Weekly Roundup, Friday 6 September 2019

The results of one of the questions in our reader survey about short and weekend breaks. See article below.

Good morning

Many thanks to the kind people who responded to the start of this year’s annual fundraising drive.  There’s something a bit off with the supporter program’s reporting at present, and I’m sure it has undercounted the people who have helped out in the last week, but there was a lot of activity and I hope to be able to update you more exactly next week.

Meantime, I’m coming up with more reasons to become a Travel Insider supporter, and have just added the eighth (over the last year – more date back further) special supporter feature to the site.  These are a range of extra reports and extra content in public articles, giving you more information and guidance; hopefully being things that have some additional value to you, and offered as a small thank you to you in exchange for your much appreciated and much needed annual support.

In other happy news, it seems the Labor Day weekend proceeded relatively smoothly, apart from weather impacts, and the TSA set another new record for passengers processed.  Touch wood, things seem to be fairly stable at present.

And in truly surprising news, with barely a week to go before our Scotland tour starts, we had one more person ask to join us, deciding to accompany his wife who was already coming.  How could we refuse!  So there are now 21 of us in total due to assemble variously in Glasgow or elsewhere next weekend.  I guess we could try to repeat the last minute scramble if someone wished to come join us at the last minute in France, later in September…..

And what else?  Please continue reading for :

  • Annual Fundraising Drive – Please Help
  • Reader Survey Results – Short & Weekend Breaks
  • This Week’s Bad News for Boeing
  • They Said the Japanese Could Never ….
  • Norwegian’s Continuing Run of Bad Luck
  • The Only Fast Thing About This High Speed Rail Line….
  • The Loch Ness Monster – Explained?
  • And Lastly This Week….

Annual Fundraising Drive – Please Help

In case you missed last week’s announcement, we’ve now started our once a year annual fundraising drive.  This is the one time each year you are asked to voluntarily respond and help me to be able to continue to focus on The Travel Insider and continue sending it to you, most every week, the same as I’ve been doing for the last almost 18 years.

Almost everything is fully free, except for a few extra bonus items that are offered variously as enticements and rewards for the kind people who choose to support this worthy endeavour.  If it isn’t convenient, and if you don’t see the value, please don’t feel obliged to help out, and please feel welcome to continue enjoying the weekly newsletters and articles for free.  But if you do get some value, if you do enjoy reading some of the content, then please consider helping me to continue sending the publication to you into the future.

The chances are you’ve not only read some of the items, you’ve also been pleased at getting a better understanding of some of the “behind the scenes” goings on, and perhaps you’ve enjoyed seeing me name and shame travel companies and their underhand/unfair practices.  You’ve maybe also been introduced to some tech gadgetry, and now either been able to confidently buy and use it, or know better that it isn’t for you and avoid wasting time and money on its acquisition.

What in the world can you get for a dollar these days?  Not a shoe shine, not a newspaper, and definitely not a cup of coffee.  Is $1 a week for The Travel Insider outrageously out of line (about $50/yr)?  If it is too much, by all means consider a lesser amount, or spread your support through the option to contribution quarterly.

The key thing is please to support at whatever level you feel fair and appropriate for you.  If everyone were to send in $10 or $25, my life would be transformed, and financial doors would be opened for considerable extensions to the content you get each week.  Sadly, it is unlikely that even one quarter of readers will respond, which makes your participation and your support all the more valued.

Please can I ask you to participate in the fundraiser.  It is easy and simple to just click the link, step through the pages, choose the level of support you wish, and within a minute or two, you’re anointed as an official supporter with access to the additional content, and the newsletter’s future is secured for another part of another day.

My great thanks for your kind generosity.

Reader Survey Results – Short & Weekend Breaks

Many thanks to everyone who helpfully answered the survey about taking short/weekend breaks.  The answers are fascinating – you can see a graphical report on one of the answers at the top of the newsletter, and if you’d like to see other highlights, you can click here to open up a lengthy set of results.

There have been other surveys done by other people in the past, and inasmuch as the questions have been similar, and the survey responders similar, it has been reassuring to see similar answers.  But your careful help has allowed a much deeper dive into some elements of short and weekend breaks.

In quick summary, it seems that people like their short breaks to be some appreciable distance from home, but not too far.  Generally, anything under an hour is seen as too close, while anything over perhaps four hours is seen as too far away (in the context of a short break).

The most preferred style of short break involves beautiful nature, and only slightly less so, relaxing, food and wine, culture and the arts.  The least popular were beach based and active sports, followed by big city breaks.

The sweet spot for time spent on a short break seems to be three nights.  Four nights was almost as good; and while, in truth, most people seem to end up taking two nights, this was seen by almost 60% of respondents as being too short.

In terms of preferred accommodation, the option for “quirky but quality places” was by far the most popular, followed by four star brand name hotels, with four star resorts and self-catering very close to each other for third place.  Interestingly, although self-catering was a popular choice, Airbnb was an unpopular choice, although the least popular two choices were timeshare and your own vacation home.  These last two choices were surprising in their unpopularity because many people said they keep regularly returning to the same place, several times each year.

As for budget, $150/night seemed to be the price that had the broadest appeal.  Considering the popularity of four and five star hotels/resorts as accommodation choices, a hope to get rooms at such places for $150/nt inclusive of taxes seems a bit on the optimistic side, but if we look at the responses not just for “this is about the right amount” but also allow for the “this is starting to get a bit expensive” and the “perhaps if something special” responses, or if we instead just look at the “too much” responses, it seems that while $150 would be ideal, most respondents were willing to pay another $50 or even $100 but only if they saw value in the extra cost.

There is more to understand about what constitutes a “perfect” short break experience (assuming such a concept is possible due to the broad range of preferences and perspectives), and I’ll ask for your help a second time with some more questions, perhaps next week.  Thank you again for your help, I hope you find the answers to the first survey, in this link, interesting.

This Week’s Bad News for Boeing

As I observed last week, it seemed that perhaps all the bad news for Boeing had finally been fully aired, and last week there were no damaging new revelations or problems disclosed, and Boeing was sticking to its narrative of submitting its final package of materials to the FAA for approval in September and expecting to have the 737’s grounding lifted in October.

Well, we’re already one week into September, and as far as I know, Boeing hasn’t yet submitted anything to the FAA.  Sure, you might say, there are still 25 days remaining in September, and that is true.  For that matter, surely everyone’s focus isn’t so much on when Boeing submits a request for recertification as it is when the FAA and other national certifying bodies approve Boeing’s request.

But one thing is for sure.  The recertification timer doesn’t start until Boeing submits its final application, and so each day of added delay in submission means a matching day of delay in whenever approval will finally be granted, and it seems unlikely the FAA would recertify in much less than two or three weeks at the shortest, particularly with everyone watching the FAA closely and expecting to see an excess of care this time around, even if such excess of care is measured only in the time it takes to rubber stamp the Boeing application.

Now that we’re into September, each day that passes is another day closer to the end of the month and an embarrasingly public failure by Boeing to meet its own self-imposed deadline.

So, the tick-tock of the clock on what is the longest ever ground-freeze on a modern passenger jet continues.  Yes, the de Havilland Comet had a longer ground-freeze, but that was very different and resulted in a redesigned plane at the other end of the process, not just a software tweak as we’re told is the case here.

The view of the airlines about when the plane might return to service was expressed when both AA and UA announced they were extending the period of time they were not scheduling 737 MAX planes into mid December.  Southwest (WN) has already done so, all the way through to the other end of the business Christmas/New Year season on 5 January.  Clearly they’re not buying into Boeing’s current time-frame promise.

And possibly with good reason.  This week the Wall St Journal broke an astonishing new story that Boeing has not referred to at all in its own “everything is going fine” series of announcements.  Apparently Boeing had a bad meeting with international regulators in August – the regulators complained that Boeing wasn’t providing all the information they needed to consider recertifying the plane, and as a result, they are demanding Boeing resubmit materials in more complete form.

The net result is expected to be some further delay, based on what may be Boeing’s cavalier disregard of the requests made by regulatory bodies.

We are also seeing increasingly assertive moves by other countries’ regulatory bodies who are no longer content to simply echo the FAA’s approval.  It is true this may lead to a crazy operational patchwork quilt where 737s will be able to operate and fly over some countries but not other countries.  But who is to blame for this?  Surely it is the terrible combination of Boeing arrogance and FAA passivity – a combination that saw an airline certified that never should have been certified in the first place, and then the FAA conspicuously dragging its feet and being I think the very last regulatory body in the world to admit that there was indeed a problem with the plane, but only after two crashes and much protestation that the plane was perfectly safe.

Perhaps they could explain how a “perfectly safe” plane has now been grounded for almost exactly six months.

Here is a great story exemplifying how the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is demanding certain actions and resolutions before it will consider recertifying the plane, no matter what the FAA may do.  Intriguingly, the article seems to think some of the EASA requirements are more strict than the FAA requirements.

What I’ve not clearly heard is what the Chinese are thinking about all of this.  That’s one of Boeing’s key markets, and it is unknown how cooperative and positive the Chinese might be.

The airlines are rightly worried about the mess that could erupt if global certification doesn’t swiftly follow from FAA certification.

One of the additional problems that has been uncovered during the checking and rechecking of Boeing’s computers has been variously described as processors getting overloaded, or being confused by random bit level errors intruding into bus data feeds.  Boeing has acknowledged the problem, and while it is an extremely unlikely circumstance, it is still unacceptable and is being resolved.

Now, consider this.  We are surrounded by technology, and new computers-on-chips that can do more and more, faster than ever before, and costing less than ever before.  The count of actual transistors on a CPU chip is doubling every two years.  A modern high end CPU has more than 5 billion transistors on it.

But, what about the CPUs that power the latest and greatest Boeing 737 MAX, with more automation and computer assistance than ever before?  Care to guess how modern they are, and how many transistors they have?  Actually, if you’re old enough, you might even have heard of the CPU – it is an Intel 80286, which was introduced back in 1982 (yes, that is indeed 37 years ago) and which had, at the time, an impressive 134,000 transistors on it.

Intriguingly, according to this Wikipedia page, the chip ceased production in 1991.  Does that mean Boeing is building its new plane control systems around chips that are at least 28 years old?

This interesting article wonders if the reason Boeing so inexplicably decided to only accept inputs from one of the two angle of attack sensors was because the 80286 chip wasn’t powerful enough to accept twin input feeds.  If so, words fail me.

The last bit of bad news for Boeing this week was an apparently unprompted offer by both United and Southwest to allow passengers to opt out of their flights if they discover they will be operated by a 737 MAX – even if that discovery is only made at the gate immediately prior to boarding.

This seems like a gratuitous announcement that creates more problems than it solves.  Surely it would have been more affirming to everyone if the airlines said, in a well rehearsed chorus, “There is no reason to be worried, the 737 MAX will be beyond any and every conceivable standard of safety when it returns to service”.  Instead, they’re in effect implying – or so it seems – “Fly the 737 MAX at your own risk, and if it crashes, don’t blame us, we gave you a choice to opt out.”

They Said the Japanese Could Never ….

This is almost in the bad news for Boeing category too, particularly as it brings Embraer into its corporate empire.

In introducing this article, I’m reminded of how when Japanese cars first started appearing, the Detroit companies dismissed them contemptuously.  “Oh yes, they’re cheap, but the Japanese could never build a quality car.”  “Oh yes, they’re plain and ugly, but the Japanese could never build a car with flair and panache.”  “Oh yes, they’re okay, but the Japanese will never be able to break into the luxury/sports/(you name it) market.”  “Oh yes, they can build cars, but they’d never build pickups/trucks/(again you name it).”  And so on.

So, although it has been a long time in coming, it seems the curious lack of interest in aerospace on the part of major Japanese manufacturers is now slowly being changed.  Mitsubishi’s slow and fitful progress towards launching a small regional jet type plane – and, you know, in that sentence lies the concealed threat.  Japanese companies are much less likely to rush a product to market, and are more willing to take time to get it right (are you listening, Boeing…).

Mitsubishi’s slow path to its regional jet is now being rewarded with a plane that seems to be of high quality and high marketability, with a 15 unit letter of intent secured from an undisclosed buyer earlier in the year, and now a 100 unit order to Mesa Air (50 firm, 50 options).

Mitsubishi also bought the CRJ operation from Bombardier a short while ago.  It seems they’re planning to become a new major player in the aerospace industry – yes, starting off small with regional jets, but who knows how that will evolve.

Details here.

Norwegian’s Continuing Run of Bad Luck

Napoleon is said to have preferred lucky generals to skilled generals.  On the other hand, I think it was Arnold Palmer who observed that the more he practiced, the “luckier” he became.

But, however one defines it, few can deny that the excellent newish airline, Norwegian Air, has been plagued with unfortunate circumstances that have consistently interfered with its otherwise sensible plans for growth and well deserved success.

There was the shameful multi-year delay at getting the route authorities from the DoT to fly to the US.  Then there were the 787 engine problems.  And now there is the 737 MAX mess, and what is implied as a less than fully adequate form of compensation from Boeing.

The airline is struggling to stay in business, so much so that people planning future travel (ie more than a month or so ahead) have most likely been avoiding giving Norwegian their business, much as they’d like to, for fear of the airline suddenly ceasing operations.  While credit card companies generally refund charges when airlines go bankrupt, there is never any guarantee they’ll continue to do so, and in any event, having a bargain priced ticket refunded a few days before travel, and finding the only alternate ticket will now cost several thousand dollars more means that you’re in a world of hurt and with no-one to turn to for assistance/compensation.

Here’s an article about how the airline is asking creditors to delay seeking repayments for two years.

If Norwegian gets these extensions, and if it is able to restart its 737 MAX services soon, perhaps it has bought itself some time to get its operations onto a better and more profitable footing.  But if neither happens, then our concern will be massively heightened.

Here’s wishing Norwegian some good luck for a change.

The Only Fast Thing About This High Speed Rail Line….

… is the speed at which its projected cost and construction time has increased.

Although, to us Americans, Britain is already blessed with amazing trains criss-crossing over much of the country, many times a day, quickly and comfortably, the reality is that it only has one really fast line – what it terms its HS1 line – a mere 67 miles of track between London and the Channel Tunnel, used by Eurostar.  Trains usually travel at 186 mph (if that speed seems strange, it is because in metric it is 300 km/hr) along that section of track.

Other routes are fast, but not that fast – generally with speeds not above 125 mph.

It might surprise many US readers to learn that rail in Britain has been booming, and although the privatization of rail in 1995 was controversial, the astonishing growth in rail patronage seems to spring essentially from that event.  A method of transport that seemed to be obsolete and in terminal decline has been revived to the point that the network is struggling to keep up with demand, and new rail routes are being added.

A new fast rail line was first proposed by a Labour government in 2009, to run from London up the middle of the country to Birmingham, and then forking, either to Manchester or to Leeds.  The cost has always been high, and many objections from people who anticipated having the train line go through or near to their property have been raised.

This new article reports on the latest delays and cost increases.  The project was originally estimated to cost £56 billion in 2015 dollars, but now is said will cost in the order of £81 – 88 billion.  As the article points out, it seems likely that the true cost of the project has been known for some time but obscured and covered up.

If that sounds familiar, you’re probably not wrong.  It doesn’t sound a million miles different from California’s shambolic High Speed Rail plans, even to the point of similar costs and similar cost rises, and time delays.  Although, as a point of interest, it seems that in per mile costs, the California product might be a little less expensive, although that is only to be hoped – it runs through a lot of low value rural land, whereas in England (one of the most densely populated countries in Europe), there’s no such thing.

My question is this – and I truly mean it seriously rather than snarkily.  Are public works planners and the government departments they work for uniformly incompetent, the world over?  Or is it truly a fiendish plot and series of deliberate lies to sell the public on projects that will always cost more, take longer, and be less patronized/profitable once completed?

How can we make such government departments accountable?

The Loch Ness Monster – Explained?

A new team of experts did a new “scientific” investigation into Loch Ness over the last summer or so, trying to work out if anything was in the loch, and if so, what it was.

Rather surprisingly, the team of experts came all the way from my alma mater, the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand.  A cynic might think they were keen to escape Dunedin’s chilly winter and enjoy a nice warm summer boating about on a beautiful Scottish loch.  But shame on any of us for thinking such an unkind thought….

They have now announced their findings – after all, we’ve passed the equinox and the weather is cooling again in Scotland and warming in Dunedin.  The key finding – in the lead scientist’s own words – “We just don’t know”.

The longer answer, and of course there is one, is that after studying the DNA of all sorts of residue/matter in the lake, the only thing they noticed was that there was a lot of DNA related to eels, and they can’t tell from the DNA what size the eels might be….

Details, such as they are, here.

And Lastly This Week….

So how much is the most you’ve ever paid for a bottle of beer in a hotel?  It can be admittedly quite expensive in some countries, and I’ve often been dismayed at how expensive good microbrews are in my own home country of New Zealand, but for sure, being charged $67,000 is more than most of us would be willing to pay.

But a sports journalist ended up being charged that in a Manchester (UK not NH) hotel.  Like many of us do, he signed the credit card slip of paper without really looking at it (he didn’t have his reading glasses on), but as the waitress was quickly retreating, he called back to her, asking to see it.  The waitress looked at it and started giggling and refused to tell him, only saying that it was a mistake.

A manager confirmed a mistake had been made, but the charge is proving strangely difficult to remove.  Astonishingly it seems the journalist’s Visa card had a sufficiently high limit as to allow the charge, and the journalist is having problems getting the charge credited out or reversed.  Details of what he claims to be the world’s most expensive beer, ever, here.

And we wonder why tourism is increasingly suffering a backlash from the residents of places we visit.  Here’s an article pointing out some of the bad behavior tourists have inflicted on their surroundings – the headline says “recently” but in truth, it means over the last year or two.  Read it and cringe.

We don’t like Apple’s “airpod” headphones and have always wondered how often they fall out and get lost.  Apparently, quite often, and in inconvenient places.  A first world problem….

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels, and double please, don’t forget our fundraising drive.





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