Weekly Roundup, Friday 9 March, 2018

We visit the pleasant city of Karaganda in Kazakhstan as part of our Triple K tour this May.

Good morning

Our Frontsight experience was enjoyed by all who attended over the last weekend, and most of the participants plan to return for another experience in the future.

While the men stoically plinked away, including one gentleman who refused to let his bad leg and cane interfere, I do want to call out the women; one in particular who went from being uncomfortable with firearms and only having fired a pistol once before, not wanting to attend at all (but persuaded to come along by her daughter) to ending up participating steadfastly in the entire four days of rigorous training and becoming comfortable and relaxed with her newly acquired skill-at-arms.

If she can, I’m sure you can too.  I’ll be repeating this, perhaps early October, and hope to have an interesting new value-add to offer.  More on this in two week’s time.

My return on Tuesday was somewhat marred by having a plastic container dropping out of my suitcase at the airport while it was being inspected, bursting open when hitting and floor, and its 100 rounds of ammunition spilling every which where.  But the Delta staff were cool, calm and collected, and I suspect it was not the first time this has happened.

Talking about touring, we are close to closing off the Triple K tour to Kiev, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.  Please do consider coming on this tour and let me know quickly if you can fit it into your schedule – while I’m looking forward to this tour, it is probably not going to be one I’ll be repeating regularly.

I have an interesting insider feature article for you today – a report on the curious slow-motion battle between Airbus and Boeing to come up with the ‘missing’ plane in their respective lineups.  As you’ll see, there’s a big gap in size/range capabilities for both companies, and this has been present for ten years or more.  So, yes, indeed a very slow-motion battle, with the soonest that either might come up with a new plane probably 2026.  Why such a slow process, and what can we expect?  See the article below.

Also this week, please continue for :

  • United’s On-Again, Off-Again Employee Bonus Plan
  • Airlines Know More About You Than You Think
  • Delta Self-Righteously Hops on the Anti-NRA Bandwagon
  • Of Past and Future Travel Options
  • An Interesting New Rental Car Service
  • Lyft and Uber – No Longer Bargains, And Still Not Paying Drivers Fairly
  • The Biannual Daylight Saving Story
  • And Lastly This Week….

United’s On-Again, Off-Again Employee Bonus Plan

Invariably, when an airline announces new fares or terms/conditions, the changes are not good for us as passengers, no matter how the changes are described in the press release.

It seems the same may be true of staff benefits, too.  On Friday last week United’s President, Scott Kirby, sent a memo to staff announcing a plan to replace their quarterly bonus and perfect attendance programs with “an exciting new rewards program called ‘core4 Score Rewards'”.

What exactly is this clumsily named new program?  It was explained by a United spokesperson as ‘a way of building excitement and creating a sense of accomplishment’ for its employees.  Instead of quarterly cash bonuses that typically ranged anywhere from $60 to $7,600, employees would be entered into a lottery, with one employee winning a $100,000 prize, and other employees possibly winning assorted other prizes such as vacations (a dime a dozen already for airline employees, of course) and some cars, too.

United has 90,000 employees, and while not all would be eligible for the lottery drawings, it is clear that the average cost per employee to United for the lottery system would plunge way down compared to the earlier cash bonuses to all.

This was quickly worked out by the employees, who resisted fiercely, and by the end of Monday, the new program had been cancelled and the earlier cash bonus plan reinstated.

One does have to wonder – if United’s employees can overturn miserly new policies, why can’t United’s customers do the same?  Something to consider the next time United tightens the screws on us all.

Airlines Know More About You Than You Think

I noticed an interesting thing a couple of weeks ago.  I finally got around to signing up for Lyft (I’ve been using only Uber until now) and took advantage of an offer from Delta giving me a couple of $10 discounts on Lyft rides.

Reading the fine print of the offer revealed an interesting thing.  In accepting the discounts, I was giving Lyft permission to tell Delta about all my Lyft usage.  Why on earth would Delta want to know when and where I was taking Lyft rides?

The obvious answer – if Delta saw I was traveling to and from airports which I was not flying in or out of with Delta flights, it would be able to accurately guess that I was using another airline.

I’d been mulling over this latest privacy loss when I came across an interesting article where American Airlines was smugly hinting that it has ways of finding out if and when you’re not flying on AA.  How could it know that, you might ask?

Well, do you have an AA branded/issued credit card?  That would certainly be a way for AA to see information on credit card charges made by other airlines.

Or, perhaps, do you have a smart cell phone?  Yes, silly question, isn’t it, because we all do these days.  Tracking beacons in airports can recognize cell phone identities, and if AA can work out your cell phone ID, it may be able to detect when you’re in an airport and not getting on or off one of its flights.

Maybe AA also has data-sharing agreements in place with rental car companies, hotels, and Uber/Lyft too.  Who only knows – the problem isn’t trying to work out how AA (or any airline) could know when you were flying on other carriers, but deciding which of so very many different ways it might choose to use.

The real question though is not how an airline can detect you using other carriers.  Rather, it is what it might choose to do with that information.  Sure, it might use it positively, to try and entice you to use their airline more.  But it might also use it negatively, to restrict loyalty rewards to truly loyal fliers rather than to people who spread their flying over multiple carriers.

Delta Self-Righteously Hops on the Anti-NRA Bandwagon

You’ll be unsurprised to learn that I am an NRA member.  But my point here is not so much to bemoan Delta’s decision to break its contract with the NRA, but rather to consider the implications and where this may lead.  To fully appreciate this, you might need to substitute the acronym “NRA” with that of a cause nearer and dearer to your heart.

So, here’s what happened.  Delta decided to very publicly boast it was cancelling the group contract it had negotiated with the NRA to allow very modest discounts to people flying to the NRA’s annual conference in Dallas later this year.  When pressed, Delta admitted that a mere 13 people had signed up for the discount, so clearly it wasn’t walking away from a lot of business, while hoping to get millions of dollars worth of free positive publicity from its actions.

Delta is a “common carrier” and as such is obliged to give equal treatment to all travelers without any sort of filtering, and so its decision to gratuitously attack one particular client and group of travelers is troubling, as is its willingness to break its contractual obligation.  Where it moves from troubling to ridiculous is the claim by their CEO that ‘their values are not for sale’.

Never mind the fact that Delta is as venal as any other airline and its only value seems to be one of maximizing profit without concern for fairness or passenger comfort.  And as for their subsequent claim that the decision to illegally break their NRA contract was an attempt to ‘stay neutral’, hopefully even the most anti-NRA person can see this as the bald-faced piece of logical nonsense that it clearly is.

The really worrying thing is that Delta has boasted it is considering ending group discounts for any group of a ‘politically divisive’ nature.  With the terribly partisan alignments of much of the country these days, it could credibly be argued that being either a Democrat or a Republican is nowadays being a member of a politically divisive group.  As it being a member of both pro and anti-abortion groups, pro and anti illegal-immigration groups, any/all religious groups, and so on through all the issues dividing the nation.

Besides which, the whole concept of our democracy is that people of different opinions air their views and in the course of the discussion and debate that follows, a modified consensus and broader agreement is achieved.  Killing the ability for people to air views that are unpopular (which is not synonymous with ‘wrong’) weakens our democracy as a whole.

And what would come next?  A ‘white privilege’ surcharge?  A ‘metoo’ discount to women (and remember that a discount to one group is the same as a penalty to the excluded nonmembers of the favored group)?

As a common carrier, Delta’s job is not to decide from on high as to which groups it will and won’t work with.  Its obligation is to treat all legal groups equally and fairly.

Do you really want airlines to now decide what are ‘good’ and ‘bad’, or ‘divisive’ and ‘unifying’ groups, and to selectively deal favorably with some and penalize groups that, while totally legal and lawful, do not represent 100% of the population?

What if Delta said “Effective immediately, we are not going to carry African-Americans any more, due to their greater statistical likelihood of having been incarcerated”.  Imagine the howls of outrage that would evoke from us all.

So, please, because even if you dislike the NRA, while this time you might be gleefully supporting Delta’s move, remember that if you do so, you’re enabling Delta to come after your preferred causes next time.

And perhaps this is what it is all about – Delta coming up with a justification so it no longer negotiates group discounts for any group, ever again.

Of Past and Future Travel Options

Flying cars – or, to be more precise, flying vehicles but not dual-purpose car/plane type contraptions, continue to get a lot of press coverage, and more and more companies are announcing their plans to release flying cars.

This week here’s an article about Porsche’s flying car plans, an Audi/Airbus venture, and a general roundup of flying car options.

Also offered is a rather cynical (but deservedly so) look at the hyperloop craze that is sweeping the world.  I’ve got to say that any futuristic technology that boasts the support/involvement of both Sir Richard Branson and Elon Musk is at risk of failing to meet expectations and promised development schedules.

I’m excited by the potential of hyperloop technology – a service that costs less than high-speed rail and offers travel speeds faster than passenger jets.  But there’s a huge shortfall between the potential promises of this concept and the current reality.

As for the past, here’s a nice piece about the 707 and how it transformed international travel.  There’s nothing new in it, but such reflective pieces are always interesting to (re)read.  We all await the next transformation, whatever it may be.  It is long overdue.

An Interesting New Rental Car Service

I was booking a rental car for my travels next week, and stumbled across a new rental car service (well, new to me) – Turo.

This is an interesting extension of the Airbnb concept, where people can rent their own vehicles through the Turo service.  They’ll meet you wherever (in my case, the airport of course, with the benefit being they will indeed meet me right at the airport and spare the added hassle of taking a shuttle to the off-airport rental car lot) and deliver their car to you, and then collect it from you at the end of the rental period, too.

The rates are towards the low-end of what you’d pay, plus you can negotiate with the vehicle owners to get the rates reduced a bit further (which I did on this occasion).  Here’s a link to the Turo service, and if you sign up and subsequently use it, the link gives you a $25 new user coupon, and also, ahem, one to me too!

Self interest notwithstanding, it might be worth trying.

Lyft and Uber – No Longer Bargains, And Still Not Paying Drivers Fairly

Those wonderful cheap fares you enjoy with Uber and Lyft?  In my experience, they are becoming harder to find.  It now costs me almost the same to travel by either company (their fares are very closely the same, by some amazing coincidence) as it does either by negotiated rate limo service or via regular/discount taxi service when traveling between home and airport in the Seattle area.  As best I recall, rates have increased by probably 20% or more in less than a year.

But while rates have gone up, Uber in particular is still losing money, and both companies are still very miserly in how much they pay their drivers.  According to an MIT study reported in this article, a typical driver ends up netting something like $3.37 an hour after deducting their costs of owning and driving their vehicle.

One has to take that number with a grain of salt, but even if the true rate earned is twice that – $6.74/hr – it is still so far below minimum wage as to be appalling.

This makes one wonder – if/when Uber/Lyft finally start paying their drivers fair wages, and start charging sufficiently as to make a corporate annual profit rather than loss, will they still be affordably/attractively priced?  Will they even be any less expensive than regular taxis at all?  Could they even end up as more expensive than regular taxis?

The other aspect of Uber/Lyft’s charging is that they are sometimes much less convenient to use than regular taxi services.  Is it really sensible to go to all the hassle of keying in to one’s phone all the details to summon a Uber/Lyft car when one can just walk out the front of a hotel or airport and straight into a regular cab, and simply tell the driver where you want to go, especially if the saving is getting smaller and smaller.

The Biannual Daylight Saving Story

Every time daylight saving comes around, there is invariably a story or two about states that don’t like it, or states that like it so much they want it to be in place all-year round.

This year, it seems it is Florida’s turn for a feature story.  And, in case you’re wondering, US daylight saving starts this Sunday morning.

And Lastly This Week….

Imagine the excited visitor to the US who scored a cheap roundtrip ticket to New York, flying in and out of New York International Airport.  What’s not to like about that.

Well, which airport exactly is New York International Airport?  Is that a clumsy synonym for JFK?  Is it LGA by another name?  It probably isn’t EWR.  Could it possibly be HPN (White Plains/Westchester County Airport) being a bit sneaky?

Well, you’re on the right track, but think further out.  New York International Airport is the grand title adopted by SWF.  And I’ll wager that while you’re probably good on many airport codes, you have to stop and think about this one – it is New York Stewart International Airport,  65 miles and, if you’re lucky, 80 minutes away from Manhattan.  Details here.

Have the remains of mysteriously disappeared aviatrix Amelia Earhart finally been found?  This article thinks so.

I was bemoaning the ever greater expense of a Disney theme park visit a couple of weeks ago.  But apparently I should count my blessings – in this generally kind article, the writer tells how he, his wife and five year old daughter spent $4400 on a short four-day Disney Caribbean cruise.  How is that even possible?

The other thing about Disney is the impact it has had on lesser theme parks – ie, basically killing them off entirely.  Here’s an interesting photo-article of some of Britain’s closed theme parks, perhaps casualties of Euro Disney.  Might Brexit breathe new life into domestic British tourism?

Here’s an interesting article that claims people seeking to fulfill a bucket list of travel experiences are short-changing themselves and spoiling it for others.  Is that really so, or just a writer desperate to come up with a controversial column?

I will agree that many of the ‘must see’ things I’ve seen have been underwhelming rather than overwhelming, and also accept one of the core arguments of the article – that these days, with the ubiquitous nature of high quality photography and video, there is no longer any sense of ‘wow’ or wonder when one finally gets to see famous places in person.

But the ‘self actualization’ effect of actually getting to see such things in person remains undiluted, and the personal growth in understanding and perspective that travel gives us also remains unabated.  So, please do continue to travel, including perhaps on our Triple K tour this May.  It is hard to think of a tour that takes you to more distinctively different places, while not requiring you to sacrifice all the comforts, conveniences and safety you’ve become accustomed to.

And now, truly lastly this week; while I was at the Travel Goods Show last week and saw many types of suitcases, I definitely didn’t see any of the ones showcased in this article.

I’ll be out of town next week from Wednesday for six days, and so am not sure what I can serve up on Friday for you, but hopefully something.  Until then, please enjoy safe travels





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