Weekly Roundup, Friday 18 November 2016

Our group's attendance at the Food and Wine Classic festival was featured on the front page of the local newspaper. I'm second from the left.
Our group’s attendance at the Food and Wine Classic festival was featured on the front page of the local newspaper. I’m second from the left.

Good morning

It has been a very long time since I last wrote to you on a Friday morning.  Our amazing New Zealand tour (and Australian extension) plus, well, ‘life in general’, all conspired to interfere, but here I am again this morning, with a huge variety of items to share with you today in partial expiation for my quietness.

And, a quick suggestion – although hopefully there won’t be a similar period of silence in the future, any time you feel you want more of The Travel Insider, you can always sign up for our free daily news summary – see the option at the top center of our news page to do so.  That will send you an emailed collection of news items and one liner type comments each morning, to tide you over between your major fixes most Fridays.

As you can see from the featured image of some of our NZ tour group clearly having a wonderful time, our NZ tour again set new records for the wonderful shared experience we all enjoyed.  A beyond brilliant group of people, a lovely itinerary and memorable experiences, and success at avoiding any bad weather except for an incredible wind-storm while we were safely in our lovely luxury units on the second-to-last night all made for a tour that really couldn’t have been improved in any respect.

In response to this and the many questions about future touring, I am now announcing not one but two very different tours.

1.  Scotland Tour – Article Attached

The first one, in mid June next year, is another of our always popular Scotland’s Islands and Highlands Tours.  It will be slightly less expensive than the 2015 tour and also have some upgrades included, as a result of the currently weak British pound.  How lovely – and how rare – it is to offer a better tour that also costs less money than the previous tour two years previously!

Please do consider coming.  We’ve already had several expressions of interest, including from a couple who did the tour before and would love to do it again.  This is a very difficult tour to organize – indeed, I don’t think there’s a tour operator anywhere in the world that offers a similar product that takes you way off the main tourist pathways and into the quintessential and unspoiled heart of Scotland the same way we do.

This is because even a relatively small tour group overflows the tiny hotels in the towns we stay in, and the ferry schedules are fiendishly difficult to match up on a tour like ours (we visit seven islands and have 11 ferry rides).  I am already – seven months out – struggling to get sufficient good quality rooms.  So please confirm your places on the tour as absolutely soon as possible so that we can get good accommodation choices for us all.  Details of this tour follow today’s roundup.

2.  Family Tour to Australia & New Zealand – Article Attached

The second tour is something I’ve never tried before.  People have often said ‘I’d love to bring my children/grandchildren with me’ when considering one of our tours, but the dates have seldom worked in terms of coinciding with school holidays, and/or, quite frankly, the itineraries have not been very kid-friendly.

Well, all that has changed, with our first ever Family Tour.  We’ll go down to Australia and New Zealand in the middle of the July next year.  Yes, our summer is their winter, but that is the best time of year to visit glorious Tropical North Queensland, where we’ll spend most of our time, with a kaleidoscopic array of fun activities that truly will appeal to ‘children’ of all ages from 9 to 90.

I haven’t confirmed this tour yet, because I want to see if it will be popular or not.  I hope it will be – as does my 12 yr old daughter, who’d love to come on it too.  Pretty much everything you need to know about what it would be, do, include and offer are on the item that also follows the newsletter, and if it is of interest, please quickly let me know.  If I get enough support, I’ll get it all firmed up and available for you to join.

But, enough of touring.  Well, not really – who can ever have enough of touring, particularly the distinctively different style of touring and the wonderful people who make up Travel Insider tours!  But, for now, on to the third added piece that I have for you this morning.

3.  International Internet Access and Supporter Bonus – Article Attached

There’s still more today.  One of the casualties of my sudden silence was our 2016 fund raising drive, which went on hiatus due to my NZ tour commitments.  I’m coming back to that again, but weakly and positively, rather than ‘in-your-face’ – I’m trying to tempt you into contributing if you’ve not already done so.

The third article that follows is the first of a two part series on how best to secure internet access while traveling internationally.  It is a typically lengthy and detailed article on a subject that I’ve been writing about, in various forms as it has evolved, pretty much from the very start of The Travel Insider, 15 years ago.  I look at the problems and risks when it comes to getting affordable international internet access, written while such challenges are fresh on my mind after almost four weeks traveling out of the country.

Now for the supporter bonus.  The second part of the series is one of the best pieces I’ve ever written (and one of the longest!).  It is crammed full of suggestions, ideas, tips, and recommendations for the best way(s) to access the internet when traveling out of the country.  This is being offered as a premium PDF, and comprises an enormous 29 pages of helpful material (yes, there is also a short summary!), split over ten major sections, plus four appendixes, as well as nine bonus tips and over a dozen footnotes and other apocrypha.  The information in this article can and likely will save you tens, possibly hundreds and even maybe thousands of dollars, while at the same time giving you the confidence of knowing that you’re approaching this matter in the best way possible, and helping you get the best possible internet connections at the best possible values.

If you’ve already helped out with this year’s fundraising drive, simply let me know and I’ll send you a copy.  If not, and you’ve been meaning to get around to helping out but, like me, reality interfered, please now consider becoming a supporter and I’ll email you a copy in return.

So, lots of good extra material for you this morning!  And also, please continue reading for some, even if I do say so myself, excellent content spanning a massive 5800 words in the roundup below :

  • Misery Slated to Return to Lufthansa
  • United’s New Way to Boost Passenger Satisfaction
  • Son of Concorde?  Yes, But…..
  • Emirates to Become a Two Airplane Type Airline
  • More On the Amazing Revolution in the Auto Industry
  • First Commercial Hyperloop Service Slated for Guess Where?
  • Is it Yet Safe to Mention the Election?
  • Another Form of Censorship Too
  • How Much Security Does €5 Buy?
  • And Lastly This Week….

Misery Slated to Return to Lufthansa

Rather as we feared after the last round of pilot strikes ended, it seems that more pilot strikes are to be expected at Lufthansa.

The pilots feel they’re not getting their ‘fair’ share of Lufthansa’s current surge in profits.  Most rational people would attribute Lufthansa’s profits to be a result of the airline benefitting from unusually low jet fuel costs and greedily charging passengers as much as possible – neither action having any relation to anything the pilots do at all.  But the pilots see no reason why rational concerns should be a part of this discussion (gulp – they let these people fly planes!?) and believe they too should benefit from low fuel costs.  Most rational people would point out the pilots are hourly rate wage earning employees, not shareholders, but, again, the pilots have a different perspective.

Let’s see – can any pilot tell us exactly why it is fair that, with lower fuel costs, passengers get no abatement in the fares they pay, but pilots should get higher wages?

Let’s also think through the implications of linking fuel costs and pilot wages.  That begs the question – when jet fuel goes back up in price again, will the pilots cheerfully allow their wages to correspondingly drop?  And if Lufthansa slips back into a loss, will the pilots then accept no pay, or perhaps even reverse the money flow and start paying Lufthansa?

Most of all, do the pilots think that harming Lufthansa and its profits is the best way to justify their claim for higher wages?  Perhaps there is no other valid reason they have to advance their cause.

Sadly, the airline industry is no stranger to the phenomenon of airlines that have been destroyed by greedy unions that somehow prefer to destroy their employer and their jobs, rather than to accept ordinary wages in return for the ordinary work they in turn perform.

For us, though, never mind the philosophical background.  Simply be aware that Lufthansa and its codeshare partners are once more staring into the abyss of potential labor disruptions.

United’s New Way to Boost Passenger Satisfaction

By some measures, United is probably the US airline most flyers love to hate.  And so, being an airline, what does it do about that?

It shows that its leaders read the first half of the first chapter of the marketing text book, and in following the advice therein, have decided to play to their strengths.  Unfortunately, if they had read the second half of the first chapter, they’d have learned that being the airline that more travelers dislike than any other airlines is not a strength to build upon.

United has proudly announced the introduction of new ‘lower’ fares that have been creatively structured to have even fewer inclusions and more fees than their current fares.  People who hate United will be pleased to see new affirming reasons to hate United – with these so-called lower fares (before adding on extra fees to restore the removed features) you no longer get to pre-assign your seats (the airline cheerfully admits that this means people who are traveling together will quite likely not end up sitting together) and you can’t put any carry-on items in the overhead bins (the airline says this will speed up the boarding process).

The truth of these ‘lower fares’ is revealed by United’s claim that it expects, within four years, to add $4.8 billion to its annual operating income as a result.  That’s surely some ‘lower’ fares, isn’t it!

Interestingly, while United is outlooking increased profits, it isn’t projecting much in the way of increased passenger numbers, and expects to increase its flights by only 1-2% next year, which is about half the anticipated overall North American growth in air travel numbers.  I wonder why….

More details here.

Son of Concorde?  Yes, But…..

One of the many ongoing projects that claims to be on the verge of a breakthrough to bring back supersonic flight is the ‘Boom’ SST, which is planning a new supersonic plane, 10% faster than Concorde, which will allegedly be in commercial service by 2023.  The plane would be smaller than Concorde, holding only 45 instead of the approximately 100 passengers in a Concorde.

As ‘evidence’ of its pending success, the company proudly points to an ‘optional order’ for ten planes from Virgin Atlantic.  Now, for sure, some of us wonder exactly what an ‘optional order’ is, and whether it is worth the paper it is written on, and some of us also note that Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic is noted for his extravagantly expressed enthusiasm for futuristic projects, but not quite so noted for following through on his initial rush of enthusiasm (when exactly are you now expecting to take delivery of your A380s, Sir Richard; and, oh yes, by the way, how are your sub-orbital ‘space flights’ progressing?).

But we’d love to see any supersonic plane return to the skies.  And there’s something strongly ‘deja vue’ about seeing models of the Boom, because it is, in fact, close to exactly a 75% scale model of the Concorde itself.  I guess that cuts down on some of the upfront design costs.

The Boom project this week rolled out an engineering mock-up of a one third ‘proof of concept’ plane this week, to be called the ‘Baby Boom’.  The company says this miniature prototype (or, more accurately, a subsequent model just like this one) will be flying by the end of 2017, although it also concedes that its flight will initially be limited to subsonic ‘normal’ speeds, which one might think rather reduces its value.

Here’s an uncritical article that also recycles some nonsense about the demise of Concorde and ignores the huge elephant in the corner of the room entirely.

Both the prototype and the future full-sized plane have an enormous problem, not that you’d know it from their home town’s newspaper article.  There are no appropriate available engines to power the planes to supersonic speeds.  Ooops.  Surely the airplane developers have already thought of this and have a solution in mind?

If they do have a solution, they are keeping very quiet about it.  Here’s an excellent article that opines a suitable engine represents a multi-billion dollar development project.  With, currently, no tangible market for the engines once they’ve been developed, apart from Branson’s ten “optional orders”, what jet engine company is about to hazard so much money upfront on so little prospective return?

The article also points out that unlike some other alternate SST projects, the Boom will be exactly as its name proudly suggests – very noisy and therefore likely to be restricted to supersonic flight over the oceans only, the same as Concorde was.  Add to that a relatively short range, and the number of routes it could profitably serve shrinks down to a sadly low number.

The article touches lightly on some of the economics of the plane, which the developers claim can profitably operate the London/New York route with seats sold for $5000 roundtrip – a price comparable to regular business class, but offering a supersonic flight that takes half as long.

There’s no doubt that on the face of it, this would be am uncredibly positive proposition for pretty much all business and first class travelers, and with only 45 seats, each flight represents fewer passengers than a normal plane carries between the two cities in business/first class, meaning that it would be easy to fill multiple flights each way each day between New York and London.

But the article overlooks the most important perspective.  That of the airline.  The real reason Concorde was withdrawn by BA is not because it was unprofitable.  It was very profitable, and flew with great passenger loads.  The real reason Concorde was withdrawn is because BA realized that it wouldn’t lose its Concorde passengers; they would simply shift to regular flights if Concorde ceased service.  And while Concorde was profitable, flying the same passengers in regular first class on regular flights is much more profitable, and that appears to have been the real deciding factor.

In the case of the Boom, it seems that fuel costs would be three times higher for a Boom than a regular modern passenger jet.  That is still a laughably small cost compared to the $5000 ticket sale, but my expectation is airlines won’t look at it that way.  They’ll do exactly the same thing BA did and say ‘Yes, sure, we could make money with this new plane, but we can make more money with our current planes, so we’ll just keep things simple and as they are’.

So, notwithstanding Sir Richard Branson’s “optional order” (why do I struggle not to burst out laughing every time I see that phrase), or the problem with engines, or any other factor, positive or negative, I very much doubt we’ll see Virgin Atlantic or any other dinosaur carrier rushing to add Booms to their fleet.

But what about some of the new carriers?  A clue can be sensed in the next article.

Emirates to Become a Two Airplane Type Airline

Emirates is one of the world’s most profitable airlines, one of the world’s most rapidly growing airlines, and indeed, these days, simply one of the world’s largest airlines, period.

As a poster child for all that is good with airline management and operation, it is interesting to note that Emirates has reduced its plane types down to only two – the 777 (in several versions) and the A380.  It has now retired the last of its A330s and A340s, and a while back had cancelled its order for A350s.  There remains an expectation that Emirates will still order either A350 or 787 planes, to give it a third type of aircraft, but this hotly contested order, now anticipated for more than two years, has still not been placed.

So what are the chances that Emirates – an airline that fearlessly accepted the A380 plane – might be interested in a Boom or other SST as well?  We suspect such an eventuality is unlikely rather than probable.

More On the Amazing Revolution in the Auto Industry

What’s happening in the auto industry these days is a bit like watching one’s baby grow.  Because it is happening, all day every day, it is easy to overlook the enormous developments that are occurring, but if you leave your child for a few months and then return, you’ll be stunned at the difference between then and now.

The same with the auto industry and its switch from traditional internal combustion engines (ICE) to electric propulsion and other esoterics, and the leaps and bounds that are being made towards truly self-driving vehicles.

Perhaps the most exciting development worth commenting on at present is that of turbine recharging electric vehicles.

One of the problems in designing ICE systems is that such motors are most efficient in a narrow band of power settings and rev speeds, but are required to work in a very wide band of power/speed settings.

One solution to this problem is to have a vehicle that runs on electricity, and to have an onboard electricity generator that generates electricity at a constant fixed rate (when activated).  This allows for the generator to be totally fine tuned for absolute optimum efficiency of operation, and the benefits of that massively eclipse the losses involved in converting from mechanical kinetic energy out of the motor to stored electrical potential energy in the battery, and then from electrical potential energy to actual mechanical kinetic energy again at the wheel motors.  (Electrical motors can operate at higher levels of efficiency over broader ranges of power settings and rotary speeds.)

When one switches from needing a widely variable ICE to a constant output generator coupled to a battery storage ‘reservoir’, other forms of non ICE motor become practical.  Hydrogen fuel cells, for example – a power source with a narrow band of energy outputs, can be used to generate the electricity (but read on for problems with hydrogen powered fuel cells).

Another energy source – the one we’re introducing to you now – is a modified miniature airplane jet engine – a turbine powered electrical generator.  Because there are no reciprocating parts in a turbine, they can be – if operated in their very narrow efficient power band – very much more reliable and efficient than reciprocating ICE type motors.

Here’s an interesting article on one such prototype vehicle, promising enormous power, incredible efficiency, and stunning zero-maintenance reliability.  The source of this innovative new technology?  No, not Detroit.  Nor Europe, either.  Beijing.

Now, for hydrogen.  I’ve long been very cynical about hydrogen powered fuel cells.  Many people narrowly seize on the ‘hydrogen is the most common element on the planet and fuel cells produce no noise and no emissions, just water vapor’ and in their eagerness, think no further.

The reality is that free atmospheric hydrogen is scarce rather than abundant, and is never used as a fuel source.  Most hydrogen is locked into water or organic matter.  In other words, if you can follow the phrase, ‘free hydrogen is not free’.  Energy is used to separate hydrogen from water or organic carbon based molecules, and the resulting hydrogen is then compressed (also an energy-costly process), stored, shipped, and dispensed.  The cost of all these steps, and, if you care about such things, the carbon emission implications, are much higher than using straight electric vehicles that efficiently skip all the unnecessary middle steps of taking electricity, using it to create hydrogen, compressing/shipping/storing the hydrogen, then using it to convert back into electricity.

Why would anyone advocate using a less efficient more complicated process to transfer energy from its source to its application?

It is refreshing therefore to read the blunt comments of Jaguar Land Rover’s Technical Design Director who describes hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles as a ‘complete nonsense’.  He says that battery electric vehicles are more than twice as energy efficient as are hydrogen fuel cell vehicles – that’s a huge discrepancy and one that no-one should be ignoring.

We hope this dose of reality will become more generally understood, and the myopic enthusiasts who rave about hydrogen fuel cell power will start to consider the total energy cycle costs and implications, not just the ‘bit in the car’ as they currently do.

Hydrogen cell powered cars have, until now, had one outstandingly positive supporter in the auto industry – Toyota.  But that too is starting to change in the gentle and subtle way that the Japanese adopt to signal complete turnarounds in views.

Three years ago, Toyota said it saw no market for pure battery electric vehicles.  Sure, it was selling Priuses (Prii?) in great numbers, but pure battery electric?  Not as far as Toyota was concerned.

Two years ago, Toyota was still making similar sweepingly negative statements about battery electric vehicles, while singing the praises of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

But, now?  A careful study of the fine print of a press release just issued shows that the company is now conceding that the technologies needed for practical battery electric vehicles do indeed exist, and gently anticipating the future release of Toyota branded battery electric vehicles.

To complete the picture, we also see Toyota pointing out that hybrid electric vehicles are likely to become increasingly superior to diesel vehicles as a clean, affordable, and efficient energy source.

How long before ‘the other shoe drops’ and Toyota delicately steps back from hydrogen fuel cell technology?

First Commercial Hyperloop Service Slated for Guess Where?

Talking about Emirates, and talking about new vehicle technologies, can you guess where the first commercial Hyperloop transportation system is most likely to appear?

Hyperloop – an American technology supported in part by Elon Musk – is an extraordinarily promising alternative to both rail and air systems, offering faster than airplane type speeds for a ground based system that costs less to develop and deploy than high speed rail, and which is less environmentally intrusive (yes, high speed rail isn’t as clean or green as you might think) and more energy efficient.

Many supporters have suggested it would be ideally suited for the long proposed and still unfunded high speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco.  It could be built in a shorter time frame, for less money, and end up giving passengers much faster journey times than either the disappointing high speed rail proposals or current flight times.

Short test tracks are being built currently in a couple of US locations, and expressions of interest for developing commercial systems are coming in from all around the world.

But the probable home of the first commercial Hyperloop system is unlikely to be anywhere in the US.  Nope, remarkably, it probably will not be in China, either.  And while there have been plans mooted in places as diverse as Slovakia, Canada, Russia, Europe and Scandinavia, it seems likely that the first system will appear in Dubai, possibly running to Abu Dhabi or maybe all the way to Riyadh.

To give you a sense of Hyperloop’s extraordinary potential, the journey between Dubai and Riyadh currently takes two hours by plane.  Hyperloop could reduce this down to 50 minutes – less than half the time it takes to fly!

Is it too much to hope that some recently elected politician might feel that reassuming America’s former proud leadership role in transportation systems might not be a salient part of making American great again?  Uh oh, I’m moving onto still freshly dangerous ground, aren’t I!

Is it Yet Safe to Mention the Election?

I bit my lip and said nothing about this year’s Presidential election, although most readers will guess I was far from dismayed at its outcome.  I write now not to gloat, nor to offer up ‘reasons’ for why either one side won or the other side lost, and most of such reasons to date seem to be thinly disguised specious excuses and attempts to either blame third parties or claim undeserved credit.  Most of all, there’s no way you’ll get another of the vomited out formulaic pieces about ‘How the Election Outcome will affect XYZ’ such as are appearing in every possible publication and on every possible topic (although the first week since the result has seen extraordinarily positive moves on the stock market, expressions of international confidence, a reduction in the military threat level ‘defcon’ posture, and the dollar at its highest level in 14 years, all of which bodes well for the travel industry).

Rather, as one who values freedom of speech and fairness of public issue discussion even more highly than the actual candidates, may I quietly point out one thing, now that the dust is settling, which should be of grave concern for us all and may be that rarest of all beasts these days, an issue that fairly can be viewed through a bipartisan lens and which should concern citizens of all political persuasions.

You’ve probably already read claims about the attempts by Facebook to manipulate the top stories and news stories that it feeds to its members, but have you also read the alarmingly credible claims about efforts by Google to distort the public perception of the candidates and the issues?

If ‘my guy’ had lost, I could fairly be accused of sour grapes by raising this matter, but that is not the case at all – he won.  I point this out because it is something everyone, on all sides of the political spectrum, need to be aware or – the shadowy actions of people ‘behind the scenes’ to tilt the table and influence public perception by controlling what they see.  Just because these people might have been using this power to support ‘your’ candidate shouldn’t give you comfort, because the real truth is that such influence is always motivated by self-interest, and such power gives them the ability to dictate terms to whichever candidate they choose to boost.

Here’s an article which needs to be read and acted upon (but how?).  Harvard PhD Explains How Google Search Bias Could “Shift 3 million votes” in Upcoming Election.

For now, I’m going to try and wean myself off Google and use Bing instead, which seems, in this and some other respects too, to generally be more even-handed.

Another Form of Censorship Too

I never turn on the television in my hotel room, so I was taken by surprise and introduced to something I’d never thought would be an issue when our group spent its first night, ten days before the election, at the otherwise lovely Hilton in Auckland.

The in-room television sets had a lengthy line-up of cable channels, including all the usual news networks, and even Al-Jazeera for, I guess, the sake of completeness and diversity.  Except that, it actually wasn’t all the usual news networds.  One channel – while included as part of the package offered by the cable operator, was prominent by its absence – Fox News.  Although Fox these days has about ten times the US viewing numbers that CNN does, somehow the Auckland Hilton deleted that channel from its lineup.  There was a missing channel number in the list where the cable service showed one would normally see Fox.

Curiously, I asked at reception about this and got prevarication and non-answers.  Fair enough, it was unlikely to be a matter decided by the Duty Manager, so I decided to press the matter further with the people who could answer the question.

When sending feedback about the stay to the hotel, I mentioned three things.  I explained that there were two very minor issues with the room – a burned out light and a broken desk chair, and said those weren’t problems and not important, and then specifically called out the missing Fox News topic and said that was a concern to me and asked for a direct response.

A day later I quickly received an email from one of the hotel executives, responding to my comments about the light bulb and the chair, but totally silent about Fox News.  I replied back, asking why he was silent on the only thing I had asked for a reply on, and asking for the matter to be pushed up the hierarchy and responded to.  I have heard nothing further back from him or anyone else.

So, Hilton Hotels?  Why do you offer CNN, Al Jazeera, and dozens of other television channels in your Auckland property, but not Fox News?

How Much Security Does €5 Buy?

Quite a lot, apparently, if you live in ‘ultra efficient’ Europe.  The shadowy European powers that be are proposing to levy a €5 fee on current visa-less visitors to the Schengen zone (that means most of us) and to require some sort of prior-to-travel initial electronic ‘visa’ to be applied for and granted.  No word as to if a similar fee (and check) will be imposed on Muslim refugees.

Such electronic travel pre-approvals are becoming commonplace.  Australia has had this system in place for more than a decade, and the US introduced a similar system little more than a year or so back.  For my part, I’ve never understood what difference there is between providing your name, address and passport details before you travel compared to when you arrive and stand in front of an Immigration Officer who then scans your passport and electronically has all your other personal information already received from the airline.  The computer database checks take all of three or four seconds to complete.

But perhaps the key difference is that standing in front of a real person is increasingly becoming ‘old fashioned’, plus, the prior authorization not only cuts down on staff costs at the Immigration point of entry, but is also another €5 of revenue received.

You’ve probably noticed the growth of automatic systems for visitors to use when entering countries; indeed, I encountered it when leaving Australia, too.  Whereas in the past, I’ve had my passport typically stamped to enter and exit such countries, now with the automatic systems, I don’t get to collect any passport stamps either in or out – which is interestingly selfish on the part of the countries deploying these systems.

Sure, each such country has a complete computer record of each person’s movements, but what about other countries who don’t get to share that record?  Increasingly, other countries can no longer leaf through a new arrival’s passport to get a sense of their other travel patterns over the life of the passport.  One of the purposes of a passport is to allow one country to discreetly signal to other countries its opinion on the passport holder (I know this because with my former travel company, we were authorized to issue the old fashioned paper visas for the Australian government, and was told about some of the secret code phrases that are sometimes used).  Shifting data off the passport and into separate national databases interferes with this.

And talking about automated systems, I have long delighted in the wondrous convenience of the Global Entry service (currently being expanded to more airports).  After attending an in-person interview, being fingerprinted, paying a fee, and having some type of moderately thorough background check, members of the Global Entry program get fast-tracked through both Immigration and Customs when returning back to the US.

But on my return on Sunday, I was astonished to find myself given close to the ‘full treatment’ at Customs, with all my bags gone through.  Happily, the rubber gloves and KY didn’t also come out, and the officers didn’t seem too interested in opening up every package and checking out each piece of dirty clothing, but they did spend some time going through my one suitcase and two carry-ons.

No explanation for my being selected for a search was offered (I’ve once or twice in the past been told I’ve been randomly selected for a compliance check just as part of their statistical activities, with the officer involved semi-apologizing for the associated inconvenience).  Even more puzzling was how, at the end of the process, one of the two officers who did the search then spent considerable time keying some text into his computer before returning my passport to me.  What was he typing (from what I could see of the keyboard, he was writing sentences of text, not stepping through forms and checking options)?  How much time does it take to type in ‘Nothing found’?

It will be interesting to see what happens next time I come back to the US.

And Lastly This Week….

We like flying on IcelandAir, but there’s not a lot of reason to break a journey with a stopover in Reykjavik.  Or is there?  Did you know the world’s most extensive/largest phallological museum is in Reykjavik?  And talking about size, its largest specimen is 5’6″ tall and weighs 165lbs.  Interestingly, 60% of visitors are women.

Oh – what’s that, you ask?  What is phallology?  Well, you could discreetly look the term up in a dictionary.  Or you could click here for more information.

Have you ever been dazzled by a careless driver following closely behind with his headlights on full beam?  Here’s an interesting but probably not very functional way of responding, courtesy of those clever people in – where else, these days – China.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed the return of your Friday newsletter, in its full 5815 word glory this morning, and will continue to enjoy the three articles that follow.  Even better if one of the two tours catches your imagination – oh yes, and if you decide to do both, I’m sure I can agree to a ‘quantity discount’!

I’ll be back again, as normal, next Friday, and until then, yes, I hope you will enjoy safe travels.






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