Weekly Roundup, Friday 7 September, 2018

Should passengers be pre-screened for infectious diseases prior to long flights? Please answer the reader survey below.

Good morning

I hope you had a great long weekend, and that there’s still a generous measure of Indian summer for you to enjoy.

It is certainly way too soon to start feeling the winter blues, but it is not way too soon to start planning an escape from that phenomenon.  And have I got great news for you – our Christmas Land Cruise has reduced in price!

The Euro/USD exchange rate I’d guessed at for our lovely December Christmas Markets Land Cruise is proving to have been a bit high.  The Euro has been kind to us and is lower than I’d been projecting (currently €1 = $1.16, making all travel to Europe great value) and so I’ve dropped the price by $100.  The Land Cruise is now $2395 per person.

But wait – there’s more.  Recognizing the large number of singles coming this year, I’ve negotiated the costs to the bare bones on the single supplement, which now is a very moderate $499.

Of course, these lower rates apply to everyone coming and already signed up, and they’ll apply to you too.  So please now consider adding yourself to our friendly group, whether you be traveling alone, with a friend, or with a whole bunch of friends (ask about our quantity discounts!).

Oh, talking about quantity, several people have said how much they like the smaller groups, so please also remember I’m limiting the total group to no more than 19 people.

What else?  Please keep reading for :

  • Reader Survey Request – Airborne Sickness
  • Baggage Fees Go Up Again
  • Is This Newspaper Article for Real?
  • Still More MH370 Theories
  • The Surprising Cost of a Set of Beats Headphones
  • Another Month of Electric Car Sales
  • And Lastly This Week….

Reader Survey Request – Airborne Sickness

We hope you’ll share your thoughts on this matter.  First, the introduction/explanation, then a chance for you to send in your opinion.  All responses will be collated and reported back in next week’s newsletter.

Introduction and the Problem to be Considered

You might remember, 15 years ago, during the throes of the 2003 SARS scare, a few airports conducted some rather cursory screening of arriving passengers.  This sometimes involved completing a self-declaration and relying on the honesty and awareness of the people, or perhaps mass screening of people with infra-red thermometers to seek out people with elevated temperatures.

Notwithstanding various strains of flu of varying degrees of severity, and the ever-present background rumble of Ebola, most of that largely “for show” screening has now been abandoned, along with the happy disappearance of SARS too.

It is certainly true that modern aviation has transformed the ability of diseases to spread.  A person can catch an infection somewhere in the morning, be on a plane at lunchtime, and 12 – 20 hours later, arrive half-way around the world, and still not have any symptoms apparent.  This means diseases can spread in impossible-to-guess directions, and infected people can be extremely difficult to trace.

However, for us as fellow passengers, a bigger and seldom considered concern has been slowly growing, in line with longer and fuller flights.  What happens if, for example, a person boards a flight with no obvious symptoms, but then during the next however many hours on a trans-Atlantic (or, worse, trans-Pacific) flight, their illness progresses to the point of visible symptoms, and they start coughing and sneezing profusely all around you and all about you and all over you, your clothing, your skin, your belongings, and your food and drink?

And, just for grins, let’s assume that, like so many flights these days, the flight is full and there’s no way you can move seats.

This issue has surfaced in three separate events this week (isn’t it funny how things happen in threes).  First was an Emirates flight from Dubai to New York, during the course of which an unknown number of passengers became unwell.  As a result, when the A380 landed at JFK, it was parked away from the passenger terminals and met by ambulances and paramedics.  A mysteriously hard to count number of passengers were taken away.  Emirates said it was ‘about ten’, other passengers on board said it was ‘dozens’ and the CDC claimed that 100 passengers were affected.  The rest of the people on board had to wait anxiously while authorities decided whether to let them off or in some unclear way quarantine them, somewhere, somehow, for some uncertain time.  Details here.

Then it was American Airlines’ turn.  Twice, with flights from Paris and Munich, both going to Philadelphia.  Details here.

Should the airlines and aviation authorities do something about this and require passengers to have some sort of clean bill of health before being allowed to join with 100 – 500 other people, all in a long narrow tube, more or less breathing the same air, for some number of hours?  Should there be some sort of mandatory pre-screening?

Possible Solutions and Strategies

We should be careful not to overstate the risk, and also not to overstate the value of any measures to reduce it.  Even on long flights, one unwell passenger rarely infects more than half a dozen or so people around them, and often fewer than this.  That is reassuring if they are many rows away from you, but not so reassuring if they’re just a seat or two from your location.  Plus, there’s always the ‘bonus’ of having them cough at you while you or they are walking up/down the aisle.

If something should be done, what should it be?  Do we add a full medical exam as part of security screening?  A quick temperature check with an IR meter?  A self-reporting form?  Something else?

Self-reporting is the least invasive and easiest to require.  But how many passengers will answer it both honestly and accurately?  Many people, if they think they’ve caught something nasty in, eg, Africa, are going to want to urgently fly to somewhere with quality medical facilities, perhaps all the way back home to where their medical insurance/health care applies, and will tell any lies necessary to be able to do so.

Temperature checking risks both false positives and false negatives.  Some people will have an elevated temperature for unrelated reasons, and others may not be visibly symptomatic at the point of checking (which, if at a logical place like the security screening, could be two hours before a flight) but may start coughing/sneezing half a dozen or more hours later.  But it is fairly unobtrusive and can handle large numbers of passengers.

Any other sort of exam is intrusive, expensive, and doesn’t scale well to handle hundreds/thousands of passengers.

Should we require it of every passenger on every flight?  Or only on longer flights (how long)?  Or only on international flights?

On shorter flights, there’s obviously less time for infections to be spread.  On flights within a single jurisdiction, it is perhaps less inconvenient for infected passengers to seek medical assistance.  It is probably somewhat reasonable to say that the longer the flight, the greater the risk.

Below is a list of possible approaches to this.  Please click the link that best describes what you think is best; this will cause an empty email to be sent to me with your response coded into the subject line.


All flightsOnly more than 2 hrsOnly more than 4 hrsOnly more than 8 hrsOnly more than 12 hrs
Do nothingChooseChooseChooseChooseChoose
Remote IR screen onlyChooseChooseChooseChooseChoose
Self answered form & IRChooseChooseChooseChooseChoose
Quick medical checkChooseChooseChooseChooseChoose


Baggage Fees Go Up Again

In last week’s newsletter I was observing the astonishing way that baggage fees have increased from zero to potentially the far side of $1000 for a roundtrip within the US, all in the space of about 15 years.  Yes, your ticket might cost you $250, but you might then have to shell out four times the cost of your ticket to fly your suitcases with you.

Admittedly that’s an extreme and uncommon example, but just because it is uncommon doesn’t mean that it is impossible, and the airlines absolutely are eager to separate as much of your money from you as they can possibly get away with.

After making those comments, by an amusing coincidence, later on Friday last week United announced it was increasing its luggage fees.  Sure, “only” by $5 – $10 a bag, and United says the extra income will “allow us to continue investing in the overall customer experience in today’s marketplace”, whatever that means.

Details here.

Curiously, at least as of Thursday night, AA and DL have not matched.  Are they sensing they’re nearing the upper limit of what the market will stand?  Do they think a $5 or so difference in bag fees might earn them some extra market share (sadly, I doubt it).

Here’s the thing that United (and AA and DL) don’t want you to consider, and the reason why I don’t think a modest difference in luggage fees will move much market share.  There’s still one – only one – airline that allows you two free checked bags on every flight, no matter what type of fare you are traveling on.

Do you know which US carrier that is?  If you don’t, shouldn’t you?  If you do, are they your preferred airline whenever schedules allow?

Is This Newspaper Article for Real?

The concept of “click bait” is when a website article has a great headline or opening ‘teaser’, sufficient to encourage you to go and visit it, and to read through the article, possibly clicking on to additional articles, etc.  This helps generate advertising review for the publisher.

The key element of click bait is that the promise of the headline or teaser is never met.

So, when you see a heading “In-flight extras you don’t think to ask for but could make your journey so much better” and a validating sub-heading “Members of cabin crew have revealed the perks you could get simply by asking very nicely…” you just know you’ve got to go read the article, don’t you.  Click, and off you go – and off I went.

Now, if you do read the article, please keep in mind the claim that these are suggestions offered by flight attendants themselves.  So, what could be better than that, right?

The first suggestion :  If you’re in Economy class and ask very nicely, the flight attendants might agree to give you food items from the First Class cabin menu.  Anyone for a cheese platter, perhaps.  With a few grapes on the side, of course.  On bone china, with fine cutlery, including a metal knife.

The second suggestion, and no, I’m not making this up :  Again, if you’re in economy, and want to get a set of free first/business class pajamas, spill food down the front of your shirt and “there’s a good chance the crew might take pity and hunt out a spare pair”.  (Public service message from me – better check it is a flight which offers such amenities, first.)

The other suggestions range from almost as ridiculous as the first two to only borderline insane, although it includes the nonsense that flight attendants will refuse to give you an aspirin if you have a headache because it is against the law (puhleeze – I’ve had flight attendants moan and groan when asked for an aspirin, but none have yet refused to hand one over) but the article then closes with another doozey.

Whether you just need an extra pair of hands or your little one’s throwing a bit of a tantrum, most cabin crew will sympathize and try to help.

This can including holding your baby while you store hand luggage, keeping kids entertained with coloring books and crayons and even provide designated childcare.

Perhaps you should print the article out so you can feign astonishment when the crew open an emergency exit in mid-flight and toss you, your dirtied clothing, and your spoiled brats out of the plane at 35,000 ft and 565 mph.  “What do you mean, you’re throwing us off the flight?  This article says that flight attendants love doing these things for their coach class passengers!”

This article is beyond stupid.  As a rule of thumb, do the exact opposite of what it says to avoid being labeled a smart a**/troublemaker.

Still More MH370 Theories

We seem to be going through a spate of ‘novel’ new MH370 disappearance theories at present (see the last couple of newsletters).

This week’s crazy idea is that the plane crashed in Cambodia.  This is based on a shadowy low resolution image spotted on Google Maps that kinda sorta looks a bit like an airplane wreck.

To find the plane there would of course contradict just about everything we think we now about where the plane flew after its transponder was turned off.  But, at the risk of sounding a bit like Sherlock Holmes, when you’ve searched everywhere the plane should be, isn’t it time to now start searching other places where the plane also could be.

Let’s hope it proves to be more substantial than an earlier claimed Google Maps sighting of the plane.  The last such claim was based on a Google Map image that was dated, ooops, a couple of years prior to when the plane went missing.

This article has more information.  We’re also not too sure about the validity of the implied £54 million reward on offer – that was a specific offer to the marine search company and subject to various conditions and requirements.

The Surprising Cost of a Set of Beats Headphones

We were told, quite some years ago, that the underlying cost of a set of Bose noise-cancelling headphones – the ones that sell for $300+ – was less than $30.  This was believable because it was made by another noise-cancelling headphone manufacturer who claimed his headphones were almost as good as Bose, but only about a third the price – not because his were of lower quality, but because his markup was not so high.

So it is with interest but not surprise that we see this article about how much it costs to make a set of Beats headphones that would retail for $200.

The final bill of materials totals $16.89.  But of that already paltry sum, $7 is spent on packaging.  Of the remaining $9.89, $3.09 is spent on two unnecessary pieces of metal to make the headphones feel more heavy and ‘better’.  Another 44c is spent on the logos on the sides of the headphones.

The actual cost of the two headphone speaker units inside the $200 set of headphones?  $1.80, ie 90c each.  They are described as being ‘complete commodity’ standard headphone speakers.  More than twice as much money was spent on the gift box than on the actual part that makes the sound.

We’ve never understood the popularity of these headphones.

Another Month of Electric Car Sales

Results for August’s electric car sales have now come in.

We also have learned a surprising piece of fine print about Tesla’s claim to having achieved/exceeded its goal of producing 5,000 Model 3 cars a week back in the last week of June.  According to this article, 86% of the 5,000 cars it built that week had to be reworked after being rejected by quality control, which helps reconcile the disconnect between the count of manufactured vehicles and the count of delivered vehicles.

For August, the very good news is Tesla is estimated to have delivered about 17,800 Model 3 cars.  That’s an average of 4020 cars a week, so clearly that 5,000/week target is still proving troublesome, to say nothing of their current 6,000/week target.

But it is also a huge number, eclipsing any number ever sold of any other electric car in a single months.  Although Tesla is charging on with its claimed targets to grow Model 3 production still further to 10,000 cars/week, one has to wonder at what point its production rate will match and then risk exceeding market demand.  Currently, Tesla seems to be delivering more cars than are ordered each week by a wide margin, a fact largely obscured by the uncertain rate of depletion of the not exactly understood backlog of pre-orders for the vehicle.

This interesting article estimates that in August, Tesla was the fifth best-selling car brand in the country, selling more than Chrysler, Mercedes, and many other marques.  That is astonishing if sustainable.

The rolling 12-month averages for other electric cars remain largely unchanged, although the Tesla S and X cars also had a good month (2625 and 2750 units sold, respectively).

And Chevrolet, with its struggling Bolt (1225 sold in August compared to 2107 in Aug 2017 – we are told due to worldwide demand exceeding production supply) managed to give a brilliant demonstration of all that is bad about “old” Detroit that is so vividly contrasted by “new” Tesla.

One of the characteristics of the Tesla vehicles is that the controlling software is regularly updated.  Just like Windows 10 today is very different to what it was when it was first released three years ago, even if our computer is the same, so too are the capabilities of Tesla cars that were produced back then now very different, due to changes in their “operating system”.

GM have just announced new software improvements to the Bolt’s “operating system”.  Great.  But – and here’s the inexplicable total fail – they have said the new improvements will not be given to existing vehicles.  It will only apply to new vehicles.

As far as we can tell, there’s no reason why they couldn’t update their existing vehicles with the new software, and so their decision not to do this seems mean-minded and totally at odds with the expectations of the new world of electric vehicles.  This is part of the reason why people love Tesla so much (and hate the old car companies).  Tesla wraps itself with the mantle of righteousness, whether deserved or not, while other car companies continue consumer-unfriendly policies.

On the other hand, it is only about now that early Tesla owners are starting to see what life is like when their car’s warranty has expired.  Apparently it is not very good.

Talking about Tesla, their stock price continues to soften.  A week ago, it closed at $303, and last night, it closed at $281.

And Lastly This Week….

In a classic good news/bad news situation, BA happily told its customers the good news – no passport or travel data was compromised.

What’s that?  Oh yes, the bad news.  Ummm, errr, aparently BA suffered a cyber-attack that resulted in 380,000 sets of credit card details being compromised.

But, hey – those ultra precious flight details and meaningless passport numbers?  The hackers didn’t want them, so no need to worry.

Fancy a bit of the Titanic?  If you’re like me, maybe you already have an alleged piece of coal that was retrieved from the Titanic wreck site (in my case, it is alongside my alleged piece of Berlin Wall and right next to my alleged piece of meteorite, all with impressive certificates of authenticity).

But if you’d really like a bit of the Titanic, now might be your chance.  Due to financial problems, the owners of just about everything retrieved may be forced to break up and sell their collection, something that they’ve not been allowed to do until now.  Details here.

You’ve got to love Mexico.  Well, maybe.  Their approach to solving police corruption is certainly inventive.  Responding to tales of police aggressively enforcing certain laws and demanding bribes with the threat of terrible official consequences if not bribed, the Mexicans decided the best solution was to simply abolish the certain laws that were being exploited.

So it is now perfectly legal, in Guadalajara, to be, ahem, ‘totally intimate’ with your partner in public.  So, perhaps Guadalajara is now leaping up the ‘really good places for couples’ list, but also, equally, plunging down the list of ‘family friendly’ destinations.  Details – but mercifully no photos – here.

Truly lastly, please do consider our lovely Christmas Markets experience this December, and please share your thoughts about what should be done about screening passengers for communicable diseases.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels.





2 thoughts on “Weekly Roundup, Friday 7 September, 2018”

  1. Of course, it is Southwest. As Companion Pass holder, I fly often with Liz going free. But more important than free bags is the ability to change or cancel reservations without penalty fees. Therefore, can change to lower priced fares and get the difference back. So no reason not to book right away when one has tentative plans. PS. The early bird boarding fee is a bit of a pain, but I use it for long (3+ hour) fights and just save a seat for Liz.

  2. Regarding Airborne Sickness, my vote would depend on what the airlines do about the tickets of passengers reporting illnesses or being found to be ill because of a screening. If being sick causes the loss of the full fare or a substantial amount of the fare paid, I would be against any screening or reporting. However, if the airlines realize that keeping sick passengers off planes is for the greater good of society and do not penalize passengers, I would be in favor of such a program. The inflexibility of airlines when it comes to health issues makes me wary of such a program.

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