Weekly Roundup, Friday 24 June 2016

How many engines should an airplane ideally have?
How many engines should an airplane ideally have?

Good morning

The last week has seen Britain’s referendum on staying in or leaving the EU reach its culmination with the vote yesterday and decision in favor of leaving the EU, although by the slimmest of margins (51.9%/48.1%).

Britain’s relationship with the EU has always been ambiguous (and, going further back into history, has generally seen itself as separate from rather than part of Europe).  Britain wasn’t one of the original founders of the EEC, the forerunner to the EU which dates back to 1951, and didn’t join until 1973, although a referendum on remaining in the EU two years later in 1975 showed strong public support (67%/33%).

Britain chose not to become a member of the borderless Schengen group of nations, and also chose not to participate in the Euro common currency and has always been uneasy at allowing its national identity to be subsumed into an amorphous European amalgam.

In the weeks prior to the referendum, opinion polls showed substantial swings in sentiment as between the almost universally establishment-backed campaign to remain in the EU and the more ‘alternate’ supported campaign to leave the EU, and due to a surprising decision not to do any exit polling, it took a long time for the results to coalesce (I’ve been interestedly hitting ‘refresh’ on my vote results screen all Thursday night long).

The supporters of Britain remaining in the EU are downplaying their loss, saying that people who voted to leave don’t actually want to leave the EU at all – instead, they are simply registering a protest vote against the government in general.  There has been a suggestion that an early election might be called (the next scheduled election is not until 2020).  This would almost certainly be an attempt to insert by implication a second vote on the EU immediately after this one, with the underlying subtext being that the referendum doesn’t legally bind the government to anything at all.

I’ve certainly seen plenty of referendums in WA state that have been passed by much broader percentages that have failed to make it into law, and it would be short-sighted to anticipate that this slim victory will see the outcome expected actually eventuate, all the more so because the ‘establishment’ – both politically and administratively – seems to be solidly in support of remaining in the EU.  One can only guess at the roadblocks and challenges yet to be surmounted, and the entire ‘Article 50’ leaving the EU process is generally thought to take two years, with no-one even being sure when the start of that process would occur.

Whether part of an early election or not, there seems to be universal expectations that Britain’s PM – an active supporter of a continued EU involvement – will fall on his sword, probably to be replaced by a high-profile EU skeptic such as London’s former mayor, Boris Johnson.  (Update – the Prime Minister has now announced his intention to resign in about three months time.)  And while a lot of the rhetoric in favor of Britain staying in the EU was to prophesy doom and gloom if Britain were to leave, we’re already seeing the more positive minded business leaders now eschewing such notions and talking instead about ‘business as usual’ and the need to optimize a somewhat altered future.  Most of the world gets on perfectly well without being EU members, it would seem there is no reason why Britain can’t similarly do so.

The pattern of support also opens anew the schism between Scotland and England.  Scotland’s districts voted without exception to remain in the EU, while England was more generally in support of remaining.  While the difference in opinion were not vast, when you see the results on a map, it tends to exaggerate and encourage the perception of greater differences than perhaps in truth there are.  This is bound to be exploited by Scottish nationalists and see new calls for another attempt at Scottish independence, and if such a thing were to happen, the rift between England and Scotland would be greater because one would be truly independent (England) while the other would become subservient to Europe (Scotland), seeing a more rapid divergence of laws and customs than would otherwise have been the case.

What will this mean to us as travelers?  Nothing at all.  Travel to Britain will be the same, the pound will be same (although it has dropped enticingly overnight and for a short while, at $1.33, was the cheapest since 1985, but is already recovering and currently at $1.37), and travel between Britain and Europe will be the same.

Does it have any relevance to our elections in November?  Not really, but it is interesting to note that the ‘control our border’ theme was a key part of the campaign to have Britain leave the EU, and the related job-protection concepts brought together an unusual coalition of left and right of center supporters, and there are of course some echoes of similar issues in the run-up to our election season here.

It also hints at a possible unraveling of more of the EU, with some commentators speculating that even France, one of the prime forces supporting the EU and one of the ultra-beneficiaries of its agricultural policies, might be consider its own ‘Frexit’, and another core EU member, the Netherlands, is becoming more open to the concept of reviewing its EU membership too.  Interesting times lie ahead.

While EU membership isn’t an essential part of the Schengen common travel area, leaving the EU would definitely require countries that had adopted the Euro to abandon it.  Speaking selfishly as an individual traveler, I’d be very sad to return to the terrible patchwork quilt of 19 different currencies instead of just one, but speaking dispassionately, it would be good to see individual sovereignty – and individual responsibility – return to countries once more.

The article following this week’s roundup is a reply/rebuttal to a series of uncritical articles that appeared a few days ago parroting and building on a NASA release about its experimenting with battery powered airplanes.  Sure, battery powered cars are transitioning from impractical oddities to commonplace commodities, and we’ll all be much the better for this revolution in vehicle motive power.

But does that presage a move to battery powered airplanes, too?  The answer to that, NASA notwithstanding, is a resounding ‘no’ – not a ‘maybe’, and not even a ‘sometime in the future’.  Just an absolute and utter ‘no’.  There’ll be low cost supersonic flights and flying cars – possibly even flying pigs – well before there are battery powered planes, alas.  For more, read the lengthy article that follows.

There’s a reader survey you might want to participate in, immediately below, and plenty more too :

  • Reader Survey – Do You Agree With Mandatory ‘Resort Fees’ at Hotels?
  • EgyptAir 804 – Black Box Data Difficulties
  • If Two Engines are Good, Four Engines are ?
  • New Jersey Gets Greedy – Never Mind the Law
  • Unlimited Trans-Atlantic Business Class Flights for a Year
  • A Terror Warning for Travel to the US?
  • Money Well Spent?
  • And Lastly This Week….

Reader Survey – Do You Agree With Mandatory ‘Resort Fees’ at Hotels?

A ‘trial balloon’ in the form of a likely deliberate leak from the FTC emerged this week, indicating they might be rethinking their current policy that allows hotels to charge mandatory resort fees.  Here’s some good coverage of the issue.

What I found most interesting was that the American Hotel & Lodging Association says that its members charge resort fees because that is in line with what their guests want – a survey commissioned by them claims that more than half prefer resort fees to be separated out from the basic room rate rather than included in it, and 8/10 guests said they were willing to pay resort fees ‘if the amenities are worth it’ – which of course is a beyond meaningless finding.  Surely all of us would always be willing to pay any fee or charge if we were confident we were getting generous value in return.

As you surely know, a resort fee is an extra charge per night you stay at a hotel, which covers a range of things that you may or may not use – access to a hotel pool, gym, spa, internet, local phone calling, maybe even a small bottle of water in your room each day, and whatever else the hotel can creatively come up with on their list of inclusions.  The fee is mandatory, and saying that you don’t, won’t, and never will use any of the inclusions doesn’t see it being waived.

The hoteliers also say their guests get a better deal with a resort fee rather than paying for everything individually.  That’s a rather specious claim, because it embodies some assumptions about how many of the amenities each guest would otherwise choose to purchase, and of course, the pricing is something hotels are freely able to vary as they choose.

This year, resort fees are averaging an extra $19.52 (plus tax) a night at the hotels where they are charged, and increased from last year on average 8% (vs an CPI increase of 1%).  While of course it would be anti-competitive and illegal for hotels to collude in such things, it is interesting to note how there is a strange uniformity of policy about such things – in some areas, no hotels charge them, but in other areas, all hotels do.

So, what do you think?  Do you prefer to be quoted a hotel room rate and subsequently to be advised of a separate but mandatory resort fee?  Or would you prefer to just be quoted a single rate for everything?  There is also an often overlooked third option – an ‘a la carte’ approach where you just pay for the items you want, as, when, and if you use them, and which assumes that if all you wanted was, eg, just the internet access, the fee for that alone would be less than the resort fee for everything.

Note that we are not asking you if you think the FTC should regulate the ability of hotels to charge resort fees – that is a separate issue entirely.  We are merely asking you if you agree with mandatory resort fees or if you prefer either the single inclusive price or the a la carte option.

Please click the link in the table below which best represents your answer.  This will cause an empty email to be sent to us with your answer encoded into the subject line.

I stay in hotels fewer than 5 nights a year and prefer to pay a resort feeI stay in hotels fewer than 5 nights a year and prefer a single inclusive rateI stay in hotels fewer than 5 nights a year and prefer an a la carte set of prices
I stay in hotels 6 – 10 nights a year and prefer to pay a resort feeI stay in hotels 6 – 10 nights a year and prefer a single inclusive rateI stay in hotels 6 – 10 nights a year and prefer an a la carte set of prices
I stay in hotels 11 – 15 nights a year and prefer to pay a resort feeI stay in hotels 11 – 15 nights a year and prefer a single inclusive rateI stay in hotels 11 – 15 nights a year and prefer an a la carte set of prices
I stay in hotels 16 – 25 nights a year and prefer to pay a resort feeI stay in hotels 16 – 25 nights a year and prefer a single inclusive rateI stay in hotels 16 – 25 nights a year and prefer an a la carte set of prices
I stay in hotels 26 – 35 nights a year and prefer to pay a resort feeI stay in hotels 26 – 35 nights a year and prefer a single inclusive rateI stay in hotels 26 – 35 nights a year and prefer an a la carte set of prices
I stay in hotels 36+ nights a year and prefer to pay a resort feeI stay in hotels 36+ nights a year and prefer a single inclusive rateI stay in hotels 36+ nights a year and prefer an a la carte set of prices


As always, thanks for sharing your opinions.  I’ll report on the results next week.

EgyptAir 804 – Black Box Data Difficulties

Let’s hope this news is nothing more than an indication of gross incompetence on the part of the Egyptians.  But, now that both the two black boxes have been retrieved, the Egyptians have failed at their attempts to recover data from either of them.

This is unexpected.  The black boxes and the solid state data storage devices inside them are supposed to be able to withstand just about anything short of a medium sized nuclear blast, and certainly being immersed in the ocean for a month after crashing into the sea is totally within the ordinary parameters they should have been able to accept without harm.  To have both of them unreadable is very surprising.

The Egyptians have now given up on trying to recover any data and has sent the two devices to the French Aviation Accident Investigation Bureau in the hope they might be more adept.

Let’s hope so.  We all need to understand what happened.

If Two Engines are Good, Four Engines are ?

How would you complete that sentence?  There was a time when conventional wisdom – and also the limitations on jet engine design – encouraged lots of engines on a plane.  The B-52 bomber has eight.  For a long time, all long-distance planes had four, and for a while, Virgin Atlantic even boasted that its planes (A340 and 747) had four engines whereas competitors (A330, 767 and 777) had only two.

But with the ability to secure long range operation certification for twin engined planes – now sometimes allowing a twin engined plane to be as much as six hours and ten minutes away from anywhere it could land, much improved engine reliability, and perceived cost savings in having only two engines on a plane, there has been a huge trend towards designing two engined planes.

But it isn’t entirely a slam-dunk for the two engine concept.  For example, with the requirement that a plane can sustain flight with only one engine, that means the engines are massively over-powered for all ordinary operations.  And new technologies are pointing to the possibility of a return to multiple engines, indeed, why stop at only four?

Here’s an interesting article about some blue-sky research being done at Pratt & Whitney.  Of course, one might think that an engine manufacturer would be in favor of planes having as many engines as possible!

New Jersey Gets Greedy – Never Mind the Law

The airlines have secured a series of federal level protections against individual state level taxes and other regulatory burdens, arguing that the compliance burdens would become unreasonable if they had to comply with every different jurisdiction – state, county, city – everywhere they fly.

That has made it much more difficult, for example, for an individual traveler to sue an airline.  Instead of a nice easy action in a local district court, it requires the greater level of formality and complexity involved in a federal court (although exceptions seem to exist for small claims court actions).

Another protection/benefit has been against individual jurisdictions levying additional fuel taxes on the fuel the airlines consume in vast quantities at every airport they refuel at, with any such taxes levied being required to be spent only on direct aviation related services in the state.

But New Jersey feels that different rules should apply to it, and is proposing to increase the tiny fuel tax imposed on commercial airlines by a factor of 25-fold so as to have more money to spend on general roading and other non-air state transportation purposes.  All states love any opportunity to tax out-of-state non-voters and the airlines certainly seem to be low-hanging fruit to New Jersey legislators.

But, as this opinion piece points out, if NJ were to do so, it is likely that it would be cut out of much greater amounts of federal subsidies than the taxes it would start taking.  Besides which, airlines ‘tanker’ fuel at present – buying fuel in the cheapest locations and flying with full tanks when going to places where fuel is more costly, so the actual benefits wouldn’t necessarily be as much as the state is hoping for.

Unlimited Trans-Atlantic Business Class Flights for a Year

How much would you pay for a year of business class travel between New York (Newark) and either London (Luton) or Paris (CDG)?  All business-class airline, La Compagnie, is betting that at least ten people would eagerly pay $35,000 for the privilege, and so to celebrate its second anniversary of service to New York, is offering ten of these passes for sale, first come, first served, on 18 July.

My guess – they’ll be snatched up within minutes of going on sale.  If you are interested, be sure to find out from the airline the exact time the passes go on sale, and place multiple simultaneous calls to the number starting from some minutes prior to then (in case all lines are busy) so you have a chance of being one of the lucky ones.

The twelve months runs from the date of your first flight, which can be any time prior to 15 December 2017.  I wonder if you can buy two?

A Terror Warning for Travel to the US?

A few weeks back the State Department issued a travel advisory, cautioning about travel to all of Europe for the next several months due to the risk of terror attacks.  Since that time the only terror attack of note, anywhere in the world, has been in Orlando.

One wonders if the State Department will now issue a travel advisory relating to travel within the US too, or perhaps concede that travel to Europe is no more risky than travel within the US and withdraw its earlier advisory.  The DHS has issued a caution, but talking only about ‘homegrown radicals’ while being careful not to mention any particular types of radicalism or religion.

One has to wonder – would the Justice Department have censored the transcripts of the gunman to remove references to the groups he was supporting if he had been expressing support for the KKK or any other group than his embrace of the ‘religion of peace’.

Money Well Spent?

We all generally understand that the airlines spend massively on lobbying, and rumors suggest that members of Congress are much more likely to get VIP treatment at airports and not experience the realities of air travel like the rest of us.

But what about cruise lines?  There’s another industry keen to optimize the level of governmental involvement/intervention, and it has been far from passive at ensuring the minimum possible amount of oversight.

According to this article, the cruise lines have spent over $56 million on disclosed lobbying expenses between 1997 and the present.  What has it enjoyed in return?

Oh, how about almost complete exemption from federal taxes (the largest US cruise company, Carnival, paid an average of 0.6% in taxes over a recent five year period).  Or the grey area that largely exempts the cruise lines from liability when their passengers suffer crimes on board cruise ships.  Or avoiding the need to comply with US labor laws.  Or the benefits it receives from a myriad of US agencies that support their operations – ranging from the Navy and Coast Guard, to the Border Patrol, Homeland Security, and Customs, plus other services from over 20 other US agencies.

More details here.

And Lastly This Week….

There are still elements of ‘romance’ in the field of aviation, if you know where to find them.  Here’s a nice article about one such pocket of ‘specialness’.

Although some people are predicting major changes in Britain subsequent to the passing of the Brexit referendum, some things are unlikely to change – things like, oh well, the curious attitude to holidays some Brits have.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels






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