Weekly Roundup, Friday 11 December 2015

The latest idea - adding passengers to an airplane's cargo hold.  See story, below.
The latest idea – adding passengers to an airplane’s cargo hold. See story, below.

Good morning

Tomorrow, I’m off to Europe for our 2015 Christmas Cruise.  Yay.  I hope your own pre-Christmas activities are proving to be similarly pleasant!

It is another fact filled Travel Insider newsletter, with two reviews attached to the newsletter.  Last week I reviewed the wonderful new Solitude XCS2 headphones, and this week I review ‘the elephant in the corner’ – the latest Bose headset, the QC25.

Whenever I’m flying, I always look at the brand names of the headphones on people’s heads, and it seems that Bose commands at least a 75% market share.  Should you really be paying $300 for a set of Bose headphones when you can own a pair of the XCS2 headphones for $98?

Well, that’s a question with a possibly disappointing answer to the 75% of people sighted with Bose headphones!  I hinted at the supremacy of the Solitude headphones last week, and Solitude’s proprietor told me that he was so inundated with orders from people claiming their 30% Travel Insider discount that he now has only a very few dozen remaining, and some weeks to go before his next shipment arrives.  In other words, if you don’t order from him urgently soon, you won’t be able to get them before Christmas.

But he did one very fair thing.  He also has an inventory of headphones for sale on Amazon, and stored in an Amazon warehouse somewhere.  He has reduced the selling price on Amazon to the same $98 special price, so that when he sells out directly, they can still be bought at the same price from Amazon – at least until Amazon sell out, too.  So you can now either go to his site and quote the discount code ‘TheTravelInsider2015’ to get the $98 price, or you can go to Amazon where the price is set to be almost exactly the same, with no code required.

But perhaps you should read the Bose review first before deciding.  It follows on from the newsletter, below.

There’s also a review of a set of ‘sport’ type Bluetooth stereo headphones, intended to stay in place while you’re jogging or whatever, and allowing you to listen to music at the same time.  The good news – they’re only $25.  The bad news – they sound like it, too.

Okay, so that’s a cheap shot.  I’ve just been spoiled by too much wonderful sound lately!  They’re not too bad, and at $25, they’re definitely good value and a great ‘stocking stuffer’.  The review follows below, too.

One more interesting stocking stuffer, which I didn’t write a review on but thought was quite clever and an interesting marriage of ‘high tech’ and ‘high touch’ – the Awesome Box (their expression, not mine!) that helps you create a collection of photo cards and comments in a nicely presented box suitable for giving to someone as a Christmas or anytime gift.  A set of pictures of grandchildren to a grandparent, a set of ‘old’ pictures of past shared times to a long-standing partner/spouse, or whatever other situation comes to mind, perhaps.  It appealed to me as being a nice way to personalize a gift.

What else this week?  Please keep reading for :

  • Reader Survey – Marriott’s Massive Mistake
  • Yet Another New Airplane Seating Idea
  • Delta Airlines Donates Nearly Nothing, Gets Sycophantic Headlines
  • Norwegian’s Slow Growth
  • What Do You Do When You Literally Can’t Even Give a Vehicle Away?
  • International Cruise and Airline Passengers to Help Pay for US Roads
  • Trust Me – I’m a Doctor
  • And Lastly This Week….

Reader Survey – Marriott’s Massive Mistake

On 13 November I shared a particularly vomit-inducing piece of correspondence from some smarmy-mouthed spokesperson for Marriott who claimed that removing all desks from their hotel rooms was – to use their delightful double-talk

Marriott’s plan was never to take workspaces from the rooms, but rather to be more responsive to changing customer needs.

Having conducted a ton of customer research, including working with IDEO and other industry-specific design firms, they actually had a total of 7000 consumer touch points on the new room. They polled customers across the generations, primarily concentrating on frequent, full-service business travelers, looking at their current customers and “the guests of the future”.

They talked with loyalists of Hilton and Westin, in addition to Marriott.  What they discovered was that guests travel with an average of three electronic devices and obviously, with WiFi are now untethered. Once the formal work of the day is done, they like to work in a more relaxed way, perhaps sitting on the bed with their iPads or cellphones.

Another factor is guests were looking for a less cluttered feeling. To accomplish this lighter feeling, the Marriott folks looked at reducing the size of the furniture in the room, while still giving guests the flexibility they were looking for. Driven by technology and the fact that work was no longer just being done at the desk, but rather migrating around the room, they had landed on a moveable work surface solution.

Now, after the new designs have been tested, they’re learning their basic insight was correct. However, they are looking to tweak the designs to make them more supportive of guests working in multiple ways and places in the rooms.

The end result is guests want both: they want the flexibility to migrate around the room, while they work in a relaxed way, but they also want a focused work area with an adequate work surface, comfortable chair, and appropriate lighting.

I know BS when I smell it, and this was particularly malodorous.  So last week, I asked you if you wanted a desk in your hotel room or not (the choices being that a desk is very important to you, moderately important, unimportant, or you would prefer not to have a desk at all), plus whether or not you travel primarily for business, leisure, or a mix of both, and about how many nights a year you travel.

Now, the Marriott spokesthing says they primarily focused on the opinions of frequent full-service business travelers.  That is understandable – about the only understandable thing in their utterance.  So, what do frequent full service Travel Insider business travelers say about desks?  Umm, 85% said a desk was very important to them, another 11% said it was moderately important, 4% said it was unimportant, and not a single person said they didn’t want a desk at all.

If you can reconcile that with Marriott’s decision to remove desks, then you probably are already working for Marriott.

Indeed, out of all the responses received, less than one half of one percent of people said they didn’t want a desk in the room, and those two people both described themselves as being leisure travelers for only a few nights a year – sorry, but the sort of people Marriott least cares about.

As these three charts show, generally business travelers want a desk more than leisure travelers, but even the overwhelming majority of leisure travelers rate a desk as somewhere between moderately and very important.







It is hard to understand how Marriott could have been more massively wrong in misunderstanding what almost all its guests want.

Yet Another New Airplane Seating Idea

Talking about massively misunderstanding their customers, the airlines and their enablers – the airplane manufacturers and interior designers – are probably the all time record holders for giving us what we don’t want and taking away what we do want.  But, unlike Marriott, no airline has been as bold as to pretend ‘we’ve made our seats smaller and closer together because that’s what our most frequent fliers told us they wanted’.

Airlines like to joke derisively about their passengers being little more than ‘self loading freight’; we in turn like to joke about flying in ‘cattle class’, and sometimes wonder if it mightn’t be more comfortable in the hold along with all the bags and a few unfortunate cats and dogs.

Well, if the latest concept from a French company, Zodiac Aerospace, ever gets to see the light of day, we might find out.  They are suggesting converting some/all of the cargo hold in planes to accommodate more passengers.  Sure, there’s be no windows, but that’s not necessarily a deal breaker (ask anyone who has traveled in an inside cabin on a ship), and they’re also suggesting maybe there’d be no need for flight attendants ‘down below’ either – their concept includes vending machines alongside baggage racks of the type you sometimes see in trains or airport lounges (there’d be no overheads above the seats).

Actually, that’s one of the better ideas that have been floated over the last little while.  Do you really care if you have a window anywhere near your seat – especially if you can have outside camera views played on the video monitor on the seat back in front of you.

The concept, while having some positive features, suffers from a couple of potential problems.  The first is – if the airline puts passengers where the freight currently goes, ummm – where would the freight go, instead?  On the other hand, the patent filing claims that many flights these days are not filling their cargo holds, and ‘nature (ie the airlines) abhors a vacuum’, doesn’t it!

The second problem is that planes have maximum passenger capacities based on how quickly they can be evacuated.  The initial proposed design wouldn’t add extra exit doors, and there’d just be one stairway up to the main deck at each end of the plane.  This would need to be adjusted to allow for speedy evacuation.  More doors, including direct exits from the lower deck on both sides, and fore and aft, would be needed to make this more practical

There are of course the usual fantasy speculations about all this extra space being used for improved passenger space and comfort, and that’s about as likely to happen on this new design as it is/was on the A380 or the 747 or any other plane in the last 50 years.

Sure, there are some fantastic extravagances in first class on some A380s, but for the 95% or so of us who are not in first class, the experience varies very little from plane to plane.

Delta Airlines Donates Nearly Nothing, Gets Sycophantic Headlines

Those lovely kind wonderful people at Delta Airlines recently donated one million frequent flier miles to its affiliated US Skywish charity.

That’s pretty great, isn’t it.  Except that, hmmm, how much did those million miles actually cost Delta?  And what can you actually do with a million miles – a lot less than you might think.

As you know, if you’re looking to redeem miles for things, they seem to generally buy you about a penny’s worth of stuff per mile, so their cost would seem to be at most perhaps 0.75c a mile to Delta.  That would be $7500 for a million miles.

And if the miles are being redeemed for ‘free’ or reduced rate travel, then their cost to Delta drops even further, plus Delta of course hopes that maybe other people will be traveling too and buying tickets, and that the miles will be redeemed for otherwise unsold seats.  Maybe each mile becomes worth 0.5c, maybe less.  So now their million mile donation is down to $5000 or less – about what it costs for an hour of a senior executive’s time if he gets $10 million a year, all up.

Talking about using the miles for flying, how many trips can you get from one million miles?  Well, that’s a very good question, isn’t it, because these days, it is increasingly difficult to piece together a simple table of ‘this many miles buys you a roundtrip coach class ticket’ – remember the ‘good old days’ when a coach class ticket within the US was a flat 20,000 miles, with no ticketing fees or taxes or other associated costs at all.  Back then, free meant free, and everyone knew – 20,000 miles gets me a free ticket.

Now, maybe you’re spending 50,000 miles for a free ticket, and conceivably even more.  The airlines are trying to obscure exactly what our miles get these days.  So Delta just ‘gave’ away ten or maybe twenty free tickets – and hopes to profit from associated booking fees, seat fees, baggage fees, priority boarding fees, meals and drinks, and so on.  Ten or twenty free tickets in total – that’s less than the rounding error on a single day’s passengers – they fly about 500,000 every day.

So exactly how much praise does Delta deserve?

Norwegian’s Slow Growth

Still blocked by our DoT from proceeding with its ambitious plans to bring low cost air service across the Atlantic to the US, Norwegian is growing as best it can, and has announced new service to start from May next year, to operate between Oakland and Gatwick, three times a week, with a 787.

The sooner the DoT can wrap its arms around the notion that low air fares are actually good, not bad, and the sooner it stops its obstruction and welcomes a full Norwegian roll out, the sooner we can start seeing Norwegian’s presence create some measurable impact on air fares.  Currently the major dinosaurs can simply ignore the airline (while still whispering in DoT’s ear to keep Norwegian at bay for as long as possible).

Oh – did you notice?  This week oil prices tumbled beyond a seven year low, but you’d not know it, the next time you buy an air ticket (and that’s before you start paying all the new fees that have sprung up in the last seven years, too).

What Do You Do When You Literally Can’t Even Give a Vehicle Away?

If it is a car, some people have been known to just leave it by the side of the road, somewhere.  If it’s a boat, it might just slowly rot and sink at an outlying mooring somewhere.

But what if it is a Boeing 747?  Sure, the official thing to do is to go park it in the desert and hope that you’ll be able to sell it ‘when the market picks up’ (whatever that means) or perhaps part it out, or something/anything.

But apparently some airplane owners have a different solution.  Fly the plane to Kuala Lumpur airport and leave it there, while quietly disappearing.

The airport has not one, not two, but three 747s that have been parked there for over a year and with unknown owners (really?).  They’re now threatening to auction them off so as to recover parking fees and related charges (just how much an hour does it cost to park a 747, anyway?).

If you’ve always wanted to own a 747, now might be a good time to put forward an offer.

International Cruise and Airline Passengers to Help Pay for US Roads

What has going on a cruise, or flying between the US and some other country got to do with building and maintaining our interstate highways and other domestic/ground transportation infrastructure within the US?

As passengers, you might fail to see the connection.  But if you’re a congress-crittur, the connection is obvious.  Which is why they’ve this week voted to drain money from the Customs Inspection Fee people pay when arriving in the US from a flight or cruise, and is currently $5.50 per person.

An international passenger finds themselves currently paying :

  • International Arrival/Departure tax  $17.70
  • Immigration Fee  $7.00
  • Security Fee  $5.60
  • Customs Fee  $5.50
  • Agricultural Fee  $5.00

As well as perhaps a per segment fee and a passenger facility charge.  So, in excess of $40.

In particular, consider the four fees for Immigration, Customs, Security and Agriculture – $23.10 in total.  When you think about the minimal amount of contact we have with employees of those services – Agriculture in particular, but with machines replacing people, we can also avoid talking to an Immigration official these days – such enormous rates should guarantee us all ‘white glove’ personal service with our own individual ‘concierge’ walking us through the airport, and never any waiting in line for anything.

Of course, the reality is greatly different, and the government has now conceded that it is as profiteering as the airlines, by skimming off the top of these specific fees and siphoning the money into totally unrelated forms of expenditure.

The new saying should be :

I’m from the government and I’m here to help you myself

Trust Me – I’m a Doctor

I’m going to risk offending the many readers, including many friends, who are physicians, by pointing out that just because they make life and death decisions doesn’t mean they are gods.  Some doctors lose sight of that truth.

And so too do some patients.  There’s an automatic submissive reflex in many of us when a man in a white coat approaches us, armed with a stethoscope (or, even worse, a syringe!).

Which makes this story somewhat amusing as well as alarming.  A 40 yr old man was arrested in Berlin last week, immediately prior to accepting a post as ship’s doctor on an Aida cruise ship.  The thing is that he was not a doctor, but had been working as a ship’s doctor for five years, and presumably each additional year of service lent legitimacy to his claim.

Apparently he did have a nursing qualification, and seems to have successfully treated some hundreds of patients during his time as a ‘doctor’.  One wonders exactly how much harm he actually caused – maybe none.

And Lastly This Week….

What should you not do if a JFK Customs agent catches you smuggling $160k of undeclared goods into the country?  Ask this lady if you’re not sure.  In the delightful words of her lawyer, ‘There was clearly a misunderstanding that unfortunately has resulted in an unjust arrest of a wonderful woman.’

I’ll be somewhere on the Rhine this time next week, so it is unlikely there’ll be a newsletter.  The next Friday after that will be Christmas, and while I’ll probably bang out something, please allow me to pass on my sincerest very best wishes for Christmas and 2016 today.  May we all be pleased with our gifts and share some warm times with family and friends.

But you don’t need to be ‘Travel Insider-less’ during this time.  If you’d like to get a daily fix of travel news and pithy commentary, why not get our daily newsletter, put together by our team of wonderful docent volunteers.  (And yes, we’re always on the lookout for more volunteers – let me know if you’d like to know more about what is involved and how it works.)

Simply click here to start a daily email sent early each morning (depending on where you are), with anywhere from one or two to sometimes ten or more links to selected travel and related articles, and one line short comments about them.  It is, of course, completely free, and unlike the weekly letters, very short and to the point!

Until the 25th, please enjoy safe travels






2 thoughts on “Weekly Roundup, Friday 11 December 2015”

  1. A bit off topic, but do any airlines still use the phrase “fuel surcharge” for the extra fees they collect? If so, is this not fraud considering the price of oil these days? Think about British Air in particular.

    1. Hi, Mike

      They’ve become a bit vaguer and now tend to just refer to a generic surcharge, and some airlines are actually removing them (while increasing their base fares, and in some case, increasing their base fares by more than the removed surcharge!).

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