Weekly Roundup, Friday 20 October, 2017

An image of a rider about to take-off on a Russian ‘Hoversurf’ hoverbike. Can you see the appalling problem present? Answer at end of newsletter.

Good morning

A nostalgic farewell wave to AOL’s Instant Messenger – another technology and company that started off on the leading edge of something that had yet to be given the name of ‘social media’, but which failed to keep moving forward, and instead fell further and further back into the oblivion of irrelevance.  December 15 sees its closure.  These days, you have so many choices of instant messaging, ranging from plain vanilla text messaging, through to full featured programs such as Skype.  Whatsapp and Viber are also very popular phone apps, and I’ve lost track of how many other similar services my daughter seems to use from time to time.

I can certainly understand the temptation to stay as you are rather than to keep moving forward.  I’m in the throes of coming up with the latest iteration of The Travel Insider, which is proving to be replete with plenty of challenges, including all Travel Insider sites dying on Thursday/Friday last week for a while.  We’re back up again now, but I’m a captive of the support people for the new service I’m hoping to implement, and until they do their stuff, the new features will remain frustratingly absent.

Happily, not so absent were another 40 very kind readers who have become Travel Insider supporters to help push this year’s fundraising drive closer to completion.  Special mention should be made of course to the latest group of very special Super Supporters (as a hint about things to come, soon to be known as ‘Platinum Members’) – readers who have very kindly sent in $100 or more.  This is a lovely long list this week, featuring Bill W, Jerry E, Steven B, Frank G, Steve M, Einar S, Nathan F, Earl P, Nelson A, Jane F, Terry C, Greg A, Karen P, L H, Deepak M, Ian B, Martin F and Jeff R.

Yes, I’ll be successively announcing some interesting new enhancements to more generously reward Travel Insider supporters, and already the mix of benefits and their values can see you get all the money you contributed back, possibly even several times over.  (Current supporters – I again updated the streaming devices review this week.)  So why not join 277 of your fellow readers and please help support The Travel Insider.

An example of how and where your help is needed can be seen in the article that follows the newsletter this morning.  It is a review of Amazon’s new 10.1″ screened tablet, the Fire HD 10.  This is a great unit, and I not only explain why it is good, but also compare it to Amazon’s smaller but still good 8″ Fire HD 8 and to Apple iPads too.  To write this review, I had to buy one of the tablets myself (almost everything I review I buy and pay for out of my own pocket).  Sure, you might say ‘ah yes, you now have the tablet to keep’, but I already have three iPads, two Nexus tablets, and three other Amazon tablets (all of which I bought and paid for, too).  I’ve spent my money so you can now know whether you should spend your money on this or a different tablet.  So whether it is to keep the site going, the reviews going, or starkly and essentially, to keep me going, please do consider becoming a supporter, too.

In addition to the article that follows, I also wanted to showcase one of the other sides of The Travel Insider, so I’ve rewritten a two-part article on the website, adding changes to the associated legislation and practice, and the latest interpretative issues and airline attitudes.  This two-part series is about what to do if (when!) you experience delayed, damaged, or totally lost luggage.

Do you really know what your rights are in all three cases?  The airlines count on you not being well-informed, and may try to bluff and bully you into accepting a lesser settlement for your loss and inconvenience than that which the US Department of Transport regularly insists you are entitled to.

This double article could help you improve the settlement you reach with the airlines by thousands of dollars, and gives you confidence and peace of mind, going into a distressing scenario such as that, because at least you know what your rights are and what to do.  We even add a couple of tips about how to reduce the risk of losing your bag in the first place, plus a tip on how to potentially double the settlement maximum the airlines will be obliged to agree to with you, while halving the inconvenience of a luggage loss too.

How much are articles such as this worth?  Sure, there are other generic articles on this topic, but I’ll wager you’ve never seen one with so much detailed information and practical usable tips and strategies.  Check it out, then please respond fairly by joining our annual fundraising drive.

And wait, on the passenger rights front, there’s more good news in our weekly roundup, immediately below.  And a less drastic bit of passenger rights action is also reported on, further below.

We had another couple join our Christmas Markets Cruise last week.  While it is now excitingly less than two months away, we still have a couple of AA cabins and an AB cabin, and there are some reasonably decent airfares we can find for you too.  So if you’ve been, perhaps, enjoying the heady heights of the stock market and feel you deserve a little end of year treat, why not come join us in early December on the Danube.  (Our next June on our Grand Expedition of Great Britain).

What else this week?  Please keep reading for :

  • Boost to Passenger Rights in the EU
  • Boeing’s Enormous Own Goal With Bombardier
  • MH370 – As One Door Closes, Another Opens?
  • Branson in the Headlines
  • Testflight of New Commercial Supersonic Passenger Jet?  Not Really.
  • More Unthinking Praise
  • Maybe Apple’s iPhone Disaster Isn’t as Bad as it Seems?
  • The Champagne Service that Fell Flat
  • The Problem with Electronic Boarding Passes
  • And Lastly This Week….

Boost to Passenger Rights in the EU

The EU has been at the forefront of enshrining passenger rights in EU legislation, but even the ‘letter of the law’ doesn’t necessarily stop airlines, who have been mercilessly exploiting every potential loophole within the EU legislation (famously known as EU 261/2004).

The airlines suffered a broad loss a couple of years ago when the courts found that many of the reasons airlines were offering as reasons why they could delay or cancel flights and not be required to pay penalties were invalid.  The airlines had been trying to hide behind claims of ‘operational/safety/maintenance needs’.  The courts said that such needs were foreseeable and could/should be planned for, and were not sufficient justification to avoid liability.

International airlines unilaterally decided on another interpretation of the law.  They said that when they have passengers flying in to the EU on a two flight itinerary via a hub located outside the EU, they are not responsible for any delays in the flight that was fully operated outside the EU.

On the face of it, that seems fair.  But the thing is that passengers were finding they had booked a flight from somewhere to Europe, and then a delay in the first flight meant they missed their second connecting flight and so arrived late at their European destination, only to be told that there was no obligation on the airline’s part to compensate for their late arrival, because the flight at fault was not a European flight.

An EU court has now found that just as a passenger’s itinerary is linked via connecting flights, so too is the airline’s liability.  The excuse of ‘that was on the connecting flight’ is no longer acceptable.  It is believed as many as 1.2 million passengers will instantly be able to recover compensation of as much as €600 per delayed flight in the recent past.

Note this might include you.  If you flew from somewhere in North America to a hub somewhere else, then from the hub on to the EU, then delays in your first flight that resulted in you missing your connecting flight are now covered by this legislation too.

Details here.

Boeing’s Enormous Own Goal With Bombardier

Boeing’s beef with Bombardier is a bit like Mac Trucks complaining that Ford is selling panel vans too cheaply, suggesting that a lower priced panel van upsets the pricing relativity of its enormous semi-trucks.  Does Mac really care what a Ford panel van sells for?

It is similar with Boeing and its big planes compared to Bombardier with its small planes.  Most industry commentators have struggled to see any validity at all with any part of Boeing’s complaint about Bombardier’s low prices on its CSeries small passenger jets, but the alacrity with which the US government has taken over the issue and indicated its eagerness to impose duties on Bombardier jets such as to make it beyond impossible for Bombardier to sell any jets, at any price into the US has been stunning.  How is it the US government sees this so clearly when industry commentators don’t?

So, there was struggling Bombardier, with what continues to be regarded as a great pair of aircraft – the CS100 and the CS300, struggling to survive.  There is the US, Canada and the UK, all risking the loss of thousands of jobs if Bombardier fails to sell planes to Delta and other US carriers.  There is bully Boeing, enjoying Bombardier’s discomfort.

And – oh yes, there also, now, is Airbus.  Apparently they picked up on the concept of Bombardier being a company that Boeing felt to be a threat, but which was struggling to survive, and so what do they do?  Perhaps on the basis of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ they buy 50.01% of the CSeries program from Bombardier.

The purchase price? $1.

Those US import duties?  No problems now, say Airbus.  We’ll avoid duty by assembling the planes in our own Mobile, AL assembly plant.

The struggling underfunded company without much global footprint for either marketing/sales or ongoing technical support?  Overnight transformed into one of the two aircraft manufacturing giants, now with plenty of resources.

The wistfully talked about but impossible to fund plans to extend the product line into a larger CS500 and possibly even larger planes, that would indeed compete head-one with the aged 737?  Now, all of a sudden, appearing to be practical and promising.

If Boeing really was correct and the CSeries planes pose a competitive threat, then guess what.  It will be ten times, maybe 100 times the threat now, compared to a month before.

I’ve never clearly understood why Boeing has steadily increased the minimum size of its Boeing 737s.  The first 737-100 held 103-118 seats in a one class configuration.  The next version, the 737-200, held 115-130.  The next generation small plane held 122-132, the next held 123-130, then was withdrawn in favor of the 737-700 (140-148) and the latest generation 737MAX7 will be able to squeeze in up to 172 seats.

Sure, add larger planes, but Boeing has allowed an entire market segment grow in the ‘smaller than a 737’ part of the market, which unsurprisingly is where companies such as Bombardier as well as Embraer and various others, including Chinese and Russian companies too, are being most active.

Boeing might be correct if it actually said ‘Bombardier is not a threat to us now, but if we let it grow, then it will do the same thing we ourselves did, and start making bigger and bigger planes and eventually cause us problems’.  Noting that the ‘smaller than a 737, but still holding 100+ passengers’ market sector is estimated as needing some 6,000 planes over the next 20 years, why has Boeing exposed a valuable part of the overall market, rather than continue with a smaller jet of its own?  Although the US government seems distressingly eager to assist Boeing on ‘its own patch’ (ie the US market), that’s not going to protect Boeing in other parts of the world.

Anyway, the bottom line is that Airbus is now promising to revivify the CSeries planes, and there’s no way that’s going to be a good outcome for Boeing.  An interesting side-point is that while the CSeries planes fit nicely into the Airbus lineup, they would have been an even better fit in the Boeing lineup.  Perhaps, instead of trying to bully Bombardier into oblivion, Boeing should have been romancing it and offering more than the $1 which Bombardier ended up accepting from Airbus for 50.01% of its CSeries program.

Whether it be the opportunity cost of not buying Bombardier itself, or the direct cost of now facing a strengthened competitor with US manufacturing facilities and therefore apparent immunity from any further threats of prohibitive import duties, there seems to be nothing good about this for Boeing.

Finally, there is something good for all of us.  By all accounts, the CSeries planes – a design that is 20 years newer than the A320 family and 40 years newer than the 737 family – is a comfortable and relatively spacious plane, with wider seats and plenty of overhead space.  The more of them in our skies, the better it will be for us as passengers.

Here’s some additional commentary about the deal.

MH370 – As One Door Closes, Another Opens?

The Australian government suspended its search activities for the remains of the MH 370 flight that went missing on 8 March 2014, in January this year.  This was an unfortunate decision as it seemed that a maturing understanding of where the plane may have crashed was emerging and resulting in a more clearly identified area of probable impact – an area that had largely been overlooked in the fruitless searching to date.

Australia’s equivalent of the NTSB has just released its final report into the incident, with some excellent analysis here.

But at the same time, it seems the Malaysian government may be about to commission its own search, and possibly on the basis of ‘if you don’t find it, we don’t pay you’ – an arrangement which suggests a high degree of confidence by the to-be-contracted searching company (and perhaps a much lower degree of confidence on the part of the Malaysian government).

On the face of it, this is good.  But noting the murky and less than transparent role of the Malaysian government in the proceedings to date, one has to wonder if having the Malaysians in charge of the search is an ideal arrangement.  Details here and here.

Branson in the Headlines

Sir Richard Branson has been more active than normal in his headline seeking activities over the last week or so.  He is probably feeling a bit upstaged by the latest generation of media stars who don’t have to prance around quite so desperately to convey an air of ‘hipness’, younger men who don’t need quite as many pretty ladies surrounding them at media photo-calls.

So he has been rushing into print as best he can.  With other companies stealing the limelight and threatening to beat his Virgin Galactic ‘taking ordinary people sort of briefly into space’ companies – one headed by Elon Musk and the other by Jeff Bezos, he is hoping people don’t forget his company too, and making even bolder claims than normal.

According to this article, he is now promising his Virgin Galactic space-plane/rocket will be operational in about three months, and that it will be maybe six months before he, himself, is in space.  Sure, words such as “about” and “maybe” are far from firm commitments, but with timelines now measured in single digit numbers of months, it seems barely possible, based on his undertakings, that we’ll see the service testing early in 2018 and Sir Richard looking down on us from somewhere ‘up there’ by the start of summer.  (Note that another article, perhaps quoting another presentation at about the same time, says Sir Richard used the even vaguer expression ‘very disappointed’ if those times weren’t met.)

He is also doing a typical thing by investing a small amount of money in a high-profile concept, perhaps as much for the PR value as for anything else.  He did that with a very conditional undertaking to buy new supersonic planes when they are for sale, and now he is doing that with Hyperloop One as well, boasting that he has invested an undisclosed amount into this exciting new technology.

The other classic Sir Richard act is to play the part of the put-upon underdog.  Certainly there was a lot of fairness in his revelations about the dirty tricks BA undertook to try and force Virgin Atlantic out of business many decades ago, but there are only so many times that a billionaire (estimated net worth $5.1 billion) can continue to claim to be the underdog.

His most recent ‘poor me’ commentary was in expressing how sad he was to see the Virgin American airline sold to Alaska Airlines.  He had this bon mot to offer

It’s strange that people buy companies – and they buy them because they’re so good – and then they start making changes

But just exactly how good was Virgin America?  A tiny airline that never grew to a viable size, and while having a small following of loyal passengers, never grew to the necessary large following of passengers.  Indeed, as Branson himself concedes, the airline found itself confronted by an offer from Alaska Airlines that they couldn’t refuse.  Only Sir Richard believes that Alaska’s interest in Virgin America was because they were ‘so good’.

Oh, Sir Richard also has a suggestion for US companies.  Allow your employees to take fully paid two month holidays; don’t question such requests, and instead say “That’s great.  We’ll pay you.”

One question to Sir Richard.  Did he put that policy in place at Virgin America?  How many of the companies he owns have that policy in place now?

Details here.

Testflight of New Commercial Supersonic Passenger Jet?  Not Really.

Talking about Sir Richard and his interest in supersonic planes (he has invested in the strangely named Boom company’s plans), one of the many companies making bold promises about future planes has ben written up gushingly in a number of publications this week as having performed the first test flight of a demonstrator model of its new commercial supersonic passenger jet.

Wow.  That’s wonderful, isn’t it, and perhaps gives an element of credence to their projections of having the first planes delivered to commercial customers in 2023.

But, if you read beyond the headline, this test flight was actually a small-scale model of the plane, operated as a pilotless remote-controlled drone that never few anywhere near supersonic speeds.  This article provides a little more detail.

So – commercial flights in less than six years?  Even Sir Richard isn’t buying in to that claim.  Yet.

More Unthinking Praise

It isn’t just stories such as the ones cited above the supersonic jet’s alleged test flight, or the general adulation the press show to people such as Sir Richard Branson.  The lack of critical thinking can be seen abundantly elsewhere, too.  That’s what The Travel Insider does for you – it shows you the other side of such issues and stories.

For example, here’s a fascinating article written to celebrate the upcoming new Qantas nonstop flights between Australia and the UK.  I love reading about how flying used to be, and the article has some lovely information about how the flight originally involved up to 31 stops along the way.

But the entire concept of nonstop flights between Australia and the UK is 93% a marketing myth.  7% of the Australian population will be able to fly nonstop.  The other 93% will still need to have at least one stop on the way, exactly the same as is the case at present.

This is because the flights go from only Perth, a city on Australia’s far west coast, and not from the major centers such as Sydney or Melbourne.  Perth has a population of 1.7 million people, Australia as a whole has 24.2 million people.

It is just over 9,000 miles from London to Perth; currently the planes don’t have the range to stretch the extra 1500 miles to either Sydney or Melbourne.  For most of the 93% of Australians not living in Perth, it will be as convenient or more convenient to continue to fly via Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai, or some other point, on the same one-stop itineraries that have been in place for decades, as it would be to now fly first to Perth and then from there to London.

And here’s a wonderful example of the ‘reality distortion lens’ that surrounds anything to do with Tesla.  The writer reports how he needed to get his Tesla serviced, and Tesla broke their promise and did not provide the free top-of-the-line loaner Tesla they have promised to always provide, while his own car was being repaired.  Instead, Tesla loaned him a Chrysler 300.

But, rather than being annoyed or outraged, the writer is excited and delighted.  He interprets this as meaning that Tesla is enjoying such unprecedented demand for its cars that it is unable to keep up with orders and so is being ‘forced’ to even sell its loaner cars.

The writer doesn’t wonder why it is that Tesla can’t keep up with demand, or why a company with a distinctive policy of requiring new purchasers to order and wait rather than buy from inventory is now plundering its loaners and allowing its service standards to current owners to drop while in an all-consuming rush to sell anything and everything they can.  Neither does he seem to remember that Tesla chants the same mantra of ‘sales would have been higher, but we just couldn’t produce cars fast enough’ for almost as many years as they have been in business.  He just urges us all to race out and buy Tesla stock.

You deserve better than such stories as these.  You have better – you have The Travel Insider.

Maybe Apple’s iPhone Disaster Isn’t as Bad as it Seems?

While it might seem that The Travel Insider is quick to take the negative and pessimistic side of any story, that’s not invariably the case.  For example, how about Apple’s latest iPhones.  By all accounts, sales of the new iPhone 8 and 8+ are seriously lagging behind expectations.  Even the annual tradition of people lining up outside Apple stores to be both one of the first to get a new phone and to be sure to get one due to the threat of stocks disappearing quickly due to runaway demand failed to happen this year.

Most recently, an astonishing item suggests the new iPhones are being outsold by last year’s iPhone 7 series.  To be clear, this is not a case of ‘iPhone 8 sales this year are lower than iPhone 7 sales last year’.  It is a case of ‘at present, Apple is selling more iPhone 7s than iPhone 8s.

This would seem to confirm two criticisms of the iPhone 8 – it is little different to last year’s model, and is overpriced (the iPhone 7 phones are now $150 less expensive than the 8 series phones).

But there’s an elephant in the corner of this room.  The iPhone X.  Strangely, it isn’t yet even possible to pre-order this phone, but it will become available for pre-order next Friday and will become available the following Friday, 3 November.  No-one has a clue – not even Apple – what the demand for this phone will be like, but it seems very likely that when it eventually does start selling, the cumulative count of both the ridiculously expensive iPhone X ($1000+) combined with the still very expensive iPhone 8 phones ($700/800+) will come to numbers that will put a smile on Apple investors’ faces.

But will the smile will be broad enough to wipe off the current puzzled expression, as we all try to understand Apple’s logic in announcing two very different styles of phone, both allegedly ‘the best there is’, and with shipping dates six weeks apart?

Meantime, I heard from an appreciative reader just a couple of days ago, expressing their thanks for my article and recommendation to buy a $100 Motorola Android phone.  A long time iPhone user, they’ve decided they prefer Android to iOS, and definitely prefer a $100 priced phone to an $800 priced phone.    If you’re considering a new phone, you should be sure to check out this article too.

The Champagne Service that Fell Flat

Canadian airline Sunwing advertised champagne service and champagne vacations, and referred to including a complimentary on-board champagne toast as part of its vacation packages.

A Canadian man discovered, to his disappointment, that the repeated references to champagne did not actually result in a glass of French Champagne being pressed into his hand.  Instead, he was given a glass of some generic sparkling wine of uncertain provenance, and absolutely utterly not Champagne.  Even worse, on the return trip back home, there was no complimentary wine of any description at all.

So he is suing Sunwing for misleading advertising, and is seeking damages equal to the price differential of a glass or two of Champagne compared to a glass or two of generic fizzy white wine, plus whatever punitive damages might be in the offing as well.

Sunwing concedes having used the terms ‘champagne service’ and ‘champagne vacations’ but says these terms do not imply that Champagne would be served, but merely ‘denote a level of service in reference to the entire hospitality package’.

The claimant is hoping to get it certified as a class action.  Apparently he has already found about 1600 additional prospective claimants in Quebec, eager to join the action.  Details here.

But the really big litigant could be and should be the French Champagne Industry and indeed, the French wine industry as a whole.  It is already illegal in almost every country in the world (except for a few countries that includes Russia, North Korea, and, at least until not very long ago, the US) for any wine to be sold as Champagne that doesn’t come from the Champagne region of France (and similarly for an increasing number of other wine names such as Bordeaux, Sauternes, and so on).

You’d think they’d be desperate to do everything they can to protect their brand name, because if they don’t, it will go the same way that other brandnames and now generic terms ended up, such as Bubble Wrap, Crock-Pot, Breathalyzer, Kleenex, Ping Pong, Realtor, Dumpster, Styrofoam, Windbreaker, Aspirin, Escalator, Jetway, Videotape, even Popsicle (and even Heroin, originally trademarked by Friedrich Bayer & Co in 1898).

The Problem with Electronic Boarding Passes

Save a tree.  Use an electronic boarding pass – an image on your phone – rather than an old-fashioned printed document when taking your next flight.  Or so it is suggested.  I’ve even done this myself.

But, has anyone ever wondered about two issues.

First, what happens if your phone battery dies just as you’re about to proudly show your pass on your phone screen?

Second, what happens if you can’t get wireless data service at the location you need to show your boarding pass image?

That latter issue is unlikely in most US airports, of course, but if you’re in some out-of-the-way airport in some out-of-the-way place, are you sure there’ll be wireless data for you to access when you need it?

And Lastly This Week….

One of the big lies in the airline industry is that the flight attendants are primarily there for passenger safety, not for passenger service.  This is used as an excuse whenever people dare to complain about surly unhelpful flight attendants – ‘Well, you have to remember, their main job is to be there for your safety’.  One of course never asks the follow-up question ‘Yes, but while things are perfectly safe, couldn’t they possibly spare a minute to help me’.

But what happens when there is a flight safety issue?  We’ve seen, before, examples of these ‘safety professionals’ rushing to be first out of the plane as soon as the emergency exits are popped open, and now this week, we learn of how the flight attendants on an Air Asia flight started screaming and running up and down the aisles in terror after the plane’s oxygen masks deployed and the pilots rapidly descended.

One wonders exactly how that behavior contributes to the flight’s safety.

One of the primary reasons tourists – particularly international tourists – travel to San Francisco is to go ride on a cable car.  The Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf and the Cable Cars – these are the iconic experiences visitors seek out in San Francisco.

For years now I’ve found it harder and harder to enjoy a cable car ride.  There are so few of them, and whenever one goes past, it is full.  The concept of ‘hop on and hop off’ that used to be a part of local life seems almost impractical now.  So I’ve pretty much given up on them.

Apparently I’m not the only one.  But the ‘huge hit in popularity’ (see article link below) isn’t so much due to the now $7 fare.  People who have paid thousands of dollars to travel to San Francisco won’t think anything of $7 to ride the cable car.  The real problem is lightly mentioned in the article – one to two hour waits to get on a cable car, while seven empty cars sit unmoving at the terminus.

Showing a total tone deafness, a Muni spokesman saw nothing wrong with that, and said that when everything is running ‘as it should’, passengers can expect to get on a car in about an hour.  An hour?  While seven cars sit idle??

Come on guys.  It isn’t rocket science.  If you’ve a line of people, get more of your cars running.  You’ve got plenty of cars, and either have or can quickly get plenty of gripmen.  And at $7/rider, there’s no way this won’t do anything but make you more money.

Details here.

Ah yes.  The picture up at the top of the newsletter of the rider about to fly on a Hoversurf hoverbike.  The terrifying problem?  Look at the four rotors.  Uncaged.  If anything happens and the rider comes into contact with those open blades, he’ll become instant chopped dogfood.

This article describes it as ideal for aspiring amputees.

I mention in my review of the new Amazon Fire HD 10 how much I dislike IKEA style instructions – pictures but no words.  But sometimes pictures are helpful – especially when in a foreign country and one doesn’t really know if the sign saying Qadınlar on the door, for example, means that it leads to the ladies or gents restrooms (in Azerbaijan, this will take you to the ladies).  But what to make of signs like this one?

So, another 5200 words in the weekly newsletter, the Fire review that follows, and a two-part rewritten website article on your rights if an airline damages, delays, or loses your luggage.  Is this week’s material worth a dollar or two in return?  Please decide to become an active Travel Insider Supporter, and help ensure that your Friday mornings continue to be filled with such wide-ranging, insightful, and helpful commentaries.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels





1 thought on “Weekly Roundup, Friday 20 October, 2017”

  1. For electronic boarding passes, always use a screen shot picture. I learned this the hard way when the airline’s app wouldn’t open when I was standing in front of the TSA agent.

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