Weekly Roundup, Friday 10 March, 2017

Three years on, and the questions multiply, while the answers remain as missing as the plane itself.

Good morning

My extended ‘future of transportation’ series took another slight detour this week.  Uber has been going through some gyrations of late, managing to offend just about everyone on the planet in the process.

Although it is only seven or so months since I last wrote about Uber, it seemed appropriate to update the Uber story to reflect on its revealed 2016 loss (thought to be in excess of $2 billion) and a fascinating disclosure about exactly how transformative an effect to its bottom line it might be if/when the company achieves its dream of replacing its drivers with fully automatic cars.  Will automation come to Uber’s rescue?  Please see the article below for one possible answer to that question.

A brief moment of silence, please, to note the third anniversary of the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian’s flight MH370, which ended up somewhere, possibly in the Southern Ocean, on 8 March 2014.  Alas, all search efforts to find the plane have ceased, although we are told some bureaucratic nonsense of a statement that boils down to ‘if someone finds the plane, we’ll then go look for it’.

This article has an interesting graphic showing which parts of the plane have washed up on beaches subsequently, and where/when the pieces were found.  Meanwhile, not only does wreckage continue to randomly appear, but so too do new theories on what might have happened.  Here’s an unlikely story about ‘was there an extra mystery passenger on board’, and here’s a much more interesting point that may explain part of the mystery of the path the plane took after losing contact with the ground.

But, as is so often the case, each possible explanation only opens the door to new mysteries, and here are some consequential issues raised by this newest analysis.

Noting also the immediate rush to blame the plane’s disappearance on either of the pilots, here’s a good roundup of why it is unlikely to have been a deliberate act by a pilot.

Bottom line – it is hard to avoid the perception that the Malaysian government (and possibly other governments, too) are deliberately obfuscating the details of what happened.  But whether this is due to just unthinking bureaucracy and consummate incompetence, or deliberately seeking to obscure a secret they wish to keep hidden – well, that’s the big question, isn’t it.

Please continue reading for :

  • Best Selling Airplanes, continued
  • Idiotic Unaccountable Pilots, Again
  • United Seeks to Charge Passengers $25 for United’s Incompetence
  • Naughty President Trump Proposes Diverting Some TSA Funds
  • Is There Something Missing On Your Airline’s Inflight Map?
  • Heathrow – the Airport Passengers Love to Love
  • Cell Phone Radiation Danger?  The Truth Might Scare You
  • Selling Trips to the Moon?  Branson Strangely Silent
  • Cruise Line Internet Access Soon to Cost More than Cruise Fares?
  • And Lastly This Week….

Best Selling Airplanes, continued

I wrote in the last newsletter that the 737, by some measures, qualifies as the best-selling passenger jet airplane.

Reader Steve wondered what the best-selling airplane overall was.  I had a look at this, and if we filter out, as best we can, military sales, and also try to generally include manufacturing under license in other countries, and allow, the same as with the 737, for the various evolving models within a plane family all to be lumped together, it seems that there is a clear winner – the four seater single engined Cessna 172, which has sold over 43,000 units so far.  It first went into production in 1956 and is still in production today.  Its slightly bigger and more powerful brother, the 182, has also been on sale since 1956, but has ‘only’ sold 23,237 units so far, which puts it in fourth place.

Second place goes to the Piper Cherokee, in production since 1960, with 32,778 planes sold so far.  Third place is the Cessna 150, in production between 1958 and 1977, with 23,949 sold in total.

Fifth place goes to the Beechcraft Bonanza, which deserves special mention as being the plane that has the longest production run of any plane, ever.  It has been in production for 70 years (since 1947), and over 22,000 have been sold so far.

My astonishment that the 737, at a mere 50 years of age, remains a currently produced plane today now has to be mirrored by equal surprise at the longevity of these private plane models too.

As an additional piece of trivia, the most common helicopter ever produced?  The Soviet/now Russian Mil Mi-8, with over 17,000 produced between the first commercially delivered unit in 1967 and the present day (although note the first test helicopter flew in 1961).  The Bell UH-1 (Huey) Iroquois helicopter had over 16,000 produced during its production run from 1956 – 1987.

Idiotic Unaccountable Pilots, Again

So, a passenger on a flight from Las Vegas to Honolulu felt cold, which prompted him to ask the flight attendant for a blanket.

The flight attendant agreed to provide a blanket, but said that Hawaiian Airlines would charge $12 to sell him the blanket.  (Note that on Hawaiian’s website, they appear to show that a blanket and pillow together can be purchased for $10).

Whatever the actual amount the man was asked to pay (most reports of the incident are saying $12), this upset the man and he said he would like to discuss the policy of selling blankets rather than being loaned one for free, with an appropriate airline executive.  Apparently he complained about being cold and felt that if the airline was going to run its planes cold, it should provide blankets.

The flight attendant obliged, and arranged for the man, in mid-flight, to speak to some staff member, probably at the airline’s head office in Honolulu.  During the course of the discussion, the passenger said, as part of complaining of the airline’s blanket selling policy that ‘he would like to take someone behind the woodhouse for this’.  The pilot overheard the comment, and so, in a tour-de-force virtuoso display of command decisionmaking, did the obviously only logical thing in response.

Which was, alas, to turn the plane round, spend time dumping fuel off the coast, then do an emergency landing back at LAX, calling for police and FBI agents to be at the gate to take the man into custody for endangering the safety of the entire flight.  The 66 yr old passenger was duly ‘escorted off the flight’ by police while the rest of the passengers were ‘on lock down’.

After interviewing the hapless man and crew members, neither the airport police nor the FBI felt any need to press charges.  Apparently uttering that phrase is not the same as a threat to endanger the safety of the plane – who knew?  Clearly not the pilot.  But, noting the probable $12,000 or greater cost to the airline for the ’emergency diversion’ and fuel dumping, to say nothing of the inconvenience (the flight ended up in Honolulu four hours late) to about 250 passengers on board, a police spokesman said that if it was him, he’d probably have bought the blanket himself and given it to the man.  Details here and here (complete with onboard video).

The man took a later flight to Honolulu.

Don’t we as passengers have the right to demand some common sense on the part of our pilot?  Doesn’t the pilot have an obligation to his passengers to do all he safely can to get the plane to its destination more or less on time, and an obligation to his company to not waste five-figure sums after a mild-mannered 66 yr old man complained about having to buy a blanket because the plane was cold (ummm, how about offering simply to increase the heat onboard a bit)?

The person arrested at LAX should be the pilot, on charges of criminal stupidity.

United Seeks to Charge Passengers $25 for United’s Incompetence

Reader Jerry writes of his latest challenges with United Airlines.  His wife has her name shown with her middle name in full on some official documents, and merely with the middle initial on others, and this meant that United couldn’t accept a booking through its website for their planned international travel, due to an incompatibility as between the name, for example, on her passport, driver’s license, and Global Entry cards.

Most people with half a brain would accept that Jane A Doe, DoB 1/1/1960, address 1234 Main St, and so on, was the same person as Jane Anne Doe, with the same DoB, address, and other data.  You’d think most computer programs could be persuaded to accept that, too.

But United’s computer refused to accept the ‘difference’, requiring Jerry to instead enjoy the inconvenience of waiting on hold to speak to a booking agent, and getting the ‘discrepancy’ manually accepted into the system.  At the end of the process, he was told that due to making the reservation with a person rather than through the computer, he’d have to pay the $25 fee associated with doing so.  Both Jerry and his wife are well-known to United, having flown over a million miles each, and sometimes qualifying for their ultra-elite Global Services program.

Fortunately, Jerry got the fee waived after the agent conferred with a supervisor, but the booking agent indicated that even these ultra-elite level fliers are charged the $25 fee, subject of course to appeal/review/waiving.

Naughty President Trump Proposes Diverting Some TSA Funds

The chattering classes were outraged at the suggestion this week that President Trump was considering diverting funds away from the TSA to help fund the wall along the border with Mexico.

The suggestion is that the TSA would give up $500 million, along with $375 from FEMA and $1.3 billion from the Coast Guard.

The $500 million would in part come from a $65 million saving by ending the TSA’s ridiculous ‘Behavior Detection’ program – a boondoggle that, after almost 15 years in operation, has yet to result in a single detected terrorist, and with the TSA itself admitting that it can not demonstrate the effectiveness of the program.  Although the TSA can’t demonstrate the effectiveness of its pet program, here’s a great demonstration of how ridiculous the program is.

But perhaps the most interesting thing about proposing to take funds from the TSA is to note that the fees we all pay for security (added to the cost of our air tickets) currently have one-third of the total collected ($3.6 billion collected last year) diverted away and into general government expenditure, unrelated to security.

Other than via this newsletter, where has been the outrage at the $1.2 billion that has already been drained out of the fees we pay, ostensibly for TSA security?

Meanwhile, in other Trump/travel/security news (when will it ever end?) there’s the strange tale of the high-profile anti-Trumper and his claim to have had his ‘travel privileges reviewed’ causing him to cancel his travel plans to go to Canada.  But, as The Atlantic reveals (and The Atlantic is not known for being pro-Trump by any measure at all), it seems that – ooops – these claims may be utterly untrue.

We hope the mainstream media will give as equal airtime and as many column inches to correcting the outraged stories they rushed to run earlier in the week.

Is There Something Missing On Your Airline’s Inflight Map?

Next time you’re on an Emirates flight, or an Etihad or Qatar flight, or on one of a number of other airlines, see if you can see something missing from the airline’s lovely interactive mapping system.

These systems have become wonderfully fun to play with.  You can zoom in or out, move around the map, marvel at the detail shown, and generally spend quite a lot of time distracting yourself.

But look a little Northwest of the hub locations of these airlines.  What do you see on the map?  More to the point, what don’t you see?  Any reference to Israel, that’s what is missing.  It seems that as international and ‘enlightened’ as these airlines try to be, some prejudices stubbornly survive.

Oh – one more missing thing.  Even though the airlines might proudly offer a dozen or more different special meal options, including halal meals, and even things such as a Jain compliant diet, don’t go hoping for kosher food.

Details here.

Heathrow – the Airport Passengers Love to Love

Remember the ‘bad old days’ when we all would dread going through Heathrow?  Well, since that time (whenever it was) Heathrow has gone through several major changes, including its new Terminal 5 (opened in 2008), and then its new Terminal 2 (aka the Queen’s Terminal, opened in 2014) and the closure of Terminal 1 in 2015.

Lost baggage – once almost an inevitability – is now much less common, and the travel experience has improved in most respects, so much so that Heathrow has just won the title of Best Large European Airport for 2016.  82% of passengers rated their LHR experience last year as either ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’, twice the percentage who did so ten years earlier.

The only thing that makes me wonder about the validity of this award is that the matching award for Best European Airport for 25 – 40 million passengers went to Moscow’s Sheremetyevo.  It is admittedly years since I was last trapped into enduring a SVO experience, but short of leveling everything to the ground and building entirely anew, it is hard to comprehend how it could now be the best in category.

Bravo to Heathrow.  Now if they could just get another runway built…….

Cell Phone Radiation Danger?  The Truth Might Scare You

California proudly leads the nation, and the entire world, when it comes to being extremely focused on any and every possible (and perhaps some impossible) health-hazard and potentially harmful element of modern life and its impact on its citizens.  Some people make a living out of searching out products that have failed to file the ridiculously extensive paperwork needed to officially disclose and warn people of ‘risks’ that most of us would never for a moment give a second thought to – they then file claims against the companies for tens of thousands of dollars for something as trivial as failing to mention that the release agent in the plastic zip on a leather bag has a milligram of a chemical which, if eaten by the kilogram for months nonstop, might increase the person’s risk of cancer.

But the state has some curious inconsistencies.  One bubbled to the surface this week when, after years of delays and refusals, a court finally ordered the California Department of Public Health to release a document outlining the concerns of health officials about cellphone radiation dangers.

The document apparently dates way back to 2010, and has been updated several times, but always kept under wraps and never released.  The two pages that have now been grudgingly offered up includes such bon mots as suggesting you don’t sleep near your phone and not carry it in your pocket or directly on your body, and that you should use a headset rather than hold the phone to your head.

It also pointed out increased risks to children.

Why did California not rush to share this with its citizens?  Why is it not now issuing official mandates for radiation levels to decrease?  It does this for car emissions.  It does it for the power efficiency of television sets.  Why is it giving cell phones a free ride?

Selling Trips to the Moon?  Branson Strangely Silent

Any outlandish or impractical type of transportation usually has Sir Richard Branson rushing to embrace it and make it his own.  He has an option on new supersonic jets if/when they are ever built, there is his semi-space ship Virgin Galactic company that might one day take people to the edge of space, and assorted other concepts he has been keen to be part of in the past, to say nothing of more down to earth activities such as a number of airlines no longer flying and trains that continue to disappoint many British travelers.

So when Elon Musk announced that his company, Space-X, has taken a deposit from two individuals who wish to fly to the moon late next year, one wondered where Sir Richard was.  Musk added that he sees taking people on joyrides to the moon as becoming an ongoing source of revenue into the future.

The moon flight is not a moon landing.  The passengers will orbit the moon but not land.

One has to wonder if this will actually happen by the end of next year – as of now, the rocket has yet to fly, and his company has never taken a single person even into low earth orbit.

Mr Musk isn’t always 100% accurate with the timings he projects for his various undertakings – need we remind him of his plan to land people on Mars in 2021 (expressed in 2011).  That’s looking a little less likely now, and last year he revised it to 2024, and we sense that too seems a bit ambitious.  But – ambitious?  That’s a siren-song to Branson!

Cruise Line Internet Access Soon to Cost More than Cruise Fares?

It is only a decade or so ago that you could enjoy a Caribbean cruise for $50 a day, and possibly even less if you shopped around carefully.  And, back then, the basic cruise fare covered a lot more than it does today.

Norwegian Cruise Line has just announced new prices for onboard internet access.  For full fast access, you’re now looking at $245 for a seven day cruise ($35/day).

One has to wonder how long it will be before the internet cost exceeds the basic cruise fare?  How long before the supplements to eat good food exceed the cost of similar food ashore, and flow through to all food?  How long before the drink packages extend even to tap water?  How long before off-ship touring packages become mandatory?  And so on.

And Lastly This Week….

Is this any way to run an airline?  Earlier this week, a BA flight was delayed due to a shortage of toilet paper on board.  The delay, and the subsequent delay for the plane’s scheduled next flight too, will probably see BA being required to pay over $350,000 in compensation to the affected/delayed passengers.  All for the lack of a few extra rolls of toilet paper.

In possibly related news, BA has announced it is saving money by doing less cleaning on board planes between flights, and not always emptying the toilet holding tanks.  In an unusually honest disclosure, BA says it is trialing the concept to see if passengers notice the planes aren’t as clean as normal.  One wonders where this will end?

(In other BA news, it has announced plans to add another row of seats to its short-haul planes, now making the seats packed in more tightly than Ryanair, and to add another seat per row to its 777s – because, after all, we all have way too much elbow/shoulder room on planes already, don’t we.  Thanks, BA.)

And – time to end this topic, surely – an airplane in India, operated by Spice Jet, had to make an emergency landing after its forward toilet became overwhelmingly smelly.  It took the airline three hours to freshen up the plane.

But, as bad as all this might be, it is time for a reality check.  We really have it astonishingly easy, and travel the world with little thought or concern.

Think of what it was like, less than 100 years ago.  Here is a fascinating video showing footage filmed by a crewman on a sailing ship, traveling from Germany, down around Cape Horn, and up the other side to Chile, in 1929.  The filmmaker, Captain Irving Johnson, subsequently became well-known for his writings and presentations on life at sea, and he narrates the footage he took.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels





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