Weekly Roundup, Friday 9 October 2015

A new approach to squeezing more people into the plane (see article below).
A new approach to squeezing more people into the plane (see article below).

Good morning

You know, we travelers are among the most imposed upon groups in the world, ‘voluntarily’ spending way too much of our money on things we neither want nor need, and for which we receive no value.

I’m not talking so much about the insulting fees imposed on us by airlines, nor on the growing list of fees hotels are dreaming up as well, nor about the laundry list of extra charges on a rental car bill – we have little choice about those costs.  I’m thinking instead of the tips we provide, not in return for any service out of the ordinary, and many times paid to people who earn very much more than we imagine they do.

I know hotels where the Concierge makes more money than the General Manager.  I know airports where people pay tens of thousands of dollars to become Sky-caps.  All those one, two, sometimes five or ten, occasionally much more than that, tips they receive add up.  Watch a doorman calling cabs at a Vegas hotel.  He has a line of people waiting for cabs, and a line of cabs waiting for people twenty yards away.  But he has to call the cabs forward, one at a time, as if the drivers can’t see the people unaided.  And then he wants to tell the driver where you want to go (apparently while you are able to tell that information to the doorman, you’re not able to tell it to the taxi driver), and open and close the car door for you, just so he can take a dollar from you, before, 30 seconds later, repeating it for the next person in line.  Oh – with some hotels, the reason the doorman wants to know where you’re going is so he knows what size kickback to ask for from the cab driver when he next sees him.

You’ve probably got to the point of automatically paying that which you feel you must, while avoiding that which you feel you can avoid.

And so, with this sort of reflexive response of avoiding optional payments, we come to, ahem, the annual Travel Insider fundraiser.  The chances are you’ve been reading the newsletter for five or more years; some of you for ten or more years, and a few since we started, now almost fifteen years ago.  I’m going to go out on a limb and assert that the reason you’ve continued receiving the newsletter, almost every week, for all those years, is because, from time to time, there is something of value.

But the chances are also sadly suggesting that you’re not one of the few people who voluntarily support our noble efforts when we hold our annual fundraiser.  Could I ask you to please do so this year.

As an interesting comparison/contrast, one of the more discretionary tip experiences is chambermaids/housemaids in hotels.  We did a survey in 2011 that showed 82% of you sometimes/usually/always tip hotel housemaids – a person you probably never meet or see and who probably never sees you in turn, and for a service that seldom varies, whether you tip or not.

How about this as a challenge for you to respond to :  How much do you tip a housemaid who does something extra for you?  Something you’d not otherwise experience or receive?  Would you consider ‘tipping’ me the same amount for each weekly newsletter as you do a housemail for your hotel room servicing each day?  Multiply that by about 50 issues a year, perhaps then halve it for the times you don’t read the newsletter, and what sum would that suggest?

I’m not promising to put on a maid’s outfit and coquettishly bend over your bed with a feather duster in return!  But I earn less than minimum wage without your support, and if you get value from the newsletter, please do consider doing the same thing you do, in so many other places, so often each month.  Please place something in my electronic ‘tip jar’.

It is also my happy pleasure to thank the 72 people who have so kindly and generously responded so far to this year’s appeal, including two people who have ‘double dipped’ and sent money in twice.  In particular, I always like to mention our ‘Super Supporters’ – those who send in three figure sums, and we’ve had 17 of such very special people so far.  Special thanks to Fred H,  Bryan G, Tom S, Peter N, Peter M, Ahmed R, Linda I, Joel W, Paul F, Mike M, Clayton H, Joe L, Gregg A, M & J B, Jean B, Dave H, and Jeff R.

May I ask you to join with these 72 people, who, alas, are almost literally representing the ‘1%’ of Travel Insider readers.  Could we make that 2% or 3%?  With your help, we can!  Your help really is needed, and is very easy to send in :

Four Easy Ways to Support the Travel Insider

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.


Okay, now that we have that important and essential ‘message’ out of the way, what else for the week?  Oh yes, both our fundraising and our Christmas Markets Cruise this December got off to a rocky start last Friday.  In my desire to ensure that the webserver would be working in tip-top manner, I rebooted it late Thursday night, but somehow, although the first part of the reboot succeeded (powering the site down) it didn’t auto-restart!

So an unknown number of you tried to find out more about the cruise (or to contribute) and got an ugly error rather than a helpful page.  That is now fixed.

Come join your fellow Travel Insiders on a wonderful Christmas market cruise this December.
Come join your fellow Travel Insiders on a wonderful Christmas market cruise this December.

Some of you of course did get through, and our Christmas Cruise along the Rhine this year (instead of the Danube), from Basel to Amsterdam, had another two couples join us.  That means we have now filled eight of the ten cabins Amawaterways gave to us at such a special rate.

I discovered an interesting thing about this cruise.  The last time we did the same Christmas cruise along the Rhine was five years ago, in 2010.  And, guess what – the also discounted price back then for a smaller 170 sq ft cabin, on an older ship, was only about $50 less than the price for a very much nicer 210 sq ft cabin on a nearly new ship this year.  About a 2% increase in price, after five years (what else has stayed almost the same in price for so long), plus a 20% increase in cabin size meaning much more value and a better experience – that really does show the special nature of this deal and cruise.

There’s a reason that half the people coming on our cruise have done a Christmas Cruise with me before.  They already know how wonderful the Christmas cruises are, and they know a special bargain when they see one!  Why not come along too.

Now for a special fun thing for you this week.  Well, sure, joining the Christmas cruise scores about max on the fun scale, and hopefully there’s pleasure to be had by choosing to become a Travel Insider Supporter.

But the special fun thing is the week’s feature article.  I made a chance comment, a couple of weeks ago, about a plane that I described as ‘unquestionably the most beautiful airplane, ever’.  This caused several readers to offer alternate opinions about what they thought was the most beautiful plane, and then a reader noted for his thinking outside the box volunteered an example of possibly the ugliest plane ever, too!

So what actually is the most beautiful plane, ever?  I did some Googling, asked a few friends, and came up with a semi-short list of 21 planes that are sometimes considered among the very best.  Please have a look at the list and decide which plane(s) you think to be the most beautiful.

If nothing else, there are 21 lovely pictures of 21 lovely planes showing the evolution of aviation beauty from the 1930s to the 2010s, and very short descriptions of each, and that’s interesting of itself.

Please pass the link to the survey to friends as well.  Let’s get the broadest possible amount of participation and voting, to get the most substantial consensus possible.

I can hint that in the early results already secured, there’s one very clear winner, and some surprising choices coming in as runners-up.  But please add your favorites, too, and let’s see how the results come out.  I’ll detail the results next week.

More on this at the end of the newsletter.

What else?  Yes, there’s a lot already, above here, and of course, lots more below, too – over 4100 words in total.  Please keep reading for :

  • Bombardier’s Uncertain Future
  • More Space on Delta Planes – But Not for Passengers
  • Two Level Seating – On a One Level Plane!
  • Perhaps Best to Avoid Air France for a While?
  • More on the MH370 Mystery
  • Costa Says Concordia Wreck Not its Fault
  • The Best Cruise Lines in the World?  Maybe…..
  • A More Scientific Approach to Rating Hotels
  • Air Marshal vs Pilot :  Guess Who Wins
  • And Lastly This Week….

Bombardier’s Uncertain Future

Canadian company Bombardier Aerospace, based in Montreal, first entered the aerospace industry by acquiring Canadair in 1986, then extended its involvement by adding Short Brothers (in Northern Ireland) in 1989, Learjet in 1990, and de Havilland Canada in 1992.  It vies with Brazilian company Embraer for the title of third largest airplane manufacturer.

As well as business jets and other specialty planes, Bombardier is associated with three families of passenger planes – the Dash 8 turboprop planes (current model being the Q400 series), the now out of production CRJ 100/200/440 (44 – 50 seat) regional jets, and the more current CRJ 700/900/1000 (80 – 100 seat) regional jets.

Eleven years ago (July 2004) Bombardier announced the development of a successor generation of regional jets, known as the ‘C-series’, with two initial variations being offered in 2005 – the C110 and C130 (with typical seating for 110 or 130 passengers respectively).

In January 2006 Bombardier said it was cancelling its development program for these new planes, having received insufficient orders to justify the development costs.  But wait, there’s more.  In January 2007 Bombardier reversed itself and said it would resume development, with the new models going on sale in 2008.  In 2009, Bombardier renamed the planes the CS100 and CS300.

Orders have trickled in for the planes, slowly but steadily, and currently the company has firm orders for about 243 planes and in total possibly more than 600 orders and commitments of varying degrees of certainty.  The plane’s introduction into service is at least four years behind schedule, and might now occur in 2016.  The first test flight of a CS100 occurred in September 2013, and of a CS300 in February 2015.  The company has also undergone high level management changes.

To date something like US$5.5 billion has been spent on the program development, making it an easy $2 billion over budget, with most costs still to be incurred.  Although delayed and over budget, it seems the planes may actually be good and exceed initially promised performance measurements (ie range, load, fuel burn).

The planes span the gap between the larger Embraer planes and small/medium sizes Airbus/Boeing planes.

A stretched CS500 has sometimes been discussed, but has not been committed to, a plane which would then give Bombardier a range of planes from slightly smaller than the smallest Airbus/Boeing planes to nearly as large as the largest A320/737 planes.  This would of course put it almost directly head to head in competition with the two giants of the industry – an industry which until now has shown no signs of wanting, needing, or being able to support a third full-sized airplane manufacturer, leastways not since the merger of McDonnell Douglas and Boeing in 1997.

Prior to 1969, there were ‘almost’ three passenger plane manufacturers – Lockheed, McDonnnell Douglas and Boeing.  In 1969 Airbus started, and in 1983 Lockheed discontinued passenger plane production, so it has been rare to see three viable airplane manufacturers, leastways, not since the 1960s.  This is all the more curious now that the once strong Soviet aerospace industry has more or less completely imploded, and with the soaring demand for more and more planes each year.  Surely the number of manufacturers should be increasing, not decreasing.

But, for whatever reason, the difficulty of the market supporting a third manufacturer seems to be rearing its head again.  It has been obvious for some time that Bombardier has been struggling with its new C-Series program, and then surprising news came out this week – Airbus and Bombardier had been ‘in talks’ but those talks have now broken off.  Some industry analysts are suggesting that Bombardier may cancel the program completely, and possibly even exit the aerospace industry entirely.  The other talked about possibility is major government support from the Canadian government to see the program and company through to a viable sustainable point.  Another potential outcome could be Chinese investment.

Details here.

It is truly astonishing that there isn’t room for a third airplane manufacturer in the single aisle 100 – 200 passenger plane category.  Every successive 20-year projection of marketplace demand by either Airbus or Boeing suggests there to be an ongoing steady need for at least 1,000 or more of these types of planes to be delivered every year.  How can a third manufacturer not end up picking up a profitable share of that market?

More Space on Delta Planes – But Not for Passengers

Airplane interior designers have been working out innovative ways to shoe-horn in more and more seats into airplanes (unfortunately).  When they’re not reducing the amount of leg-room so as to add another row or two of seats, they’re narrowing the seats so as to go from eight across to nine across (or from 9 to 10, etc).

As we know, this is all happening at the same time that the average passenger is getting taller, broader, and generally bigger in every respect.  Only an airline would think that the best response to this is to make seats smaller and more tightly crowded together.

And now, surprising news from Delta.  They are taking out some seats to make more space.  Good news?  Well, yes, but not for us.  The space obtained by fewer seats is for their flight attendants, not for passengers.

Lucky flight attendants.  Unlucky us.  Details here.

Two Level Seating – On a One Level Plane!

Remember what we just said.  Airplane interior designers are working out innovative ways to squeeze more seats into a plane.  And some of the most ‘creative’ of them looked around them on a plane and saw ‘spare’ or ‘waste’ space in abundance, just crying out to have more seats to fill up the unexploited voids.

This waste space?  Why, it is the space between the top of your seat and the ceiling – plenty of room to put in some extra seats, and nice little ladders for people to climb up to their ‘seats in the sky’.  Oh, that will mean less space in the overheads, but, what the heck – we don’t need them, do we?  That’s what the ‘under the seat in front of you’ space is for, after all.

A bit like bunk beds, perhaps.  My daughter will be thrilled – she loves bunk beds.  Me and you – not quite so much.

More details here.

Perhaps Best to Avoid Air France for a While?

France’s fractious unions are making their presence felt at Air France.  The under-performing airline (notwithstanding many airlines reporting their highest profits ever, AF hasn’t made a profit in six years) is attempting to cut 2,900 staff (AF employs about 64,000 people in total), and will also reduce its fleet by 14 planes (out of a 107 plane long-haul fleet).

These would be the latest in a series of cost-cutting moves (attempts) as the airline tries to both improve its financial performance and also respond to the competitive pressure brought about by a combination of high-end airlines pressuring it on long-haul routes (such as Emirates) and budget carriers pressuring it on short-haul routes within Europe.

Previous cost-cutting measures have either not been fully implemented and/or have failed to achieve their objectives, and costly strikes have exacerbated the airline’s position.  Details here.

A meeting between management and employee representatives earlier this week turned riotous and managers had to flee the room, with invading staff accosting them and ripping the clothes off their backs.  Details here.

Our take on this – until agreement is reached, we would be entirely unsurprised to see further strike action, combined with a generally negative attitude and approach to customer service by many of the airline’s staff.  If you have convenient alternate choices, it might pay to avoid AF for a while.

More on the MH370 Mystery

The strange disappearance of the MH370 plane has lots of unusual issues and unanswered questions floating around its edges.  It is an enormous struggle for the generally accepted guesses as to what happened to try and accommodate all the nasty little inconsistencies around the edges.

Most of all, the bottom line remains the same – the plane has yet to be found, and the closest thing we have to finding the plane – the washed up wing piece on Reunion – is not altogether suggestive of the plane having crashed in the location it is thought it may have crashed; if anything, it hints at totally different possible locations for the crash.

Here’s an interesting piece that I didn’t actually read in full, but if you’re intrigued by the mystery, and willing to remove the constraints of ordinary and normal, there seems to be some internal consistencies with unresolved puzzlements about the flight, what the article suggests and how it supports it, and its author appears to be credible and sensible.

Of particular note is the unresolved mystery – better to say mysteries – of what cargo the plane was carrying.  In addition to never fully identified cargo items (why not?), the article also raises an issue – much of the cargo was apparently a shipment of mangosteen fruit.  But, mangosteens are not normally harvested in March (more like May to September).

Costa Says Concordia Wreck Not its Fault

You’re sure to remember the Costa Concordia disaster in January 2012 – nearly four years ago, but the wreck itself is only recently removed, and the legal battles continue.  The captain took the ship too close to shore, perhaps to impress guests on board, and the ship holed itself in the shallow water just off-shore.  A shambles of an evacuation, which saw the captain and some of his officers among the first to scramble off the ship eventuated, and 32 passengers and crew lost their lives.

Notwithstanding convictions against various of the ship’s crew (including the helmsman for steering the ship in the wrong direction after the captain ordered a correcting turn away from the danger, and ship’s hotel manager for his part in the chaotic evacuation – to start with, the holing of the ship was described to passengers as an electrical problem, and the company’s crisis director on shore who delayed emergency response to the ship) and the ship’s captain – or perhaps because of these – the cruise line itself (Costa is a part of the Carnival group) is saying it is not responsible nor liable in the latest round of legal actions brought by passengers.

Costa says it is not their fault the crew acted dangerously, they say the crew did not lack training, and they say there was no lack of information given to passengers while the ship was sinking.  They say that whatever the captain did is not their fault/responsibility, even though he was acting as their employee at the time and there have been suggestions the cruise line asked him to sail close to shore for publicity purposes.

I’m sure we all find that very reassuring when considering which cruise line to book our next cruise on.

In other cruise news, Carnival has just been awarded the title of ‘The World’s Most Trusted Cruise Line’.  Truly.  You couldn’t make this up.

The Best Cruise Lines in the World?  Maybe…..

Talking about cruise line awards, we dislike the methodology in most award issuing processes that see various hotels, airlines, and, yes, cruise lines being named as best in some category or another.  Why?  Because invariably, the people voting have insufficient basis on which to compare the different contenders for the title.

How can a person who has only traveled on one airline vote for ‘the world’s best airline’?  But that is exactly the sort of nonsense encouraged by many publications who are keen to then issue a self serving press release, more about themselves than the meaningless awards they are now bestowing upon the ‘winners’ of their competition/survey/whatever.

Most of the time, these competitions don’t really reveal the ‘best’, they just reveal the service providers with the largest market shares.  Oh yes, and the service providers that most aggressively chase after all their past clients and beg/plead – and sometimes even bribe – them to vote for them in the specific competition they have entered into.

As example of this, here is Cruise Critic’s list of ‘bests’ it has awarded, based on reader voting, for 2015.

The very first entry on the list indicates the nonsense nature of it.  The best new ship.  How many new ships in 2015 has each voter personally been on?  Probably only one, maybe on rare occasion, two.  And quite possibly, some people were voting for best new ship based on nothing more than reading brochures.  Who among the voters is a true expert and able to fairly compare ten or twenty or thirty new ships, and not only has been on them, but done complete cruises?  Probably no-one, and even if such people exist, their vote counts for no more than the person who hasn’t been on any cruises at all (but still has opinions).

For that matter, what actually does ‘best new ship’ mean?  Best value?  Best cabins?  Best food?  Best service?  Biggest?  Nicest color?

Other nonsense categories include ‘Best Itineraries’ (for whom?  Young/old; active/leisurely; luxury/adventure, etc) and best value for money (that is not synonymous with ‘cheapest’ but probably most people see it as the same).

A More Scientific Approach to Rating Hotels

After having pointed out the nonsense of using uncontrolled and unfiltered voting in most of these surveys and ratings procedures, there are some ratings that are reasonably quality controlled.

While still open to criticism in terms of the nature of elements that are rated, official hotel rating programs that involve professional hotel inspectors, staying in hotels, one after the other, night after night, are one of the few ways of getting accurate measures of hotels using consistent standards.

Here’s an interesting article on the life of a hotel inspector.  I’m going to start looking for rings under the bed when I stay in hotel rooms – up until now, I’ve never looked under the bed for anything; and seldom open the drawers either.  Who knows what goodies we are all missing out on!

Air Marshal vs Pilot :  Guess Who Wins

An air marshal, clearly seated in first class, was upset when a flight attendant spilled a pre-take-off drink on him, then laughed at him.  His complaint to the chief flight attendant on board was not well received, so he complained to the captain.

The captain was also unimpressed, and dropped various f-bombs to convey to the air marshal just how little he cared about the situation.  Apparently the air marshal said he was going to phone to a superior to complain about the matter and after his cockpit confrontation went to the jetway (the plane was still at the gate) to make his call.

Upon reboarding the plane, the pilot blocked his way.  The pilot said he didn’t want a mad person with a gun on the plane, and refused to allow him back on board.  The pilot then made his phone call – to the air marshal’s supervisor – and had the air marshal removed and suspended from duty for seven days.

My gosh – if this is what can happen to an air marshal who dares to complain about a spilled drink, what chance do we have?

Details here.

Oh – one other interesting fact that the article reveals.  There were a total of four air marshals on the flight.  Four!?

And Lastly This Week….

Don’t look down!  That’s what acrophobiacs – those with fear of heights – are taught.  But, of course, ‘do look down’ is what people are encouraged to do on the growing number of glass walkways suspended over dizzying heights.

It is a nice way (or so some think) of enjoying the conflict between the animal brain within us all and its instinctive fear of the view we’re seeing beneath our apparently unsupported feet, and the rational brain which tells us ‘don’t worry, it is perfectly safe, you’re standing on a strong piece of glass’.

A strong piece of glass?  Yes, at least until it cracks.  As was the case on this Chinese walkway.

I know we have a lot of aviation enthusiasts who read The Travel Insider.  Perhaps some of them might enjoy this tour, especially designed for such aficionados.  Mind you, for the same price, you could buy 20 or more places on our lovely Christmas Markets cruise this December – perhaps that might be a more realistic expenditure for most of us!

And truly lastly this week, please do choose to support The Travel Insider.  Your help is truly needed and will be greatly appreciated.  Thank you.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels






Leave a Reply

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top

Free Weekly Emailed Newsletter

Usually weekly, since 2001, we publish a roundup of travel and travel related technology developments, and often a feature article too.

You’ll stay up to date with the latest and greatest (and cautioned about the worst) developments.  You’ll get information to help you choose and become a better informed traveler and consumer, how to best use new technologies, and at times, will learn of things that might entertain, amuse, annoy or even outrage you.

We’re very politically incorrect and love to point out the unrebutted hypocrisies and unfairnesses out there.

This is all entirely free (but you’re welcome to voluntarily contribute!), and should you wish to, easy to cancel.

We’re not about to spam you any which way and as you can see, we don’t ask for any information except your email address and how often you want to receive our newsletters.

Newsletter Signup - Welcome!

Thanks for choosing to receive our newsletters.  We hope you’ll enjoy them and become a long-term reader, and maybe on occasion, add comments and thoughts of your own to the newsletters and articles we publish.

We’ll send you a confirmation email some time in the next few days to confirm your email address, and when you reply to that, you’ll then be on the list.

All the very best for now, and welcome to the growing “Travel Insider family”.