Weekly Roundup, Friday 27 October, 2017

A picture of the most beautiful country in the world, according to one source. See article below. (Picture from here.)

Good morning

Only a few days remaining until Halloween.  Not many people in the US appreciate how very US-centric Halloween was, but also how the rest of the world is now rushing to embrace it too.

While the celebration of Halloween dates back to the Middle Ages and Europe, the practice of ‘trick or treating’ originated in the US, and only became prevalent after World War 2 when it rapidly became popular.  These days about 90% of US children in the 5 – 13 yr age group go trick or treating each year, and about 50% of US adults will dress up or in some way celebrate Halloween, too.  Halloween has not always been so popular elsewhere – as recently as 2006, 58% of UK households said they’d turn off their lights and pretend no-one was at home, rather than answer the door and give out candy.

The trick or treating concept is now spreading to the rest of the world, but only really in the last decade or so.

Here’s an interesting article with plenty more fun facts about Halloween.

Talking about Trick or Treating (here’s the groan segue) we now have 295 people who have kindly participated in this year’s fund-raising drive.  What are the chances that, in with your candy and other purchases, you could also send a ‘treat’ this way to help our annual appeal reach its 400 person target, allowing us all to return back to ‘normal programming’ once more.  🙂

Special thanks to our Super Supporters, or as they’ll soon be called, our Platinum members, Steve K, Jeanette P, Donna P, and Dave S; and our Diamond members as they’ll soon be termed, Richard W and Pat H, and of course, to all other supporters too.

Remember that supporters are getting an increasing number of items in return – some discounts, and some additional valuable content.  Plus the pleasure of knowing you’re helping to keep independent publishing alive.  Full details here.

It is true that sometimes it is hard to define exactly what The Travel Insider is.  Last week I wrote an example of a directly travel related article – a two-part article on what your rights are and what the airline responsibilities are if your baggage is delayed or lost, together with various tips on how to maximum your claim should one become necessary.  I also gave you, last week, an example of the other main part of the material you get – a review of Amazon’s lovely new Fire HD 10 tablet.

So this week, how about an example of ‘everything else’ that sometimes arrives in your Friday morning email.  A fairly short piece on why it is that I bought an electronic accessory item from Amazon at a bargain price and why that may be a bad thing, and – if indeed it is bad – why it might be the government’s fault!  Follow the logic through, note the Chinese connection as well, and wonder why it is that articles such as this aren’t being bandied about more widely in the mainstream media.  It follows this morning’s roundup of items.

What else?  Please keep reading for :

  • Reader Comments
  • More Pilots with Radio Problems
  • Southwest to Start Overwater Flights to Hawaii
  • Airline Hired Gun ‘Expert’ Changes His Tune?
  • Hopper to Now Predict Hotel Pricing Too
  • Travel Insider Tours Go High-Tech
  • Visit the ‘Most Beautiful Country in the World’
  • How Badly Do You Want to Visit a National Park?
  • New Travel App Reads Your Mind
  • More than 3100 Applications So Far for This Job
  • Craziest TSA Story Yet?
  • When a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
  • And Lastly This Week…..

Reader Comments

My discussion about the passenger suing Sunwing Airlines for promising champagne service and drinks, but substituting generic fizzy wine for the apparently promised Champagne caused reader David to reminisce

Back in the day, Western Airlines used to fly YVR-LAX and SEA-LAX and they also used the word champagne. As best I recall, the champagne that they poured came from $2 bottles of Franzia, a California wine.

David is correct about that.  Here’s one of their posters, perhaps from the early 1960s.  And here’s an interesting poster that, while referring to their ‘famous complimentary champagne’ fails to show it in among all the other offered drinks.  I wonder why not.  Does anyone also remember their bizarre Hunt Breakfasts, with the flight attendants dressed up in mock English hunting gear, and a concealed tape recorder on the breakfast trolley playing hunting calls?

But suing them too for failing to provide real Champagne is probably not possible.  Not only is there sure to be a statute of limitations, but Western Airlines were taken over by Delta in 1987 and no longer exist.

Several readers had comments about the item last week about the dangers of relying on your phone and electronic boarding passes.  April, who describes herself as a “happy supporter”, wrote to say

Re your newsletter item on using electronic boarding passes.  I have had times when my cell service is poor and I find myself in the TSA or boarding line waiting for my phone page to load.  Now, as soon as my e-pass is available, I take a screen shot so I have a picture on my phone. When I get to the front of the line, I just open up my phone’s app and there is my pass.  It has worked great so far.

Doesn’t work if your phone is dead.  BUT, when you are low on battery, you can send your e-pass image to a friend’s phone and they can show it for you.

The article about the $5.80 Amazon item has also attracted some comments.  If you read it online, you’ll see the comments at the bottom, and, of course, you’re welcome to add your own comments too.

More Pilots with Radio Problems

Pilots never fall asleep in the cockpit while flying their plane.  Oh no, never.  But they do seem to sometimes have strange problems with their radios – problems that are all the more strange because they fix themselves, never to reappear again.

But this week saw a case where it is hard to believe the pilots were asleep.  An Air Canada flight was about to land at San Francisco earlier this week, when the air traffic controller became concerned that a plane already on the runway might not be able to clear it before the AC plane landed.  So he radioed the AC flight and asked the pilots to abort their landing and do a ‘Go Around’ maneuver.  The pilots did not respond.

The command to abort the landing was made six times, with no response.  A controller then flashed an emergency red warning light from the control tower to the plane, but that was also ignored.

Upon (safely) landing, the pilots came back on the air, and said they had a radio problem.  Maybe the radio, which was working perfectly a minute earlier, did develop a very temporary fault, and maybe the fault miraculously fixed itself upon landing.  Or?  What other explanation could possibly apply?

Did the pilots hear the command but, seeing a clear runway and wanting to finish flying, decide they could safely ignore it?

Did the pilots switch to the ground frequency prior to landing, thinking there were no more radio communications from the approach controller because they’d been cleared to land and were only a couple of minutes from touching down?

Why don’t we know the answer?  There are cockpit voice recorder tapes that would pick up what the pilots were saying to each other and presumably would also hear radio traffic.

This is something where the public have a right to know what is happening, and in a timely manner.  Why is it a secret?  Have the cockpit voice tapes been preserved?

One more point about this.  If there was a radio problem, the pilots should have realized that, almost immediately.  San Francisco is a busy airport, and there is pretty much nonstop radio traffic on the main frequencies, all the time.  If the plane’s radios (they have at least two, probably three or more) all developed simultaneous problems, the pilots would have almost immediately noticed that instead of nonstop radio messages between the tower and other planes, there was dead silence.

There is no way that there’s not be a record, on the cockpit voice recorder, of one pilot saying to the other ‘The radio has gone dead, switch to the alternate radio and see if it is working’.

Details – such as they are – here.

Southwest to Start Overwater Flights to Hawaii

Southwest has confirmed their plans to start flying to Hawaii next year.  That’s an interesting move, because it will require specially equipped planes to qualify for over-water flights and the ETOPS certification for long flights away from emergency airports, and it also marks a further deviation from Southwest’s original business model of short flights, usually 500 – 750 miles long.

Some commentators are excitedly predicting a collapse in airfares between the west coast and Hawaii.  This would not only be a good thing for us, but also of course a bad thing for airlines that operate on the route at present, and most notably Hawaiian Airlines.  However, their CEO says he isn’t worried at all – although one wonders if he could have possibly said anything other than that!

We like Hawaiian Airlines and their service, and hope that Southwest’s presence will merely encourage them to do even better, rather than cause problems.  It is definitely true that flights to Hawaii have often seemed to be priced higher than flights within the US, so maybe there will be room for some price reductions; on the other hand, it is relevant to note that Southwest is not really a low-cost airline.  Its average ticket prices are right up there with the three major airlines.

Airline Hired Gun ‘Expert’ Changes His Tune?

Here’s an interesting story of a self-proclaimed airline expert who first was writing an article supporting the US-UAE Open Skies Agreement, and then subsequently wrote additional articles saying completely the opposite.

This is part of the reason why you need to support The Travel Insider.  Keep us free of commercial constraints, and allow us to remain beholden to no-one, able to fearlessly tell you the truth without worrying about losing advertisers and consulting contracts.

Hopper to Now Predict Hotel Pricing Too

Do you know about Hopper?  It is an app available for both iPhones and Android phones, and does a great job of finding low-priced fares and also of predicting if airfares will increase or decrease between when you researched fares and when you plan to travel.  If you don’t already have it on your phone, you should add it (surprisingly and annoyingly, they don’t provide a matching website, only the phone apps).

They are now experimenting with predicting if hotel room rates will rise or fall, too.  Initially they are trialing this with New York City hotels, but if it proves popular, it will grow further.  Part of their hotel service is sending their own people to every hotel to provide a truly consistent and fair rating/review of each hotel.  More details here.

Definitely an app and company/service worth keeping an eye on.

Travel Insider tour members will get two-way walkie-talkies to better hear what guides are saying and for on coach commentary and discussions

Travel Insider Tours Go High-Tech

If you’ve been on a cruise recently, there’s a chance that on your shore excursions, your guides might have been using a Quiet-Vox system – they have a miniature radio transmitter and you all have receivers, so it is easy to hear what the guide is saying, even in a noisy place, and without needing to be right next to the guide.

They are a great concept, although I feel frustrated when they are used by a guide who hasn’t adapted their earlier and necessary approach of walking to somewhere while not talking, then stopping, gathering the group around, talking for a while, then walking to the next spot silently again.

However, these systems have two limitations.  And I’m very excited to tell you that we are addressing these limitations with a wonderful new approach.

The first limitation is that guides don’t use them when you’re sightseeing by coach.  This inevitably causes problems, because some people want to just travel quietly and perhaps snooze, others want to talk among themselves, and some people want to listen to the commentary.  I’ve always had much more commentary that I could provide, but have wanted to try and balance these differing desires among the people on the coach, and now for our Grand Expedition of Great Britain next year, I’ll be able to talk at greater length through the wireless system and you can individually choose to listen or not, however/whenever you wish.

The second limitation is that the other systems are one-way only.  You have a receiver, but not a transmitter.  I’m changing that, too.  Everyone’s unit will be able to send as well as receive.  This also will be very useful on the coach.  The people at the back of the coach are ‘disenfranchised’ – often the people in the first row or two will ask me questions and engage in discussion, but the people in the back can neither hear nor be heard.  Now, if you’re in the back of the coach and have a question or comment, you can easily simply use your transceiver to send your question/comment to the others who are tuned in.

A third feature is that the units have reasonably decent FM receivers built into them as well.  So you can listen to your choice of FM radio stations instead of or as well as listening to commentary (you can set the receiver to either automatically switch to commentary or to ignore the commentary).

We’ll trial the units on our Christmas cruise in December with the pre and post touring options, and then deploy them fully on next year’s tours.  If you like them, you can even keep them (for a very modest $30/unit cost), and we’ll program them to your choice of legal public unlicensed frequencies for the US or wherever else you wish to use them.  (Amazingly, we are still having people join us for the December cruise, now only six weeks away – another lady joined this week.)

All in all, another way in which The Travel Insider gives you a distinctively better experience.

Visit the ‘Most Beautiful Country in the World’

Talking about our Grand Expedition of Great Britain next June, reader voting on the Rough Guides website has just determined that the most beautiful country in the world is Scotland.

We like Scotland, and feature it in our Grand Expedition next year, but we are a bit surprised to see it win top billing as the most beautiful country in the world.  Here’s an article with some amazing photos to ‘prove’ the outstanding nature of Scotland’s beauty and the correctness of the Rough Guide award.  And here are some recent fall pictures, also amazing. Come see for yourself, with us, next June.

At the same time that Rough Guide announced its winners for most beautiful country, Lonely Planet came out with its Top 10 Country list.  They gave first place to Chile, then South Korea, Portugal, Djibouti and New Zealand.  They also listed the top 10 cities, with the top five being Seville, Detroit, Canberra, Hamburg and Kaohsiung.

Djibouti?  And Detroit?  Really!?  Details here.

How Badly Do You Want to Visit a National Park?

Talking about beautiful countries, undoubtedly one of the great treasures of this nation are our national parks.  All praise to Teddy Roosevelt and the other early supporters/creators of the national parks that now cover much of many of our states – 3.7% of the entire US is now national park.

Do you ever visit a national park?  If you do, you probably know that, at least for some of each year, a fee is levied on every visitor.  I remember one time briefly driving through Glacier National Park, and being a bit chagrined at having to pay $30 for what was, in total, about one hour of driving between going in one gate and out the other.  But, I told myself, it is in a good cause, although I also wondered how it was that the fee was so high, on top of the better part of a billion dollars in annual federal funding for the national parks.

The National Park Service is proposing yet another hike in its fees.  A number of the parks increased their fees in 2015, and in 2016, there was an 8% rise in total visitors, all of which would seem to be helpful.  But, notwithstanding 331 million visitors in 2016, the NPS says it is still desperately underfunded, so is suggesting a peak season increase for vehicles from the current $25 – $30 up to $70 per vehicle.

Okay, so it is still less than a Disney admission, but am I the only one to wonder if this mightn’t tip the scales for some people and cause a reduction in visits?  Isn’t the whole charter for the national parks to create a series of natural resources for the general populace to enjoy, not just a privileged few?

The NPS says there are billions of dollars needed to be spent on repairs.  Is it only me, or do you too find it curious that natural unspoiled wilderness requires more than 20,000 employees and billions of dollars to be spent on ‘repairing’ it?

Details here.

New Travel App Reads Your Mind

Is this exciting or frightening?

A new travel app being trialed by a UK/EU travel company, TUI (formerly Thomson, and also with some US brands, too) shows a person selected scenes and senses how the person reacts to them, and then creates the profile of the ideal vacation experience based on its analysis.

I won’t say ‘it will never work’ but I will express some doubts.  There’s a world of difference between the ‘ideal’ vacation experience most of us would love to have, and the actuality of the experience we could actually afford, justify, and make actually happen.

There’d probably be fewer bikini beauties in the real experience than the ‘ideal’ one which the TUI computer might recommend.  And fewer five-star hotel suites in which to entertain the aforementioned young ladies.  Inside cabins on Princess Cruise ships rather than Owner’s Suites on Silversea or Seabourn ships.

Details here.

More than 3100 Applications So Far for This Job

Talking about ideal travel experiences, the New York Times has advertised for a travel writer (apparently, no prior experience necessary) who would be willing to spend the next year working on their annual ’52 Places to Go’ travel feature.  The job ad says

We are seeking a correspondent who will go to every destination on our list and tell us the story of each place and the story of life on the road. The ideal candidate is a permanent student of life and astute documentarian of the world.

As of a few days ago, they had 3100 applications, more than 500 every day.   But there are still a few more days – applications close on 31 October – so if that sounds like the job for you, why not apply.  Someone’s got to get it, after all.

Details here.

Craziest TSA Story Yet?

Here’s an interesting article on Quora a month ago, citing a crazy TSA experience.  Apparently the writer’s daughter was stopped while going through TSA at Cleveland Airport.  She had a metal star dangling from her key chain and the TSA screener decided it was potentially a dangerous weapon and refused to allow her to travel with it, even though she had many times before.

She said ‘Okay, throw it away’, but that wasn’t enough.  More TSA staff descended upon her to grill her about the attempt to smuggle this weapon of mass destruction through their impregnable security.

And then her boss happened to come by and demanded to know what was happening.  The thing is, you see, her boss was the pilot of the plane, and she was the copilot, both in full uniform.  The pilot not only restated the now famous claim ‘You won’t let my copilot on the plane with a charm bracelet item, but when she gets on the plane, she has access to a full-sized fire axe’ but added ‘and I’m a FFDO boarding the plane with my firearm in this briefcase’.

At this, the TSA allowed the copilot to board her flight.  But do read the ‘random’ surprise that curiously happened to be waiting for her a bit later that day.

When a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Well, there are actually 37 words in this cartoon, but the overall story it tells is wonderful.

And Lastly This Week…..

Saudi Arabia is a country that is almost impossible for westerners to travel to.  Sure, if you’re from the third world and willing to work for next to no money, they’ll allow you in to exploit you, but if you’re a non-muslim tourist, forget it.  It is also a country notable for treating its women as second class citizens.

But apparently, if you’re a robot – and a female robot at that, it is easy not only to visit Saudi Arabia but also to get citizenship.  So this item tells us.  Question to Saudi Arabia – will you require the robot to wear a burqa?  Or do female robots have more rights than female humans?

The Barrow Utqiaġvik airport in Alaska was briefly closed earlier this week due to a runway obstruction.  The obstruction?  A 450lb seal lying on the middle of the runway.

Barrow changed its name to Utqiaġvik a year ago.  The decision is proving controversial, and one wonders just how many of its supporters know how to type a letter “g” with a dot above it (what a ridiculous affectation).

Here’s an interesting article about how the rise of social media and the general dumbing down of so much of the internet is imperiling more noble attempts to use the internet to collect and collate information.  The cited example is Wikipedia, but the same is true of The Travel Insider, too.  Don’t let us be swept aside by the tidal wave of Facebook likes, Twitter tweets, and fake news.

Help keep good solid news and analysis alive and well and please join in our 2017 Fundraiser.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels





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