Weekly Roundup, Friday 13 January, 2017

Hiding from the upcoming Trump presidency?  Or seeking peace and quiet on your next flight?  The Ostrich pillow – see the last item, below.

Good morning

Ugh – a Black Friday.  Let’s hope the superstition (Friday the 13th is held by some to be an unlucky day in general and particularly for travel related activities) doesn’t impact on any of us today.

Our Scotland tour is now two people short of full.  So if you’re thinking about a lovely journey of discovery around the islands and highlands of western Scotland, please do quickly let me know if you’ll choose to join us.

And our New Zealand tour for Oct/Nov has already had six people sign up.  I’ve been seeing some good airfares to New Zealand as of late, so maybe this is the year you either finally get to travel to my lovely home country, or the year you return back again for another visit.

Please read on for :

  • Reader Survey Results – Babies in First Class
  • More on Emirates
  • Europe’s Largest Airline?
  • BA Now Charges for All Food and Drink on Under 5 Hour Flights
  • A New Way of Describing a Cancelled Flight
  • Southwest Airlines – The World’s 12th Most Innovative Company in 2016?
  • Growing Impact on Hotels by Airbnb
  • New Presidential Limos to Debut at Inauguration
  • Responses to and Outcomes of the Florida Airport Shooting
  • One of the Big Benefits of Self-Driving Cars
  • And Lastly This Week….

Reader Survey Results – Babies in First Class

Last week you were asked if babies should be allowed to travel in first class.  There were three possible responses – yes, always; no, never; and ‘only if they are well behaved’.

With the benefit of hindsight, I should have also asked you to describe whether you are someone who regularly flies in first class or not.  Only afterwards did I realize that those who fly in first class might perceive this issue very differently from those in coach class!

The results showed a definite lack of consensus as to the most appropriate way of addressing the challenge of traveling with infants.

Slightly more people said ‘No’ than said ‘Yes’, and noting the conditional nature of the 37% ‘only if good’ responses (and wondering how many of the ‘Yes’ votes are from people in coach class not wanting even more babies in coach class), it might be argued that the ‘No’ vote is slightly more strongly expressed than the unconditional ‘Yes’ vote.

Does that mean that the airlines have yet again misjudged public opinion?  Quite possibly so.

More on Emirates

Last week I expressed surprise and a measure of concern about Emirates’ “stumble” in its last fiscal year, with its first ever decline in gross revenue.  To be fair, that decline in gross revenue was accompanied by a rise in net profit, so it is way too soon to start forecasting the airline’s demise.  Some readers wrote in to point out areas where Emirates is massively better than competitors, even if their routings aren’t quite as convenient – lower fares and better service, and, for some secondary cities, better routings.

The reason for last week’s commentary was building on a couple of articles that had appeared elsewhere; this week there’s another article to consider as well, which is much more sunny and optimistic in its commentary.  I agree with most of its analysis, and the financial data it highlights is very obviously very positive.

But the one thing I stumble over is the writer’s strange assertion that if Emirates does find itself with too many many planes and too few passengers, it would be easy for Emirates to simply park some planes for a while and not use them.  Well, yes, it would certainly be easy to park the planes, but this would not be financially convenient.  Planes still cost money to own (or to lease) whether you fly them or not.

In any event, Emirates is a very long way from needing to do that, and it also seems from the article’s schedule of airplane deliveries and potential airplane retirements that Emirates’ period of most frenetic fleet growth may be ending, better allowing it to adjust to slower passenger growth.

What I found astonishing was this comment in the article :

If one compares the Emirates’ cost per transported tonne kilometer of passengers with that for a major competitor on the worldwide long-haul market, the Emirates cost would be $0.36 per TKM versus $0.70 for British Airways during the 2015/16 period.

That is an almost unbelievable difference in cost.  Sure, it helps to operate modern planes and not be restricted by union work practices, but even so, to enjoy a cost base half that of BA is extraordinary.

What will be very interesting is seeing what happens to the second hand A380 planes that may start appearing in the next year or two from Emirates and possibly Singapore Airlines (the first two airlines to receive the planes, in 2007 and 2008), and/or if either/both airlines choose to keep the planes in service for longer than normal.

Europe’s Largest Airline?

Claims to be the ‘largest’ airline are made by many different airlines, as are more meaningless statements such as the ‘most popular’ or ‘the friendliest’ or whatever other nonsense an airline’s marketing department can dream up.

The devil is in the details of course, and in the case of claiming to be the ‘largest’ airline, the big unexplained asterisk that should appear alongside that claim is how the concept of ‘largest’ is defined and measured.  Does the claimant mean most revenue, most profit, most capitalization, most employees, most destinations, most airplanes, most flights operated, most passengers, most passenger miles flown, most airplane miles flown, or something else?

In the case of Europe (itself a fairly vague concept – are we measuring only flights within Europe, and if we are, which countries comprise Europe?), and in the case of ‘most passengers flown in the last calendar year’, that title has been passed from former leader, Lufthansa, and now has been convincingly claimed by Ryanair.  In 2016, Lufthansa struggled to record a 1.8% increase in passengers (probably would have been better with fewer strikes) and came in with a total of 110 million passengers.  Ryanair had another great year, and with a 15% growth in passenger numbers, streaked on past LH to end the year reporting 117 million passengers flown.

Ryanair has announced plans to start flying from Frankfurt this coming summer, so is definitely taking the battle to Lufthansa’s home turf.

BA Now Charges for All Food and Drink on Under 5 Hour Flights

BA and the rest of its IAG collection of airlines came third on the list of largest European carriers (with 101 million), so perhaps has its eyes set on winning this claim.  But the airline may have misunderstood Ryanair’s formula for success.  While it is true ‘you don’t get nothing for nothing’ on Ryanair, someone should send BA a memo suggesting that by adopting Ryanair’s passenger service model and ceasing to offer any free food and drink on all their flights lasting less than about five hours, this will not actually help BA to grow its passenger numbers or encourage Ryanair passengers to fly BA instead.

Effective this week, even a cup of tea or coffee will cost £2.30 (a bit under $3) on BA, and you’ll need a credit card to pay for it.  Cash is not accepted.

A New Way of Describing a Cancelled Flight

Talking about BA, it had a two day strike this week by some of its cabin crew which fortunately saw only limited flight disruptions.

But instead of referring to cancelled flights, BA came out with a delightful new term.  It was not cancelling flights, oh no.  Instead, it was ‘merging flights’.

Happily, the cabin crew weren’t striking about the need to now collect payment for serving food and drink.  Unlike Aer Lingus, where the airline’s cabin crew are due to shortly hold a ballot to authorize strike action as a result of the airline increasing the number of times the food and drink trolleys would go up and down the aisles, selling food and drinks, on trans-Atlantic flights.

I’ve always wondered – what do the cabin crew do when they’re not in the aisles?  I understand there is a certain amount of time needed to stock/restock their trolleys, but whenever I wander around on a long flight, I invariably see one or two crew members sitting in the galleys and chatting, doing nothing else; and the rest of the crew all vanished away to their private rest areas.

Southwest Airlines – The World’s 12th Most Innovative Company in 2016?

The Boston Consulting Group is one of the world’s most prestigious management consultancy companies.  They’ve been doing an annual survey of senior management to determine each year’s ranking of the world’s most innovative companies since 2005, and have just released their 2016 rankings.

It was a surprising list.  Apple came in at the first place.  But, you know, I bet you can’t name a single innovative thing Apple did in 2016.  Sure, it spends a lot on R&D and sure, in the past, it has delivered some wonderfully innovative products.  But this ranking is an annual ranking of the most innovative companies based on what the companies have done during the previous twelve months, not a lifetime ranking.  How did Apple qualify as the most innovative company – a position it has held every year since the study commenced in 2005?

Google came in second place, where it has consistently been for all but two of the 11 years reported, and Tesla third for the second year in a row.  It is again difficult to think of innovations from either of them in 2016.  What new things did Google give us in 2016?  As for Tesla, it is interesting to contrast its position at number 3 with General Motors at 27th place.  Unlike Tesla, GM truly did innovate by not merely announcing but actually delivering an affordable electric car in 2016.

Microsoft was fourth, and perhaps it deserves some credit, and Amazon came in fifth place (I’d have pushed it higher – particularly its web services are revolutionizing the way more and more companies use computing resources).

Astonishing, the twelfth most innovative company was deemed to be Southwest Airlines, returning to the Top 50 list after seven years of (deserved) absence.  Maybe I missed something, but what acts of innovation did Southwest launch last year?  New planes?  Nope, just the same old, same old, 737s.  New routes?  Probably one or two, but nowhere earth-shattering or innovative.  New fares and customer service policies?  Not that you’d notice.

Southwest not only outscored companies such as Hewlett-Packard, it also outscored Uber (number 17), which has been releasing new tweaks and enhancements to its product/service range on a steady pace all last year, and Airbnb which is revolutionizing accommodation (number 21).  No other airlines made the list at all.

There’s something very strange with this list.

Growing Impact on Hotels by Airbnb

Talking about Airbnb, the “stay in someone’s spare bedroom” internet accommodation booking service is growing in leaps and bounds, and starting to impact on regular hotel occupancy levels.  A recent report suggests that in 2015, 12% (one in eight) travelers were using Airbnb, and in 2016, that number had increased to 18% – almost one in five.

That sounds ridiculously high, even when read as ‘18% of travelers report having used Airbnb at least once in the last 12 months’.  Here is some earlier data for 2015 that certainly doesn’t support the 12% number for 2015.  Of particular interest in this older report is that Airbnb nightly rates are often higher than hotel rates, but they may include ‘extras’ that hotels don’t – free parking, and other home amenities.  But if people are willing to pay a premium to avoid a hotel stay, that would be something that should scare hotel operators.

The funniest part of the first report is the table showing that not only are some people paying premium rates to stay with strangers to avoid hotels, but more than one in three people say that they have chosen to stay at an Airbnb property rather than stay with friends and family!

New Presidential Limos to Debut at Inauguration

The new Air Force One replacement planes are not due out until perhaps 2025 – certainly after the end of the Trump presidency, assuming they proceed as currently scheduled.  But Mr Trump does get something new next week when the Secret Service roll out, for the first time, the new Presidential Limousine.  These are replaced more frequently than the planes, with the current vehicles having first made their appearance for Mr Obama’s inauguration in 2009.  It is thought there might be as many as 12 of the current series of vehicles.

They’re not as expensive as the planes, but that’s not to say they are inexpensive.  As of this time last year, public records show that GM had been paid $15.8 million so far for work on the new series of vehicles, known popularly as ‘The Beast’.

The current vehicles have 5″ thick armor plate windows, 8″ thick doors, run-flat tires, a completely sealed internal environment to protect against gas attack, rocket-propelled grenades, night vision, a tear-gas cannon, and multi-spectrum smoke grenades to foil RPGs, anti-tank missiles, and other heat-seeking IR-sensor equipped devices.  It is thought to have a maximum speed of 60 mph due to its weight which has been guessed to be in the 15,000 – 20,000 lb range, and gets 4 – 8 mpg.

Little or nothing is known of the new model vehicles, but it is thought they will be based on a Cadillac Escalade design.  They have been under development since 2014.

Responses to and Outcomes of the Florida Airport Shooting

You’ve doubtless read about the man who lawfully carried a firearm in his checked baggage from Alaska to Fort Lauderdale.  Upon arriving in FLL and collecting his bag from the carousel, he apparently took it into a toilet, extracted his firearm, loaded it, went out into the baggage claim area and shot a bunch of travelers before being subdued by police, arrested, and placed into custody.

But you probably don’t know the name of the shooter.  He was quickly identified as Esteban Santiago, a mentally-ill Army veteran.  But calling him by this name is surprising, because he changed the name he wished to be known by in 2007, before joining the Army, to Aashiq Hammad.  Yes, he had converted to muslimism; not altogether surprising when one sights a photo of him that was featured without comment in some of the articles, showing him wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh and making an ISIS salute.

However, this is merely an incidental point.

Gun control advocates rushed to use this shooting as a reason to reconsider the concept of screening passengers before they enter airports.  But, can anyone explain how adding more screening at airport entrances would have prevented this tragedy?  The man lawfully took a firearm into the airport, lawfully checked it to FLL, claimed his bag there, and only at that point, while already inside an airport, did he then go off the rails.

As an interesting aside, it is illegal, in FL but not in every other state, to bring firearms into the public non-secure parts of their airports.  There are moves underway in the FL legislature to allow concealed weapon permit holders to carry their firearms with them in airports, the same as is the case in many but not all other airports in the country.

There is an interesting unexpected outcome to the tragedy.  The affected airport areas were of course hastily evacuated by passengers, and apparently with more alacrity than passengers display when evacuating a plane in an emergency.  I say that because most passengers seem to have left their luggage behind – this report says there are 25,000 items waiting to be matched and re-united with passengers as a result.  Quite a few people, in their excitement, even left their ID in the airport.

One of the Big Benefits of Self-Driving Cars

Well, there are so many benefits of self driving cars of course, but one which is often overlooked is mentioned in this article – the ability for cars to follow each other more closely and to drive more ‘rationally’ without those mysterious slowdowns that happen on freeways for no reason (and without rubber-necking when going past interesting activity on the side of the road either).

The article says that self-driving cars could ‘cut road traffic by 40%’ – it is hard to know what that really means, but it goes on to say there would be a 31% reduction in urban journey times during peak hours, and a 4% reduction on freeways and highways.  I’m surprised by the mere 4% reduction on freeways, but delighted at the 31% reduction on surface streets.

Not mentioned in the article but contained in the original research is another equally valuable benefit.  Not only would travel times reduce, but they would become more reliable and predictable.  It is almost as annoying to plan for bad traffic and then get somewhere ‘too early’; making travel times more predictable allows us to more efficiently plan our schedules.

And Lastly This Week….

I’ve been talking a bit about the Amazon Echo product – the gadget that responds to voice commands.  You say ‘Alexa…..’ adding on whatever you wish after the initial command/wake word ‘Alexa’ to activate the unit.  Both my daughter and I are increasingly enjoying our units.

Well, Anna is apparently not the only young lady to have an Amazon Echo, and while Anna has been very imaginative at configuring her Echo to do all sorts of things that I didn’t know about, another young girl has been even more imaginative, and discovered that if she asked Alexa for certain gifts, then a day or two later, they would magically arrive, courtesy of Amazon.

This story was widely reported on television news programs.  But – when the various anchors told the story, in some cases, people watching/listening to the story on their television had an Echo unit in the same room, and when it heard the anchor repeating what the girl had said, the unit obediently did as requested and also ordered the same things.  Ooops.

Reader Doug responded to my comment about a bizarre new type of travel pillow with two others that are also not mainstream – the GoSleep and the Ostrich pillow (pictured above).  Neither he nor I are necessarily recommending either, but in case you’re on the lookout for a travel pillow with a difference, well, there you are.

I’ll now disclose a small and formerly guilty secret.  On occasion, I’ve been known to enjoy a mid afternoon nap – particularly if I’ve had a ridiculously short amount of sleep the night before.  Well, after reading this article, I no longer feel guilty.  Oh – I sometimes use my travel pillow to just nap at my desk on such occasions.  Perhaps an Ostrich pillow might be a good idea….

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels





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