Weekly Roundup, Friday 8 July 2016

Some of our 2014 NZ tour members enjoying a lovely lunch at a winery before being personally shown around the winery by its owner (and an old school friend of David's).
This could be you in Oct/Nov.  Our 2014 NZ tour members enjoying a lovely lunch at a winery before being personally shown around the winery by its owner (and an old school friend of David’s).

Good morning

I hope you had a wonderful July 4th, with plenty of fireworks, food, and fellowship.  It seems the nation’s transportation systems generally coped with the stresses, about as well as could be hoped.

Still on the good news front, I’ve just had our key hotel for the NZ tour give me a couple more rooms.  So if you’d been wanting to come enjoy what some people consider to be ‘The Travel Insider’s Finest Tour’, mixing the greatest of New Zealand’s scenery and nature, some of its absolutely best and most beautiful locations, and a tour de force series of presentations of its best food and wine, in their lovely springtime (ie Oct/Nov) with wonderful weather; all of which is enhanced still further by a great group of fellow Travel Insiders, please do quickly let me know.

Here are the details of the tour, including even a chance to add some of Australia after the main NZ tour, too.  It would be lovely to welcome you onto this tour of my home country.

Now for an interesting item.  Some of you already know about my ‘other activity’.  Some of you have volunteered to be beta testers for it (I’ll be getting back to you in a very few days now), and some of you have even invested in it!  I can now extend a new and different opportunity for you to get involved with what might possibly become ‘the next big thing’ in social media (although of course more beta testers and definitely more investors are always welcome, too).  You’ll see, immediately following this newsletter, a ‘help wanted’ item – I’m looking for a person or persons to now start selling this new service to institutions and organizations.  You can be located anywhere and would work from home.

I know that many readers are people with very high quality backgrounds, now retired from their main lifetime’s career, with the time, energy and interest to do something else, but who find ‘agism’ a crippling challenge to rebut.  I know from personal experience that when the person interviewing oneself is half one’s age, and much less than half as experienced, that makes for an unlikely and uncomfortable work dynamic for both people, and sadly seldom proceeds.  This is not the situation in this case.  I’m old, you can be too!

So if the position in the item below sounds interesting, don’t hesitate to let me know and maybe you can ‘get in on the ground floor’ on an elevator ride that hopefully is headed up to the penthouse rather than down to the lowest level of basement!

There’s another item attached to the roundup too, also hopefully interesting, and this time, more directly on topic.  The results to our reader survey on mandatory hotel resort fees.  The result is surprising only in the way that it is so extraordinarily lop-sided in its results, and I completely agree with all but one of our readers.  As always, many thanks for sharing your thoughts in this poll.

Talking about surprising results of polls, a usual comment to make, now two weeks after the referendum in Britain about leaving the EU, would be to start with the introductory phrase ‘Now that the dust has settled…..’ and then make some pompous statement.  But, in the case of the ‘Brexit’ vote, the dust hasn’t yet done anything like finish settling – it is still rising.

Astonishingly, not only did we see the Prime Minister promptly resign, albeit in slow motion (to take effect from perhaps October), but the three people who were most responsible for the Brexit victory have all now suffered the consequences of their win!  Former London mayor Boris Johnson was widely expected to replace David Cameron as Prime Minister, but it seems he was as lackadaisical in pursuing the job it has been thought he always wanted, as he presents himself as being in all other respects, and he withdrew his name from consideration.  His Tory colleague, Michael Gove, first pushed Johnson out of the race, perhaps due to Johnson’s indecision, but then failed to win any support himself, and now Britain finds itself choosing between two women to become its next Prime Minister.  Margaret Thatcher the second?  Who yet knows!

The other major force behind the Brexit campaign was Nigel Farage of the Ukip party.  Amazingly, in his ‘finest hour’, he too has now resigned as leader of that party.

Meanwhile the parliamentary Labour party attempted to force their leader out of office – a leader they’ve never much liked.  But he retains the backing of the trade unions, and refused to resign, meaning that if the Labour caucus voted him out as leader, he would simply submit his name as leader in the new balloting, and with what is thought to be the majority of the rank and file membership likely to support him, he is invulnerable and untouchable.  But the rift between the Labour MPs and their leader is deep and wide.

Truly we are living in interesting times, and the pound is ever cheaper.  And I’ve not even dared mention some of the current events in the US…..

Time for some travel things, perhaps!  Please keep reading for :

  • EgyptAir 804 Voice Recorder Played Back
  • The Wrong Solutions to our Pilot Shortages
  • Sanctions?  Not Really.
  • A Really Bad Idea from the TSA
  • Disney ‘Solves’ its Alligator Problem
  • And Lastly This Week….

EgyptAir 804 Voice Recorder Played Back

The French air accident investigation authorities have now been able to play back the cockpit voice recording from the crashed Egyptair 804.  They have not yet released a copy of the recording, or even a transcript (why not – how long does that take?), but they have unofficially indicated that they have managed to confirm that there was indeed a smoke and fire related event somewhere up front of the plane immediately prior to the end of the recording.

No-one is saying what the cause of the fire might be.  Electrical?  Some sort of general airplane malfunction?  Or a deliberate fire, either created by a passenger or as a result of a device smuggled onto the plane prior to departure.

But hopefully that information will become available in the future.  Details, albeit very limited, here.

There has also been an interesting new theory about what happened.  Could the plane have been hit by a meteorite?  The chances of that happening are a billion to one (more or less!).  But, the more we fill our skies with planes, the more palpable that even a billion to one chance becomes, and when we also consider that we’re already a long way towards the billion to one event by virtue of a million to one event having already occurred – ie something caused the plane to suddenly fall out of the sky – maybe it is something that shouldn’t be totally laughed away without some further thought.

And talking about things that shouldn’t be laughed away, here’s an interesting and thought provoking article about an earlier mystery that some people believe has yet to be sufficiently explained.

The Wrong Solutions to our Pilot Shortages

We are told – usually by pilot unions – that the solution to pilot shortages is to up their rates of pay and reduce their hours of work.

In actual fact, of course, reducing the hours of work increases the number of pilots that are needed for a given number of flights, so that’s a stupid suggestion.  And while increasing the rates of pay certainly increases the desirability of working as a pilot, if earning $200,000+ is not already sufficient incentive to be a pilot, then raising it to $250,000 a year is hardly going to change things much.

There are two problems.  The first is that the cost and complexity of becoming a pilot has shot up ever since Congress in its infinite wisdom increased the number of hours of flying time it takes to become a commercial passenger jet pilot (or even copilot) six-fold, from 250 to 1500.  They reasoned this would improve pilots’ flying skills, even though there is no evidence that pilots with ‘only’ 250 hours of flying time are any worse than pilots with 1500 hours of flying time.  The increased flying time requirement potentially increases the cost of getting qualified, and certainly increases the time it takes to go through the process.

The solution to that is in two parts – the first is to undo the damage caused by the increased hours requirement and return it back to the former situation.  The second is to institute subsidized training programs by the airlines.  In the past, the major subsidized training program was the Air Force!  But with the Air Force reducing in size, and civilian pilot needs increasing, it is no longer sufficient.

The other problem is indeed rates of pay, but not for mid and senior pilots at the major airlines.  The problem is for junior pilots at regional airlines – these pilots can earn as little as $16,500 a year (plus benefits, etc).  Those pilots definitely need a massive boost in their earnings – oh, here’s an idea.  Why not take $16,500 from each of the well paid senior pilots and give it to the junior pilots.  It would have a profound effect on the junior pilots, and little effect on the senior pilots.

Details here.

Sanctions?  Not Really.

When the Travel Insider group visited North Korea a few years ago, we were amused to see the rows of computers in a college we visited all had Dell logos on them.  To no-one’s great surprise, it seems that trade sanctions are easily surmounted.

But it is one thing to slip a few Dell computers across the border.  Dell make so many millions of the things, and sell them to anyone who walks into a retail store with cash in their pocket.  It would surely be harder, you’d think, to see US built airplanes – Boeings – with the Air Koryo emblem on them (North Korea’s national carrier).

Indeed, Air Koryo’s fine fleet of planes are Russian.  But what about another nation that until recently was subject to trade sanctions at least as severe as those imposed on DPRK – Iran?

Now that we’ve had our national fantasy epiphany and realized that Iran is actually our best friend, doesn’t hate us, and has no intention of ever building nuclear weapons, and so we are freeing Iran’s funds that had formerly been frozen and removing the trade sanctions formerly in place, and as part of the quid pro quo, Iran is going to buy some Boeing planes.  But did you know that Iran has happily been buying Boeing planes for some time already, trade sanctions notwithstanding?

Here’s an interesting article that explains the process.

A Really Bad Idea from the TSA

Experts have been warning for a long time that if airports create security checkpoints with crowds of passengers compressed into lines waiting to go through those chokepoint/checkpoints, the high densities of people become tempting targets for terrorists.  And so while experts – and indeed, anyone else with a modicum of sense – have been entirely unsurprised at the series of airport attacks by terrorists of late – first Brussels and now Istanbul, the authorities and security forces have all been blindsided and astonished.

And now we’re in that ultra-dangerous period where the public are baying loudly that ‘something must be done’, encouraged by commentators who are mainly motivated by boosting their audiences rather than encouraging sensible debate and appropriate responses.  It was this type of rushed response that saw the TSA and its uberlord, the DHS, suddenly rushed into existence, and now we are seeing equally ill advised suggestions for how to protect passengers inside airport terminals.

The answer, according to (non)experts, is simple.  Move the checkpoints out of the terminals and instead have them outside the entrances to the terminal.  This is bad for many many reasons, including passenger convenience – do you want to be stranded on the side-walk while it is either 120 degrees and hot, or 0 degrees and snowing?  So the answer to that would be to build shelters around the entrances, but isn’t that, hmmmm, actually then just recreating a new terminal structure outside the current terminal structure?

More to the point (and there are other concerns as well) all we’ve done is move the checkpoint/crowd from inside the terminal to outside the terminal, and if anything, it is easier to drive up a massive car/van bomb and detonate it in the passenger loading/unloading area, causing much more devastation than a backpack sized bomb inside the terminal.

Now, to give the TSA its due, they might have realized that, so they are now talking about perhaps moving checkpoints even further back, into the car parking buildings or perhaps the access roads into the airport.

How crazy is that.  When considering the idea, you need to realize that a ‘screening’ in your car (or in someone else’s bus or train….) would not replace the screening you get inside the terminal.  Instead, it would simply be a ‘pre-screening’ – it would be an additional layer of security.

But this pre-screen would either be totally useless, or else even more bothersome and lengthy than the current screening.  How many different places in a car could you conceal a weapon, or a stick of C4?  Is the TSA going to strip every car to its component parts, remove all the panels, and cut up the seats?  How long would it take you and the TSA to stop at a checkpoint, pull all your bags out of the car, plus everything else you have in the car anyway, have it all inspected, have the car inspected, and then all returned back into the car and continue driving in to the airport?  Alternatively, if it is going to be nothing more than pulling up to a toll booth sort of place, answering a couple of questions, then being waved on forwards, is that actually adding any measurable value at all?

There is no way, in either form, this could or would work.  Even suggesting it is a massive madness.  Here’s one of a sudden outpouring of articles that all raised the concept.

And here’s the Israeli perspective – not full of solutions, but at least further exposing much of the current farce that masquerades as airport security.

Disney ‘Solves’ its Alligator Problem

Gators?  What gators?  That seems to be Disney’s ‘solution’ to its alligator problem, after an alligator seized a little boy and took him away and killed him.

While to a certain extent, keeping alligators out of the Disney waters in Orlando is a battle that will never be completely won, Disney has decided to take a hint from another animal in developing a response.  The ostrich.  As in, sticking its head in the sand and pretending that there’s no such thing as alligators.  It has done this by removing any references to alligators and crocodiles it can find in its theme park, as this story explains.

And Lastly This Week….

I seem to usually be traveling alone, albeit with perhaps two or even three cell phones.  Frankly, I’d much rather swap one or even all of the phones for a companionable companion.  But, to my surprise, perhaps I’m in the minority in preferring people to phones, as is suggested here.

Talking about taking phones with one, great news for T-Mobile customers.  If you’re going to be in Europe in July or August (for example, our Balkans cruise from Bucharest to Budapest), T-Mobile is giving you free high-speed data.  Free but slow data has been a T-Mobile offering for some time, and now for July and August, they’re allowing us free fast data.  Hmmm – maybe I might need to rethink the person vs phone choice, after all!  Details here.

And now, lastly, maybe they really truly were ‘the good old days‘.

Until next week






2 thoughts on “Weekly Roundup, Friday 8 July 2016”

  1. The U.S. airlines have been spoiled for so long in being able to have someone else pay for pilot training. They are going to have to bite the bullet and do some training themselves, as you point out. Many other countries’ airlines have their own training programs. It’s time our own airlines did the same.

  2. I may not have enough insight, but I do not understand why flying hours are such a major issue. For the most part, planes fly themselves and once you are above 10,000 feet there is not much for the pilot to do. However the number of landings and take offs are much more critical, especially in bad weather. And, of course, flying in rough weather. Those are the areas that experience is most critical.

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