I hope your Good Friday is off to a good start, and your Easter Weekend will be spent most pleasantly, including, for the Christians among our readers, some extra time pondering and being thankful for our salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus.
If this was New Zealand, we’d all be on holiday today (and also Monday), but, alas, here in the US, most of us are probably at work. However, there is one Easter bonus for us all – this weekend sees free entry to all National Parks.
The “crown of thorns” has been in the news a lot this week. This is said to have been worn by Jesus prior to his crucifixion, almost exactly 2000 years ago, and while there are various claims to what and where this item may now be, one of the more strongly advocated claims is by the Roman Catholic Church, who believe they have it in the vaults underneath Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Well, now you see the tie-in; because as you surely know, there was “a bit of a fire” there earlier this week, although happily the church treasures all escaped unharmed.
Our world these days seems to be filled by people who “over-emote in public”, and alas, the internet provides a great tool to encourage and empower such people to do so, and there has been a terribly frenzy of people striving to each express more extravagantly than the previous their distress and dismay at the Notre Dame fire.
Not only do these people labor under the illusion that other people really care what they think, about Notre Dame or much else (and is there really any value in saying “I’m saddened by the fire” – it is hardly a unique point of view, after all!), but they’ve also rushed to reinforce their virtue-signaling by ostensibly “putting their money where their mouth is”, and rushing to donate to some sort of restoration fund. Truly the embers were still smoldering in Paris while already half a billion Euros had been pledged to the repair and restoration of the church, and by now, it seems the total funds pledged are probably in excess of €1 billion.
But. Who is getting the money? How much is needed? What will it be spent on? Apparently, these are irrelevant details, as people rush to send money somewhere/anywhere. Charity is a good thing, but prudent charity is a much better thing, and it is already becoming apparent that other needy causes are being shortchanged with money being diverted to the higher visibility cause of Notre Dame.
In a typical “Travel Insider” alternate view of conventional wisdom, I’ve carefully looked at what happened and what is now happening with Notre Dame. The article follows this newsletter, and you might be surprised at what it reveals.
It is actually a very prolific week this week; there are three articles appended to the long newsletter, making a total of 9,326 words. Phew.
A second article extends further the saga of Amazon’s dysfunctional approach to managing the reviews on its site. I’ve now discovered that Amazon has deleted at least four of my reviews without telling me, as well as the two it has told me it is refusing to publish. Because I’ve been sending reviews to Amazon for almost 20 years, I’ve no idea which four have been deleted, and even less idea why, but at the same time, the flood of fake positive reviews seems to continue almost unabated.
However, rather than just endlessly complain about it, this week I’m offering Amazon some free advice on how to improve their review filtering.
The third of the articles is the one I most want to draw your attention to, please. There are probably a dozen people who have said they will probably/definitely come on either the Scotland or the Loire Valley tour in September, but who have yet to confirm that and send in a deposit. There are more who I know are mulling it over. We’re now getting to the point where I have to start making commitments to hotels, so if you’ve been thinking of either of these tours, please do now firm up your decision to join us.
And what else? Please keep reading for :
- B737 MAX Grounding
- When All Else Fails, Change the Paint Job
- Criticize BA and Be Prepared to Suffer the Consequences
- A Tale of Two Cities (and Their Car Shows)
- Mysterious Things in the Sky
- The Danger of Being a Social Influencer
- And Lastly This Week….
B737 MAX Grounding
Another week of mixed messages. On the one hand, we’re told that great progress is being made with the software fix and related new training required.
Indeed, things are going so well that Boeing’s CEO decided to show his confidence in the plane by going on a test flight himself a couple of days ago – something that surely was nothing more than a publicity stunt, but a very clever one.
However, on the other hand, both AA and Southwest have now updated their schedules for the busy summer period, and neither airline is timetabling any resumption of 737 MAX services until sometime in August, four months from now.
Another article wonders why something that is primarily a software patch is taking so long, considering that Boeing apparently started work on it when the first plane crashed, last October.
There’s also an article highlighting some of the dubious “revolving door” practices that see senior officials bouncing between jobs at Boeing and jobs at the FAA.
As we have mentioned already, the law suits are already starting to come in, as of course would be expected. But, maybe you and I have grounds to sue Boeing too. Care to join me in a class action lawsuit?
This article suggests that summer fares in the US will rise, in part due to the shortage of planes caused by the grounding of 737 MAX planes that AA, WN and UA would otherwise be flying. So we too are being harmed by this debacle, in our pocketbooks.
Oh – there’s one other surprising source predicting a quick resolution to the B737 grounding. Airbus!
When All Else Fails, Change the Paint Job
Some airlines have had the same external appearance – their “livery” – for a very long time. Others like to change their livery more regularly than perhaps common sense might suggest necessary, and one wonders if it is a desperate attempt to do something/anything to try and fix things that require more than a new paint job to resolve.
When an airline changes the paint job on their planes, it can sometimes be partially excused on the basis of “Well, we have to repaint the planes anyway, and it costs no more to repaint them differently as it does the same” and there’s a measure of truth in that, although often airlines will accelerate their plane repainting schedule when liveries change.
But it isn’t just the planes that change. Every piece of corporate stationary, every give-away pen, every sign on every airport, and so on – all that needs to change as well. The website probably will be re-designed too, with not just the new logo but also a new color palette to match the logo, and perhaps a general refresh of layout and functionality at the same time.
Add it all up, and it is hard to see such changes costing less than $10 million, and possibly ranging up closer to $100 million. That’s okay if there is a clear associated benefit and return – if by changing the logo, slogan, and paint scheme that helps the airline win more market share, or charge more for its tickets, or reduce its operating costs.
But does it? In many other fields, it seems there is little or no benefit perceived with changing a company’s image/livery, and indeed, in some business areas, companies consider a long-lasting corporate identity to be a plus rather than a minus. Companies such as Shell, for example, have their logo dating back to 1904, although it has evolved slightly over the years. The Coca-cola logo and colors are similarly time-hallowed. Even more modern companies – Starbucks, for example – have kept their identity almost the same pretty much since they started. Amazon’s has been unchanged since 2000.
Last year Lufthansa announced a minor tweak to their logo – the oldest airline logo in the world. But they’ve been relatively unchanging compared to US airlines, which seem to love changes.
Delta, from its first logo in the early 1920s, is now on its 17th or possibly 18th version. United is keen to catch up, however, and has announced its plans to change its livery, for the 14th time, on this coming Wednesday (24 April). Details here.
Here’s a nice “infographic” showing a fascinating history of some well-known airlines and their logos.
Does new livery really change anything? Or is it another distraction and exercise in corporate vanity?
Criticize BA and Be Prepared to Suffer the Consequences
The Financial Times is in some respects Britain’s equivalent of the Wall St Journal. You’ve surely seen it from time to time, even if you’ve not realized what you were looking at, because it is printed on distinctive pink newsprint.
As you know, BA offers a selection of newspapers to read on their flights, and also stocks them in their premium lounges. Until recently, the Financial Times was always one of the newspapers stocked and offered, but they recently discontinued it.
BA says the decision is unrelated to some criticism of BA that appeared in the FT; it was – they say – purely coincidental. The FT doesn’t believe them. Details here.
A Tale of Two Cities (and Their Car Shows)
This week has seen annual car show events being held in Shanghai and New York. In one of them, there was a flurry of new electric cars being announced by the country’s various auto manufacturers. In the other show/city/country, not a single of the nation’s car companies announced a single new electric car.
Can you guess which is which? Although the US was once the very heartland of both automobile and electronic innovation, there wasn’t a single battery-electric vehicle being announced by any of the “Big Three” manufacturers. But in China, a nation that some people still incorrectly perceive as full of backward peasants, the Shanghai show was dominated by new electric car announcements.
This continued shift not only to manufacturing dominance but also product innovation by the Chinese is still much obscured in the US, but was driven home to me this week when I was discussing some things with an acquaintance in New Zealand. He told me about his car – a make/model of vehicle I’d never ever heard of before, but which is apparently becoming commonplace in New Zealand – a Ssang Yong. Yes, a Chinese car.
The cycle continues. First no-one would touch a Japanese car, now they’re perceived as being high quality and reliable. Second, no-one would touch a South Korean car, and now they’re perceived as being high quality and reliable. Now, third, it seems inevitable that China will crowd our markets with their cars as well as all their other products.
Is there nothing remaining where the US still has some dominance and advantage over the Chinese?
You might think the answer is airplanes. While Airbus has steadily increased to a point where now it can validly dispute whether it or Boeing is the larger company and with a larger market share, it has until recently clearly been a two-horse race.
Here’s an article that we feel overstates the present importance of Chinese airplanes, but wait another year or two, and the article is likely to read much more accurately.
So, perhaps the answer to the question of where the US still leads is sadly reducing down to “We no longer lead in any field at all”?
The Perfect Crime?
There’s a body of law known as Admiralty or Maritime Law, which basically covers what happens when ships are at sea.
The thing is, though, that much of the time, a ship is outside any and every national jurisdiction, possibly for a week or more at a time. Ships move slowly and oceans are large.
This wasn’t much of a problem back when most of the ships were merchant marine ships. The ship owners had firm strong discipline that they exercised, and there were only limited numbers of crew on board. The same – even more so – with naval vessels.
But these days, the ever-growing phenomenon of cruise ships, and the trend downwards in the demographics of who goes on cruises, matched with a similar trend downwards in their behavior, has meant there are some “grey areas” in terms of legal jurisdictions, combined with a natural reluctance on the part of cruise lines to suggest that going on a cruise might involve passengers in the same sorts of hooliganism, burglaries, and even violent crime, assault, rape and murder as happens ashore.
What does happen when a serious crime occurs on a ship in international waters? The short answer is “it depends” and the longer answer isn’t much more satisfactory, as shown in a recent story of a rape involving an Italian rapist, a British victim (a 17 yr old girl), on a Panamanian flagged ship that occurred on a segment of its voyage between Majorca and Valencia (both Spanish ports) but while the ship was in international waters. A Spanish court in Valencia decided it had no jurisdiction in the matter, and released the Italian man, even though DNA tests appeared to confirm his culpability. The court suggested pursuing the matter in Panama, Britain, or Italy, but good luck with that. The jurisdictional mess would be a costly nightmare. Details here.
This is appalling. If no law applies in such cases, why not create some shipboard laws. Anyone who commits a rape on board will immediately be removed from the ship. As in, tossed overboard. The good old-fashioned walking of the plank. End of story.
Mysterious Things in the Sky
Do you believe in UFOs? The concept of mysterious things in the sky dates way back into history, although the modern UFO era started shortly after WW2, when a sighting described as “like a flying saucer” caught the public (and press) imagination in 1947. Interestingly, this was not far from Boeing in the Seattle area…..
Since that time, there have been official and unofficial investigations galore, and people have ended up with very polarized views. Some stoutly maintain it is nonsense, that people have just seen weather balloons or mirage/reflections or the planet Venus or whatever. Others say it is simply people playing practical jokes. Others believe it to be true. For me, I think all three explanations are valid – some sightings can be explained, some are probably people having a laugh, and some are both credible and defy alternate innocent explanation.
The reason I ask this question is apropos the several day fuss and closure at London’s Gatwick Airport just prior to Christmas, due to apparently multiple sightings of a drone flying around the airport. No drone was ever discovered, and no-one has either been found or confessed to the activities. It is also notable that not a single photo or video clip of the drone was ever obtained.
At one point there was the briefest of mentions that perhaps there was no drone, or if there was one, it was a bona fide “anti-drone drone” that was searching for the mystery drone, but that suggestion was quickly dropped.
Here’s an article that came out this week in which the police are now saying that maybe it was “an inside job” because the drone seemed to know when and where to appear and disappear, and seemed to know how to avoid having its radio control communications intercepted or detected.
Now, here’s the thing. Change the word “drone” to “UFO” and all the sightings would have been ignored or laughed away, even though they were made by credible witnesses and accompanied by photo or video evidence (and often radar traces too). No-one has ever been willing to give credible witnesses the benefit of the doubt when it comes to UFO sightings.
But when these same credible witnesses say “I think I might have seen a drone, but I wasn’t able to take a picture of it with my cell phone (why???)” they are instantly believed, and a major international airport shuts down completely. Details here. And now, in a struggle to explain how no-one has been caught, the police are creating the concept of an inside job, whereas the alternate concept of “never really happened at all” is surely just as likely an explanation.
It is particularly amusing that the police call the witnesses – including even airline pilots – as being impeccably credible. But when these exact same airline pilots report UFOs in the sky, and back up their claims with radar returns and photos, no-one believes them and their mental stability and fitness to pilot a passenger plane is called into question.
A slightly different perspective on strange things in the sky. Here’s an absolutely horrible idea. Shame on Pepsi for being keen to be an early adopter of this concept.
The Danger of Being a Social Influencer
One of the modern phenomena that have come out of the internet world and the “social media” that have sprung up is the growth of people trying to live a life of luxury travel by swanning around the world, going wherever hotels will let them stay for free, and writing lavishly illustrated vacuous puff pieces about their experiences. These people are generally either young couples or single women, and in both cases the women are uncommonly attractive and usually always dressed in nothing more than a skimpy bikini.
They’ve even come up with a dignified name to describe themselves. Clearly, “journalist” does not apply, and not even “travel writer” or critic or reviewer in most cases, either. Instead, they call themselves “social influencers” and they use the number of their followers (as likely as not, an incestuous collection of fellow influencers, each following the other and none influencing any of them, except obliquely by signaling where to go to get free travel experiences) as leverage for their free travel requests.
This is a competitive field, and it astonishes me how many thousands of people there are, all trying to succeed at this at present. So, naturally, some of the hopeful “influencers” go to great lengths to grow their follower counts. And in the likely case where their writing skills can’t help them, they instead turn to their photographic skills and the beauty that nature has generously gifted them.
This has created people who have grown large followings by doing risky things and photographing or videoing them. The risky things are becoming more and more risky, to the point now where it seems that 259 people, that we know of, have died while taking dangerous selfies in the six years between 2011 – 2017.
Here’s an interesting article about this phenomenon, and some nice bikini shots to illustrate it.
And Lastly This Week….
I reviewed a car battery emergency jump-starting device last week. It has a price of $70 on Amazon.
Reader Mike found a coupon code that reduces its price down to $42 – the coupon code is 3VHAO22B. I just tried the code on Amazon and it is still working at present, so if you’d been thinking of buying this unit, you might want to do so quickly while the coupon lasts. Here’s the review link.
I also said in the review that I would continue to test this unit’s self-discharge rate. I haven’t forgotten that undertaking, but I’m waiting another week before I see how much it has discharged, so as to report the level of discharge in two weeks.
Trivial pursuit question for you – what is the longest domestic US flight? Answer next week (or, if you can’t wait, it is near the top of our Twitter feed.)
A month or two ago, there was some publicity about seat-back video monitors having built-in cameras. The airlines assured us that the cameras weren’t active, and they were only there because they couldn’t get monitors without built-in cameras.
But here’s an interesting article about these units, extolling the virtues and benefits of actually using the cameras, and most of all, it contains the significant statement
Airplane seat camera manufacturer Panasonic Avionics, responding to concerns about cameras in seatback television screens on planes, said there’s nothing to fear even though production on the screens – many of which have not been activated yet – will continue.
My emphasis on the telling phrase. There’s an ocean of difference between the airlines telling us “we didn’t want cameras, and we don’t/won’t ever use them” and the manufacturer telling us that many of the cameras aren’t activated yet, which implies that some are and others will be.
For now, if it concerns you, the easiest solution might be to bring a black Sharpie marker with you, and simply “write” over the camera hole. Wait a few minutes, then write a second layer of black over the first layer, so that you can’t see the camera behind the glass. The benefit of this is that you’re not harming/damaging the monitor, it is easy to remove the Sharpie markings if necessary, and it isn’t obvious to a fussy flight attendant that you’ve done it.
In slightly similar vein, here’s an article that purports to help you ensure that Amazon can’t listen in on you through any Alexa/Echo devices you might have. The advice, alas, relies on Amazon observing its own rules; a malevolent hacker would surely be able to turn on your Echo’s microphone but not to illuminate the indicator lights.
The only practical solution? Unplug them from their power source. That’s your only guarantee.
Truly lastly this week, here’s an article sure to rile you about some of the latest hotel and other fees and surcharges.
Until next week, please enjoy safe travels