Weekly Roundup, Friday 1 December, 2017

Amadeo’s senior executives celebrating their A380 order back in 2013.  See story, below.

Good morning

For the last week I’ve been testing portable battery packs.  I’ve got 18 different units (all of which I’ve paid full price for – this is what your annual support of The Travel Insider helps fund), ranging in capacity from 1500 mAh to 26,600 mAh, and have been compiling data on 35 different attributes for each unit, including running multiple charge and discharge tests in a variety of different scenarios.

I’ve five different test devices, and just calibrating the various devices so I could be somewhat confident that the test results were consistent and relevant and reflective of real world experiences was a major undertaking in itself.

However, I think – I hope – it is all proving to be time well spent.  As I’d expected, there’s an enormous shortfall between the stated capacity and the actuality of charge that is transferred into one of your devices.  To date, the worst performing unit barely managed 35% of its stated capacity, whereas the best performing unit delivered 70% (not exactly a proud record for the ‘best performing’ unit either).  One site went as far as to offer an equation to convert between stated and actual capacity – it suggests that generally you’d get about a 63% maximum ‘yield’ from the stated capacity.

This of course begs the question which the site and its equation was conspicuously silent on – why rate something at more than 50% above its real usable capacity?  To add further puzzlement to that, for example a unit with a rated capacity of 10,000 mAh might accept 7,500 mAh of input charge, and deliver 6,000 mAh of outgoing charge.  The 10,000 figure measures neither input nor output charge.  What does it measure?  I’ve no idea.

The bottom line result is a 6,000 mAh unit that delivers more power than several 10,000 mAh units.  One of the 10,000 mAh units provides almost 50% more power than another one that is physically larger and heavier.  There is also the curious case of two 10,000 mAh units that appear to be identical in almost every respect, but one outperforms the other by more than 10%.

And so on, through a number of other surprising findings.  I was particularly surprised to discover that a four year old unit I’ve been traveling with performs as well as many of the new ‘state of the art’ units, and in general, while pricing has come down, there’s been precious little discernible improvement in terms of energy density (ie the size and weight of the units) over the last six years.

But I’m not giving you an article on this topic today, alas.  I’m still waiting on two units from Amazon to complete the testing series.  A delivery promised for Wednesday then slipped and was promised to arrive Thursday instead, and then, minutes after they’d apologized and promised it for Thursday, its status was updated again, and it will now arrive by 9pm on Friday (today).


So while you don’t yet have the definitive guide to rechargeable external batteries, you do have, instead, a minor dissertation on the growing perfidies of Amazon’s increasingly unreliable shipping, including such surprises as how Amazon simultaneously describes a package as being delivered within 4-5 days and also as being delivered on a specific date, which is actually nine days away – perhaps instead of “4-5 days” they mean to say “4+5 days”!

The bottom line on Amazon’s shipping? Better not rely on them for your last-minute shopping in the two or three days prior to 25 December.

What else this week?  Please continue reading for :

  • Flying on American Airlines in December?  Better Cross Your Fingers!
  • The End of an Era at Airbus
  • A Novel Approach to Solving the Problem of Unwanted A380s
  • The Pen (or at least Network Name) is Mightier than the Sword?
  • ‘We’re Doing This to Help Protect You’
  • And Lastly This Week

Flying on American Airlines in December?  Better Cross Your Fingers!

What is being described as a ‘system scheduling error’ means that American Airlines is finding itself without sufficient pilots available to operate its flights this month – and in particular, the critical two weeks leading up to 31 December.

Their pilots union, with ill-concealed glee, estimates that more than 15,000 flights are currently without pilots during these two weeks.

AA has offered to pay its pilots overtime pay if they’ll agree to come to work – 150% of their normal hourly wage.  Now some of us might find it a curious notion offering time and a half rates to pilots who typically work a 20 hour week (yes, I know, plus time to get to and from the airport, etc etc, just like the rest of us who work 40+ hour weeks).  Even more curious is AA implying it would have sweetened the pot still further and offered to pay even higher rates, but their union contract forbids it.

Can you imagine – a union contract that sets a maximum cap on how much its pilots can be paid?

But hardest of all to imagine is how this ‘system scheduling error’ crept in, apparently unnoticed.

For now, if you’ve AA flights scheduled in the second half of December, there’s not a lot you can do except cross your fingers and hope.  Details here.

The End of an Era at Airbus

Airbus – or at least the commercial passenger jet division – is another example of a company that has become largely the extension of a single individual.  In this case the individual is John Leahy, who is about to retire in January after 33 years with Airbus, most of it as head of their sales department.

Leahy has always been an outspoken advocate of his planes, and has never hesitated to expose what he sees as the shortcomings of Boeing.  Largely as a result of his efforts, Airbus rose from almost nothing to, in eight of the last ten years, outselling Boeing.  (Scroll much of the way down this page for interesting tables of annual sales and deliveries for Boeing and Airbus.)

It is a shame that his last year with Airbus seems likely to have Boeing significantly outsell Airbus.  A harbinger of the future?  Probably not, but Airbus will definitely not be quite the same without him.

Here’s a piece about the evolution of Airbus during his tenure (some might say, ‘reign’).

A Novel Approach to Solving the Problem of Unwanted A380s

So, what do you do if you’re an airplane leasing company, with eight A380s in your fleet, and another twenty on order.  That is, what do you do if you can’t find any airlines to lease the A380s from you?

Irish leasing company Amadeo has this problem, and has come up with a brilliant solution – I use the word ‘brilliant’ advisedly because it is one I’ve advocated and anticipated regularly in the past.

They are creating their own unbranded airline, and will sell seats on their flights through any and every possible third-party outlet.  Brand name airlines, perhaps other hospitality services such as Airbnb, and why not other retail marketing companies such as Costco and Amazon, too.

The reality is there is increasingly a disconnect between the company that sells you an airline ticket and the company that flies the plane that your ticket is for.  We know this normally as code-sharing, and it can result in one single plane having as many as half a dozen different flight numbers from half a dozen different carriers.

Why stop at codesharing where name-brand airlines swap seats between themselves.  Why not have specialized companies that do nothing other than fly planes?  We already have specialized companies that do nothing other than own planes, companies that do nothing other than provide food and other service items, companies that do nothing other than maintain and service planes, and various other specializations, too.  We even have specialized companies that own the frequent flier programs and the computer reservation systems.

This is partially happening already with independent regional carriers that contract their flights out to the big brand names.  Why not extend the concept further.

There is no immediate overlap between the skills and resources needed to sell tickets and those needed to operate the flights.  Why not allow the airlines to specialize in what they are ‘really good’ at, and have the other functions truly disconnected and passed on to other companies.  (Note I’m not specifying which part of the total process the current airlines are really good at!)

So much of our air travel experience has become interchangeably generic, already.  We fly in identical seats on identical planes with identical fares and terms/conditions, identical surcharges and fees and penalties, very similar (and equally worthless) frequent flier programs, and flight attendants and pilots that you can only tell apart by the color of their uniform.

So we wish Amadeo well with their new venture.  The dinosaur airlines might be slow to respond, but the new upstart carriers will recognize the huge opportunity present – a way to expand their presence without needing to commit capital – and perhaps Amadeo and other faceless nameless carriers will slowly take over all the ‘name brand’ planes.

I’m sure the DoT and DoJ would see this as a happy increase in consumer choice and competition.  Every other merger and ‘joint operating agreement’ has been greeted that way by them.  And, in truth, it could be exactly that, because it makes it easy for anyone to simply buy tickets from Amadeo and then sell them on whatever basis they wish.

Today, it would take me or you perhaps five years and $100 million plus to start our own airline, with an appalling amount of regulatory compliance involved.  But if Amadeo and other companies are operating a network of unbranded flights, it would instead take us five minutes/hours/days to negotiate a contract with them and start selling ‘David’s Airline’ tickets.

The possibilities are endless and exciting.

Here’s information about what Amadeo is doing.

The Pen (or at least Network Name) is Mightier than the Sword?

Some might unkindly say that these days travelers are scared of their own shadows.  That’s not yet conclusively proven, but for sure, some ridiculous things these days result in disproportionate responses.  After all, as airlines love to parrot, ‘the safety and comfort of our passengers is our first priority’.

The latest example of an over-reaction would be amusing, if it weren’t for the fact it has happened before.  As you may know, most modern phones allow you to create a ‘personal hotspot’ – a weakly powered Wi-Fi network based on your phone, sharing its wireless data service with any other devices you allow to connect to it.  It can sometimes be a great way of allowing several devices to access the internet, piggy-backing on your phone’s data service and allowance.

When you create a hotspot, you can of course define its name and also create a passport to restrict access.  I generally change the default names to nondescript names that don’t reveal anything about me or the device that is creating the hotspot, for better security.

But, for fun, why not give your hotspot a silly name.  White_House_Secure.  Hillary_Email_Server.  Free_XXX_Videos.  Whatever.  As has happened before, some trickster on a Turkish Airlines flight last week named his hotspot “Bomb on Board”.

Okay, we know all about not making jokes about bombs going through TSA, but as a quiet bit of passive aggression, and probably safely untraceable on a flight, there’s a certain amount of ironic amusement when noting the existence of such a hotspot.

So what did the panicked Turks do, when a passenger reported this to a flight attendant?  Well, naturally, they diverted the flight and made an emergency landing in Khartoum, and then carried out a security inspection on the plane and all passengers.

Of course, no bomb was found.  And, apparently, no-one owned up to a tasteless choice in Wi-Fi network names.  Passengers reboarded and the flight continued on, safely.

My point is simply to wonder whether it might not have been better to have first asked the passengers if anyone had named their hotspot “Bomb on Board” and, if someone so confessed, simply ask them to rename it.

But, hey, who wouldn’t appreciate a chance to divert to Khartoum and be inspected by Sudanese security (if that’s not an oxymoron).

Details here.

‘We’re Doing This to Help Protect You’

No-one reading this is likely to think favorably about ‘human trafficking’ as it is so delicately called these days.

But how would you feel if you, your wife or daughter was detained for over an hour upon returning back home from a vacation in Mexico, due to unvoiced concerns that you might be a victim of human trafficking, based on a tip-off from someone else on your flight who thought you looked vulnerable and maybe being exploited.

That was the fate of a 26 yr old Asian/American lady.  An unnamed passenger on the flight formed the opinion that this lady and the girlfriend she was traveling with were victims of ‘white slavery’, due to perceiving that ‘someone else had their passports’.  In actual fact, the two girls were flying alone, and had their passports with them, but the volunteered stupid misperceptions of some busybody created over an hour of unpleasantness when returning back to the US, answering vague questions about who they were, where they were going, and so on.

How does one prove one isn’t a victim of human trafficking?  But, that’s totally the wrong question to be asking.  Why should we have to prove our innocence?

Guilty until proven innocent, apparently.  Details here.

And Lastly This Week

For reasons that I can’t start to comprehend (and hopefully you can’t, either), some American tourists thought it appropriate to moon a temple in Thailand.

This has seen them run into difficulties with the Thai authorities.  No big surprise there.  But what is a surprise is that the most draconian of potential outcomes are not so much associated with the actual act of pointing their backsides in the general direction of the temple, but of then uploading the pictures to Instagram.  They are being held on charges under the Thai Computer Crime Act, with possible penalties of up to five years in jail.

So – bare bum – a small fine.  Uploading picture of same to an off-shore website – being held in jail and potentially up to five years in prison.  That seems like the lesser offense is risking the greater penalty.

Details here.

Tesla’s truck an impossibility?  That seems to be what an article headed “Tesla’s newest promises break the laws of batteries” implies.  Read it and decide for yourself; for my part, I think the article is underestimating, not overestimating, some of the challenges that these trucks will create in terms of the promised fast recharging implications.

The world’s top restaurants are increasingly to be found in – yes, you guessed it, China.  According to the French La Liste listing of the top 1000 restaurants in the world, the country with the most restaurants featured is Japan, with 138, but China is rapidly moving up the stakes and now has 123.  France and the US are the other two countries in the top four.

Details here.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels





7 thoughts on “Weekly Roundup, Friday 1 December, 2017”

  1. Walter W. Stumpf Jr.

    About the ‘orphan’ A380’s, I would think that an alternate idea would be a conversion to freighters. Airbus originally was going to produce one. Boeing 747’s have been converted many times, and I would think there is a market for 8, maybe even UPS or Fedex in some of their heavy markets.


      1. Walter W. Stumpf Jr.

        Hi David-
        It is my understanding though that the package carriers [UPS/FedEx] get filled by volume before weight. Flying one aircraft say between hubs with a crew of 2 might outweigh the longer load/unload and maybe more efficient. Who knows?

      2. Yes, you’re completely correct, in most cases these days the limit on airline capacity is volume based rather than, as was once formerly the case, weight.

        But the thing is, as explained in several of the Quora articles, the A380 can’t be as efficiently loaded volumetrically, and results in a higher cost per mile flown per package.

        As to your question about who knows, you can be totally certain that Airbus, UPS, FedEx, et al, all know exactly the implications of this. If there was even the hint of a business case for converting A380s to freighters, the currently idled planes would be switching to freighters in double quick time.

  2. Looking forward to your portable battery info. My Anker 79AN7925 13000mA is my old standby. A bit large, but with all our devices (phones, tablets) – it can really do the job. Also have smaller Anker A1104 (we call it lipstick size) which is good when traveling on an afternoon jaunt, but only good for about 1 cell phone charge. My biggest “draw” is usually for GPS navigation/direction.

    Not sure what you do with all your batteries, but perhaps you can resell to subscribers as they trust you and know they are barely used. I likely will not need another, however.

    1. Hi, Mike

      My old (4 yrs old) Anker Astro 3 was one of the better performers.

      As for selling them on, that leads back to Amazon’s freight advantage. It would cost me about $5 to ship a battery via USPS, and if I was selling a battery that I bought for $10 – $20, I could probably only sell that for $5 – $15; even less for the vast majority of the batteries that tested to be inferior to the one or two best batteries.

      So I could sell the batteries for barely break even, and have the hassle of driving them to the post office in the build up to Christmas. Ugh.

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