rates, but I can confirm that the rates should be less than 2014 (the Kiwi dollar is weaker).
For the Queenstown pre-tour, which most people did last year, we are recommending arriving in Queenstown on Wednesday 26 October 2016. Some people might arrive a day or more earlier, others a day later, it is up to you, and we’ll adjust to fit in with your schedule.
For the main tour, you should arrange to be in Auckland on Sunday 30 October. If you’re on the pre-tour, we’ll fly up to Auckland on Sunday; if you’re starting the tour in Auckland, we generally recommend coming in a day ahead of schedule for ‘just in case’ things like strayed suitcases, and to give you a day to freshen up prior to the tour’s start.
The main tour ends in Wellington on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, 8/9 November.
If you’re heading over to Tropical North Queensland, we’ll get there on Wednesday and spend a recommended four nights in Port Douglas, ending on Sunday 13 November. At that point you can stay on in Australia (I might offer some more touring to Darwin/Kakadu/Katherine and elsewhere too depending on the interest level) or you can of course do anything else you prefer instead.
I’ll have pricing and day by day itinerary details in two weeks. If you’re interested, please go ahead and block out the dates now.
Reader Review Survey Results
I asked you last week what types of review you would like to see over the next months. It was interesting to see both what were popular topics and what were less popular topics.
The most popular topic was ‘Anything’ – thank you for such positivism!
The least popular two topics were smart watches and eReaders. I agree that smart watches are a concept most kindly described as ‘ahead of their time’ and not yet ready for general use by most people. They are more an example of ‘conspicuous consumption’ by fashionistas, plus also playthings for some of the most avid early adopters of new electronics.
eReaders are a product category that has been very short lived. But are they truly now obsolete – have multi-purpose tablets taken over the service formerly provided by eReaders? The answer to that isn’t completely clear – I’ll write more about it subsequently.
Now, what about specific things you did want? There were three clear winners – internet and phone options when traveling internationally, noise cancelling headphones, and airline reviews.
Two of these topics are fairly easy to address, and I’ll be reviewing the new Bose QC25 headphones in two or three weeks time. But the third – airline reviews – is more difficult, requiring massively greater costs and substantially more time.
I’d like to add more airline reviews – particularly of premium cabins, because coach class is a more generic and uniformly uncomfortable experience. But that can see costs of many thousand dollars per review, and potentially days of time if reviewing long haul/international services. The economics of that are hard to justify.
787 Batteries – Should be In the News But Aren’t
For sure you remember the high visibility ‘smoking’/burning batteries that caused a lengthy three month forced grounding for the entire 787 fleet. The root cause of what was making the batteries catch fire was never determined, although it was established that Boeing had chosen a more ‘risky’ type of battery technology to save a bit more weight.
The ‘solution’ was not to stop the batteries catching fire, but rather to put the battery in a fireproof box so that when it did catch fire, it wouldn’t cause the entire plane to go up in flames.
But did you know that the batteries themselves are continuing to catch fire, and sometimes resulting in emergency diversions and landings? You probably didn’t know that, because the details are being very closely held by the airlines, Boeing, and the FAA, none of whom feel it to be appropriate to fully share these details with the people who put their lives on the line every time they board a 787.
Here’s a story that blows the whistle on what is actually known to be going on. But it begs the question – while its writer, Christine Negroni, deserves much praise for uncovering this issue, how many more battery fire problems have occurred that she and we don’t know about?
Don’t we have a right to know about airplane safety issues?
When (Airline) Thieves Fall Out
Delta surprised people this week by announcing it was withdrawing from the ‘Airlines for America’ airline lobbying group, making this an even smaller group than before (just six US passenger airlines now belong – Alaska, American, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest and United).
A4A has been very effective at ensuring the airlines were well listened to in DC, but some members disagreed with DL (and disagreed equally with AA and UA) about their moves seeking government sanctions against the Gulf airlines and their claims of the Gulf airlines receiving unfair subsidies, and so the A4A didn’t take a public position on that subject, even though three of its members were pushing for government intervention.
Delta also found itself at odds with the association on the topic of privatizing Air Traffic Control. A4A supports privatization, Delta does not.
So, in what is increasingly the case throughout our society, rather than compromise, seek group consensus, and accept the majority opinion, DL announced it was taking its toys (or, more to the point, its $5 million annual membership dues) and going home. Well, what it actually said was
In recent years, the trade group, known as A4A, has failed to support Delta on several key issues, including the growing harm of government-subsidized carriers in the Middle East… The $5 million that Delta pays in annual dues to A4A can be better used to invest in employees and products to further enhance the Delta experience, and to support what we believe is a more efficient way of communicating in Washington.
Now, if you believe that a single penny of that $5 million is truly going to be spent investing in employees and products to enhance the Delta experience, I’ve a bridge you might be interested in buying.
Of course, it will all be spent on ‘a more efficient way of communicating in Washington’, and happily enough, it actually will end up as being massively less efficient. Politicians will now be faced with DL advocating one side of an issue and A4A advocating the other side. That might end up allowing a few of them to ‘steer a middle path’ and actually make the right choice.
We expect to see DL and A4A re-unite within a year. The current separation does neither of them any good.
Delta also announced it was ending its service between Atlanta and Dubai, saying huffily that this was due to
overcapacity on U.S. routes to the Middle East operated by government-owned and heavily subsidized airlines.
Apparently Delta expects us to feel sympathy for its inability to compete alongside the Middle Eastern carriers. But – wait! Exactly how many competing flights are operated by Emirates or any other airline on the Atlanta-Dubai route? Answer : Zero. Apparently Delta can’t compete with the Middle Eastern carriers, even when they don’t operate on the same route!
Delta would no doubt point to that as another reason why it deserves sympathy and government support. Some of us thought might think it exposes the hollow emptiness of Delta’s complaints.
The other relevant point to consider is that Emirates operate flights from its Dubai hub to many ‘further away’ points. People who fly EK into DXB generally then change planes and fly on to somewhere else. But DL has no connecting flights from DXB. Could that be part of DL’s problem – not so much government subsidies as plain and simple lack of a route network to match that operated by the local/regional carrier?
Suggestion to Delta (and Emirates). Work together rather than apart, and arrange for DL to provide feed service in to Atlanta, and have Emirates then fly people from there on to Dubai and elsewhere.
Delta can’t support a single flight from its enormous ATL hub to Dubai. But Emirates can support two flights every day to second level US cities such as even Seattle – how astonishing is that?
A KFO not UFO
What’s that in the air? Is it a bird? A plane? No, it was neither of those things, and neither was it Superman or a UFO, either.
It was a military surveillance blimp, normally tasked with protecting the airspace around the nation’s capital, but which broke free from its moorings in Aberdeen MD and just floated away, trailing a 6700 ft cable down from it which apparently was breaking power lines and causing communities to lose power (over 18,000 families in total).
The EU to Ban International Roaming Fees
Noting the general interest expressed in the survey about mobile phone costs when traveling internationally, here’s a positive piece of news – albeit less so for non EU residents.
From April 30 2016, mobile operators based in any EU country will only be able to charge a maximum of €0.05 extra per minute on calls made in any other EU country, a maximum of €0.02 extra per SMS sent, and €0.05 per extra MB of data used (that last sounds very reasonable, but it translates to a hefty €50/GB).
And then on June 15, 2017, all surcharges will be eliminated entirely.
Will it take an international treaty to get the US carriers to be similarly fair-minded?
More on Passport Expiry
I had several emails from readers gleefully telling me that in the UK, you get up to nine months of unused time carried forward from your last passport that you’re renewing to your new passport. What a good idea, and surely there’s no reason why the US couldn’t do the same.
But also a word of warning from reader Tom. He and his wife reported for a Royal Caribbean Cruise in Hong Kong a couple of weeks ago and the cruise line refused to accept them, due to the ‘passport must be valid at least 6 months after the end of the cruise’ rule they were imposing. Apparently a number of other passengers were refused boarding, too.
Often cruise lines get ‘special’ types of visas for their passengers when they are doing short port calls, and it seems to me that Royal Caribbean could be much more cooperative and helpful, rather than insisting on a requirement which many times the countries themselves don’t actually ask for.
Did the TSA Force a 90 year old Lady to Strip?
Her son says the TSA took his 90 yr old mother (picture, above) into a private room at Portland Airport and had her strip from the waist up to ‘resolve’ an alarm when she was scanned.
The TSA deny they did this, but don’t explain what did go on inside the private room.
Several years ago the TSA announced a program of ‘relaxed’ screening of senior citizens. If this is ‘relaxed’ one shudders to think what unrelaxed would be.
And Lastly This Week….
With all the hassle and inconvenience involved with travel, it is good to know that there are some benefits to be enjoyed. This article talks about an ‘adult’ benefit and apparently a reason to choose an upgraded hotel room.
And truly lastly, this coming week will be the end of our 2015 fundraising appeal. If you’ve not yet responded (and 98% of you have not!) please do so now. Even a small amount would be much appreciated and very helpful.
Do I need to join the chorus of reminders about daylight saving ending on Sunday morning? Probably not!
Until next week, please enjoy safe travels in all ways (including those suggested in the article above)