Weekly Roundup, Friday 15 February 2019

Oban’s main street and waterfront from a ferry – a lovely town on Scotland’s west coast that we’ll visit as part of our Scotland’s Highland Highlights this September.

Good morning

It has been an interesting week this week, and there are two feature articles following this morning’s newsletter.

One is a farewell tribute to one of my favorite planes.  Ungainly and ugly?  Probably, although that enormous wing impresses me every time I see it.  A delight to fly in, as a passenger?  Most definitely.  Enormously smooth riding and quiet – yes, and indeed, enormous in size, too.

I’m talking of course about the lovely A380.  On Thursday, Airbus confirmed the inevitable.  With the cancellation of most of the remaining Emirates order, it was cancelling the program.  There are 17 planes left to make, and when that has been done, in 2021, that will be the end of the largest passenger plane ever made.  Read more about why the plane was commercially doomed from even prior to its first flight, in the article after the newsletter.

The second article follows on from my last week’s newsletter item about the Democrats and their Green New Deal plan to eliminate air travel, replacing it with train travel everywhere.  As you probably know, the entire “Green New Deal” policy document was greeted with such derision and mirth that it was quickly taken off websites and disavowed, with Democrats even going as far as to claim that the same document they’d been grandstanding with just a day or two before was a “Republican hoax”.

But just when we’d had a brief tantalizing taste of a high speed rail based transportation future, rail was in the news again, this time in California.  New Governor, Gavin Newsom, gave his “State of the State” address on Tuesday night, during which he announced he was cancelling California’s planned 800 mile high speed rail service between San Diego/Los Angeles and San Francisco/Sacramento.  But because quite a lot of work has already been done on a midsection of the track, he justified continuing work to complete that section so as “not to have to give $3.5 billion of federal support back to President Trump”.  That concept of not giving money to President Trump played well to the Governor’s audience, but the broader notion of spending billions more money in order to not “give money back to President Trump” doesn’t make much sense.

I wrote an analysis on that, but then the very next day, after howls of outrage from the “we want a train, no matter what it costs” pressure groups, Gov Newsom explained that we had all misunderstood what he said.  He wasn’t cancelling the train project at all (although perhaps it might be deferred indefinitely, but that’s not the same as cancelling, oh no).  So I had to rewrite the analysis slightly to add that extra element of ambiguity, and that is the second article this week.

What else?  Please continue reading for :

  • Reader Survey
  • Touring Update
  • Lufthansa Sues Passenger Who Didn’t Fly
  • The Other Airplane Order Cancellation
  • Southwest Considering Expansion of Service to Hawaii?
  • Federal Air Marshal Program Criticized
  • The Danger When Political Correctness Infects the Cockpit
  • And Lastly This Week….

Reader Survey

Do you remember, way back when Boeing was first getting ready to announce the 787, it had a competition to give the plane a name, and eventually decided to call it the “Dreamliner”?  Ever since, Boeing has steadfastly referred to its plane as the 787 Dreamliner, and I guess from their point of view, the benefit of that is it takes up more space on a page.

But do you ever actually refer to the plane as a Dreamliner?  When you’re flying somewhere and note it is on a 787 Dreamliner, what do you tell your friends?  That you’re flying on a 787 or on a Dreamliner, or on a 787 Dreamliner?

I’m experimenting with Twitter’s survey capability and have created a simple one question survey about this.

Would you please be as kind as to visit this page and choose your answer.  Note – this does require you to have a Twitter account.  And why not follow our @TheTvlInsider Twitter account at the same time.  🙂

Touring Update

Our September Loire Valley Land Cruise is continuing to be well received.  We now have four people sending in deposits, and several more on the cusp of joining them.  The thought of a week based in one hotel and daily touring around this beautiful region is understandably popular.

The new September Scotland’s Highland Highlights tour has also been well received, and there are three couples currently expected to be signing up soon.  While this is a travelling tour, we spend two nights at each stop so as to keep the hotel changes to a controlled minimum, and this year go to some places we’ve never visited before, as well as offering the brand new sleeper train from London to join the tour, an experience that is sure to be a highlight.

Which is the better tour?  I really can’t decide, which is why I timed them to follow directly after each other.  Be like me, and do both!

We also had a couple more people surface, asking about the late March Defensive Firearms Safety & Proficiency Course in Pahrump, NV.  Yes, we could indeed add a very few more people to this group, but with it now being only about six weeks away, please do let me know quickly.  There’s no problem adding you to the group, but organizationally there’s a bit of lead time involved – probably for you as well as for us.  Click the line for what you need to know, and if you’d like to come along for a very different type of tour, that would be lovely.

Our Christmas tour details will be up next week, I think.  You can see all our planned future touring listed here.

Lufthansa Sues Passenger Who Didn’t Fly

You may be familiar with the concept of “hidden city ticketing”, or more recently sometimes referred to as “skip lagging”.  It is a way to take advantage of the sometimes irrational pricing that airlines adopt with their tickets.

For example, say you want to fly from Los Angeles to Denver.  The fare is $500.  But you also notice a fare from Los Angeles to Omaha that is only $350, and it is with an airline that takes you first to Denver where you change planes and then go on to Omaha.  “Aha”, you think to yourself.  “What say I buy the $350 ticket and get off the plane in Denver – I’ll save $150!”

This concept has been compared to many other things, the classic being when you can buy a 2 liter bottle of Coke on special in the supermarket for less than the price of a regular can of coke in its snack bar vending machine.  So you decide to buy the 2 liter bottle, drink as much of it as you like, and toss the rest away.  Would you ever expect someone from the supermarket to come running after you and demand you either finish the entire bottle, or else pay the store for the value of the Coke you didn’t drink, based on its value as if it were being sold through the snack bar.

Okay, of course that would never happen.  But now, back to the strange world of airlines.

Airlines hate to have the idiocy of their pricing models exploited by people with more sense than their pricing people, and try to make it as hard as possible for this to happen.  Obviously, you couldn’t check any bags, because they’d insist on checking them all the way to Omaha.  And you couldn’t use it for a roundtrip ticket, because the airline will “automatically” cancel all the other flights on the itinerary if you miss any one of them.  If you do it enough and trigger an alarm in their revenue monitoring system, they’ll threaten to zero out each and every one of all your frequent flier miles.  And make vague noises about law suits.

Well, Lufthansa is not just making vague noises.  It is suing one of its passengers, who purchased a €657 fare from Oslo to Seattle via Frankfurt, then got off the plane in Frankfurt.  LH says that in some unique alternate universe that only LH inhabits, this passenger should have paid €2769 for the Oslo-Frankfurt flight, and is suing for the difference in fares, plus interest, and doubtless court costs and anything else it can think of as well.

Of course, we’ll wager that when LH says the passenger should have paid €2100 more for the ticket, it is not using the cheapest possible fare that might have been available for that sector, but instead the most expensive fare, because that’s the sort of petty dishonesty and legal posturing you’d expect in such cases.

But my question to Lufthansa is “How were you harmed by the passenger only flying the shorter of the two legs on his ticket?  You had a seat open up on the longer flight to Seattle which you could resell at short notice, you had less weight on the flight, less wear and tear, even a few fewer drinks to give out?”

If LH were to seek to base its law suit on the “extra costs” of the passenger flying a shorter distance than he was entitled to, it would actually have to turn around and give the passenger money back.

So, of course, it is ignoring that calculation of damages due, and is hoping the court will be as stupid as they are.  A lower court already ruled in the passenger’s favor, and so LH is now appealing it to a higher court.

This is dangerous to us all.  A lower court’s decision, one way or the other, isn’t really precedent setting.  But if a higher court in Europe rules for the airline, then that risks becoming a credible precedent that could empower all airlines, everywhere in Europe, to adopt LH’s rapacious policy.  You can bet that LH is heavily lawyered up for this, whereas the poor hapless traveler probably has no representation at all – something that isn’t necessarily a problem in a lower court, but absolutely is a problem in a higher court.

Details here.

The Other Airplane Order Cancellation

Lost in the excitement/sorrow of Emirates cancelling most of its A380s was another order cancellation.

But first, a couple more words about what Emirates is up to.  Clearly, part of the quid pro quo of being allowed to cancel 39 of the 53 A380s on order was their agreement to order 40 A330-900neo planes and 30 A350-900 planes.  In total, this represents a list price order value of US$21.4 billion, which is more that the A380 list price ($450 million), and the A330/350 planes are planes that Airbus will actually make money on.  So Airbus is probably quite happy to now have justification to kill the A380, and now to have Emirates taking two more viable model planes to add to its fleet.

There’s another part of the Emirates order that also probably delights Airbus.  Emirates had earlier been choosing between the 787 and the A350, and ended up ordering 40 of the 787-10 planes from Boeing in 2017.  This had been a very competitive deal, because both Boeing and Airbus expected that a first order would likely be followed by many more large orders, for the same plane.  Curiously, while Boeing (and Emirates) both boasted about the order when it was announced at the Dubai Air Show, it has never appeared as a firm order on Boeing’s list of forward orders.

But now that it seems Emirates has been encouraged to swap A380s for A350s (and A330s), what does that mean for their 787 order with Boeing?  It seems quite likely the 787 order might disappear entirely.

Currently Emirates has a fleet exclusively made up of several models of the 777 and the A380.  Now it seems to be moving to a four airplane type, or even five if it continues with the 787s (which most observers do not expect).

However, the order cancellation most notable for not being talked about much is by Emirates’ neighboring airline, Etihad.  It seems likely Etihad will be reducing their order, currently for 62 A350-1000 planes, down to a mere five, and their order for 35 of Boeing’s 777-9 planes down to six.  Various reports have ascribed different numbers, but this and  this report seems fairly clear.

Apparently Etihad is scaling back its global ambitions.  To put it mildly.

Southwest Considering Expansion of Service to Hawaii?

Southwest is about to start flying to Hawaii from four different cities in California, and is currently awaiting FAA certification.  The big added issue is the need for ETOPs certification for the long over-the-water flight, something that until now hasn’t applied for its regular flights within the US.  This seems to be proceeding smoothly, and the airline expects services to start in April.

But, even though Southwest is still perhaps two months away from starting service, it has let it be known that it is now considering adding flights from Las Vegas, too.  These new flights would probably start in 2020.

While I write this in terms of “to Hawaii” the really big and impactful thing is not so much for us on “the mainland” but for the local Hawaiians.  One can only guess at the excitement and anticipation in Hawaii at the thought of a new carrier and hopefully lower fares appearing in their market.

While in truth Southwest isn’t a very low fare carrier, it is true that whenever it starts a new route, fares often drop, and there’s close to no downside to the locals in Hawaii with the new Southwest service.

Federal Air Marshal Program Criticized

The Federal Air Marshal Program enjoyed a massive revival after 9/11.  It has also been a very difficult program to criticize, because, most of the time, normal travelers have no idea if there are air marshals on flights or not.

This also means if there is a problem on a flight and no air marshal, then the air marshals can point to that as proof that they need a bigger budget and more staff.  The alternate point of view, that the air marshals need to be better allocated to high risk flights, never gets much of an airing.

There is also the question of exactly what types of risks air marshals can help with.  To date, all their interventions have been with unruly or deranged passengers, never with terrorists.

While no doubt everyone on a flight suffering a problem passenger is happy to have an air marshal to help out, that is not their prime purpose, and they are seldom needed.   These days passengers and flight attendants between them do an excellent (and sometimes overly eager) job of controlling such disruptive people.  Indeed, there is a school of thought that air marshals shouldn’t respond to non-terror threats, because if they do, they’ve revealed themselves and become vulnerable to terrorists.  Maybe the drunk and disorderly guy was just a plant to expose the air marshals.

They have also unfortunately shot and killed a passenger – a mentally disturbed man who was running away from a plane, and therefore clearly posing no threat whatsoever.

But, in terms of terrorists caught, the total achieved to date, over almost 18 years, seems to currently be hovering right at zero.  The program is presently costing about $800 million every year.

Another thing an air marshal clearly can not do is stop a terrorist detonating a bomb on board.  Imagine the scenario.  The marshal is in seat 2, the terrorist is in seat 32.  The terrorist opens up his backpack, pulls out a cartoon style bomb and lights its fuse or starts the clock timer.  Passengers scream in terror “Help, that guy’s got a bomb”.

The air marshal eventually hears the commotion, and gets up to run down to row 32, struggling against passengers who are in the aisle and running forward away from the guy and bomb.  He gets there a mere 15 seconds later, but, alas, the timer/delay on the bomb fuse was 14 seconds.

Of course, and much more likely, there’d be no delay at all, the bomb would instantly detonate as soon as its arming circuit was activated.  It might even have a simple automatic timer or pressure switch, needing no intervention by the terrorist at all.

With those thoughts in mind, is it surprising that a report from the Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General notes that almost half the money being spent on air marshals is being wasted?  The very brief uncensored portion of the report noted dryly that $394 million of the annual funding could be ‘put to better use’.

Other previous reports have also been critical of the program.  It is one thing to have external groups criticize the air marshal program, but when Homeland Security’s own internal “auditor” type people criticize it, repeatedly over several years, isn’t it time for some intervention and action?

The Danger When Political Correctness Infects the Cockpit

I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m being flown somewhere, I hope that the two people up front in the cockpit are as competent and experienced as possible.  Either that or they have the wisdom to program the auto-pilot properly prior to the plane taking off and the sense to then leave well alone and not touch anything in the cockpit until after the plane has safely landed itself at the other end.

There were a couple of brief items this week that have an interesting possible link between them.

The first is a very brief report, totally absent any details, about how the US Air Force, fresh from congratulating itself for having appointed a woman to head up their Viper F-16 Flight Demonstration team, has summarily relieved her of command after a mere two weeks of duty.  No-one is saying why for reasons of “privacy” – a selective reason that usually means a senior commander wishing to have privacy surround their embarrassing hiring mistake, not any respect for privacy of the fired person in question.  In most cases, the military is keen to “virtue signal” when it fires officers.  Details here.

The other item is a press release from Alaska Airlines, boasting at how they signed a pledge this week with the “Sister of the Skies” pressure group, vowing to increase their number of female African-American pilots by 2025.

I don’t know about you, but when it comes to pilots, I’d prefer Alaska Airlines hire only the very best pilots, no matter their skin color or gender.  Sure, let the airline create a training program scholarship or something to make it easier for minorities (in the broadest possible sense, please, not limited only to female African-Americans) to qualify as pilots, but let’s leave the hiring decision totally sacrosanct and focused only on the very best pilots.

These days, orchestra auditions have the candidates perform behind a screen so no-one can see the person’s age, race, gender, or anything else about them.  They hire based solely on demonstrated ability.  That’s the way airlines should hire their pilots, too.

And Lastly This Week….

Okay, so while we didn’t much like it, we can vaguely comprehend how light snow falls can interfere with airport operations, and the alleged presence of drones around the airport can close an airport down too.  But we struggle to understand how a half-naked woman briefly running around the Florence, SC airport would cause the airport to shut down for two hours.

While it is true that by most measures, the TSA probably misses more illegal items than it detects, but it does detect some very strange and extreme items in carry on bags.  Here’s a list of some of the things it found in 2018.  What a shame we’ll never see the second longer list of things it didn’t find.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels





1 thought on “Weekly Roundup, Friday 15 February 2019”

  1. Although Southwest may not be the low cost carrier in the strictest sense, the benefits for many make it so. Usually the lowest cost on other carriers have many restrictions that Southwest does not. Try buying a low cost tickets on other carriers and then changing the date. Often you might as well throw away the ticket and buy a new one. One SWA, just apply the cost of the original ticket to the new one. And if the new ticket is cheaper, get funds back to use for future flights.

    I often buy tickets long in advance, even if my travel dates are “iffy”. Usually prices are lower. And if prices go down or my dates change, I know I can re-book without a penalty. This benefit is worth 20% to me as I change flights at least one out of five flights.

    Also add in the cost of a checked (and often carry on) bag (or even 2 bags). Going to Hawaii without a checked bag – it does not happen often.

    Yes no seat assignments. But with cheap tickets you usually do not get one or have to pay for a decent seat. On SWA, any savvy person can check in T-24 and almost guarantee a window or aisle. And for $15-25 extra get early boarding with many choices.

    Finally, for those that fly more than 3 or 4 flights a year serviced by Southwest (with a companion), the Companion Pass really reduces travel cost considerably. Cost to get this CP is probably less than $500 with careful planning. I started 1 Jan and got it by early February and now it is good for 22 months. Now it becomes without a doubt my low cost carrier!

    Overall, not apples to apples. Everyone should take all the factors into account and decide for themselves. I don’t even think SWA calls itself the low cost carrier anymore.

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