Weekly Roundup, Friday 22 January 2016

Happy 40th birthday to the most beautiful plane in the skies, ever.
Happy 40th birthday to the most beautiful plane in the skies, ever.

Good morning

Happy birthday, yesterday, to the Concorde.  It was 40 years ago on Thursday that saw this, the absolutely most beautiful of all planes, ever, take to the skies on its first ever commercial flight (as so voted by Travel Insider readers and pretty much everyone else, too).

In among the global warming, we seem to be suffering one heck of a snowstorm on the East coast.  I hope you’re not affected.  If you are planning on traveling pretty much anywhere, you should keep a close eye on your flight.  As you surely know, because a delay to a flight somewhere then delays the plane for the next segment and the segment after that of its route, such that all of a sudden, a ‘safe’ flight between Phoenix and Los Angeles ends up unintuitively delayed, too.

If you do have problems, these days it seems that increasingly the problems can be better solved through the airlines’ web and phone apps than by calling the traditional (800) number – which often now results either in a message saying ‘We’re too busy, call back later <click>’ or a wait for hours (truly) on hold.  I’m not sure which is worse – both are ultra-frustrating.

Make sure you have the airline’s app on your phone, and also do like me and check that all your apps are updated prior to traveling anywhere.  I also use Flightaware and sometimes Flightstats to give me a heads-up on the probable status of my flight and what is generally happening around the country.

Of course, those of us who still book through travel agents have a much more responsive resource at hand – calling them and getting them to help instead.

Talking about old fashioned things and modern replacements, I finally had my first ever Uber ride this last weekend.  I was stunned.  Beyond stunned.  I had to use a regular cab to travel from San Jose Airport in to Palo Alto – although Silicon Valley is the heart of our high-tech world, its airport managers are slow to embrace Uber.  It was good I took a regular cab in to Palo Alto, because I then had a direct contrast between it and the Uber ride back to the airport.

The Palo Alto area was very interesting – there’s a ‘buzz’ about the place – crowds of eager enthusiastic 20-something-year-olds all hunched over their laptops in small groups in coffee shops, urgently developing the ‘next big thing’, whatever that may be.  There’s a spirit of ‘anything is possible’ permeating through the town, and of course, in the residential areas, plenty of proof of the positive rewards accompanying some of the successes that have happened to date.

You can read more about my Uber experience in the article following the newsletter.

And there’s something else to read more about, too.  I’ve now officially published the details of our NZ tour this coming October/November, and, oh yes, we’re also venturing over into Australia for a few days after the NZ tour, too.  That’s the first time a Travel Insider tour has been to Australia, and it will be the first time in over a decade that I’ve been to my favorite part of Australia – Tropical North Queensland, home of the Great Barrier Reef and the World Heritage Rainforest and so many other wonders.  I’m looking forward to it all.

This is my third Travel Insider tour to NZ.  The first one was good, the second one was great, and I believe the third one will be even better still!  I do hope you can come join us.

I should also please remind you of something excitingly sooner than that – our first ever Bordeaux river cruise this coming July.  We have eight of us confirmed on this so far, and it would be lovely to have a few more join.  There’s an optional pre-cruise extension in Paris, and a post-cruise extension on to France’s most famous chateaus in the Loire Valley; whether you choose to add either or both to the core cruise, this really is tremendously appealing.  The beautiful French countryside, historic towns, the most famous wine region in France, and a lovely luxury cruise in the middle of summer.

Still to come, probably, will be this year’s Christmas cruise.  Still finessing the details on that with the cruiseline.

And what else this week?  Less than there should be.  Something I’ve not had happen for a year or so happened just now – Microsoft Express Web (the program I write my newsletter in) crashed.  It is a generally great program, but it doesn’t have an auto-save.  Four of the items were saved, the rest have gone.  Ugh.

But I see there’s still 2050 words in the newsletter, plus two other items attached, so it could be worse!

  • JetBlue and Hawaiian Snuggle More Closely Together
  • Lufthansa to Offer Even Worse Seating Than Ryanair
  • BA to Get More A380s?
  • What to Do With Your Old Cell Phone?
  • And Lastly This Week….

JetBlue and Hawaiian Snuggle More Closely Together

The two mid-sized airlines have nicely complementary route systems, and each can help the other to become stronger in the face of the ‘Big Four’ airlines – which are actually only three when you consider Hawaii, because Southwest doesn’t fly there.

They’ve had some cooperation for a while, and now have announced a broader series of code shares on each other’s flights, seamless baggage transfer, and reciprocal mileage earning and redemption opportunities.

Normally, I’d argue against airlines cooperating more closely, but in this case it seems that it gives us all more reasons to move away from the mega carriers and consider alternate carriers.  A shame there’s not room for Alaska Airlines to squeeze in with them as well, but there’d be much more route overlap, making it less a winning proposition for either the airlines or ourselves.

Lufthansa to Offer Even Worse Seating Than Ryanair

Airlines still show themselves to be totally ignorant to the fact that their passengers are getting bigger in terms of average size, not smaller.  While we get taller and broader, airplane seats get narrower and closer together.

It used to be that the dinosaur airlines could at least be counted on to be slower to cram more seats into their planes, while the low cost carriers were mercilessly finding new ways to shoehorn seats into their planes.  But over the last decade or so, the dinosaurs have changed their attitude and now feel empowered to explore new territory when it comes to discomfort, shortage of toilets, and everything else that they’d once proudly claimed distinguished them from their lower-priced competitors.

News this week is that Lufthansa’s new A320neo planes will come with a 29.1″ seat pitch in economy, and 31.8″ in their front ‘business’ section.  This contrasts with Ryanair and a 29.9″ seat pitch – and when your knees are already hard into the seat in front of you, another 0.8″ of even greater pressure on your kneecaps really does make a difference.  There is also a possibility that new Ryanair 737s might come with a more generous pitch.

Worse than Ryanair?  Really??

Details here.

BA to Get More A380s?

Airbus has a growing challenge with its very slow A380 program.  Not only are airlines ordering them more slowly than hoped for, but Emirates – its largest A380 customer – is putting ever greater pressure on Airbus to come up with an updated improved A380 with better engines and better operating economy.  Emirates has ordered 140 of the 317 A380s Airbus has received orders for, and still has 71 of those planes pending delivery.

You can imagine how unenthusiastic Airbus is at the the thought of ‘throwing good money after bad’ and investing into a new A380 when the original A380 has failed to live up to its hopes – although of course that’s a vicious circle of reasoning – perhaps an unsuccessful airplane is more deserving of attention and tweaking than one which is currently selling at a great rate!

The other challenge that is moving unmistakably closer is what will happen when Emirates starts retiring and disposing of its early A380s?  The airline likes to keep its planes fresh and near-new and has an average plane age that seems to vary between about 5.5 and 6.5 years, depending on where in its buying/disposing cycles it is.

Their first A380s arrived in 2008 and so are already seven years old.  While their A380 fleet in total is young – average age of 3.4 years – the 7+ year old planes are nearing the point where they may become due for replacement.  Some of their A380s are on 12 year leases with expirations starting from 2020, but in terms of airplane manufacturing leadtimes, four years into the future is minor rather than major.

A 12 year old plane – particularly a long-haul plane like the A380 which might have lots of hours but not many ‘cycles’ (take-offs and landings) – still has a lot of life left in it, and normally would be eagerly picked up by a second tier airline that takes second-hand planes (a typical Delta strategy for example).

But for Airbus, with the very thin sales for new A380s, any appearance of used but still highly usable A380s will threaten their ability to sell new ones – particularly if they haven’t updated the model they are selling as new.  Let’s face it, we as passengers have no obvious way of knowing if the plane we’re flying on is one week, one month, one year or one decade old (although, having flown on a brand new plane’s first ever flight (and a long 15 hours of flying), it is true that freshly new planes do have a ‘new plane’ smell for at least the first few hours of service).  Sure, we can guess if the interior is new or old, but as for the airframe and engines, what do we know?

It is much harder for an airplane manufacturer to sell new planes ‘just because they are new’, unlike auto manufacturers who get us to upgrade our cars primarily for reasons of personal pride.

So, there’s the problem Airbus is facing – it doesn’t feel able to update its A380, but if it doesn’t, it mightn’t sell more to Emirates, and the retired Emirates planes might take the place of new plane sales it could otherwise make to other airlines.

Possibly a savior might be on the horizon.  BA (12 A380s ordered, 10 delivered) is slowly – very slowly – coming to actually like its A380s, and might want more.  Surprisingly, they are talking about possibly buying or leasing second hand ones.  While Airbus would of course prefer to sell BA more new ones, the promise of any airline soaking up the second hand ones that may start appearing in the foreseeable future has to be a good thing.

It also means that lessors don’t feel such pressure to recover more of the plane’s value during the initial lease term, and so they’ll drop their lease rates, making the planes more appealing overall to more potential airline clients.

What to Do With Your Old Cell Phone?

This is never a problem for me – I’ve a built in ‘recycling unit’ in the form of my daughter, who delightedly accepts my hand-me-down phones, and her in turn cast-off phones have become largely technologically obsolete.

Many people take advantage of trade-in and trade-up programs offered by their wireless carrier, especially now  the carriers are splitting out the cost of a phone from the cost of the actual airtime and data service.  Such offers are convenient and tempting, and many people use such things as a way to upgrade faster and avoid ending up with a drawer full of old phones, sitting silently and sadly, while mutely accusing their owner of buying too many phones too quickly.

You’ll perhaps not be shocked to learn that the allowances your wireless company offers you for your old phone are seldom generous.  But do you know a better and still convenient way of cashing in the remaining value in your old phone?  Here’s an interesting article that might save you a substantial sum if you, like me, are already starting to feel a bit tempted by Apple’s upcoming iPhone 7, later this year.

And Lastly This Week….

I lost this section of the newsletter too, but had to quickly retype in the astonishing finding that in the UK, 15% of women and 9% of men would prefer to book a holiday than to, ummm, you know, ‘do it’.  I’m not quite sure what that tells us about the British, the way they book their holidays (clearly not the same way I do!) or their approach to ‘it’….

Details here.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels





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