Weekly Roundup, Friday 19 January, 2018

This is your last chance to join us on our June Grand Expedition of Great Britain, from Land’s End to John O’Groats, and many other places inbetween.

Good morning

First, a touring update, if I may.

Grand Expedition of Great Britain

I’m going to make this the ‘last call’ for our Grand Expedition of Great Britain tour.  If you’re thinking of coming, please let me know in the next very few days.  Any later and I literally will not be able to get hotel rooms for you.

This is a true ‘tour’ in the sense of having a substantial traveling component – truly in this case, the journey is more than the destination.  And, what a journey it is.  We start off in lovely Salisbury, spend two nights in Cornwall (a place few tourists venture to, but which everyone loves once they get there), two nights crammed full of the ultimate in beautiful ‘picture postcard’ type charming villages in the glorious Cotswolds, and talking about picture postcards, we go to the Lake District as well for another almost overload on scenery.  We visit Wrexham in Wales, and go all the way to the top of Scotland and then continue heading north on to the Orkney Islands where we’ll see Skara Brae, Scapa Flow, and much more before ending in Edinburgh or Glasgow.

We’ve 24 friendly Travel Insiders coming along, and a nice big roomy coach, and would welcome one more couple to join us this June.

Also, a reminder.  We have a single lady who would be willing to share a room with a companion, so if you’re a lady thinking of traveling alone, you could have an instant friend and save the need to otherwise spend on a single supplement.  Please let me know if you’d like an introduction.

Triple K Tour of Kiev, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan

This adventure tour is filling slowly but surely.  We’ll take you to places few westerners go – Chernobyl, for example, plus out-of-the-way parts of Kazakhstan that were formerly closed to foreigners due to their military sensitivity.  Plus we go to some places of outstanding natural beauty – Charyn Canyon, for example, considered Kazakhstan’s answer to our Grand Canyon.

This is an ideal tour for people who like to ‘collect’ countries – you get to visit three (or more if you wish) countries that are off the beaten path.  Similarly, for people who like to collect experiences – if you’re looking for somewhere different but also safe and enjoyable to visit, rather than just returning to Europe yet again, this is definitely a tour for you to consider, this May.

Frontsight Course

The first weekend in March sees a group of responsible Travel Insider firearm owners and potential future owners gathering just out of Las Vegas for a two or four day firearms training program at Frontsight in Nevada.

Whether you love or hate guns, whether you’re an expert or a novice, this gives you a great mix of classroom sessions and practical training – not just untimed shooting at fixed targets, but practice at drawing from concealment, experiencing a ‘shoot house’ where you clear a mock house of home invaders, shooting at multiple targets, and even a one-on-one competition with your fellow attendees.  Full gear rental is available if you don’t already have a pistol.

At the end of the four day class, you will be able to fire two accurate aimed shots at a target in under two seconds – including the time to draw your pistol from a concealed holster, and everyone will have received more – and better – training in handgun use than most police and military.

New Zealand Epicurean Extravaganza

Let me proudly show off my home country of New Zealand to you this Oct/Nov.  I’ll take you to the places that tourists love, and to the places tourists don’t know to visit, but which New Zealanders love, too.

Timed to coincide with one of the country’s leading Food & Wine festivals, and in spring with hopefully glorious warm weather, this is a lovely experience of a lovely country, and, as added bonus, there’s a chance to ‘go across the ditch’ and spend time in Tropical North Queensland, Australia (featuring the Great Barrier Reef and World Heritage Rainforest), as a post-tour option, too.


I’ve now got three people pre-registered for this tour, and it hasn’t even been published yet!  In late August/early September, we’ll go to Ireland – both the Republic of Ireland and also Northern Ireland.  We have optional pre-tour time in Dublin and post-tour time in Belfast and then on to the Isle of Man, and the main tour – seven nights – takes us around the perimeter of Ireland, making sure you thoroughly experience a very broad cross-section of Ireland’s best attractions, sights and features.

I hope to have this tour available for booking next week.

Christmas Markets ‘Cruise’

At this point, I’ve been unable to get what I feel to be a compellingly good deal on a Christmas Markets cruise.  So I’m looking at a ‘land cruise’ instead of a river cruise – ie, one where we stay in hotels – often two nights at a time, and travel around the regions by coach and train.

I’m quite excited by this.  It means we can go to places that aren’t adjacent to the rivers – and with that freedom, I’m thinking an itinerary possibly ranging from Paris, through some of northern France, Belgium and Holland, and ending in Amsterdam, for a complete change to what we’ve done on the Danube and Rhine before.  It also means we can do it all for appreciably less than the $3500+ cost of a river cruise, too.

So please continue to keep time open in early/mid December.

And now, with those various temptations offered, please continue on for :

  • The A380 Wins a Reprieve
  • Airbus vs Boeing :  2017 Results
  • BA Business Class – Goodnight, Sleep tight, and Don’t Let the Bedbugs Bite
  • BA Refuses to Fly Overdressed Passenger
  • The ‘Dubai of the North’?
  • Passport Expiry Nonsense
  • China – the New International Bully
  • America’s Tourist Problem
  • US Navy :  One Law for the Admirals, Another for the Commanders
  • And Lastly This Week….

The A380 Wins a Reprieve

It had been widely anticipated – most notably by Airbus – that Emirates would order between 30 and 50 A380s at the Dubai Air Show in November.  This did not happen.

This became a very interesting negotiation, because it has been totally unclear which side had the most to win or lose.  You probably know the saying “If you owe the bank a million dollars, the bank owns you; but if you owe the bank a billion dollars, you own the bank”.  In this case, it was hard to tell which party was analogous to the bank and which was the debtor.

On the one hand, Emirates has almost singlehandedly supported the A380 program pretty much from the day it was first released through to now, and its future order represents the only major ‘real’ forward order for the plane.  Without Emirates’ ongoing support, the production line looked likely to either be paused or stopped entirely, never to restart.

But, on the other hand, Emirates currently owns (or leases) 101 A380s (41% of their entire fleet, and over 50% of their entire capacity), with an additional 77 on order.  If the A380 was discontinued by Airbus, the resale value of those planes would plunge even lower than their current uncertain but probably dismayingly low value, costing Emirates many billions of dollars.

And Emirates has very successfully been riding the wave of traveler preferences – passengers really like the A380, because it is large, spacious, comfortable, quiet, and unusual – and ‘dining out’ on the merits of its A380 fleet.  If Emirates was forced to phase the plane out of its fleet, it would lose that distinctive ‘plus’, and with its earliest A380s coming due for replacement about now, the airline can’t conveniently do nothing and wait to see what the future holds.

There was a series of increasingly hyperbolic statements made in public by both Emirates and Airbus.  Emirates said it was thinking of switching to a fleet of only 777 and 787 planes – a double dig at Airbus by not only discontinuing its A380 purchases but also removing the possibility of future sales of the A350.  Airbus in turn said it was thinking of ending production of the A380 if it didn’t get more orders from somewhere (hint, hint, Emirates).

Perhaps the best analogy is that of MAD – mutually assured destruction.  If Emirates did not buy more A380s, it would harm itself as well as Airbus; possibly even more so- whereas clearly Emirates can monetize and profit from A380s, one doubts Airbus is making any money on the A380s it is currently producing at a glacial rate slated to slow still further to a mere one every two months (compare that to plans to move A320 production up to a rate of possibly two every day).  Airbus continues to desperately hope that by keeping the production line open, eventually the marketplace will move to wanting/needing A380s, although there is no evidence of that at present, just wishful thinking.  Perhaps Airbus might have been doing itself a kindness if it killed off the A380 and focused on more immediately marketable planes.

However, on Thursday it was announced that Emirates would buy 20 more A380s and also receive options for up to 16 more (this article has some good analysis).  This order, while notably smaller than the order expected in November (30 – 50 planes), is now being hailed as a reprieve for the A380 and buying the plane another decade of production life.

But has the order made either company happy?  Both are digging their respective holes deeper, and neither are any closer to a longer term resolution of the future of the plane.  It also seems that Airbus has managed to defer any commitments to a substantive upgrade to the plane which it had earlier been hinting might be on the cards, and which Emirates was hoping for.

For ourselves, we love the A380 (and also mourn the disappearance of the 747), and are delighted to see the program winning a reprieve for some more years into the future.  But we view this order as nothing other than a temporary deferral of issues that remain unresolved and trending negatively.

Airbus vs Boeing :  2017 Results

Numbers are now in for the orders and deliveries logged by both Airbus and Boeing for 2017.

Deliveries are a relatively easy thing to measure, and a relatively slow-moving thing to change.  Speeding up a production line is something that takes months to orchestrate.  So, apart from occasional discontinuities such as strikes, airplane certification problems, matching engine availability, and other such things, there are seldom many surprises with deliveries, and both companies can predict to within a percent or two of the actual number they’ll achieve each year.  Furthermore, with both companies having order books representing close on a decade of future deliveries, they both tend to run their production lines at speeds close to maximum.

In 2017, Boeing beat Airbus for deliveries, making six years in a row it has out-delivered Airbus.

Airbus suffered a couple of challenges in 2017, with non-availability of engines and also with a strange hold-up in deliveries of completed planes to China.  Both matters are expected to be resolved during 2018, which might see a greater than usual rise in their steady annual growth.

Boeing’s results have been more wildly varying across the board.  But it is astonishing to note how both companies are now producing at rates almost twice that of ten years earlier.

Orders are a much more capricious thing.  Not only is there as much art as science in deciding when to consider an agreement becomes a formal sale, but sales can subsequently be rescinded, and rather than being a steady predictable production line flow, they come in fits and starts – for example, in 2017, Airbus sold two-thirds of their entire year’s count of sales in the last ten days of the year.

On the other hand, any gaming of how sales are counted sooner or later has to be resolved, and so while there is little significance in the result for a single year, when viewed alongside another year or two before and after, it may become clearer which company is selling more planes than the other.

Airbus has been winning the sales race for most of the last some years, as can be seen in this chart, and it won again in 2017, making five years in a row it has sold more planes.

You can see a more complete discussion and statistics of Airbus and Boeing annual sales/deliveries on my page here.

BA Business Class – Goodnight, Sleep tight, and Don’t Let the Bedbugs Bite

Perhaps this should be the new mantra for BA’s business class.

News surfaced this week of another hapless BA passenger who suffered an attack of bedbugs after flying business class, this time from London to Cape Town.

One wonders how often this happens.  BA said that reports of bed bugs are ‘extremely rare’ (although one wonders how many additional cases are unreported).  What would that mean, I wonder?  One report per thousand flights, perhaps?  That doesn’t sound like a lot, particularly if there are in total 250,000 passengers on those thousand flights.

But, sticking with that one report per thousand flights, BA operates 280,000 flights a year.  So, ‘extremely rare’ could also equate to almost a report every day.

One also notes that BA said their response to the report was to cordon off and treat the seat as necessary.  Ummm – excuse me, but can’t bed bugs travel – either alone or on a host (see, for example, this site)?  If there are bed bugs on one airplane seat, how does one ‘cordon’ it off such that bed bugs can’t travel to the next seat, or the one several rows over, and so on?

We’re not altogether blaming BA for having bed bugs – the can be brought onto a plane in many different ways – but we do think the description of their response – to cordon off one seat and ‘treat it’ – is a bit underwhelming.

More details here.

BA Refuses to Fly Overdressed Passenger

Here’s an interesting story of an overdressed passenger (quite literally so) who was refused travel on his BA flight.  Of particular interest is how a second airline – Easyjet – then refused to fly him home too, for no reason other than “If BA refused to accept you, then we’ll refuse to accept you too”.  Oh, to add further insult to the already substantial injury, at first Easyjet not only refused to fly him, but also refused to refund him the ticket they sold him.

Eventually Norwegian stepped in to take the guy home.

It is bad enough when airlines capriciously refuse to fly people.  But at least there is usually some sort of originating issue that escalated to the point of refusing to transport the person.  But when the then suitably chastened and doubly desperate person then turns up at another airline counter, behaving perfectly, is it fair to be told ‘No, we won’t fly you either’?  Shouldn’t there be some sort of obligation on public carriers to actually carry the public?  Well, yes, of course there indeed is, but getting airlines to fairly honor their obligations – good luck with that.

I have particular sympathy for this person because I have been known to wear an unnecessary extra layer of heavy outer clothing myself – and with the pockets full – on occasion when struggling with an almost too heavy suitcase and a very high excess weight charge!

The ‘Dubai of the North’?

Which came first – the chicken, or the egg?  In the case of Dubai, which came first – Emirates Airline or Dubai airport?  Probably, a bit like the chicken and egg question, the two circled around each other a few times, and it is certainly true that without the extraordinary growth of the airline, there’d never have become a major hub, and in a part of the world that wasn’t calling out for a major hub.

For Australia, South East Asia, and lesserly other regions too, Dubai struggles to be, at best, a semi-sensible hub where journeys can be broken and staged on the way to/from Europe, it was the grit and determination of Emirates that more than made up for the lack of any outstanding geographical position.

But, what about for travel between Europe and North America?  Traditionally, the major hub has been London, and secondarily, places such as FRA and AMS and maybe even PAR.

However, if you draw great circle routes between US cities and European cities (Google Earth Pro is a great tool for this), you’ll notice an interesting thing.  While London is sensible as a hub for travel from the NYC/DC region to much of Europe, if you’re traveling from the west coast or mountain states, most of those routes will not go so close to London, while definitely going close to Reykjavik in Iceland.  A strong airline, similar to Emirates, could do for Reykjavik what Emirates has done for Dubai – all the more so because the Keflavik airport is both close to Reykjavik but also surrounded by empty unimproved and largely uninhabited land, and therefore capable of expanding massively, quite unlike London or most other major European hubs.

This is starting to be appreciated, and over the last nine years, passenger numbers passing through Keflavik (KEF) have increased five-fold.  Both the international Iceland based airlines – Icelandair and Wow Air – are using ‘their’ base as a hub to stage passengers flying between the US and Europe, and are growing substantially as a result, along with the airport too.

Of course, this is simultaneously bad news for other European hubs and carriers, and also for the A380.  Whereas the A380 makes sense when flying in and out of congested and slot-restricted Heathrow, it makes little sense for the much ‘thinner’ routes Icelandair and Wow are establishing, connecting secondary US cities, through KEF, to secondary European cities.

We think this is great for us as passengers.  Convenient connections, good carriers, low fares and an uncongested reliable airport.  Well, assuming no problems with volcano eruptions of course, and when there are eruptions in Iceland, the ash plumes tend to interfere with many airports (and actually might even avoid KEF, due to planes flying below them to land into and take-off out of KEF).

Here’s an article about expansion at Keflavik.

Passport Expiry Nonsense

I wrote in November about the lamentable lack of understanding about how close to your passport’s expiry date you can use it to travel.  The take-away point was that in the 48 different countries I listed – the most popular countries for most of us to travel to – not a single one of them required your passport to be valid for at least six months after the completion of your travel, even though many sources advise you to always make sure your passport remains valid at least this long after the completion of any trip.

And now this week, one of the leading travel industry magazines has published an article by one of the leading travel industry specialist attorneys, recommending that travel agents should essentially lie and tell their clients exactly this nonsense – that our passports are required to be valid for six months after our travels are complete.  He even proudly offers specific paragraphs in which the lie is crafted.

His assertion is roundly rebutted in a comment by a familiar name.  Here’s his article, and here’s my November more factually based explanation and listing of countries and their passport expiry policies.

China – the New International Bully

In a topic that is closely related to passport nonsense, China has been throwing its weight around on the world stage recently.

Everyone knows that China has a difficult relationship with Taiwan.  More complicated are its relationships with Tibet, and even places such as Macau and Hong Kong.  Perhaps the most obvious of these complicated situations is Taiwan, a country that the US recognized as an independent nation until 1979 before cravenly bowing to Chinese pressure, although it is still pledged to come to Taiwan’s assistance if it were to be attacked by China.

China prefers to think of Taiwan as part of China, and just this last week, pressured certain companies to stop showing Taiwan (and Tibet, Macau and Hong Kong) as separate countries on their websites, for fear of banning them from China – an act described as ‘economic blackmail’ in this article.  Among the companies called out for criticism were Marriott and Delta Air Lines, while Qantas urgently issued an apology before also being called out.

The consequence of daring to disagree with China for Marriott seems to be a one week total silence on all Marriott’s global social networks.

So, while countries recognize people traveling on passports issued by Macau, Hong Kong, or Taiwan as bona fide travelers with valid passports and allow them to visit their countries, corporations can’t safely identify the nations that issued these passports on their websites.

Passport nonsense, indeed.  And also a glimpse of what should be a worrying preview of the downside of China’s ascendancy – and, increasingly, primacy – on the world stage.  China might not be our enemy, but it is certainly not our ally.

America’s Tourist Problem

A spate of articles such as this one appeared in the last week, bemoaning the continued loss of market share by the United States in terms of international visitor arrival numbers.  Some articles even tried to link the poor showing last year with the alleged statements by President Trump about certain countries being, well, undesirable places, even though that statement was only claimed to have been made a couple of weeks ago, which reveals a certain ideological zeal and willingness not to let the linear flow of time interrupt a good story.

An added element of angst was injected by new figures that are about to show the US has surrendered its place as second most popular tourist destination in the world (France is first) with Spain now moving into that position.

But the problem dates back way before President Trump’s time.  Sure, he has tried, with limited degrees of success, to curtail some visitors and migration from a select few countries, but none of those countries figure prominently on the list of major markets from which US bound visitors come from.

Our lack of popularity is certainly puzzling and demands an answer.  We have a wonderful country, a great tourism infrastructure, some of the lowest costs for tourism products of anywhere in the world, and tourist attractions – both commercial and natural – that match anything any other country in the world has.  So what is the problem that presents us from getting more visitors each year than we do?

The problem is not President Trump or US policies in general.  Look at Spain’s success at a time when it has been suffering controversy and conflict over Catalonian independence, and also suffering a major terrorist attack in Barcelona.  Yet, notwithstanding these controversial and dangerous things, Spain’s tourism is booming.

As I’ve often observed in the past, over the 17 years spanning the presidencies of both Messrs Obama and Bush, our main problem is our desperately unfriendly treatment of foreign visitors – our unrealistic demands on them to get visas prior to traveling, and how we treat them so rudely when they get here and have to endure first a long wait and then an insulting interrogation by a surly border guard.

For example, we still persist in treating citizens of China, a country now our economic equal and some might suggest a country that has now bested us in many economic measures, as if they are all desperate would-be refugees from a s***hole third world country determined to illegally overstay upon arriving in the US.  Quite the opposite applies – I know legal Chinese US residents who have given up their attempt at living ‘the American Dream’ and returned to China, where they enjoy a much better and more affluent lifestyle.

Wealthy Chinese people don’t like to suffer the indignities and inconveniences of having to travel to a far away US Consulate somewhere in China, to pay a hefty fee for a US Visa and to prepare many pages of documentation, only to be allowed a brief one or two minute ‘interview’ followed immediately by the advice their application to visit the US has been rejected, due to their inability to demonstrate sufficient proof that they won’t overstay.  How do you prove a negative?  And why suffer such inconvenience and humiliation when most of the rest of the world will welcome you with open arms?

If the US is not the absolutely most unfriendly country in the world when it comes to encouraging and admitting tourists, it is certainly in the top two or three.  I’ve had warmer welcomes in Russia, China, and even North Korea, than I see on display every day at airports in the US.

The other problem which the US has historically suffered is an uncoordinated and underfunded international marketing program.  Most countries have a national tourist organization with a budget, often of tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars a year, augmented by partnerships with major airlines, hoteliers and tour operators in their country, and further boosted by cooperation with regional tourist bodies within the country as well.  They mount managed marketing programs to build strategic awareness of their country as a desirable destination to visit, and then reinforce that with tactical sales campaigns, together with travel agency and wholesale partners, to transform the awareness and interest into bankable action and new visitors.

The US has only recently stumbled into some minor semblance of such a body, and to date, it has shown little in the way of budget, achievement or result.

Our problem is nothing to do with our current President any more than it was to do with our past President or the one before him, either.  It is to do with our inability to make it an easy positive experience for people to actually get here and into the country, and our inability to create a normal ordinary type of marketing program to build up the desire for people to come here.

The good news is our problem is simple and easily fixed.  So why is it a problem at all?

US Navy :  One Law for the Admirals, Another for the Commanders

The spate of collisions between US Navy warships and other vessels in the Pacific continues to have consequences.  Two ships’ captains are now facing charges of dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel, and negligent homicide as a result of the collisions suffered by the two destroyers they were commanding.

That would seem to be a good thing, although as some people have wryly observed, if the ships’ companies weren’t so preoccupied these days by training on topics such as gender equality, there would be more opportunity for basic seamanship, and this re-prioritization of training on board ships comes not from the ship captains, but from admirals many levels above them.

So what of the admirals?  The Pacific Fleet commander announced his ‘earlier than expected’ retirement in September, and was passed over for an anticipated promotion.  An exact retirement date was not specified.  A slap on the wrist?  Barely.

And now, last week, the consequences have reached almost the top of the totem pole, with the Head of Navy Surface Forces also announcing his early retirement, also as a consequence of these collisions and the command environment that caused basic seamanship to be so egregiously overlooked.

Oh – one small point to consider.  His early retirement?  He will be retiring two to three weeks ahead of schedule.

So the two ship captains are facing charges up to dereliction of duty and negligent homicide (do they still have to walk the plank for such offences?), but their ultimate commanders in chief take early retirement – in one case with an unclear retirement date, and in the other case, leaving a couple of weeks before they were due to leave anyway.

That’s fair?

And Lastly This Week….

Your car knows more about you than your spouse?  That’s the surprising claim in this article, originally from the Washington Post.  Did you know many cars are now collecting and sending back to someone, somewhere, continuous information about where you are, your driving habits, where you visit, and everything related to the use of your car.

Quite apart from the privacy issue, there’s another interesting consideration.  All that information has value, and is being sold at a profit by some third-party to other third parties.  Shouldn’t you get to share in that, because it is you who is providing the information in the first place.

Talking about the value of data, Google has introduced a new data plan for its Project Fi cellphone service.  Their Fi service is a strange beast, and one wonders how much at risk of sudden cancellation it may be, just the way Google regularly cancels others of its services that it experiments with and their walks away from.

I like their Fi product, but it suffers from only working on two current phones – the very expensive Google Pixel phones, although I see today they currently also have a much more moderately priced Moto X4 also available, at only $299 for a basic phone.

The new data plan is a cap on data charges – $60/month max (plus $20 for basic phone service too).

United have come up with a novel idea.  They are proposing to actually tell passengers why their flights are delayed.  Their research suggests that people like to understand these things – what a surprise that must have been to them!  Maybe there is hope, after all.

Delegation is a great thing (just ask those US Navy Admirals taking ‘early’ retirement) but sometimes you’ve got to take responsibility, yourself.  But not so if you’re the CEO of American Airlines, who admits to not having a clue what it is like in the miniature spaces that pass themselves off as bathrooms on his newest planes.  I guess the first class bathroom remains spacious.

And how the mighty are falling.  Ex-gov Chris Christie discovered that he no longer gets the VIP security bypass treatment at Newark.  We can understand why that is so at one level, but at another level, did he suddenly transition from being a safe known personage posing no hazard or risk, to now being an unknown potential terrorist, needing to be fully screened for every short flight he takes?

Are you thinking of retirement and possibly downsizing from your current home?  Here’s an idea for you, explained in this video clip – why not live at sea on a cruise ship, year round.  Note – we’ll wager that you could negotiate a very much lower price than what the lady in the clip might be paying.

We often hear rumors of people who do this.  Probably more people than you’d expect, and if you can talk the price down to a sensible point, what a wonderful lifestyle it would be.

Truly lastly this week, and as a Landrover owner myself, I’ve got to love this line “if the car starts to float, we’ll open the doors to flood/sink it and regain traction” taken from a wonderful video taken up in Scotland, showing an old Landrover battling against the Atlantic Ocean.  No prizes for guessing which wins.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels





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