Weekly Roundup, Friday 1 September, 2017

A sight to gladden a champagne lover’s heart, in one of Emirates’ seven Dubai lounges. See story, below.

Good morning

Labor Weekend looms large on our horizon, the end of summer, and apparently also, one week into this year’s hurricane season.  I do hope if you are in TX, or if you have friends/family in TX, that you are okay and have managed to endure this week’s challenges.

We had another couple join next year’s Grand Expedition of Great Britain, bringing us now to the exciting point where, with 17 people participating, the tour price per person has dropped $100.  As soon as we reach 20 people, it will drop again, so if you are thinking about this great experience, why not choose to come, now that we’re well past the minimum number needed, and now the value is improving steadily.

I interrupted the plan for my multi-part article series this week to bring you something else instead – it is one of the many articles that I write as much for myself, as I do for you.  In this case, I’ve always been a bit confused about issues to do with how long my passport needs to remain valid after the end of any travels I plan to do, and have always bemoaned the strangeness of countries refusing to accept a valid passport just because it is due to expire at some relatively soon but still future date.

There is no simple answer to this simple seeming question.  So, I’ve put together a 3500 word article for my benefit, as well as for yours.  Plus, if that’s not enough, there’s also a two page downloadable PDF setting out the passport validity policies of 48 different countries, as they apply to Americans, Canadians, Brits and Europeans.  See the article that follows this morning’s newsletter.

What else this week?  Please keep reading for :

  • Beware of an Airline’s Math
  • Emirates Shows Other Airlines How to Do an Airline Lounge Properly
  • An Unintuitive But Sensible Way to Travel from the US to Australia
  • D-Day for the iPhone (8)
  • Did You Win $300?
  • More on Germany’s Struggles with their Nazi Past
  • Interesting Aviation Trivia
  • And Lastly This Week….

Beware of an Airline’s Math

We occasionally see stories of how misbehaving passengers are subsequently fined and made to reimburse the airline for the costs incurred if the flight has to divert and make an ’emergency landing’ so as to offload the misbehaving passenger.

But who assesses the cost of the emergency landing?  The airline.  Who checks the airline’s calculation?  Probably no-one.

You might think that this is fair enough, the misbehaving passenger deserves all the cost the airline seeks to recover as a penalty for their egregious actions.  But let’s look at the most recent case, and see just how fair this was.  (In case it needs to be said, the guy was aggressively drunk and disrupting the peace and comfort of passengers around him.  Something probably needed to be done.)

A Hawaiian Airlines flight was traveling from Honolulu to New York.  Slightly more than two hours into its journey, the problems being caused by disruptive passenger James August were such that the captain decided he needed to divert the plane, land, and off-load the passenger.

So, there’s the first subjective point.  Did he really need to divert the plane?  Couldn’t they just have strapped the passenger to a seat, such as is sometimes done?  The right and wrong of that is unclear, but remember that the airline probably had the better part of 250 people on the A330, and it not only had an obligation to give them the least offensive travel experience possible, it also had an obligation to get its passengers to New York on time or as close to that as possible, plus of course, it then would turn around and fly back to Honolulu with a fresh load of another about 250 passengers, also expecting an ontime departure and arrival.

So, that’s a grey area, isn’t it.

Now for the second subjective point.  Let’s say we agree that indeed it did make sense to divert the flight and offload the passenger.  To where would you do that?  Essentially, you have two main choices.  The first choice would be to turn around, and fly just over two hours back to Honolulu, offload the passenger, plus then spend more time refueling the plane (because you’ve flown for four hours but gone nowhere!), reprovision the plane with food and drink and water, and probably have problems with crew exceeding their duty hours, and best case scenario, end up with the flight arriving into New York five or six hours late, which also probably means leaving New York 4 – 5 hours late, and getting back to Honolulu 3 1/2 – 4 1/2 hours late.  Not only does this grossly inconvenience 250 people and moderately inconvenience another 250, but all the backtracking and extra flying time costs a lot of extra money.

The second choice is to keep flying forwards for about 2 1/2 – 3 hours and land in San Francisco or Oakland (the flight path from Honolulu to New York flies closely past these two airports and almost exactly overhead of Sacramento).  Spend ten minutes on the ground while the passenger is unloaded, then take off again immediately, and land in New York perhaps 30 – 45 minutes late, leave New York 15 minute late for the flight back to Honolulu, and arrive in Honolulu on time, back to the normal schedule.  There’d probably be no need to load more fuel, more food, and no problem with duty hours for the crew.  Sure, the people close to the wayward passenger (why not move them a few rows away) might have to suffer his ranting and raving for another half hour or so, but most of the people on the plane won’t even know what is going on.  No-one is appreciably delayed, and only minimal extra costs are incurred.

So, guess which choice the pilot made.  Yes, that’s right.  He flew back to Honolulu.  What a surprising choice!

Unfortunately, while perhaps an idiot, the pilot wears a uniform and earns a salary most of us would envy, so he is above reproach.  His actions, of dubious sense, resulted in a huge cost to his employer and another huge inconvenience to his customers.

Except that, Hawaiian Airlines added up all their costs, and claimed restitution of $97,817 from the passenger.  A federal judge predictably found in the airline’s favor, and the passenger now has to pay this almost $100,000 sum, due to the pilot making a bad decision.

Does it really cost $100,000 for an A330 to fly four hours?  Well, let’s think about that.  If it does, that would suggest the 9 1/2 hour flight in total costs around the $200,000 mark.  So, if there are 250 passengers on board, that is a cost of $400 per passenger, or $800 roundtrip as the average fare per passenger for flights between New York and Hawaii and back.  A quick check shows fares available for as low as $588, including all taxes and fees.  So, let’s be polite and just say that this $100,000 cost struggles to pass the ‘smell test’.

However, perhaps the wayward passenger should count his blessings.  Reports of the court verdict note that he was not required to reimburse HA another $46,900 worth of meal vouchers paid to the delayed passengers while they waited for their flights.  Let’s say there were 500 delayed passengers.  We guess the passengers would have received probably a dinner voucher for the passengers in Hawaii and a lunch voucher for the New York passengers.  But the $46,900 total cost suggests $94 per passenger in meal vouchers.  How is that possible?

Have you ever had an airline give you a $94 meal voucher while waiting for a delayed flight?  The last delayed flight I was on (a Delta flight a couple of months ago) resulted in a cart being brought into the gate area with some wrapped sandwiches and small bottles of water, both of which vanished within seconds leaving most of us hungry, and no sign of any vouchers being dished out at all.  The expenditure per passenger was more like 94 cents rather than 94 dollars.

In all cases where one party suffers a loss due to the actions of another party, the party suffering the loss has a duty to act prudently to minimize the extent of their loss.  How can HA claim that flying the plane back to Honolulu was a prudent act, and how can it in anything resembling fairness get a $100,000 recovery from this stupid drunk passenger?  And what’s with the (not reimbursed) $46,900 worth of meal vouchers?

Details here.

If you ever find yourself on the wrong side of this sort of situation, have your attorney call me.

Emirates Shows Other Airlines How to Do an Airline Lounge Properly

Another part of airline math I’ve never accepted is how an airline can charge its business and first class passengers many thousands of dollars more than coach fares for a ten-hour flight, and then say it can’t afford to provide a full choice of meal items on board, or to provide a truly spacious departure lounge with adequate seating for all.

In the good old days, particularly in first class, airlines would load a complete set of every menu item, so as to guarantee every first class passenger would be assured to have their choice of food items.  These days, that is much less common, and while I’ve never paid full price for a first class ticket, I can sort of comprehend – even if airline service managers can not – how incandescent with rage I’d be if I paid $10,000 more than a coach class passenger, only to be told that the meal choice in first class I wished to eat was not available, due to the airline economising on the food costs.  (Those meal entrees probably cost about $5 each, which is an interesting contrast to the $10,000 ticket price premium.)

Another thing that has annoyed me is being told that the airline no longer will serve champagne for their pre-take-off drink service.  This is invariably blamed as due to ‘Customs regulations’ but I’ve never understood how the same Customs regulations that apparently forbid French champagne will simultaneously allow a cheaper generic Thunderbird style fizzy yellow liquid to be offered in place of the champagne.  Sadly, the airlines lie to their First Class passengers as eagerly as they do to their coach passengers.

The penny-pinching is also increasingly apparent in airline lounges.  Invariably, I find most airline lounges to now be cramped and crowded, and the food and drink items to be more and more limited and basic.  But I’ve also noticed there seems to be some sort of inverse relationship – the more US-aligned a carrier, the shabbier their lounges, the less US-aligned, the better.

So when it comes to a carrier like Emirates, untainted by any close associations with US carriers, and happily avoiding all three of the global alliances, you can still be assured of a premium experience every step of your journey, from arriving at the airport to leaving it at the other end.  For example, they have a fleet of A380s, in comparison to the US carriers, none of which has yet to order a single one (even though passenger surveys clearly show that passengers love the A380 and will change schedules and carriers to enjoy that lovely place).

This excellence is also apparent in their lounges, except for the unfortunate locations where they share a lounge with other carriers and have to settle for the ‘lowest common denominator’ approach imposed on them.  You too may have noted that the one-time free-flowing and self-pourable bottles of champagne that used to be a fixture of airport lounges are now a rarity, and possibly offered on request only, in very small-sized glasses.

Not so in Dubai, where Emirates have just opened a new Moët Champagne lounge.  The airline goes through 150,000 bottles of Moët & Chandon a year.

Yes, I know, it is perfectly possible to travel without needing an ever-full glass of champagne alongside one.  Indeed, I seldom drink on flights, myself.  But if you’re going to pay thousands of dollars extra for the promise of deluxe service, ultra-comfort, haute cuisine and a top-rate wine list, it is fair to expect what is promised.

Emirates reliably delivers.  Our ‘big three’ – AA, DL, UA – not so much.

An Unintuitive But Sensible Way to Travel from the US to Australia

We all know how to fly to Australia, right?  First you fly to Los Angeles, then from there on to Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane.  There are also some outlier flights from San Francisco and Dallas, and the excellent Hawaiian Airline flights through Honolulu, but for most US residents, figure on going through Los Angeles, most of the time.

But have you ever thought of flying to Australia via Canada?  “No, of course not, are you crazy” is probably going to be your response.  But Air Canada would like you to reconsider, particularly if you’re coming from destinations such as Boston.  Their nonstop flights between Vancouver and (sometimes) Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane can offer better/easier connections not only to destinations in Canada but also to northern and eastern US destinations as well.  Details here.

D-Day for the iPhone (8)

Houston, we now have a date for the iPhone 8 launch.  It seems Apple will announce their latest range of iPhones – what will be the tenth generation of iPhones, and thought to include possibly three models, with the high-end phone clocking in somewhere above $1000 – on Tuesday 12 September.  It is possible that a new version of their lack-luster watch product may also be announced at the event.

Typical timing would see the phones become available for pre-order at the end of the week, and deliveries start a few weeks later, along with the usual theatrical exclamations about orders exceeding expectations, and shortage of supply, etc etc.

We’ll know more on 12th, and I’ll of course come up with some realtime commentary so you know if you should urgently order one yourself.

As an advance guess, there are probably few of us who really need to spend $1000+ on a new phone.  Am I the only one to note that whereas most electronic items steadily reduce in price, phones seem to steadily increase.  Sure, we get more capabilities in today’s phone than that of five years ago, but we’re also paying more for it, too.  But at the same time that high-end phones are grazing the $1000 price point, there are ‘nearly as good’ phones for under $200, and with the lower priced phones having features that just a couple of years ago were only to be found on the highest end phones, there is less and less reason to pay top dollar for almost no improvement over the second level of smartphones.  I’ll update my phone report as needed when the new iPhone is announced.

Did You Win $300?

I mentioned in last week’s newsletter the class action law suit that is offering $300 per robocall you may have received from telemarketers selling cruises between July 2009 and March 2014.  You can simply plug your phone numbers into the claim settlement website to see if you are on the list of phone numbers called.

Alas, none of my numbers came up.  But a surprising number of readers did write in to say they have struck it lucky.  So, if you thought it wasn’t worth checking, maybe think again, and for the sake of a mere minute or two, perhaps you too will find yourselves with a lovely little $300 (or $600 or so on) settlement that you weren’t expecting.

More on Germany’s Struggles with their Nazi Past

As you may recall, I’ve been riffing on the topic of Germany’s approach to its Nazi past over the last several weeks, and before any more readers write in to rather rudely tell me I know nothing about the topic, I will again make very clear that this is part of the fascination to me – that no-one really understands how the Germans really truly in their heart-of-hearts feel on the subject.

Their attempt to criminalize and ban all but the most aseptically politically correct expressions of horror about their past doesn’t really tell the whole story.  A reader suggested I should watch an interesting video, called “Look Who’s Back” because, he said :

David – I’ve lived in Germany for more than a decade, and I don’t understand it either.  I think perhaps the ‘truth that dare not speak its name’ is that they are both appalled and fascinated, and also fearful that there lurks within them, even now, a darkness that might allow a new version of Nazidom to rise up once more.

Watch the movie ‘Look Who’s Back’ – it seems the only way they could get away with this movie is by depicting it as a parody and adding on the politically correct conclusion.   But see what happens in the unscripted scenes that actually made it into the movie.  Draw your own conclusions.

The movie suggests that Hitler magically reappears in modern-day, 2015, Germany, and after some culture shock, starts to rebuild a new power-base and movement.  He proves very popular in Germany, but people mistake him for a comedian and think he is just a normal person, parodying Hitler, not the real genuine article.

The point the reader makes is that the movie also contains within it a series of ‘Borat’ style scenes where the Hitler actor goes around Germany, playing his role in public, with hidden cameras filming how people reacted to him.  While of course, we’ve no idea how representative the scenes that made it into the movie are, there was plenty of support being shown by ordinary German people to the sight of a Hitler impersonator.

The real ‘message’ in the movie, I suggest, comes at the end in the climax of the ‘movie within a movie’ where Hitler tells another main character that he can never be truly vanquished, because he lives on, inside all German people.  Then the movie ‘pays penance’ by suggesting that all the anti-immigration anti-Muslim protestors in Germany today are modern-day Nazis – that was probably what bought the movie its permission to be filmed and screened.

The movie can be streamed on Netflix.  It can also be purchased from Amazon.  If you have Netflix, it might be an interesting way to spend 1 hr 56 minutes of your long weekend.  Here’s a review of the movie and some comments on how the Hitler actor says he was shocked by the warm welcome he received during his ‘public appearances’.

Interesting Aviation Trivia

I was roaming around the Quora website this week, which always ends up taking more time to break free from than expected, and came across a fascinating bit of trivia.

Do you know the world record for the longest time a plane has remained continuously airborne, and can you also guess as to how this was achieved and when?

There are some hints in this picture, and for the astonishing answer and the incredible way it was achieved, here’s the interesting story.

And Lastly This Week….

Do you suffer from prosopagnosia?  Do you even know what it is!  As you’ll already know if you’ve traveled with me before, a feature of Travel Insider tours are the deluxe name badges all tour members are presented with.  But as you might not know, while I ostensibly offer them up so all tour members quickly get to recognise each other, their primary purpose is to help me, because I’ve a terrible memory for names and faces.

I not only struggle to recognise people I should know well (I unwittingly walked past an ex-wife in the supermarket a few months back until Anna pointed her out to me) but struggle all the more to recognise people I meet briefly.  I find it difficult in movies and television shows to remember/recognise who the different characters are.  One time I was asked by the police to identify some felons in a line-up; much as I wished to, I couldn’t.

I now discover there’s a name for this, for the inability of being able to recognise names and faces as well as most people, and apparently there’s a special part of the brain that specifically works on this function.  Yes, that is what prosopagnosia is, and if you think you might be officially a prosopagnosia sufferer too, here’s a self-assessment you can give yourself.

The coming of our Labor Day Weekend also presages the coming of another annual event – the fall colors that pervade much of the northern parts of the country.  Here’s a great interactive/predictive map showing you how the colors will progress, week by week, around the country.

One of the games writers and journalists play is to try and slip naughty or funny things into their stories that aren’t noticed and changed by the sub-editors as the stories go through the process of making it eventually into print.  Double entendres galore are offered up, and invariably a few slip through when a sleepy over-worked sub-editor fails to notice the alternate meaning of a phrase or heading.

I found myself risking brain-rot by taking one of the ‘click bait’ quizzes on the internet this week; this one being a test of one’s French skill.  But as I worked through the various questions and suggested answers, I noticed that in some of the questions, the people writing the quiz were being slightly naughty in some of the multi-choice answers they were offering, especially in French.  If you’re seeking something relaxing to do over the long weekend, and if you already know some French, why not give it a try.

Do you like sushi?  I often notice the sushi chefs hard at work, chopping stuff up, laying it out, rolling it up, and cutting sushi pieces out lovingly by hand, and it reassures me that in this age of growing automation, one thing remains certain – gourmet cooking and food preparation/presentation is sure to remain something only humans can do.  Precious few other jobs are truly resistant to the relentless march of automation, artificial intelligence, and robotics, but surely high quality cooking is?

Perhaps not.  That sushi you’re eating – especially if you’re in the home of sushi, Japan – may have been made largely or even entirely by a robot.  Details here.

Talking about progress and the future, and lastly this week, how comfortable are you flying on an old plane?  As in, really old?  Here’s an interesting article that includes a list of the ten oldest passenger planes still in service, seven of them being 737s, two 747s, and an A300.  None being flown by US carriers, though.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels and have a great long weekend





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