Weekly Roundup, Friday 6 March 2020

A “heroic” landing or an unnecessary and poorly executed act of bravado? See item, below.

Good morning

The Covid-19 virus situation continues to rapidly evolve (and worsen), and the US has gone from hovering anxiously on the periphery of the infection to now being one of the most impacted countries.  I’ve accordingly issued a new update as a separate article after tonight’s short roundup.

A slightly shorter newsletter this week.  I’ve had a busy week with a lot of driving through WA, ID and MT, and while I believe I’ve so far escaped the coronavirus, to my dismay I’ve come down with a bit of a cold, which vividly shows to me that I need to get very much better in terms of hygiene and avoiding possible infections.  It is a good job I still have a gallon of hand sanitizer at home!

So, please treasure the following items :

  • Reader Survey – Preferred Airplane Seating
  • Don’t Blame Covid-19 for This Airline Failure
  • Totally Not a Hero Pilot
  • The Other Rapidly Spreading “Virus”
  • Almost Free Apple Watch
  • Tesla Maintains its Market Lead
  • And Lastly This Week….

Reader Survey – Preferred Airplane Seating

I received a couple of emails about my comment, last week, regarding seat assignments.  It got me wondering – which are the most and least popular seats on a plane?

Actually, we can probably all agree that the least popular seats are middle seats, with other passengers on either side of you.  But what about aisle vs window seats?  Which are best?  There are pluses and minuses for both.

For an aisle seat, you have a bit of space on the aisle side to spill over into, but you also have the ever-present potential to be bumped and banged into by people (and carts) going up and down the aisle.  You have the convenience of being able to get up any time you wish during a flight, but you also have to get up to let people inside from you get up and out (and then back in again).  And, at present, you’re most at risk from infections passed to you by all the other people moving up and down the aisle.

For a window seat, you have a window, which is sometimes a benefit/bonus.  You have a bit of space on the window side that you can spill out into without worrying about getting bumped, and you’ll never have to be bothered or get up if other people in your row need to reach the aisle.  On the other hand, if you need to reach the aisle, you’ll have to bother the people beside you to do so.

Which do you prefer?  Please click the link on the statement that best describes your preference for when you’re flying coach class.  I’ll collate and present the answers next week.

Strongly prefer aisle

Mildly prefer aisle

Don’t mind – aisle or window is fine

Mildly prefer window

Strongly prefer window

Actually, I do like the middle seat

Totally don’t mind, any seat at all, anywhere at all

Don’t Blame Covid-19 for This Airline Failure

I’d expressed dismay when the UK airline Flybe was promised a government bailout earlier this year.  The airline had been failing and was bought for pennies on the dollar (actually, the shares that were issued at 290p in 2010 were picked up at 1p each) by a consortium of investors, most notably Virgin Atlantic.  In total, the airline was bought for £2.8 million in February 2019, a ridiculously undervalued sum that other shareholders understandably believed to be unfair.

But rather than then proceed to invest into their airline, Virgin and the other deep pocketed investors instead seemed to asset-strip it, and then turn to the UK government for help, threatening to close the airline down and leave smaller regional communities unserved by air.

The government almost caved in to the bullying, but a mass cry of public and industry outrage, followed by the government’s re-election and reduced need to give in to every pressure group, and problems arranging for support that wouldn’t run foul of international restrictions on government subsidies, meant they held back.

And then along came Covid-19, which provided the investors with the face-saving excuse to simply shut the airline down entirely.  It seems all the investors enjoyed some benefits from their small investment (Virgin Atlantic for example got nine valuable Heathrow takeoff-landing slots – each one of which could be worth easily ten times Virgin’s total investment in Flybe!).

Here’s a searing indictment on this debacle.

Totally Not a Hero Pilot

One of my pet peeves is how we so readily anoint any ordinary person doing their ordinary job in an ordinary or even better than ordinary manner as a hero.  In my world, heroes are people who voluntarily accept a substantial element of personal risk in an effort to gratuitously perform some good act for some unrelated person.

A person who jumps into a freezing lake to rescue someone else’s toddler who fell in is a hero.  They are risking their own life in an attempt to save some other person.  A soldier who runs across exposed ground, attracting enemy fire, to rescue an injured fellow soldier is a hero.  And so on.

But an airplane pilot who lands his plane in rough weather – how is that heroic?  What extra element of personal risk has the pilot unnecessarily and voluntarily accepted in return for getting the plane safely on the ground?  It is quite the opposite.  Assuming any sort of “heroic struggle” is involved, the pilot absolutely knows that the first person’s life that will be saved is his own!  It is purely a happy linked outcome that other people’s lives may be saved at the same time.

Even the much venerated Sully who landed the plane in the Hudson wasn’t a hero.  A brilliant pilot – most definitely.  But a hero?  Not at all.

Which brings me to this article, headed “Etihad Scolds Hero A380 Pilots for Spectacular Landing”.  There’s an amazing video (click link to see it) that shows an A380 crabbing in for a landing, due to an apparently strong wind blowing across the runway.  It is difficult to accurately understand the angle involved due to where the person was filming from and the telephoto lens.  It looks very dramatic.

However, whereas the article seems to laud the pilots as being brilliant and heroic, Etihad said the pilots did not follow procedure, put the plane at needless risk, and should have gone-around and tried the landing again.  Professional pilots are mixed in their opinion, but the more credibly stated opinions seem to agree that the landing was, in technical terms, far from perfect – the pilot should have straightened up the plane immediately before touching down, rather than after touching down.

Not a hero at all.  Indeed, at least according to his employer, not even an acceptably competent pilot.

The Other Rapidly Spreading “Virus”

There’s a hidden cost associated with paying by credit card at an increasing number of stores.  When you go to sign the receipt – especially in the case of electronic terminals rather than traditional paper receipts – you’re “helpfully” offered a choice of adding a tip to the charge, with tip amounts often being perhaps 15%, 20% and 25% of the total charge you’re signing for.  Trying to avoid paying any tip, or a different amount of tip, is often obscured and hard to find.

As a New Zealander (we don’t tip) I have long struggled with the tipping ethos in general, but I’ve come to understand the concept that apparently US society has decided it is okay for an increasing number of employers to short-change their employees and rely on their customers to make up the difference in tips.  I’m still puzzled, though – whereas in the past, we were told “If the service is bad, don’t tip”, now we are told “If the service is bad, still tip because the server needs the money to live, but have a quiet word to the manager”.  Weren’t tips intended as a reward/inducement for good service, not as a form of public welfare?

Plus, in an increasing number of states (most notably here in WA) there’s no longer any exemption from minimum wage laws for people who get a significant amount of tip income.  But in WA, we still have food servers, now getting a minimum of $13.50/hour the same as everyone else in the state, and still expecting more in the form of tips, as of right, rather than in thanks for something above and beyond the call of duty.  And how is it that the former concept of “10% – 15% of the before-tax amount” has now become “15% – 25% of the after tax amount”?

But I’m straying from the main point of this.  Why is it now that the tipping ethos has spread such that any cashier, who does nothing more than enter an order into the cash register and handle money, and possibly pass over a pre-prepared item, feels entitled to a tip?  What will be next?  Supermarket cashiers?  After all, they do bag the groceries much of the time, and some definitely take more or less care as to how they fill their bags!  Most of all, why do so many people choose to pay these tips?

It was bad enough with the ubiquitous tip line appearing on all old fashioned paper credit card charge forms, no matter how inappropriate it was.  When I’d enquire why I was expected to tip, people would tell me “Oh, ignore that, it is impossible to stop printing that out” – a statement that is of course a total lie.  But now, with the tablet/phone type charge apps, every imaginable type of charge is pressuring you to tip, and at exorbitant amounts.

A reason to pay with good old fashioned cash, perhaps!  See discussion here.

Almost Free Apple Watch

Reader Bill sent in this article, which explains how people over 65 may qualify for a new Apple Watch at a bargain price of $49, in return for participating in a study on how well it works at detecting atrial fibrillation.

He sent me a picture of the watch he received himself, so it might be worth applying for if you meet the requirements (over 65, US resident with Medicare, and an iPhone).

I love my Apple Watch (reviewed in a series here).  If you qualify, $49 is an amazing bargain.

Tesla Maintains its Market Lead

I continue to be absolutely and totally astonished at how slow the major car companies are to come up with practical appealing electric vehicles.  My earlier dismissive attitude towards Tesla was in large part because I just didn’t see anything all that astonishing about swapping out an internal combustion engine for a pack of off-the-shelf rechargeable batteries to power a generic electric motor and controller.  Where’s the magic in that, I wondered?

But, ever since the introduction of the Model S, now almost eight years ago (June 2012), Tesla has largely had the field entirely to itself.  Nissan was a strong contender at the low end of the market with its Leaf for a while, but no longer.  GM’s Bolt seemed like a worthy alternate to the Tesla Model 3, but also failed to get any meaningful market share.  Other companies have come up with niche products, and usually at the esoteric/high end of the market, but as of today, there is no other company, anywhere in the world, with a credible range of electric vehicle models that are selling successfully and in volume.  Not even the Japanese have come up with a Tesla-beater.

There have been dozens and dozens of announcements by major car companies trumpeting their ambitious and lofty goals and commitments to electrifying their model ranges.  But, where are their electric vehicles?  They’re always “coming soon”, or even not so soon (ie in a couple of years).  They’re never available for purchase now.

The latest example of this is General Motors, holding this week yet another special event to herald its alleged corporate commitment to electric vehicles.  But the reality of what they are promising?  A vague nonspecific workover of the Bolt, and other new models to start appearing in 2023.

So what has GM been doing for the last eight years or longer, that all it has to show for its previously boasted commitments to electric vehicles is its discontinued hybrid, the Volt, one unsuccessful pure electric car model, the Bolt, and nothing much else due until 2023?

Details (or lack thereof) here.

And Lastly This Week….

Every cloud has a silver lining, and the Covid-19 situation seems no exception.  Pollution in China has massively reduced.

Here’s an interesting article that looks at the darker side of life as a flight attendant.  More thoughtful and insightful than many of the more lightweight pieces on the topic.

One of the interesting conflicts with the Covid-19 situation is a conflict between our right to free assembly, and the general public’s right to not having virus-carrying people in their midst.  At what point do restrictions on movement and freedom cease to be acceptable?  Here’s one example of people trying to control what other people do, and another understandable example where inhabitants of a small Covid-19 free island don’t want to allow a cruise ship full of passengers ashore and potentially bring the virus with them.

Something I learned a long time ago was that a white lab coat with some sort of test instrument in the top pocket, a clipboard, a badge, and an “attitude” were all it takes to get instant authority and acceptance in an amazing number of situations.  Here’s a great example of one such recent exploit.

We’ve heard a lot about problems on some cruises recently.  Even the people enjoying a “cruise” on the Disney Jungle Cruise attraction also ended up experiencing more adventure than they anticipated.

American Airlines displayed a truly breathtakingly bad understanding of what we as passengers actually like and hate on their planes this week when it claimed that squeezing more seats onto their planes was “amazing” and what passengers want.

It is now almost exactly six years since MH 370 disappeared (March 8 2014).  Here’s a reappearance of an earlier theory, it seems extremely unlikely, but tell me which of the very many theories actually seems likely, or has been confirmed by finding the plane.  Isn’t it amazing how something like a passenger plane can fly for almost ten hours with no-one able to find out where it is.

Lastly this week, RIP, Joseph Coulombe?  Who he?  The founder of the much loved (and deservedly so) Trader Joe’s chain of stores.  A small quibble with the official history/timeline on their website, though.  Look as carefully as you might for the events of 1979, but nowhere do you see what some might think a significant part of the company’s history.  That was when the German company Aldi bought Trader Joe’s.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels (assuming you’re traveling at all at present)





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