Weekly Roundup, Friday 6 January, 2017

We can’t guarantee making the front page of the local paper again this year, but we can offer you a wonderful tour of NZ.

Good morning

And welcome to 2017, with a nice big ‘meaty’ newsletter to get the year off to a great start.  I’m still getting used to typing a ‘7’ for 2017 rather than a 6 (or 5….).  Time passes ever more quickly – and, for sure, the faster that the rest of winter passes, the better for us all.

I have two exciting and positive things to share.

First, I have managed to get a larger coach for our Scotland tour.  It was a 38 seater, and now will be a 49 seater, with two doors rather than one.  I feel that would allow us to grow our group size to perhaps 30 or so, without overloading ourselves or the coach (Travel Insider tours never have full coaches).  So we can accept another few people for the June Scotland’s Islands and Highlands Tour; a tour that has become astonishingly popular remarkably quickly.  Let me know if you’d like to join a lovely group of 25 Travel Insiders on this great tour.

Second, we now have our New Zealand Epicurean Extravaganza tour for October/November fully published and available for you to join as well.  It has a couple of further ‘tweaks’ from the tour we did just a couple of months back, including a much requested two night stay at the end of the tour, where we stay in enormous and luxurious bungalows in a lovely rural setting, on the fringes of the tiny town of Martinborough.  This tour just keeps getting better every time we do it, and it would be great to welcome you on this tour to my home country, in their glorious spring.

There’s more about the NZ tour at the end of today’s newsletter.

I wrote last week about people abusing the concept of service animals.  On 1 January, it became a crime in Colorado to misrepresent a pet as a service animal.  And a person involved in mental health issues wrote to say that he did a review of bogus accreditation services a while back and found more than 30 online sites selling service animal credentials based on nothing more substantial than receipt of a fee.

I also heard from another reader pointing out that she suffers from dog allergies, but was forced to be next to a person with a dog on a flight – that person’s right to a ‘service animal’ (she says the dog was curiously untrained for service animals) apparently eclipses her right to travel in a harm-free environment.

Colorado’s example should be expanded to the federal stage.  It should be illegal to misrepresent pets as service animals everywhere, and there should be a formal process, similar to what one does to get a disabled parking sticker, to get some sort of license for a specific identified service animal.  The formal process would involve a health care professional confirming the bona fide need for a service animal, and a pet certifier of some sort confirming the pet has a certain amount of training in terms of general behavior in public and in terms of the specific service needs required by the owner.  If you’re close to our incoming President, perhaps you could recommend this to him as part of his first 100 days of achievements!

There is another type of companion for some people which other people sometimes also regard as a nuisance and would seek to control.  I’m referring this time not to service animals but to children.  There was an interesting case this week – far from uncommon – where a couple boarded a plane with their nine month old infant, who shortly thereafter proceeded to not just whimper but to start ‘screaming crying’ (the mother’s own words).  Ugh.

The interesting twist on this scenario was the couple had paid to fly in first class.  Note that there was almost certainly no fee for their young infant, who would have been been allowed to fly for free if not taking up her own seat.  The ‘screaming crying’ apparently upset other first class passengers, who after ten minutes of this complained to a flight attendant who in turn asked the couple and their baby to move down to the back of the plane (in coach class).

The couple refused to move, and instead walked the infant up and down the aisles (spreading the screaming far and wide) and eventually rocked her to sleep.

So, let’s have a reader poll on this delicate social issue.  Should a first class ticket entitle its bearer to a quiet calm and largely adult environment – a bit like adult only cruises, resorts, and condo developments?  Or should a first class ticket entitle its bearer to bring free infants with them, no matter how much ‘screaming crying’ they might do?

Please click the answer that corresponds to your thought on this point.  It will send an empty email to me with your answer coded into the subject line.  I’ll report on the results next week.

First class should be a baby-free zone

Anyone should be allowed in first class, but if babies create a fuss, they should be asked to move out of first class

Babies should be allowed in first class, for free, no matter how they behave or how long and loud they cry

What else this week?  Please continue reading for :

  • Emirates – Vulnerable to a Trump Administration?
  • Who Decides Where to Divert a Flight?
  • The World’s Most Punctual Airlines and Airports
  • ‘For Your Convenience, We’ll Spy On You a Bit More’ on Carnival Cruises
  • Email Address Needed For a Canadian ETA
  • This Year’s CES
  • Tesla Update
  • And Lastly This Week….

Emirates – Vulnerable to a Trump Administration?

Here’s a mildly interesting example of shoe-horning a generic story about Emirates Airline into an attempt to make it seem relevant and topical by overlaying a suggestion that the Trump presidency might impact on Emirates’ ability to keep flying to the US.  Sure, it is easy to suggest that Mr Trump’s “American First” policy might favor US airlines and might even allow for a revival of their specious claim that they are facing unfair competition from Emirates and other similar airlines.  But that is far from Emirates’ biggest future challenge.

The article is also geographically challenged when it suggests that Dubai is the most efficient place on the planet to connect the US with India.  The most effective route between the US and India would be nonstop (it is about 8,500 miles, depending on the cities involved – a long distance but shorter than the longest flights currently operated).  Dubai is far from the best place for connections – it is at least 1,000 miles off the great circle route.

But the article’s claim that two thirds of everyone in the world can be reached within eight hours of flying from Dubai (ie about 4,500 miles) is definitely true because that arc includes all of China, India, Africa and Europe, and most of Indonesia.  However, the implication that Dubai is in the middle of this clustering of population, while semi-true, fails when it is extended by implication to suggest that Dubai is necessarily the most convenient hub for flights between any point in this 2/3 of the world’s population and any other point.

Clearly, no-one in India or China would choose to fly out of their country and over to Dubai before flying back to their country again.  Dubai’s “central point” is more illusory than real, and only comes into play in one increasingly marginal scenario – where people wish to fly between two points that has Dubai more or less sensibly along the flight path.

Why is this an increasingly marginal scenario?  Because airlines are preferring to avoid the hub and spoke model, and instead are preferring ‘long thin’ nonstop routes.  This is at the heart of the sales disappointment of the A380 – instead of airlines using the A380 as a tool to bulk up hub-to-hub routes, they have instead been using 777s and other smaller planes to fly long nonstop routes between secondary cities.

As lovely as the A380 is for its passengers, there is no dispute that when faced with a choice between a two leg flight through Dubai on A380 planes, or a nonstop flight direct to their destination on a 777 or 787 or A350, people will unhesitatingly choose the nonstop flight.  It is probably at least two hours faster, less hassle, and there’s less to potentially go wrong with the risk of missed flights, connection problems, and missing luggage.

Obscured within the very readable article, and which has plenty of fascinating facts and figures about the enormous growth and success of the Emirates phenomenon, is a passing mention of the airline suffering its first ever annual revenue decline in May last year – back at a time when all the ‘smart’ commentators were rolling on the floor with laughter at the possibility of Mr Trump winning the Presidency.

The real story that needs to be written is not one about possible future challenges from the Trump administration (which we guess to be unlikely).  Instead, it is to understand the reasons for the drop in revenue in Emirates’ previous year of operations, and the implications of ever-longer nonstop flights.

For example, one of Emirates’ prime markets is Australia to Europe.  Qantas has now announced plans to operate nonstop service, twice a day, between Perth and London, from March 2018, in a 236 passenger 787-9.  While it is a much longer journey (another 1200 miles or so) to go between Sydney, Melbourne, or Brisbane and London, there is now the potential for connecting traffic within Australia to hub through Perth rather than through Dubai (or Hong Kong or Singapore as is currently the case).  And while Dubai is reasonably on the way between much of India and much of Europe, the flight lengths are moderate (under 5,000 miles) and the enormous size of India’s cities are such that there is surely little need to funnel flights into/out of a concentrator hub.  All of such routes need to be considered at risk.

And what about China – the ‘wet dream’ of marketers, no matter what the product or service they wish to sell?  Can Emirates hope to endlessly expand into this enormous market?  China-Europe routes are moderately lengthy flights (extending sometimes to almost 6,000 miles) but the best routes go nowhere near Dubai and the major cities in China need no concentration through Dubai.  China-US and China-India goes nowhere near Dubai.

So we understand the question the article opens with – ‘Is Emirates Airline Running Out of Sky?’, but the real reason it may be doing so is nothing to do with our incoming new administration, and in four or eight years time, Emirates will find its problems steadily becoming more severe, no matter who succeeds Mr Trump or their aviation policies.

Who Decides Where to Divert a Flight?

‘The comfort and safety of our passengers is our number one priority’ – how often do you hear that lie trotted out, often in an attempt to excuse acts by airlines and their employees that seem designed to promote neither passenger comfort nor passenger safety?

The reason for pondering this issue is the strange case of a United Airlines flight that decided to divert to Auckland, New Zealand.  The flight was traveling from Sydney to San Francisco when a passenger on board became unruly and allegedly undertook a ‘racist rant’.  Curiously enough, the video of his ‘rant’ suggests to me that he was actually being totally reasonable in objecting to being sandwiched between two passengers who were flying together and therefore talking across him.  It was more a case of being baited by flight attendants who, by their bearing and non-response, decided to escalate the situation rather than defuse it.

But, and no doubt out of concern for – well, certainly not for this hapless passenger’s safety and comfort, United decided to declare an in-flight emergency rather than simply swap the passenger seating, and took the plane to Auckland where the man was escorted off the flight by police.

Peculiarly, the NZ authorities described the man as an American national, but said he was refused entry to New Zealand because he ‘did not meet entry and border requirements’, so he was placed in custody until being ‘deported’ (ie flown on home to the US).  The peculiar thing about this is that Americans are entitled to automatic entry to New Zealand, and if he had just been lawfully in Australia, he would have met any immigration requirements to also qualify him for entry into New Zealand.

My guess is the authorities deemed him to be an undesirable person due to his alleged ‘racist rant’ (based on what evidence, one wonders?).  But apart from an overnight in Immigration Custody, it seems no further charges are being filed against the passenger – which, based on the video evidence that has been published, which shows only a mildly spoken passenger complaining about his seating – certainly seems fair enough.

One has to wonder – if there is video of the passenger acting fairly and calmly, where is the video to support the subsequent accusations of him ‘exploding into a fit of rage 40 minutes into the flight’ (and if that was the case, why did the flight continue on for another five hours before turning around)?  Where is the video of the man allegedly grabbing soda off a beverage cart and demanding beer?  The only other video I’ve seen shows him quietly being escorted off the plane while passengers taunt him.

Due to the diversion, the flight then had to overnight in Auckland before continuing on the next day after a crew rest time.  Passengers made it to the US more than 24 hours late.

Now for the really puzzling thing.  When the pilot felt compelled to divert the plane, it had been flying from Sydney for six or seven hours and was close to Tonga.  While Tonga does not have an airport that could handle the weight of the 787, nearby Fiji does.  Fiji’s Nadi airport was less than one hour’s flying time away from the plane, and wouldn’t have required appreciable backtracking.

Instead, the article suggests the flight took six hours for the flight to go back to Auckland – this seems strangely long, but if correct would also be about the same amount of time it would have taken the plane to fly on and land in Honolulu – and don’t forget the less than one hour to fly to Fiji – here’s the flight’s track.

Who in their right mind turns a plane around and flies half a dozen hours in the wrong direction, in an ’emergency’, when they could take an hour or less to safely land in Fiji, which is continuing more or less in the correct direction, or fly a similar six hours to Honolulu – in the correct direction, and probably then complete the flight the same day, delaying passengers only by an hour or so instead of by a day or more.

If United was so concerned about passenger safety as to divert the flight, why didn’t it land at the closest airport?  And if United was so concerned about passenger comfort, why did it add a gratuitous almost dozen extra hours flying time backtracking to Auckland and then flying on again from there, to say nothing of adding a forced overnight and additional delay the next day to the passengers total travel time?

No part of this makes sense.  Did the pilot merely want to make a stop in Auckland for some reason?  Who makes these decisions – presumably the pilot.  Perhaps the better question is who are they accountable to?

The World’s Most Punctual Airlines and Airports

It is sensible to group the two concepts together, because often, airlines are captives of the airports they serve.  Much as we might wish to do so, you can’t – for example – blame Alaska Airlines when a thin light dusting of snow at Seatac last week caused the airport to grind to a virtual halt, due to the airport lacking sufficient snow removal equipment.  You can’t blame British Airways or Qantas when bad weather causes Heathrow or Sydney airports to close a runway and start backing up flights due to having insufficient capacity to manage normal flights in mildly inclement weather, and so on.

So it is interesting to see which are variously the world’s most punctual airlines and punctual/reliable airports.  This report advises that, for 2016, OAG bestowed the ‘best major airport’ award to Tokyo/Haneda, followed by Sao Paulo (Brazil), and then Detroit, Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Seattle, before moving on to Moscow/Sheremetyevo, Singapore, Munich and Phoenix.  The next category of airports is for ‘large’ airports, with the winners being Surabaya, Honolulu, Salt Lake City, Brasilia, and Brisbane.  How nice to see some US airports doing so well.

And what about airlines?  The world’s most punctual airline is – drum roll please – one of my personal favorites – Hawaiian Airlines.  90% of all HA flights arrived and departed on time.  Copa Airlines (from Panama) came second with 89%, then amazingly KLM with 88%, Qantas (88%), JAL (87%), FlyBe (87%) and Alaska Airlines (86%).

‘For Your Convenience, We’ll Spy On You a Bit More’ on Carnival Cruises

Okay, so we’re being a bit unfair here, but it is a valid point to make in response to this interesting story about new technology that allows Carnival to track where its passengers are, every minute they are onboard a Carnival ship, and to observe that the convenience Carnival seeks to create is mainly for itself, not for its cruisers.

Certainly, if the wearable devices cut down on waits in line (one of the ugly secrets of the mega-cruise industry) that has to be a good thing – and particularly so for Carnival, because it means it can serve passengers more quickly with billable drinks and other orders.  As the article says, ‘ease of purchase is [another] big component – cruisers will be able to pay for food, drinks and merchandize simply by having their credit card-connected [device] in their pocket’.  Oh, it will also power a new shipwide gambling platform, too.

An indication of the degree of coverage of the new system is that there will be roughly 7,000 sensors per ship.

Email Address Needed For a Canadian ETA

Other than for Americans or for citizens of countries needing formal visas, Canada has now decided to require ‘Electronic Travel Authorities’ – a sort of instant electronic visa – for all travelers to Canada.

It is a simple couple of minute procedure to enter the minimal amount of information required to obtain one of these ETAs on the Canadian Immigration website, and they are normally instantly issued within seconds of you sending the data off.

So how is it then that an elderly English gentleman flying from Heathrow to Halifax was refused boarding at Heathrow due to not having an ETA?  Why didn’t he or an airline person (or anyone else) help him do the less than five minute process at the airport – as indeed the Canadian Immigration authorities say can be done in such cases?

Well, two problems.  The first was that the Air Canada checkin staff refused to help at all, telling him that they were not permitted to help him for ‘security reasons’.  And if you believe that, I’d like to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge.  There should be a special place in Hell reserved for lazy passive-aggressive customer non-service personnel that hide behind a ‘security’ excuse and don’t help needy passengers.

The second problem was the man doesn’t have an email address.  You need an email address as part of the ETA application.  News to Canada – only about 40% of the world’s population has internet access.  Indeed, 11.5% of Canadians don’t use the internet, either.

The man’s son also claims that neither he (he booked his father’s flights) nor his father were ever advised about the new need for an ETA (until now, British citizens have been able to enter Canada with a passport and nothing else).

An unfortunate situation every which way, to say nothing of unnecessary.  What does the ETA tell the Canadian authorities that the information in the passenger PNR and passport doesn’t already tell them?  How many terrorists traveling on British passports will the new ETA system detect and prevent from traveling, compared to how many older ordinary passengers who simply don’t have an email address?

This Year’s CES

If it is the first week in January, then it is time for the annual Consumer Electronic Show extravaganza in Las Vegas, this year attended by 165,000 people from 150 different countries.

While never planned to have an annual theme, most years it is possible to discern a grouping of gadgets that are the new ‘hot’ product for the year.  So what would be the winner for this year?

It was, in some ways, more obvious to note losers rather than winners.  ‘Wearables’ seems to be a clear losing category; indeed, Motorola has decided not to release any more smart watch products until such time, if ever, that the category becomes more popular.  Not exactly the most ‘take charge’ way of innovating and developing a new market, is it!  Imagine if Apple said ‘we’re not going to release a phone until smart phones become popular’.  Imagine if Microsoft said ‘we’ll wait until PCs are popular before we develop an operating system’.

Tablets also had another quiet year.  After the hype of tablets for several years subsequent to the iPad launch in 2010, they are no longer promising to replace every other form of computing device, and the iPad itself – even though now in a plethora of different models and with a choice of three different screen sizes – is quietly losing market share.

Larger more capable phones at one end, and ever-lighter and slimmer touch-screen equipped laptops at the other end are squeezing the tablet market space smaller and smaller.  We don’t expect to see tablets disappear, but with phones now having screen sizes up to about 6″ and touch-screen laptops taking over from about 11″, there’s not a lot of sweet spot for tablets any more.

Virtual reality was something that enjoyed a lot of hype in 2015, but the hype has failed to translate to reality in the twelve months subsequently, and the hottest VR product last year, Facebook’s Oculus, didn’t even have a stand at the show this year.

Sure, there were incremental improvements to television screens, but nothing spectacularly new.  I’m going to call the show this year as being dominated by cars – battery electric cars and/or self-driving cars.  In a sea of announcements of future new products coming out in the next few years, there were several standouts.

At the high end, Faraday Futures demonstrated an amazing car that promised to eclipse Tesla in every respect.  Faster acceleration and more power.  Much more battery capacity and range and fast charging – 378 mile range, 130 kWhr battery pack, and a fast charge capability that charges at the rate of 500 miles of range per hour of charging.  The car has all-wheel steering, 13 radars, 12 ultrasonic sensors, 10 high definition cameras and one 3D Lidar sensor for self-driving capabilities.

You can place a $5000 deposit on one of these vehicles today, with production starting in 2018.  Oh – that’s another area in which the car will ‘beat’ Tesla, too.  A top of the line Tesla Model X is priced at about $168,000.  The Faraday Future is anticipated to have pricing starting from about $180,000.  More details here.

We’ve seen both General Motors deliver a great battery electric vehicle (the Bolt) and Ford make various aggressive promises about its future plans for both BEV and self-driving cars.  Now Chrysler is coming to the party too, showing a concept car but with no clear timeline or pathway from the concept to any sort of reality.

Perhaps the most notable of the concept car’s features, other than a fancy design for its sliding doors which, while clever, is hardly high tech, is the ability to take selfie pictures of all the occupants, no matter where in the vehicle they are seated.  Ugh.  Does the gap between GM/Ford, and FCA, seem ever wider?  What a massive disappointment.  Details here.

Also at CES was a bed that automatically adjusts itself to stop the person on either side of it from snoring, plus – in case that isn’t enough – a ‘smart home sleep system’ that ‘plugs into a wall socket and bathes the room in “blankets of ambient sound that mask outside noises, taps dripping and other people snoring’.  There were loads more internet connected devices, even extending to a frying pan and a fridgecam to track what is inside your fridge and when it expires.  Amazon’s Alexa audio assistant is popping up in all sorts of places, including in Ford cars.

And, for the poor gentle souls who feel that a whistle is the best defense against a violent attack, there was a ‘smart whistle’.  Alas, it doesn’t actually necessarily make any special sort of noise, but it sends text messages and emails to your contacts, letting them know that you’re in trouble.  Which of course, brings us back to the same problem of old-fashioned whistles too – ‘when seconds count, the police are just minutes away’.  Details on these delightful devices here.

Tesla Update

Talking about Tesla, and about disappointments, it is time for what is close to an annual tradition, every January.  Tesla announced this week that its total deliveries for 2016 failed to meet its target.  Early in 2016 Tesla was boldly talking about 80,000 – 90,000 cars to be delivered, that was scaled back during the year to 80,000, and they ended up with a total of 76,230.

This number contains within it a steady decline in Model S deliveries – down 21% quarter over quarter, and 26% year over year.  Sure, the Model X is growing in numbers, but the idea of the Model X was not to replace the Model S but to complement it.

Oh – their target for 2018?  Try not to laugh :  500,000.  Yeah, sure, right.  Their target for 2017 is thought to be 200,000 deliveries, and because that probably includes 100,000 Model 3 cars, we’d be astonished to see that number achieved, too.  Some commentators are now suggesting the Model 3 – with deliveries officially promised to start late this year – maybe be as much as two years behind schedule.

To try and leaven the bad news with some good news, Tesla also officially announced the start of battery production at its Reno ‘Gigafactory’.  Bravo.  But I’ve been unable to find any specifics about the quantity of batteries that are now being produced.  Are we talking ‘giga’ quantities, mega quantities, kilo quantities, or perhaps a mere trickle of a few dozen batteries?  No-one is reporting on that, and as far as I can tell, no-one has thought to ask.

And Lastly This Week….

While there were some strange products inevitably featured at CES this year (the website for this product has wonderful fun with its product), as is always the case, they have nothing on items such as this collection of Japanese inventions.  As one always on the lookout for the perfect airplane pillow, I wonder if item #11 on the list might be worth investigating and reviewing.

I’ve sometimes poked fun at the slogans that tourist bodies dream up for their destinations.  Some are unthinkably bland, and others are just plain unthinkable, and many of them are announced with a degree of ill-deserved hype that triggers one’s vomit reflex.

Which brings me to the new slogan for Australia’s Northern Territory.  To state it formally, “See you in the Northern Territory”.  Sure, a boring slogan by any measure, but also utterly bland and inoffensive, right?

Ummm, err, no.  It is being withdrawn as being too rude and offensive – even for the Australians!  Here’s why.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels





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