Weekly Roundup, Friday 1 April 2016

Come experience a New Zealand style traffic jam on our Travel Insider tour of NZ this Oct/Nov.
Come experience a New Zealand style traffic jam on our Travel Insider tour of NZ this Oct/Nov.

Good morning and Happy April Fool’s Day

I mentioned how frequent flier miles aren’t worth as much as they used to be in last week’s newsletter.  Reader Fran wrote in to say that she tried to book a flight on Delta using miles, from LAX to JFK, 330 days prior to departure.  She needed 140,000 miles – one way!

On the other hand, bargains can sometimes be found.  Reader Svensk booked two roundtrip tickets on United from Nashville to Portugal and on to Funchal in Madeira, for a total of 120,000 miles and $210 in taxes.  That’s a great deal – particularly when he saw, online, that the cost to buy the tickets would have been $8150.

This is a short newsletter this week because I spent much of Thursday evening quickly writing up a report on the new Tesla Model 3; it was announced mid evening on Thursday at an event in California.  Tesla started accepting pre-orders for the car earlier on Thursday, and amazingly, 115,000 people had pre-ordered (and paid $1000 deposits) on the car by the time of the release announcement, with the most amazing part of that being that these people did so without knowing anything about the car, its specifications/capabilities, or even its price.  Within minutes of the end of the release announcement, the total pre-orders had jumped to 125,000, and I’m sure they’re still soaring higher as I write this.

Should you join this rush to pre-order the new budget model Tesla?  If you could order it today and get it tomorrow, then probably yes.  But with delivery likely to be 2+ years away, is a car that is already a ‘me too’ car today (stodgy old General Motors, no less, announced a similar car last year, and deliveries start later this year) going to still be exciting and futuristic when you eventually receive it in mid/late 2018 (assuming the most optimistic of delivery timelines)?

You’ll need to read my report, below, for the longer answer to that question.

One more thing in terms of futuristic new products.  Some of you kindly helped by participating in one or more surveys over a year ago when I was researching and developing a new ‘social media’ website/service.

After an intense development process spanning the last 15 months, and with some of you as brave angel investors, we’re now taking the wraps off the product in its first release form, and if you’d like to become one of our early testers, you’d be most welcome to do so.  Please let me know if you’d like to participate in this.

And, yes, we still have one or possibly two rooms available if you’d like to join us in our Travel Insider tour to New Zealand this Oct/Nov.  Featuring the Food and Wine Classic festival in Hawkes Bay, and a great mix of the well known and lesser known tourist highlights of NZ, plus even an optional extension to Australia, this is a great chance to enjoy a small group tour of some of the nicest parts of the world, with some of the nicest possible people as traveling companions.  Details here.

Virgin America for Sale?

News has leaked out over the last week or two that Virgin America has been looking for a buyer.  After eight loss-making years, the airline finally made a very small profit in 2015, and apparently its owners have decided it is time to get out before the profitable spell returns back to loss-making again.

Virgin America, in typical Sir Richard Branson matter, was launched after an extraordinary amount of hype (on his part) and hope (on our part), but apart from some purple lights and loud pop music, it really has never been much different to any other airline.  Most of all, and perhaps because of its generally weak financial performance, it has been very slow to grow its network to a point where it would made sense for anyone to ever make it their preferred carrier.  Unlike other small carriers that have regional strengths, Virgin never even secured any regional significance, and while everyone who flew the airline generally liked it, they seldom returned back to it because on their preferred airline, they had frequent flier benefits and status wherever they’d fly.

The problem is – who would want to now buy the airline?  And, assuming a buyer could be found, at what price?  Virgin America offers very little that existing carriers couldn’t simply create themselves.  The major dinosaurs are probably not wanting to risk the scrutiny and opprobrium associated with taking out another competitor, even such as small one as Virgin America; and Southwest (itself these days increasingly a major dinosaur, too) operates only 737s so it would have difficulty doing anything with Virgin America’s A319 and A320 fleet.

JetBlue has been mentioned as possibly being interested, and perhaps more fancifully, Alaska Airlines has also been talked about.  JetBlue’s predominantly east coast operation would tie in nicely with Virgin America’s predominantly west coast operation; but fitting it into the Alaska Airlines route system isn’t as immediately obvious.

But, no matter who might end up buying it, it seems we’re likely to lose another airline.  Details here.

Oh – in a similar but different situation, it looks like some of the other airline shareholders in Virgin Australia might be wanting to sell their stakes in that airline, too.

And of course the original Virgin Atlantic airline first sold half itself to Singapore Airlines then saw that transfer to Delta a few years ago, with Delta working much more closely with Virgin Atlantic than Singapore Airlines ever did, and Sir Richard Branson saying the airline would have been ‘in real trouble’ without Delta’s assistance.

Security Woes

Brussels’ airport now looks like it might open for reduced operations this coming weekend (perhaps initially limited to one fifth its normal flights).  But the airport police are very unhappy, claiming that there are over 50 known ISIS sympathizers/supporters who are badged airport workers, working as baggage handlers, cleaners, and caterers, and as such, allowed access to the secure parts of the airport and airplanes.  Not stated but implied is concern as to how many more unknown ISIS supporters may also be working there.

It seems the authorities are unwilling to respond to this, and so the police not only made their concerns public, but also have threatened to go on strike if something isn’t done.

Details here.

In other security news, I’ve written several times recently about the growing crisis in TSA staffing numbers at airports around the US.  Passenger numbers are steadily growing, new security measures are requiring longer time per passenger screened, but TSA screener numbers are way down.  The result – lines to go through security are getting longer and longer, and are expected to get still worse as the summer travel season ramps up.

Seattle’s airport has decided to accept the unavoidable ugliness of this and so is hiring 90 security assistants itself, freeing 90 TSA staff from non-critical functions and allowing them to be redeployed to helping move people through screening.  That’s a great thing for the airport to do, but isn’t something massively wrong when our government is unable or unwilling to provide the necessary level of staffing to give a semi-acceptable experience to us, the people who are paying up to $11.50 per roundtrip journey, for the screening service.

Details here.

And Lastly This Week….

I love dogs and usually have at least one myself, and I’m always bemused and disappointed at the difference between Britain and much of Europe, where dogs are generally welcome most places, and the US, where they are usually forbidden.

I’ve also looked askance at the proliferation of vaguely described as ‘service’ dogs and the even more vaguely described ‘companion’ dogs, and like many other people, I’ve often noticed people claiming their dogs to have this sort of special status but who in fact seem to be nothing more than normal people with normal dogs.  I’ve even been tempted to appoint my dog as a special service dog, emblazen a ‘badge of office’ on a dog coat and start taking her everywhere with me.  If other people are abusing this, why not the rest of us dog owners, too?

It seems the matter is now getting to the point where Colorado legislators are considering legislation to fine offenders up to $5000 for falsely claiming their dogs to be special and necessary.  As supporters say, it is a bit like stealing a disabled car park.  I hope the legislation passes and the enforcement is strict.  Details here.

People ride roller coasters for various different reasons.  Some people love to be scared, and some people love to scream out at the top of their lungs, whether scared or not.  It is hard to imagine a roller-coaster that isn’t surrounded by a layer of faux-fearful screaming.

But now, in Britain, an amusement park that has just introduced a new roller coaster that it claims to be the ‘biggest, highest, fastest’, is banning screaming on it.  For real?  Or is that an April Fools joke?  The item was announced 29 March, so probably for real.

But, talking about April Fools, here’s an interesting history of how this strange custom evolved, and some suggested ‘best ever’ April Fools jokes.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels





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