Weekly Roundup, Friday 22 November, 2019

The new Tesla Cyber Truck was unveiled on Thursday evening.  Ugly or beautiful?  An embarrassing thing happened during the unveiling of what is described on their website as “an exterior shell made for ultimate durability and passenger protection. Starting with a nearly impenetrable exoskeleton, every component is designed for superior strength and endurance, from Ultra-Hard 30X Cold-Rolled stainless-steel structural skin to Tesla armor glass”. Details in the Space article, below.

Good morning

This time next week, you’ll still be feeling full after your Thanksgiving meal the previous day, but might be rushing to the “Big Box Store” to buy crazy under-priced things you never knew you needed.  Or perhaps you’ll “let your fingers do the walking” instead, and be sucking up the specials online.

Talking about “doing the walking” the TSA is predicting this will be the busiest Tgiving for air travel ever.  That might sound like some accomplishment, but actually, no.  Because air travel has been steadily increasing from every year to every next year for pretty much the best part of a decade, generally every day these days sets a new record for that particular day.

And it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without the threat of some bad weather somewhere, would it.  This year, there are two looming threats.

In answer to the perennial question about the best and worst times to drive over the long weekend, it appears that the worst time to drive is Wednesday afternoon.

I’ve always felt awkward when Americans ask people from other countries “On what day do you celebrate your Thanksgiving”, and then act surprised upon learning that the other country doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving at all.  Our curious American (and Canadian) tradition is uniquely ours, as its very nature would indicate.  But one part of it has migrated around the world, and that’s the concept of Black Friday bargains – never mind the turkey or anything else, let’s go straight to the retail extravaganza!

And talking about retail extravaganzas, we’ve now finished the seven part buyer’s guide to dash cams, with parts 6 and 7 appearing after today’s newsletter.  Still to come – hopefully next week – reviews of the dash cams we’ve bought with your assistance (thank you).

What else for Friday?  Please keep reading for :

  • Delta Fliers – Snatch Up This Deal While It Lasts
  • This Week’s Bad News for Boeing
  • AA Shamed Into Almost Telling the Truth
  • The Unnecessary Nature of Anti-Trust Immunity?
  • The Airline That Won’t Die (But Should)
  • The Truth Comes Out About the Qantas Publicity Flight Stunts
  • The Truth Comes Out About Airline Commitments to “The Global Climate Crisis”
  • Space Flights and Frights
  • More Revelations About Amazon Fake Reviews
  • And Lastly This Week….

Delta Fliers – Snatch Up This Deal While It Lasts

Costco is running an online deal where you can buy a $500 Delta gift card for $450, and a $1000 card for $900.  If you’re a Costco executive member, you of course get another 2% off, and if you pay with a Costco Visa card, you save even more.

There’s a limit of three cards per Costco member.  The cards never expire.  The Costco website has been down much of Thursday, I wonder if this is why.

So if you can see yourself flying Delta in the next year or two, it’s a great way to get a 10% discount.

This Week’s Bad News for Boeing

The worst news for Boeing this week was perhaps the news that wasn’t, rather than the news that was.  It seems Boeing still has not sent the final package of information to the FAA for the 737 MAX to be recertified as safe.

This week has seen the Dubai Air Show.  At the Paris Air Show in June, British Airways/IAG made a big thing about showing its fearless support for the beleaguered 737 MAX by “ordering” 200 of them.  Except that, its “order” was nothing more than a letter of intent, and now, nearing six months later, it has yet to put its money where its mouth is and actually commit to any planes at all.

Happily, the Dubai Air Show has seen some actual real order commitments for the 737.  But not in very large numbers.  An order for 10, and two not so firm letters of intent for 20 and 30.  The show has very much seen a lopsided showing with Airbus getting orders and letters of intent and previous options exercised and various other “good things” for almost 190 planes and Boeing scoring the same for over 80 planes.  (The imprecision is due to which orders should be recorded during the show, and which ones predate, and also the ambiguity about which announcements are truly new and which have been already pre-announced, and so on.)

For the year to date prior to the show, Airbus had outsold Boeing at a ratio of 10:1, so this is actually a good result for Boeing.  These numbers would of course change greatly if the BA/IAG non-order actually becomes a reality, but Boeing isn’t including it in its numbers yet.

Boeing is showing itself sensitive to the enormous hyper-sensitivity out there to anything to do with its planes and their safety currently.  The NTSB issued a series of recommendations after a Southwest 737 had an “uncontained engine failure” that caused turbine debris to break through the engine and cowling and smash a window.  A passenger was partially sucked through the window, and while pulled back into the plane by passengers and flight attendants, subsequently died.

In theory, engines are built so that if something breaks, it will never escape the engine covering, for the very reason that if it does, it might break a fuel line, a hydraulic line, or smash into the fuselage (these all being things that have happened in the past, sometimes with fatal results).  So the NTSB was alarmed at this failure to contain, and suggested some modifications – not to the engine itself, but the airplane parts that surrounded the engine.

Unfortunately the NTSB can only suggest and recommend, it can’t enforce or require compliance with anything it says.  It relies on the FAA accepting and then implementing its recommendations, something that the FAA does not always consistently do.

But on this occasion, even before the FAA have responded, and with no compulsion, Boeing has rushed to agree to make the recommended changes to the 737 NG series planes.  Articles like this reporting on the NTSB recommendations appeared on Tuesday/Wednesday.  A day later, Boeing announced it would do what the NTSB recommended.  That’s lightning speed – that’s faster-than-light speed for Boeing.  According to this article (which incorrectly says “Boeing must….”) some 7,000 planes are affected.

Would I be too cynical if I expressed doubt that Boeing would have been so fast to volunteer this action if it weren’t for the 737 MAX hanging over its head?

AA Shamed Into Almost Telling the Truth

There was a curious news item recently about an AA flight that saw two crew members fall unconscious due to a strong odor from some “cleaning chemicals” that had apparently been spilled in the rear crew/galley area, and the flight had to be urgently diverted for an emergency landing.  I wondered at the time exactly what sort of cleaning chemical would be so strong as to cause people to pass out, but got distracted and never thought more about it.

Apparently other people wondered the same thing, and so to reassure people, AA clarified that the cleaning chemical was perfectly safe liquid soap.  Except that you can’t have “perfectly safe” and “people passing out” in the same sentence, can you.

Well done, the BBC.  They did some research and uncovered that the plane in question had a series of maintenance issues, and surmised that the liquid soap was actually nothing of the sort, but rather engine gases.  AA denied this.  Details here.

A few hours later, an adult intervened, presumably, and AA ‘fessed up.  Well, only sort of.  It concedes that the odor was nothing to do with liquid soap.  So what was it?  We’re waiting, AA….

The Unnecessary Nature of Anti-Trust Immunity?

The naïve darlings at the DoT have approved the latest revised alliance agreement between Delta, Air France, KLM and Virgin Atlantic.  That’s news that will surprise no-one, because it is a safe and sure bet that most/all airline alliance requests will be eagerly rubber-stamped by the DoT.

In justifying this approval, the DoT says “it will protect competition”.  <Insert sad eye-roll here>

Now, let’s understand exactly what this approval is for.  The DoT approval is for providing anti-trust immunity to the expanded alliance.  But – here’s the question for the DoT.  If this alliance protects competition, why does it need to be granted anti-trust immunity?  Surely immunity is only needed for alliances that would harm, not protect competition?

The Airline That Won’t Die (But Should)

Yes, of course the heading refers to Alitalia, an airline that hasn’t seen a profit in over 15 years, and which is currently believed to be losing $800,000 every day.  Here’s a headline that could have been written at any of various times over the last decade or so “Alitalia Rescue Plan Thrown Into Doubt as Suitors Reconsider”.  The headline actually dates to this week, and is fairly self-explanatory.  The other regular occurrence is the mention that the Italian government is preparing another rescue package (€350 million) to keep the airline flying a bit longer.

When will the Italian government give in and realize there’s not really any national shame in admitting Alitalia has failed, and its intractable unions are making resuscitating the airline with revised routes and productivity improvements an impossibility.

Amusingly, Delta’s application to the DoT for its latest anti-trust immunity had sought to allow the inclusion of Alitalia in the future, maybe, but the DoT said that would need to be considered via a separate application – they weren’t prepared to rubber-stamp adding Alitalia to the alliance without knowing exactly what form a future Alitalia may take.

The Truth Comes Out About the Qantas Publicity Flight Stunts

As I’ve been gently hinting, one of the underlying disconnects that have been quietly ignored by an adoring press rushing to print ever-more superlative-ridden articles about the Qantas non-stop flight from New York to Sydney and then a second flight from London to Sydney – not only are these one-off flights, but they are not possible commercially at present because there’s no plane out there than can operate over those distances with a full/commercial load of passengers.

I’d actually been starting to wonder if maybe Airbus or Boeing had come up with the plane that Qantas has long been asking them for.  But now, this week, at their Investor Day presentations, Qantas admitted that neither of the two companies have come up with a plane at a price that would work for them yet.

Meanwhile we continue to be subject to inane pictures of inane smug passengers doing stretching exercises in the aisles of the two special flights (see the linked article immediately above).  What are the chances of that actually happening on a real flight?  So much less than zero as to be impossible to measure.  Just think about arranging it when you’ve ten seats in a row and two aisles.  You couldn’t fit everyone in the aisle at the same time – we all know that when trying to get off the plane.  So you’d have to have half the people first, then the other half, (or maybe even three groups) and people climbing over other people and utter chaos.  Surely there’s nothing more unrealistic than suggesting this sort of thing would happen (except maybe in first class, but I have to say, when I’m in first class, the last thing I’d want is mandatory exercises every couple of hours during the flight!).

I’m still waiting for the article on one of these flights to come out which says “It was a lovely flight on a 90% empty plane, with VIP service for us few like would never be done in regular coach class on a full flight, so none of what we experienced and are writing about will ever happen on real flights, and – oh yes – even though it’s only an hour or so longer than regular flights, there’s not any planes out there that could operate this flight commercially”.

The Truth Comes Out About Airline Commitments to “The Global Climate Crisis”

We’ve always believed that the lip-service paid by most companies to whatever current variation on global cooling/heating/climate change/climate crisis is most in vogue is hypocritical in the extreme, starting from hotels begging us to save the environment by saving them money on washing towels.  We roll our eyes when airlines commit to buying a few gallons of “eco-fuel” and pretend that a microscopically tiny proportion of their total fuel use now being “eco friendly” makes any difference to anything except their tally of free PR.

Many times, of course, saving the planet can be done in ways that also save companies money.  But what happens when planet saving has a price tag associated with it?  That’s a more significant question.

Some airlines have been drawing some criticism because they’ve been “tankering” fuel.  While on the one hand, they’ll take one lettuce leaf off your plate and print their in-flight magazine on thinner paper to save weight on the plane (and therefore burn less fuel), there’s only one thing more important than burning less fuel – and that is burning cheaper fuel.

So say a plane is flying regularly between airports A and B.  Fuel is cheaper at airport A than airport B.  So what the airline will do is load the plane with enough fuel for a roundtrip at airport A – it “tankers” a load of fuel with it to airport B.  Even though the plane burns more fuel carrying its return fuel with it on the way to airport B, the cost of the extra fuel burned is less than the saving by not having to buy the fuel at airport B, and all up, the airline can save anywhere from $100 to $1000 or more by doing this.  Add all that up, over many flights and many planes, and it becomes an appreciable saving.

However, the environmentalists are now up in arms because by doing this, airlines are burning more fuel than the absolute minimum possible.  The airlines are uncomfortably trying to reconcile their willingness to burn more fuel if it saves money with their professed desire to join in the group-hugging and planet-saving that is currently so faddish.  Details here.

Space Flights and Frights

Talking about PR nonsense, that publicity-hound par excellence, Sir Richard Branson, is now staging “training sessions” for the “astronauts” who will joyride on board his Virgin Galactic rocket/plane/thing, almost to outer space.

These people, we hasten to add, are no more “astronauts” than you are a pilot the next time you fly somewhere (well, okay, I know a few of you actually are pilots, but you get my point!).  These passengers will have absolutely nothing at all to do with operating the flight.  So why do they need training – other than in how to use a barf bag properly when vomiting while weightless.

That’s not all.  They’re also being fitted with special “space suits”.  Why?  Are they going outside the craft?  Won’t there be oxygen and heat inside?  Or is it a bit like when I went on a cruise up around Iceland and the “expedition” ship gave us all souvenir warm “survival jackets”?  We suspect the latter – the least you can hope for, after your very brief “flight”, is a souvenir set of clothes (a bit like the free pyjamas some airlines give in first class!), even though only the most extremely socially unaware person would ever choose to subsequently wear their “space suit” in public back on Earth.

Happily, this article doesn’t include any new promises for when the flights will start.  Noting how every prior promised start date has been broken, over the course of many years, it is probably just as well.  We just hope the “astronauts” won’t have forgotten their “training” between now and when they actually travel.  Or, ahem, grown out of their “space suit” and need to get another one in a larger size.

Perhaps pause for thought for all these intrepid adventurers is what happened to that other publicity hound, Elon Musk, and his latest SpaceX rocket.  It, ummm, spectacularly exploded on the launching pad on Wednesday.

SpaceX were quick to say that they expected the rocket to explode, sort of, because they were “pressurizing systems to the max”, whatever that means.

Interestingly, in September, Mr Musk was boasting that the rocket which exploded was expected to be making test flights to low altitudes within a couple of months (which means right now), but he has now conceded, after the explosion, that perhaps this particular rocket won’t be going anywhere at all.  So a planned “test to failure” or an unwelcome mishap?  Our vote is for the latter.

Also of possible interest, particularly to NASA, is SpaceX’s promise, as recently as last year, that they’d be ferrying astronauts (real ones) to the ISS in April this year.  That’s now about eight months overdue, and we have to suspect that this latest development isn’t accelerating the progress to that goal at all.

Details here.

Oh, talking about Mr Musk boasting, and product failures, this story is oh so funny.

More Revelations About Amazon Fake Reviews

Amazon continues to protest that it has nearly no fake reviews, and that it is spending many millions of dollars to detect and eliminate fake reviews.  But a quick read of the reviews on many products – particularly from third party Chinese sellers – quickly contradicts such claims.

Here’s an interesting story about a lady who writes Amazon 5 star reviews in return for being gifted the products she writes about by the sellers.  Now you might think that the way this is arranged makes it impossible for Amazon to detect the fake nature of her reviews, but you’d be wrong.

There’s one very obvious “tell” that she’s a fake reviewer.  She has spent over $15,000 this year, buying over 700 products, and has given every one of them a five star review.  How many real people buy 700 wildly different products, costing over $15,000, in less than a year?  Oh yes, and how many also love every one of them, review every one of them, give them all five star reviews, and return nothing.  Isn’t that an obvious suspicious indicator that Amazon could surely track?

Truly, Amazon isn’t trying sufficiently to stem the flood of fake reviews on its site.

And Lastly This Week….

A hotel in Japan is offering discounted stays – only $1/night.  There’s only one slight catch…..

Don’t you hate the “security questions” associated with many internet accounts.  Things like “what is your mother’s maiden name” are okay – you probably know that, and there’s no ambiguity about it.  But things like “what is your favorite color” are harder to remember, and “what is your favorite pet’s name” can change as pets come and go.  Sometimes the answers to a question can be typed several different ways.  “What is the name of your best friend?”  You know it is your friend Bill, but did you type the answer in as Bill, William, as Bill Smith, as William Smith, or exactly how?  As you may know, if you don’t get it exactly right, the computer won’t accept your answer, and if you answer wrong too many times, you get locked out.

Well, Jetblue have a security question that is attracting some controversy.  “What is the name of your favorite child?”.  I even wonder if the answer to that would be reliably unchanging over time!  Details here.

Talking about account problems, my daughter (Anna) – to my horror – was given a new iPhone by her mother, to unnecessarily replace her nearly new and lovely Android phone.  Anna had previously had an iPhone until she lost it, at which point I started buying her cheap Android phones that wouldn’t be so costly to lose/replace.  These days, alas, she’s never more than seconds away from her phone and swapping incessant text messages with friends, so losing her phone would be a bit like losing a limb.

Anyway, she needed to enter her Apple account information as part of activating the new phone.  Simply entering her user name and password was not deemed sufficient proof.  Apple said it would text her an authorization code to her phone for her to then repeat back to prove that she owned her account, and it would send that code to the phone number on file for her account.

So far so good, but her phone number has changed twice since she last had an iPhone.  How to get an authorization code from a phone number that none of us still have?

So she went through the “I no longer have that phone number process”.  That’s a two part process.  The first part took 24 hours, while Apple checked that the new phone number is a “safe” phone number.  Don’t ask what or how this process works.  And, having now safely passed the safety check, Apple has sent Anna an email to her email address (which is with Gmail not Apple) saying “we will change your account in seven days if we don’t hear back from you to say it is not okay.”  How about an option also to reply and say that it is okay and to please change it immediately!

Eight days to activate her new phone.  I’m quietly laughing to myself, and feeling no envy at all with my lovely inexpensive Android phone.  Well, not much….

Lastly this week, here’s one of the many strange lists that we love to hate.  This one is of the world’s “coolest places” – not as in temperature, but as in wonderful.

It starts off with a neighborhood in Lisbon that we don’t know, but maybe it is cool (whatever the word actually means).  Next is part of Tokyo, which maybe is also very cool.  And then the third coolest place in the entire world is to be found in Lagos.  Lagos!?  A bit further down the list is Jamestown in Accra, and various other places that also seem peculiar choices.  Details (all on one page, mercifully) here.

I do hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving, because for sure, being in the family home and with the family is ultimately the coolest place of all in the world.  Look for your newsletter on Friday morning, same as usual.

Until then, please enjoy safe travels

 

David.

 

 

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