Weekly Roundup, Friday 4 March 2016

For 1% of the cost overrun on the 787, NASA says it could develop and test a SST.
For 1% of the cost overrun on the 787, NASA says it could develop and test a SST.

Good morning

Great news.  On the basis that we still had three allocated cabins unsold, I managed to get an extension of time from Amawaterways for the discount on our July cruise in Bordeaux.  So you still can choose to come and enjoy the multiple savings I’ve negotiated for us all on this lovely cruise through one of the finest regions of the beautiful French countryside, with castles, chateaus, charming towns, and great wine galore.  Please do consider joining us on this cruise.

Last week I wrote about a $25 solar powered motion activated outside light – good for security and general purposes.  Well, almost as soon as the review had been published, Amazon dropped the price, and as of the time of writing, it is currently $20, making a reasonably good product even better.

Amazon’s pricing is strangely volatile.  A year ago, I bought a bottle of carpet cleaner for $15.50, I bought a refill a month ago for $28, and now it is $19.50.  Do you think they ‘knew’ when I needed to buy it and pushed the price up, only to drop it again when I no longer needed it?  With the amount of information websites amass about us now, that’s a question I ask only half in jest!

Still on the subject of lights, my article last week got me thinking about something that I’ve long had on my ‘to do’ list – an answer to the perfidy of greedy hoteliers who choose to save a penny or two on their costs of providing the night of accommodation they sell to us for several hundreds of dollars.  No, I’m not talking about cheap ‘bathroom stationery’.  I’m talking about the lack of adequate lighting, something that sometimes is a real bother, particularly if one is trying to read a book in the evening.

Of course the hotels hide behind being ‘eco-sensitive’ and trying to save the planet, but with modern LED lighting giving out ten times as much light per watt of electricity, that pathetic excuse is even weaker than it ever was.

Anyway, whatever the reason, you’ll find today an article after this roundup offering you three different strategies for how to respond to hotels that insult you with inadequate light in your hotel room.

And now, please continue reading for :

  • Frontier Airlines Flight Attendant Tipping – Attempted Follow Up
  • MH370 Airplane Piece Possibly Found
  • Another SST Concept
  • Hilton Hotels CEO – ‘We Knew Our Guests Would Hate it, But We Did So Anyway’
  • Another Brave Pilot Too Scared to Fly with Ordinary Normal Passenger
  • One in Seven Flight Attendants Admits to Giving an Unusual Degree of Passenger Service
  • And Lastly This Week….

Frontier Airlines Flight Attendant Tipping – Attempted Follow Up

Last week I quoted reader Aron’s email about how on a recent Frontier flight he was given a charge slip to pay for his can of juice, and there were recommendations to add either a 15%, 20% or 25% tip to the bill total.

I wrote to Frontier last Friday morning asking them about this


One of my readers shared his recent experiences on one of your flights and says that now when paying for something on the flight, the charge form includes recommended tip entries – 15%, 20% and 25%.

May I ask :

Why was this introduced?

Where do the tips go?  Are they given, 100% and with no deduction, to the specific flight attendant, are they shared with no deduction among all the FA’s on the flight, do pilots get a share too, or are they added to a broader company pool?  Does the company deduct or withhold anything for its own purposes?

If flight attendants are receiving the tips, have their wages been adjusted downwards to reflect this increased income?

My readers, when I surveyed them in 2013, were overwhelmingly against tipping flight attendants, so I’m curious as to the rationale for introducing something that your passengers/customers seem to be opposed to.

When nothing had been heard by Thursday this week, I sent a follow up note.  Their media department said they’d missed my first email, and are promising an answer soon.  I’m sure we’ll all be interested to better understand this development.

MH 370 Airplane Piece Possibly Found

The missing 777 operated as MH 370 that disappeared almost exactly 3 years ago showed a sense of occasion by possibly providing us a reminder of its continued unexplained whereabouts to honor its third anniversary.  After a plane fragment appearing on Reunion Island last July, another piece – possibly a fragment of the horizontal stabilizer – has washed up in the same general area.

The fragment was found by a respected MH 370 investigator, but has yet to be confirmed as genuine.  Sadly, its appearance now doesn’t really help in any respect at all with finding the plane or understanding the mystery of what happened to it.

More details here.

It seems probable that the ocean-bottom search for the missing plane will be called off in July.

Another SST Concept

Something that seems to come up several times every year is an announcement by some company or another of plans to revive a new ‘successor to the Concorde’ form of supersonic plane.

Urban legend has it that the Concorde was withdrawn from service because it was losing too much money, or too noisy.  Neither legend has any truth associated with it – the Concorde was very profitable for BA, and as for the sonic boom noise, while a problem, it was ‘solved’ by limiting supersonic flight to only when the plane was high above the ocean – not much of a limitation when flying from JFK or IAD to LHR.

As for the lack of a successor, more urban legends swirl around the sonic boom as being impossible to prevent and the fact that ‘everyone knows supersonic flight is too costly – just look at the Concorde’.

My point all along is that supersonic flight technology has been frozen in time at a point in the late 1950s/early 1960s.  Back then, it was surprisingly competitive with subsonic jet travel, and the main reason that a gap has arisen is the unwillingness of airplane manufacturers to invest money in developing new SST technologies.  If we’d invested in and therefore progressed engine and airframe technologies for SST planes the same way we have for subsonic jets, today’s SST would be extraordinarily better in every respect than anything the Concorde’s original designers ever dared dream.

Boeing got tantalizingly close with its 2707 SST, but then lost its financial nerve and cancelled it in 1971 (while struggling with huge debts from its 747 development program) when US government subsidies were withdrawn.  If the 2707 had proceeded into service, it would have been as revolutionary, again, as was the Concorde, due to carrying 277 passengers instead of the Concorde’s 100, at 1800 mph instead of 1300 mph, and with a range of 4250 nautical miles instead of Concorde’s slightly shorter 3900 nautical miles.  If we could also assume a similar series of design improvements akin to that of the 747, newer model 2707s could be carrying up to 400 passengers and traveling 8500 miles.

The latest new SST proposal comes from a reputable source, so is one that is worthy of being noticed and responded to.  NASA is offering up a new design for a SST that it says will reduce the sonic boom problem down to a relatively trivial level that it believes would be acceptable.  But NASA has a problem.  It needs $20 million more to complete prototype designs, and it doesn’t have the money.  An initial round of flight tests would then require another $280 million.

Those sums are extraordinarily low.  Some people estimate that Boeing’s investment in its 787 exceeded its many billion dollar budget by an extraordinary additional $30 billion.  Most new planes are thought to cost in the order of $10 billion to develop – maybe that means the total 787 cost blew out to $40 billion.  And here is NASA saying it can’t move forward with a potentially transformational new airplane technology because it doesn’t have $300 million!?  That’s a mere 1% of the 787 cost overrun.

If we repurposed even the smallest trickle of the costs of our foreign adventurism in far away dry and dusty countries, we’d have NASA’s “QueSST” fully funded in double quick time.

But neither our aerospace companies nor our government show any interest in developing what could be a shining re-statement of American know-how and engineering.

Details here.

Hilton Hotels CEO – ‘We Knew Our Guests Would Hate it, But We Did So Anyway’

I wrote a month or two ago about the loss of desks in many Marriott hotels, notwithstanding the overwhelming desire by guests to have desks in their rooms.  I’m writing today of hotels that will save a penny or two per night by putting underpowered lights in their rooms without caring what their guests think or need.

And now, to form a nice triumvirate of proofs that hotels hate us every bit as much as airlines do, were you aware of Hilton’s imposition of a cancellation fee on all bookings made, no matter when they were cancelled?  You could book a hotel room six months in advance today, cancel it tomorrow, and still be hit with the cancellation fee (a flat $50 fee).  They started this trial in November last year with a limited number of hotels, but acknowledged it was massively unpopular and so have cancelled it.

But with their eyes fixed on the airlines and the massive cancellation and change fees charged by the airlines, Hilton is still exploring ways to take more money from us, and are talking about having two rates for rooms – one that allows cancellations for free, and the other one with a fee for cancellations.

Of course, Hilton tries to simultaneously tell us it is all our fault, and that cancellation fees are for our own good.  They say that late cancellations have historically created challenges for both guests and owners.  Like all good lies, this is half true – the general policy of being able to cancel at no cost, any time up until 6pm or whenever on the day of arrival, was probably overly generous and definitely open for exploitation, especially in the last day or two prior to arrival.

But the answer to that problem isn’t to make bookings that are still three or six or twelve months in advance of the actual date of stay subject to a $50 cancellation.  A several day – maybe even one week cancellation penalty might be understandable, but not this.

The obscured issue underneath this which Hilton is being careful not to share with us is nothing to do with the inconveniences of last minute cancellations.  What they want is more flexibility to ‘play games’ with their room rates.

Currently, if we book a hotel room for $200 and then see it subsequently available for $175, we can cancel and rebook our room at the lower rate without any cost or penalty.  That is great for us, but bad for the hotel – when they need to buy in some more business and do so with a discounted room rate, but if the main outcome of that is all their current bookings then cancel and rebook at the new lower rate, the net result is negative rather than positive.

But if they add a $50 cancellation penalty, that gives them a $50 buffer any time they discount their room rates.  They can safely put higher opportunistic pricing out there to see if they can pull in a few suckers, and then discount as low as they want closer to when the arrival date is, happily knowing that if any of their presently held bookings choose to cancel and rebook, they’ll still be getting $50 more than the new low rate from their existing bookings.

That is a large part of the real reason why hotels want anytime cancellation fees.  And the other part?  Simply the desire to get whatever money they can from you, for any or no reason, while providing the least possible in return.

Details here.

Another Brave Pilot Too Scared to Fly with Ordinary Normal Passenger

A Nigerian born Christian was ordered off an Easyjet flight because another passenger spotted him sending a message on his phone to a prayer group named “ISI men”.

The Nigerian explained that ISI was nothing to do with ISIS (which are not Christian at all, by the way) but rather was an acronym for the biblical quote ‘iron sharpens iron’, and that he was arranging a future prayer meeting with his friends and fellow group members/Christians.

The Nigerian was given clearance to fly, but the pilot overruled that, saying he wasn’t happy taking him from London’s Luton airport to Amsterdam.  And, of course, whether stupid or sensible, the pilot’s word is unchallenged law on a plane (isn’t it about time we change this?) and so, while guilty of no crime and in fact quite the opposite – cleared of the baseless accusation of being a terrorist, the hapless passenger was booted off the flight and forced to wait for a later flight with a braver captain.

Easyjet said ‘The safety and security of its passengers and crew is our highest priority”…. blah blah blah.

More details here.

One in Seven Flight Attendants Admits to Giving an Unusual Degree of Passenger Service

One in seven is, ahem, very friendly with passengers, and one in five is similarly friendly with other crew members.

Many have also cheated passengers out of change, or lied about the availability of duty free goods.  Details here.

And Lastly This Week….

Okay, so they were only shoes, but knowing how the TSA gets a bit apoplectic when even sighting miniature charms on a charm bracelet, surely the idea of a pair of high heel shoes with the heels shaped like pistols was an idea that, ummm, was sure to never fly?

And for lovers of heights, here’s a new way to excite yourself.  Go for a glass slide at the 1,000 ft top of the tallest building on the west coast.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels






1 thought on “Weekly Roundup, Friday 4 March 2016”

  1. In your, “Another Brave Pilot Too Scared to Fly with Ordinary Normal Passenger” article, you wrote, “the pilot’s word is unchallenged law on a plane (isn’t it about time we change this?)”
    I think you should write facts and cease with inane and immature add-on comments. A Captain may make a bad decision, but he is the Captain.The final authority about whether any flight operates resides in the front left seat of EVERY airliner, not with some know-nothing journalist that ridicules a Captain’s authority.

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