Weekly Roundup, Friday 23 February, 2018

Inflatable hotels in space? Never mind the room rate per night, how much will it cost to get there!

Good morning

First of all, a word about our touring schedule for the year.  We are starting to get down to the wire for the Triple K tour to Kiev, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan this May, so if you’re thinking of coming, please let me know.

Also, strangely, this year there’s not yet a lot of interest in our NZ Tour in late October/early November.  Maybe you’ve thought there’s plenty of time to deliberate over coming on this tour or not, and while in theory there is, it would be helpful to get a sense for the growing level of interest for this tour.

And one more announcement.  I’m presenting at the Frequent Traveler University event in Seattle this weekend, from 5pm – 6pm on Saturday at the Crowne Plaza by the Airport.  I’ve a hopefully interesting and typically wide-ranging presentation on ‘The Future of Travel’, if you’d like to come and see me ‘in action’; the event conveners have kindly agreed you can join for this session.  Let me know if you’d like to come along.

And so, please now continue reading for :

  • Two Words that Will Help Get an Airline Upgrade Over the Phone?
  • Whatever Happened to United’s Polaris Service
  • Snow Selectively Strikes Delta at KCI
  • Southwest’s New Way of Describing Dog Bites
  • Another Olympics; Another Disappointment
  • US Travel Press Snubbing Russia?
  • The Happiest Place at an Airport?
  • An Inflatable Hotel in Space
  • Self-Driving Cars Now a Reality in Phoenix
  • Emirates’ Unwanted Concern Over Feminine Health Issues
  • And Lastly This Week….

Two Words that Will Help Get an Airline Upgrade Over the Phone?

Really?  You just mention a two-word phrase, over the phone, to an airline res agent and you get magically upgraded?  That’s what an article, and on the Bloomberg website no less, promises.  “We’ve had pretty much 100 percent success rate” the writer assures us.

I’ve got to say that if I had a two-word phrase that 100% would get me upgraded, I’d not be sharing it on an open free page published through Bloomberg.  But I guess we should all be very thankful that Bloomberg is apparently more altruistic than me.

What are the two words?  “Revenue Management”.  Yes, it helps to put them in an appropriate sentence, and there are helpful suggestions in the article.

Let me know if it works for you.

And be careful if you click any of the other links – other featured travel ‘experts’ suggest an ideal cure for jetlag is to never sleep on long flights and drink lots of caffeine (medical experts suggest this to be dead wrong) and to always wear a Rolex when visiting poor countries, in case of emergencies (words fail me, but suffice it to say that you’d get less than 10c of value per $1 you spent buying the Rolex if bartering it for services in an emergency – assuming it not to be simply stolen, whereas if you have cash in your pocket, you’ll get 100c of value for every $1 you pass over).

Fake news?

Whatever Happened to United’s Polaris Service

Part of the process to ‘Make UAL Great Again’ was their CEO’s promise of a complete rethinking of their business class experience in June 2016, termed Polaris.

New seats on planes, new lounges in airports, and new amenities and services everywhere featured in United’s grandiose plan to make flying in the expensive part of the plane more pleasant.  We had been encouraged at the time, and while we’re sadly seldom to be seen in the front of flights, it would have persuaded us to cautiously get onto a United plane again for the first time in decades.

So, almost two years since then, how are things progressing?  Not so well, according to a report this week.

In a classic example of airline meanness, the ‘luxury’ of two Saks Fifth Avenue pillows at every seat is being pared back to one.  And some of the more distinctive of their food and wine service is also being eliminated.

Meanwhile, the new seats have made it to less than 20 of the 150 wide-body jets slated to receive them, and there are now thoughts that rather than being deployed fleet-wide, this will no longer happen.  Only one of the new enhanced airport lounges have opened, in Chicago.

Apparently one of the airline’s problems is push-back from their flight attendants, who doubtless were quick to remind the airline that they are primarily (and almost solely) there for passenger safety purposes, not for passenger comfort or convenience.  The poor flight attendants objected to the extra work of offering cocktails to business class passengers who, according to the FAs, sometimes probably would not have asked for such drinks if they weren’t offered them!  What an appalling thought, indeed – after all, don’t we all hate it when servers offer us free food and free drinks!  Definitely nothing to do with safety.

This article has more details.

Snow Selectively Strikes Delta at KCI

This week’s biggest non-news has to be that there was some snow in the mid-west.  That is not exactly astonishing, is it.  Kansas City itself averages 12 – 13 inches of snow a year, including typically 3″ in February.

The region, including KCI (Kansas City International Airport) was hit with an ‘ice storm’ in the early part of the week, and that lead to some flight disruptions.  Again, nothing too astonishing there.

But how about this tale of a woman who spent 12 hours sitting on a plane while it repeatedly tried to take off before returning back to the terminal one day, requiring an extra overnight and a total delay of 34 hours, meaning she lost two days of work.  But – hey – Delta did give her a $100 voucher.  Lucky her.

The article mentions other people on other Delta flights also suffering extended delays.

The most significant part of the article however is a comment from an airport spokesman who pointed out that de-icing is an airline, not an airport responsibility, and that Delta was the only airline experiencing significant delays.

Apparently, this dog isn’t about to bite you. But I’d say there’s a measurable risk that it might wish its teeth to ‘scrape’ you.

Southwest’s New Way of Describing Dog Bites

No, a comfort dog didn’t bite a 6 or 7 year old girl as she boarded a Southwest flight.

Instead, the airline tells us that the dog’s teeth “scraped a child’s forehead”.  Apparently that is okay.

Paramedics (and police) were, nonetheless, called.  Should young children have to accept the discomfort of dog teeth scraping their foreheads, so adult passengers can have their pets, masquerading as ‘comfort animals’, fly uncaged and for free?

This latest example is yet another reason why we need to restore reality to the explosion of people abusing the concept of ‘comfort animals’ on flights.

Details here.

Another Olympics; Another Disappointment

For sure, the Winter Olympics are very definitely the poor cousin to the Summer Olympics, but even so, it is surprising to see the inevitable disappointment as between the nonsensical promises and tragically unrealistic hopes of the host region and the reality start to descend so quickly, with the final closing ceremonies not even yet held.

It would have been an astonishing accomplishment – worthy of some sort of Gold Medal – for the outcome not to be a disappointment of course, because without fail, for the last many Olympics, none of the starry-eyed promises and projections have ever come true.  The ‘legacies’ of new sports facilities, low-income housing, or whatever else have all failed.  The tourism booms, either during the Olympics or subsequently, have totally not happened; indeed the last time I closely drilled down into the numbers, in Beijing fewer tourists came to the city during the Olympics than normally would have visited anyway!

And now that the oddity of the North Korean cheerleaders has faded, so too are the hopes of the impoverished, backwater town of Pyeongchang, site of this year’s winter Olympics.  This article explains.

When will host cities/regions/countries learn that no good ever comes of drinking the Olympic koolaid?

US Travel Press Snubbing Russia?

On an interesting related note, here’s an article suggesting that the US press is deliberately avoiding writing positive articles about travel to Russia.

This is not just a subjective perception.  The article makes a couple of compelling points.  First, it contrasts the comparative silence of articles about travel to Russia with the extraordinary eagerness to recommend such unlikely places such as the Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, and Azerbaijan.

Second, it looks at the comparative coverage given to four different Olympic games, with Russia’s Sochi games in 2014 struggling to get one-third the coverage of this year’s South Korean games, or the two most recent summer games in Rio and London.  It also compares coverage given to Russia hosting the Soccer World Cup this year with Brazil’s hosting in 2014.

It is another small and subtle way in which our perceptions of the world are shaped by the media we invite into our lives.

The Happiest Place at an Airport?

It is not always easy to connect the words ‘happy place’ and ‘airport’, but here’s an article that tries to do so.

Have you ever noticed, in some airports, little kiosk things where you can push one of four different buttons to report on your travel experience, with choices ‘Very Happy’, ‘Happy’, ‘Sad’ and ‘Very Sad’?  If you have, you’ve probably also noticed that there’s no ‘normal/ordinary/average’ middle response, which makes sampling slightly less accurate.

The company that places these devices in airports now has them in 160 airports in 36 countries, and has tabulated 180 million responses.

Its findings – the happiest place at an airport is at the Security Screening (presumably the buttons are just after not just before security).  I guess I’m always happy that I’ve not had the rubber gloves treatment going through security, but that’s not to say I’d go through a second time so as to get a double dose of happiness.

Most people are always very happy – 62% of responses are for the ‘Very Happy’ option.

People are happiest at the airports in Exeter (UK), Cork (Ireland), Rome (Italy), DFW and Newcastle (UK).

Your deluxe hotel room in space.  Careful not to push any of the wrong buttons on your ‘tv remote’.

An Inflatable Hotel in Space

Space tourism has been a thing for a while now.  Pretty much anyone with about $40 million who is willing to spend some time training can persuade the Russians to give them a ride up to the International Space Station; seven people have done so (including one person twice), typically spending a week or two at the space station before returning home.

The founder of the Budget Suites of America hotel chain believes his experience in low-priced hotel accommodation gives him a good perspective and appreciation for the opportunities for further space tourism, and has founded a company that is developing inflatable hotel rooms to be deployed in space.  They can be daisy-chained together to make a larger hotel complex, and one is currently connected to the ISS for testing purposes.  (See image at the top of today’s newsletter.)

The cost is described as maybe seven figures, possibly in the low eight figures, but of course, those interested in this experience probably aren’t too stressed with the exact count of zeroes.  They might be interested though in exactly how they would get to and from their ‘room with a view’, and this article is not very clear on that particular point.

Self-Driving Cars Now a Reality in Phoenix

I’ve been having an interesting discussion with a reader about when fully self-driving cars will finally become a reality.  We agreed to disagree and to circle back to the topic in five years, but I felt a bit disappointed by that, because my point is that while not yet everywhere and in common usage, they are already a reality and out there in more places than we might think.

In California, more than 60 different companies are currently testing self-driving cars in the state.  But that is testing, and I mention it only to indicate the extent of the amount of development that is going on at present.

In Phoenix, Google subsidiary Waymo has now been given a transportation license to offer open regular commercial taxi type services (think Uber or Lyft, but without the driver) to the general public.  It has been doing this, since last April with a ‘just in case’ driver standing by in the driver’s seat, and then since November with no driver, but for free.  Now they can start charging for it.

More excitingly, Waymo has ordered thousands more of the Chrysler minivans it uses (in addition to the 600 it already has) and has plans to expand to five states, probably late this year.

Uber has ordered 24,000 Volvo SUVs for its own self-driving program, with deliveries to start next year.

More details here.  Suffice it to say I’m fairly sure I’ll win my wager in five years time, and wonder if I haven’t already.

In related futuristic news, one of the many hyperloop companies says it has reached an agreement with Ohio and Illinois agencies to conduct a feasibility study with a view to developing a hyperloop that would run between Cleveland and Chicago.

The approximate distance for the line is 313 miles.  The approximate travel time would be 28 minutes.  You could live in one city and commute to work each day in the other.

And in further somewhat related news, the rush to develop electric cars continues, with more and more individuals and companies saying “If Elon Musk – a guy who knows nothing about cars – can do it, why can’t we?”.  This of course is a question with a perhaps not entirely deserved assumed answer, and we’re still awaiting Tesla’s transition from black hole money pit to viable profitable company.  But such thoughts are seldom an impediment to an assortment of eager startups, and now we see that a man with skills in developing very expensive vacuum cleaners and restroom hand driers believes he too can develop electric cars.

We wish Sir James Dyson the best of good fortune.  The more the merrier.  Details here.  Earlier reports suggested the first of his three models might start appearing in 2020.

Emirates’ Unwanted Concern Over Feminine Health Issues

As a man, I’m blessedly ignorant of much to do with “a woman’s time of month”, but I do understand that it is not uncommon for a measure of discomfort to be experienced at such times.  However, such regular and minor discomfort, while unfortunate, unwanted, and inconvenient, is seldom life-threatening.

Perhaps someone should explain these facts of life to Emirates.

A woman mentioned to her boyfriend, when boarding an Emirates flight, that she was so afflicted, and described her pain as one on a scale of one to ten.  An Emirates female (!) flight attendant overhead this private comment and panicked.  With no doctor on board the flight, the Emirates crew accordingly did the only obvious, sensible, and logical thing, and refused to fly the woman and her boyfriend, out of fear for the woman’s health.

When asked, Emirates explained they refused to transport the couple out of concern for the woman.  “We would not have wanted to endanger Ms Evans by delaying medical help had she worsened during the flight”.  What an appallingly glib and nonsense statement that hopes we are all a bunch of fools and as ignorant of period pains as they so obviously are, themselves.

By causing her to miss her flight, the couple not only lost out on some of their vacation, but even had to pay $325 each to Emirates to rebook their flights.  A $650 gratuitous penalty, an inconvenient, an embarrassment, and a delay.  All of which is beyond unnecessary.

Something to keep in mind, ladies, next time you’re choosing which airline to travel on at that time of month.  Details here.

And Lastly This Week….

I know that many Travel Insider readers are middle-aged and older.  Indeed, somewhere in the last few decades, I joined that demographic too.  And I wish you all (us all!) very great good health and extraordinary longevity.

It seems I’m reasonable assured to enjoy this myself – at last I’ve finally found a ‘how to live longer’ article that I can happily comply with.  Drink more alcohol (reduce your odds of dying young by 18%)  and coffee (another 10% boost), enjoy your hobbies (21%), and be overweight (3% more).  If you want to modestly exercise 15 – 45 minutes a day, that’ll get you another 11%, but with so much already in your favor, does it even matter!

Here’s a very nice story of a Frenchman who is doing his bit to save the world, one umbrella at a time.

And here’s one of the stranger reasons for a flight diverting and making an emergency landing.  Perhaps the pilot should have deployed the oxygen masks.

I’ve an exciting couple of weeks ahead.  The Frequent Traveler University presentation on Saturday, then the annual Travel Goods Association show in Vegas in the first part of the week, then the Travel Insider Firearms Group Training event over the next weekend.  I don’t expect to send out a newsletter next Friday, but definitely one the week after.

Until then, please enjoy safe travels





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