Weekly Roundup, Friday 4 December 2015

A new patent application for 12-across business class seating filed by Boeing.  Read about it, below.
A new patent application for 12-across business class seating filed by Boeing. Read about it, below.

Good morning

We’re coming up the home straight of 2015.  I hope it has been a good year for you thus far, and the Christmas season will treat you kindly.

Some of us are eagerly counting down the days to our Christmas Markets cruise, starting at the end of next week.  But, alas, our number have reduced – one couple decided to heed the global travel warning put out by the Department of State, and cancelled.

Should you, too, review, revise, and possibly rescind your travel plans between now and the end of February (the currently scheduled expiry for the global travel warning)?  How much extra risk are we currently at?  And if we do curtail our international travel, just exactly how much safer will we be at home?

While we all must assign our own attitude to and acceptance of risk, I’ve tried to put this warning into context, with the article that follows the weekly roundup.  Suffice it to say that I’m still traveling and still looking forward to the experience.

I sent out a quick note at Thanksgiving about a ‘Black Friday’ deal extended by Amazon – their amazing new Fire 7 tablet was being sold for only $35 instead of the regular $50 price.  I know many of you rushed to respond and take advantage of this, and I know that several of you bought very many of them for Christmas gifts.

But I also know some of you missed out, because several of you wrote after the deal had expired, asking how you could now take advantage of the deal.  You couldn’t was the sad and unavoidale answer.  With the Fire 7 now showing as sold out right through Christmas, I doubt we’ll see it discounted like that again any time soon, if ever.  As you can see in my review of the product, it is a great value at $50, and an ideal introduction to the internet for younger children and older seniors perhaps, plus for all of us, it is a great way to store and subsequently view free Amazon Prime streamed videos.

One of its unadvertised features is its ability to also store and play back high definition audio files – not just low quality MP3 files, but highest quality FLAC files.  You can use it as a high quality music player too.  Which brings me to another article and possibly action item/purchase for you.

I have another drop-dead steal of a deal for you this week.  Also at the end of this week’s newsletter is a review of the latest model Solitude noise cancelling headphones.  If I’ve written one review, I’ve written a dozen, and probably more, on the earlier models of noise cancelling headphones designed and sold by the company that makes/sells the Solitude, plus plenty more reviews of many of the other models of noise cancelling headphones too.  This new high-end product is head and shoulders better than any other headphones I have ever heard when it comes to sound quality – they offer absolutely stunning sound quality, something I’d not thought possible in a set of noise cancelling headphones.  They now have become my preferred ‘at home music’ headphones, displacing my former Sony and Sennheiser favorites.

Yes, I did talk about a steal of a deal, didn’t I – when owner David Dillinger first started selling his new model Solitude XCS2 headphones, he had them priced at $170.  That was a very fair and appealing price when compared to Bose at $300, but it lacked a certain pizzazz – it was a good price, but not a great price.  I suggested he make the price slightly less than half the price of the Bose QC25, which sell for $300, and so he dropped the price to $139.92.  That’s starting to get interesting and encourages the notion of ‘get two pairs for less than the price of one set of Bose’.

But wait – there’s more.  I then asked David for more, just for you.  I said ‘my readers insist on bargains’.  As, of course, you do!  So, after some arm-wrestling, he agreed to extend a special Travel Insider discount – an extra 30% off the $139 price, which reduces them down to pennies less than $100 a set, and including free shipping too!

As I say in my article (which follows on from the newsletter), you could buy two sets of his incredible headphones (that sound massively better than the Bose QC25s) and also buy two Amazon Fire 7 tablets to use with the headphones, listening to music and watching video, and still be under the cost of a single set of Bose QC25s!

Now, of course, you don’t need to buy all of this equipment.  Whether you buy one or ten, if you’re looking for a really high quality gift for the travelers and music lovers in your life, or if you simply want your significant other to use headphones when watching Netflix late at night, this is the deal for you!

There’s nothing in this for me, in case you were wondering.  But if you do take advantage of the 30% discount I negotiated on your behalf, and if you haven’t already helped out this year with my earlier fundraising drive, perhaps you could send in a small thank you now.

What else?  Please keep reading for :

  • Reader Survey – Hotel Desks
  • DoT to Airlines – Pay Up, Pay Out, or Else
  • FAA Downgrades Thailand’s Aviation Safety Rating
  • Air New Zealand’s Clever Airband
  • Playing the Airline Ratings Game
  • Be Very Scared :  Airlines Pondering New Passenger Seating and Loading
  • Airlines and Their Schedules
  • A French Approach to Train Security
  • One Rule for Them, Another Rule for Us
  • And Lastly This Week….

Reader Survey – Hotel Desks

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how Marriott claims its guest surveys show that people no longer want desks in their rooms – they’d prefer to work while lying on the bed or something.  They then said well maybe sort of people still want desks a little bit.

Let’s help Marriott out, shall we, and give them some some Travel Insider style feedback.  What do you think about desks in hotel rooms – essential, optional, or wastes of space?

Here’s a table that matches up your style of travel and your opinion about desks in hotel rooms.  Please click the one entry that best describes you and your desk preference.  It will send an empty email to me with your answer coded into the subject line.

As always, I’ll collate everyone’s answers and share the results next week.

A desk is very important to meA desk is moderately important to meA desk is unimportant to meI’d prefer not to have a desk at all
Spend 1 – 10 nights in hotels a year and mainly for leisureSelectSelectSelectSelect
Spend 1 – 10 nights in hotels a year and a mix of leisure and businessSelectSelectSelectSelect
Spend 1 – 10 nights in hotels a year and mainly for businessSelectSelectSelectSelect
Spend 11 – 20 nights in hotels a year and mainly for leisureSelectSelectSelectSelect
Spend 11 – 20 nights in hotels a year and a mix of leisure and businessSelectSelectSelectSelect
Spend 11 – 20 nights in hotels a year and mainly for businessSelectSelectSelectSelect
Spend 21 – 30 nights in hotels a year and mainly for leisureSelectSelectSelectSelect
Spend 21 – 30 nights in hotels a year and a mix of leisure and businessSelectSelectSelectSelect
Spend 21 – 30 nights in hotels a year and mainly for businessSelectSelectSelectSelect
Spend 31 or more nights in hotels a year and mainly for leisureSelectSelectSelectSelect
Spend 31 or more nights in hotels a year and a mix of leisure and businessSelectSelectSelectSelect
Spend 31 or more nights in hotels a year and mainly for businessSelectSelectSelectSelect
A desk is very important to meA desk is moderately important to meA desk is unimportant to meI’d prefer not to have a desk at all


DoT to Airlines – Pay Up, Pay Out, or Else

The DoT is rattling its saber again.  This time, after an investigation in September spanning 16 US airports, it found out (doubtless to its complete surprise) that not all airlines were honoring their obligations to pay for damaged bags.

The DoT is ordering airlines to observe the regulatory requirements to pay for damage to the handles, zippers, wheels and other exterior parts of luggage left in their care – currently some airlines are flatly refusing to accept any liability at all for baggage damage, and that’s against the law.

The DoT points out the loophole the airlines are trying to slither through :

Although carriers are not required to cover fair wear and tear, damage to handles, straps, wheels and zippers often extends beyond what is appropriately categorized as fair wear and tear resulting from ordinary handling of baggage. In such cases, carriers should be prepared to reimburse the passenger appropriately.

The DoT is now conducting active investigations into non-compliance with several airlines, and says it will start naming names and prosecuting airlines who don’t fall in line with their regulatory obligations, early in the new year.

For now, if you think you’ve suffered a recent example of an airline unfairly refusing to make good on damage one of your bags has suffered, let the DoT know.  While it is true that much of the DoT is an unwieldy bureaucracy, and some parts of it seem to be more actively siding with the airlines than with passengers, there are some good people in their enforcement division and any ammunition you can pass on might be used to good purpose.

In particular, the DoT is requiring airlines to remove misleading signs that say they won’t be liable for damage to luggage – this being something the airlines can’t avoid being liable for.  If you see such signs in airports after January 9, take a picture with your phone and send it in to the DoT.

FAA Downgrades Thailand’s Aviation Safety Rating

The FAA has deemed that Thailand’s aviation safety standards do not meet its minimum required levels, and so has downgraded the country from a ‘pass’ to a ‘fail’ on its two level ranking of countries.

This is not the same as saying that Thai Airways is unsafe.  It is a rating of the country’s overall aviation safety system, not the implementation of safety controls by any of the airlines within that country.

But it does impact slightly on Thai Airways – US airlines can no longer codeshare with it.  Thai is a Star Aliance partner.  Perhaps in anticipation of the safety rating downgrade, Thai discontinued service to the US in October.

Details here.

Air New Zealand’s Clever Airband

We regularly read of airlines that ‘lose’ passengers – the elderly or the very young.  Notwithstanding the airlines charging considerable sums to escort minors in particular, they occasionally end up lost somewhere.  That is (or certainly should be) bothersome for the airline, and stressful for the passenger and their family.

Air NZ have come up with an excellent idea, currently only for unaccompanied minors, but conceivably something that could be extended to other ‘vulnerable’ travelers too.  The child is given a wristband, which is scanned at four points on the child’s journey, and each scan result is sent via text message to up to five nominated contacts.

The points are when the child checks in, when boarding the flight, after the flight has landed and the child is handed over to ground staff, and when the child is handed over to a designated person and leaves the airline’s care.

Air NZ will charge US$10 for their service on domestic NZ flights, and US$30 for international flights if the service is prebooked, and $30/$60 if arranged at the airport on the day of travel.  Fees are each way, not roundtrip.

You might think this to be double-dipping – first they charge a massive unaccompanied minor fee for ostensibly looking after the child anyway, and now are mandating a second fee for the airband service.  And you might be right.  But it is a great new service.

Playing the Airline Ratings Game

As you probably know, I tend to disparage the oh so prevalent awards of ‘top ten’ lists to just about any imaginable category of anything, and by self-appointed judges with at best highly dubious methodologies and more often than not, risibly facile approaches to deeming the winners and also-rans.

So it is with hesitation that I even mention another set of ‘best airline’ awards, but it ties in to the previous article – one of the many different airline rankings out there has just named Air NZ as airline of the year for 2016.  Apparently, not only does this particular awarding outfit have the ability to rank airlines, it also has the ability to look into the future.

It also seems a bit stuck in a rut – this being the third year in a row Air NZ has won the award.

Unusually, two US airlines also featured in the awards – although perhaps somewhat unavoidably, when the awards are the ‘best low cost airline in the Americas’ (won by Virgin America – not an airline I’d immediately considered to be low cost, but far be it from me to quibble) and ‘best long haul airline, the Americas’ (won by Delta).  Imagine my delight (and surprise) at learning the airline I’ll be flying to Europe in a week’s time is also the best of all airlines operating service to and from the US.

In justifying the award, the company dishing them out said ‘Delta Air Lines is also emerging as a new force in international travel with new energy, in-flight product and new aircraft’.

This is particularly astonishing, because Delta has a name for itself as eagerly recycling other airlines’ hand-me-down planes, and while it is true it did place an order last year for new long-haul planes, they don’t start arriving until midway through 2017.

Awarding an airline a prize for future rather than present or past achievements is a bit like, well, a bit like awarding a brand new President the Nobel Peace Prize, isn’t it….

Details, should you wish them, here.

Be Very Scared :  Airlines Pondering New Passenger Seating and Loading

With the exception of the lie-flat seat, (re)introduced about 25 years ago, pretty much every seating innovation since then has involved less space, even less seat, and absolutely less comfort.

Fortunately not all the crazy ideas the airlines and airplane manufacturers and cabin interior designers come up with actually make it to the planes we squeeze ourselves into.  But it is alarming to see that they even consider some of the ideas that are occasionally aired.

Like, for example, 12 seats across – in business class!  How is that possible, you might wonder?  Aren’t you supposed to get more seat and space for your money in business class than in coach class?  As the image at the start of this newsletter shows, with line drawings of slim trim figures hunched over in their seats, Boeing’s patent application for high density business class seating sure doesn’t look like anything I’d pay extra for.

A more intriguing concept was mooted by Airbus.  They have looked at having modular ‘containers’ that passengers are loaded into, and then loading the entire container into an airplane shell to be flown to the destination.  Airbus suggest this would speed up airplane turn-around.  Maybe it might, but do not think it would also speed up the passenger travel experience.  Quite the opposite.

Instead of boarding directly into the plane at the gate, instead, we’d board into a container (which would be no faster than boarding into the plane) and then when boarding was complete, there’d be an extra delay while the container was then transported from the gate to the plane, and installed into the plane.  Same on leaving the plane, too.  Figure on an extra ten minutes at each end for us passengers.

A small voice inside my head wonders – are the airlines getting their priorities right?  Adding 20 minutes to the passenger journey to save ten minutes of airplane-on-the-ground time?

Airlines and Their Schedules

Talking about time on the ground, and also playing the ratings game, there’s another game the airlines like to play – the scheduling game.  This is not new news, but it bears occasional repeating.

An airline’s on-time performance doesn’t necessarily correlate to its ability to smartly move passengers in the least amount of time from Point A to Point B at all.  Instead, it merely compares the actual arrival times with the scheduled arrival times.  That’s not, on the face of it, a bad thing, but it creates a zen like question worthy of pondering.

If two airlines operate flights between the same cities, and each airline’s flights average 90 minutes from scheduled take-off to when passengers start deplaning at the destination, which is the better service if one airline’s schedule promises an 85 minute flight and the other airline promises a 95 minute flight?

Airlines have been ‘improving’ their ontime records not by becoming more operationally efficient, but by lengthening the scheduled time of their flights.  The amount of padding in some moderate length flights is truly astonishing, as you surely must know from your own flight experiences – sometimes fairly short flights (under three hours) will regularly arrive 30 minutes or more ‘ahead of schedule’.

But isn’t that also a time-wasting cost – both to us and to the airlines.  If a flight is scheduled to arrive at, say, 2pm, but consistently arrives at 1.30pm, that creates challenges.  The airline needs to set aside a gate from 1.30pm – either that or have the plane waiting on the ground and frustrating its passengers.  But the airline can’t for sure say ‘we have a 50 minute turnaround before we can fly the plane out, and usually it comes in at 1.30pm so we’ll schedule its next departure for 2.20pm’ – instead, that extra 30 minutes is totally wasted and unproductive.

As the article about the Airbus containerization idea, above, points out, 10 minutes of time wasted/saved on the ground can allow for an enormous 8.1% difference in airplane productivity.  The airlines are dealing themselves a massive self-inflicted wound by not being able to create and maintain reliable schedules.  (Yes, I know, airports and the FAA/ATC are far from blameless in all of this, too….)

Airlines will do all sorts of ‘clever’ (and plenty of ‘stupid’) things to speed up turnaround times on the ground, but then go unfocused and don’t look at the biggest variable of all – the uncertainty of when the incoming flight will arrive.

Similarly for ourselves, if we’re scheduling a connecting flight or a business activity subsequent to arriving, there’s no way in the world we’d ever feel comfortable assuming the incoming flight would be significantly early – quite the opposite, we invariably end up building some slack into the schedule.  So the ‘early’ arrival seldom does us any good, either.

Suggestion to the airlines.  Stop padding your schedules.  This doesn’t improve anything, it just obscures an operational problem that you should be focusing on.

Here’s an article I came across a day ago that sparked these comments.

A French Approach to Train Security

You may recall the thwarted Muslim terrorist attack on a high speed Thalys train traveling between Amsterdam and Paris in August.

Trains have a certain appeal to terrorists, because there are generally no security restrictions when people board the train, a train may have as many as 500 – 900 people on board, and there’s no way off the train when it is in motion.  The enclosed and relatively small space magnifies bomb blast effects, the high speed makes a derailment more serious, and if the terrorists want to attack with rifles, they can easily ‘control’ the carriages and use their weapons to great effect, while passengers have nowhere to hide.

But, having said that, one train is much the same as another for this purpose.

The French have mulled over the implications of the August train attack, and have now decided to implement non-disclosed security measures – but only on the Thalys trains, that only run between one station in Paris and Lille, Amsterdam and Essen.  The reasoning seems to be ‘a terrorist attacked a Thalys train, so we’ll respond to that, but all the other trains are obviously safe because no terrorists have attacked them.’

So, if you are a would-be terrorist, do you give up on trains entirely?  Or do you chortle yourself and note that almost 99% of all train service in France remains completely insecure, as does almost 100% of train service elsewhere in Europe.  And just choose a TGV instead of a Thalys, or an ICE or AVE or your choice of other train name.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m absolutely not wanting to see airline type security now applied to train travel.  But we all have to recognize a pathetically useless bit of security-charade when we see it.  And that’s what this is.

One Rule for Them, Another Rule for Us

Here’s an interesting story of a flight attendant who was taken off a flight, vigorously resisted arrest, and needed to be handcuffed, then committed to a mental health care facility involuntarily.  Her fellow flight crew did not want to work with her, and described her behavior on earlier flights as ‘exceptionally unusual’ but American Airlines refused to act on their concerns and take her off duty.

And here’s another story, this time of a passenger who was refused boarding and not allowed to fly from LGA to DFW.  So what did he do that was worse than what the flight attendant did?

Oh, he is alleged to have cut in front of a flight attendant when entering the airport through a revolving door.  Because of this alleged act, the captain and crew of the Virgin America flight ‘didn’t feel comfortable with him on board’.

The poor darlings.  We should all be allowed to have such hyper-sensitivities.  But, alas, we live in the real world.

As common carriers, the airlines are obliged to accept all passengers, absent only certain extreme exceptions.  It is time for some lawsuits to remind them of their obligations, and for their mealy-mouthed after-the-fact non-excuses that refer vaguely to ‘misunderstandings’ to actually have consequences for the self-indulgent and over-indulged little darlings who masquerade as employees.

And Lastly This Week….

I’ve occasionally touched on the demise of quality commentary and journalism, and the consequences of that for us all.  The article immediately above points out the growing total unaccountability of airlines and their employees, no matter how grossly unreasonable their actions, and that’s in part because of fewer and fewer public calls for their accountability.  Why write about complex issues to do with airlines and their treatment of passengers when you can write about the Kardashians instead.

Maybe this is part of the reason why nonsense has become the new sense.

Lastly this week, when reading about literally insane flight attendants, remember the good old days when flying was, well, different.  In the best possible way.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels






1 thought on “Weekly Roundup, Friday 4 December 2015”

  1. Having seen the weaknesses of airport escort services – one elderly lady with dementia wandered away from DCA and was later found deceased – Air NZ’s wristband idea is a significant improvement.

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