Weekly Roundup, Friday 26 October, 2018

A view of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, part of our second Land cruise itinerary next June (see below).

Good morning

It has been a wild and crazy week, but have I got a lot to show you for the week that was.  We now have details of our June 2019 UK touring online.

I’m using the “land cruise” concept first offered in this year’s Christmas land cruise (still have the cancelled couple’s $500 credit if anyone wants to take advantage of this and join us) again.

One of the weaker parts of this year’s “Grand Expedition of Great Britain” was that it was, well, exactly that – a grand expedition.  A lot of touring and traveling on the coach, not so much time relaxing in lovely towns and sightseeing.  That was unavoidable for a tour going the entire length and breadth of Britain, but normally most people would prefer less travel time and more “at places” time.

So for 2019, I’m offering two “land cruises” in June – with the main part of this concept being we spend an entire week in one hotel for each ‘cruise’.  Each day we travel around the region we’ve located ourselves in, and then come back to the central hotel for the night.  If you want to stay somewhere longer, simply take a bus, train, or taxi back when it suits you.  If you want to go somewhere different for the day, you can do that too, because unlike a ship, our hotel isn’t sailing away at 6pm!

The first “cruise” is in the Cotswolds area, the second in Yorkshire.  Both are incredibly beautiful regions and full of places to go and things to see and do.

I’ve timed them so you can do either one, or both together, and of course, there are optional extensions before and after each cruise/tour, too.  You’re not even limited to just the official tour dates – you can join anywhere on any day of the touring, and leave anywhere on any day, too.

I’m hoping we can get our Scottish driver Jim to do the coaching for us again, so we have some optional time in Scotland as a sweetener to him!

There’s more information below the newsletter, and then plenty of separate pages of information to explain everything we do and everywhere we go.

What else this week?  Here are a few tasty morsels for your consumption, and links to some relevant longer articles I’ve written, before.

  • An Alternative to Supersonic Flights Across the Atlantic
  • Skiplagging?
  • Delta Eliminates Plastic Straws.  To Save the Planet.
  • China Rebuts More Misunderstandings
  • Happy Birthday List
  • Strange Ships and Stranger Tunnels
  • And Lastly This Week….

An Alternative to Supersonic Flights Across the Atlantic

The laws of physics are making themselves increasingly felt as part of the various plans for new supersonic passenger planes, and the visionaries planning these planes are responding much as I feared.  Their earlier optimism about building planes that would be faster, better, and less expensive than Concorde is now being tempered by some of the unavoidable constraints, particularly in engine design.

Concorde cruised at about Mach 2.02, which is about 1335 mph.  That’s surely faster than Mach 0.85 or 575 mph which is about what most regular jets do at present, of course.

The Aerion plane has been changing its specifications, and slowly its expected speed down.  It is now being promised to fly at about Mach 1.4 – 925 mph.  Sure, that’s a lot faster than a 777/787 or Airbus equivalent, but what does that actually mean in terms of flight time?

It is 3450 miles as the crow flies between JFK and LHR.  A regular plane takes about 6 hrs 45 min scheduled time to travel to London, and about 8 hrs 15 min for the return.  We’ll guess this includes 45 minutes of time on the ground, and the balance in the air.  The difference in times is due to the jet stream.

If flown supersonic, a slight detour to spend less time over land would make the route 3500 miles.  200 of this would still be over land, which we’ll say would be at Mach 1, 660 mph.  So total flight time becomes four hours instead of six hours, and perhaps five hours instead of 7 1/2 hours when flying west.  Plus, of course, the 45 minutes on the ground.

So we’re looking at about two hours saving each way.  Not exactly transformational, and involving billions of dollars to develop new planes, new engines, and new everything else.

I’ve got a better idea.  Why not have a normal plane flying the route, at normal speeds, but fast track the passengers through the airports and the planes on the ground.  No lines for the passengers, gates close to check-in, no need to be checking in more than perhaps 20 minutes prior to departure.  No waits for immigration, customs, or baggage at the other end, either.  No waiting in line for the planes to have a turn to take-off, no holding patterns, and straight to gates upon landing.

We both know that the time wasted on the ground, variously by us and the planes we fly, is way over two hours at present.  You could save 90 minutes when checking in to fly out, and perhaps 45 minutes (sometimes, shamefully, very much more) upon arriving at the other end, too.

This isn’t just pie-in-the-skie.  I know it is possible, because I’ve done it, and I know other people who do it regularly.

The high-speed procedures for departing and arriving were offered on the lovely BA business class flights between JFK and London City Airport.  Whereas you can wait 45 minutes or more just to go through Immigration at Heathrow, there was an Immigration officer standing by the jetway with a stamp, stamping our passports as we walked past him, almost without us needing to slow down.  Everything else at London City Airport was almost as wonderful, too.

People with a great amount of discretionary cash enjoy similar experiences with private jets, too.

All of this is possible.  As for jumping the line and getting ahead of other airplanes, a small fee could be charged for that privilege, and probably many of the airplanes that would be pushed back one in line belong to the same airline or airline grouping anyway.


What a strange term.  Skiplagging.  Us old-timers know it as exploiting the “hidden city” loophole in airline fares, but a probably young twenty-something year old presumably thought he had discovered this idea all for himself, not realizing it is a concept that has been around for decades, so came up with a suitably modern new term for his “new discovery”.  Skiplagging.

Here’s an article which could have been written at any time in the last 30 years, but which was actually written this month, reporting on how UA is “closing in on skiplagging customers”.  News to the writer – they’ve been doing that for a very long time.

We wrote about it back in 2002, as part of a three part series on airfare loopholes.  Some of the loopholes we wrote about then no longer apply, but some still do.

Delta Eliminates Plastic Straws.  To Save the Planet.

One of the great inventions that we discovered, when moving to the US, were plastic straws.  The paper ones we had in NZ had the unfortunate tendency to come unglued, or generally just to fall apart.  But for some strange reason, people keen to save the planet would rather focus on the infinitesimal amount of plastic waste generated by plastic straws in the US while ignoring the hundreds/thousands of times greater amounts of plastic waste flooding out of China and India and going straight into the oceans.

Delta is now virtue-signaling its desire to be part of that misplaced focus.  So, get this.  They’ll happily fly a jet across the Atlantic and burn 7+ tons of fuel every hour while doing so, but now they’re going to save some ounces of plastic straw and plastic stirrers, replacing them with paper/wood/bamboo/whatever, on the flight that consumes 50+ tons of jet fuel.  (We note that “bamboo” is often a code word for rayon/viscose and other cellulose type long-lived materials that look for all the world like plastic rather than like wood.)

I always cringe when seeing environmentalists eagerly demand paper bags in the supermarket.  Few people think that choice all the way through.  A thin plastic bag actually has a much lower total environmental footprint than does a much heavier Kraft paper bag containing ten times or more processed/refined material, and lasting almost as long in a landfill while taking up ten times the landfill space.  There is also way less energy, less raw material, and less pollution in making the plastic bag than the paper bag to start with.

It is probably similar when comparing paper and plastic straws.  Whatever the exact analysis might reveal, it is likely the replacement “natural” straw has an ecological footprint that is similar in size to the plastic straw.

If Delta is so concerned about saving the environment, perhaps it could cancel a single trans-Atlantic flight, once a year.  That would save in the order of 220,000 lbs of jet fuel (plus all the unused straws on the roundtrip flight); and that’s only a bit less than it claims it will save in plastic – a specious claim because it doesn’t consider the offsetting weight of the other-material products being substituted for the plastic items.

Sadly, neither honest science nor common sense has much of a chance when it comes to virtue-signaling environmental concerns and compliances.

Details here.

China Rebuts More Misunderstandings

China’s steady growth evokes a strong sense of deja vu.  It reminds me of how Japanese businesses took over so much of the US industrial base, and most of all, I am reminded of how naysayers steadfastly refused to see the threat from Japan.

Think of cars.  First it was “Okay, so they can make cheap cars, but they’re no good and no-one would buy them”.  Then it was “well, okay, they can make cheap cars, but they can’t make good regular cars.”  Then it was “they’ll never make luxury cars – no-one would ever equate luxury with a Japanese car brand”.  Then it was “they could never make sports cars”.  Pickups.  Trucks.  Everything else that Japan “could never make” they are now making.

Similarly, it was “Japan are great at copying, but they don’t have any original/creative capabilities”.  No ability to design or to market.  And so on, all of which Japan has shown itself to excel at.

Now it is the turn of the Chinese to be under-estimated, something that is becoming harder to do with every passing month.

In the field of aviation, we’ve seen them launch a 737/A320 competitor, the Comac C919.  It is not expected to enter commercial service until 2021, but has already received 1015 orders.  It is true most of those orders are to Chinese airlines, but who cares.  The fact clearly is that this is 1015 fewer 737s and A320s that will be sold by Boeing and Airbus.  It is cold comfort for Airbus/Boeing to say their planes are better, when they’re not getting the orders.  China is also developing a wide-body jet in partnership with Russia, and project the plane may be in service by 2027.

We’ve also seen them develop first-rate fighter aircraft (even if much of their know-how was stolen), and now we see they have built the world’s largest amphibious plane, a multi-role plane with both civilian and military capabilities.

How long will it be before we start to view China with the same respect as we do Japan?

Happy Birthday List

Happy birthday to airline deregulation, now turning 40, to the iPod, now turning 17, and to Android, now turning 10.

I wrote about airline deregulation as the third and subsequent parts of a multi-part series on the history of US airline regulation and deregulation, and the key point which few people appreciate is that the so-called deregulation in 1978 was only a partial not a complete deregulation.  The negative outcomes since removing half the regulatory framework has been viewed by some as a reason to return to full regulation, but the correct interpretation is that it is a reason to remove the distorting effects of the remaining regulations.

As for the iPod, it is a concept that has largely come and gone, at least, in Apple’s world, having been integrated into their iPhones.  Standalone digital music players still exist, and offer quality, capacity, and interfaces that neither Apple nor anyone else dreamed of 17 years ago, and we have a series on digital music players here.

The original iPod had 5GB or 10GB of storage, and the 5GB unit sold for $399.  Modern digital music players such as the Fiio X1 sell for $90, or their newer M3K for $70, add a 32 GB micro-SD card for $9 (or a 128 GB card for $24) and you’ve got something so much better for a quarter the price, even after inflation.

Progress is an amazing thing.  And, oh yes, did we mention that Fiio, an innovative portable electronic manufacturer, is Chinese?

As for Android, the surprising thing to me is not how it managed to quickly catch up on Apple’s two-year lead on smartphones, nor how it now has almost four times the market share of Apple’s iOS, but how it managed to so soundly fight off what, on the face of it, should have been an unassailable competitor, the Microsoft Windows OS for phones and other mobile devices.

When did you last see a Windows-based phone?

Strange Ships and Stranger Tunnels

There is currently not one but two different plans to build a replica of the Titanic.  One is from China (another nod to the China-naysayers), and the other is from, of all places unexpected, Australia.

We’ve written about the Australian Titanic several times before, and note it is now considerably behind schedule, but news emerged this week that it is now expected to make its first voyage in 2022.

It’s first voyage will be from Dubai, then to Southampton, at which point it will recreate the Titanic’s maiden voyage to New York.  We hope the recreation won’t be totally realistic, and on this occasion the ship will get all the way to New York, and we also hope the new Titanic II will not be exactly like its predecessor – ie, it will carry a few more lifeboats.

We wish it good fortune.  Details here.

The website says it will recreate the same mix of first, second and third class cabins.  We hope the second and third class cabins will be slightly nicer than on the original Titanic; and we note in particular that not only did neither second nor third class cabins have en suite bathrooms, but there were only two baths for the up to 700 passengers in third class, on a 5 1/2 day crossing.

As for tunnels, Elon Musk has announced that his first “Boring Company” tunnel will open on 10 December – something like six weeks from now.  It is not exactly clear to us exactly where the tunnel will operate, how long it will be, or what type of vehicles will be able to use it, and at what speeds.

But there’s only so much detail Elon can squeeze into a tweet, after all, so let’s not be unduly demanding of him.

Some details here.

And Lastly This Week

What part of “keep your seatbelt fastened” do people not understand?  This is an interesting article with some amazing pictures of food thrown all around the cabin of a plane that hit some strong and unexpected turbulence.

Do you know what headbutting is?  In an aviation context, that is.  Here’s an interesting article that explains just exactly what fighter planes do, prior to using their missiles or guns (probably the former) to shoot wayward passenger planes out of the sky.

Exploding toilets?  A recall of 1.4 million Flushmate toilet flushing systems has been announced after 1,446 toilets in the US have already “exploded” (that we know of).

Truly lastly this week, a woman was outraged to discover, after collecting her suitcase from a flight to Miami, and opening it upon getting home, that some airline employee had not only stolen every item in it, but then tricked her by filling it up with airline ‘stuff’ instead – harnesses, safety clothing, and other items.

She rushed online to complain on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere, and advocated everyone reading her messages of distress should never fly on the airline again.

Except that.

The airline did a little checking, and discovered that the “theft” and substitution was actually due to the woman taking the wrong suitcase off the baggage carousel.  Her suitcase was still waiting for her at the airport.

Details here.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels and remember that many bags look the same….





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