Weekly Roundup, Friday 3 April 2020

Air passenger numbers in the US are dwindling down to almost zero – see item below.

 

Good morning

(Please do read down to the latest reader survey.)

It has been another marathon week for me.  Seven more lengthy daily diary entries about the unfolding Covid-19 crisis.  This has been an interesting exercise, but for a while I was despairing.  The more I researched, it seemed that the less certain I was becoming of anything to do with the virus – what it has done to the world so far, what is happening at present, and what to expect into the future.

Not only have I discovered that the counts of how many cases of the virus are out there are extremely inaccurate, I’ve also found out that so too are the death counts.  You might think that counting dead bodies is easy and unambiguous, but the devil is in the details, and so we not only find deliberate or accidental mistakes in counting, but also major differences in how the counting is done.  Several countries only register a Covid-19 death if it happens in a hospital, for example.  Others are so crazy-busy keeping ahead of the urgency of caring for cases that they’re not bothering to count, and other countries are probably deliberately lying about their true counts of deaths.

On Wednesday evening, I had an epiphany, and I think I now grasp what the future holds for us all, and and have an idea about when we can realistically expect to finally get clear of the virus, and allow our lives to return to whatever remains of “normal” such as it was, a mere month ago.

I’ll get that piece written some time in the next few days.  If you get the daily or immediate versions of the newsletter, you’ll get it right away, and it will be on the website and tweeted instantly, too.  Otherwise, look for it next Friday with your weekly newsletter.

I’m attaching three other items along with this roundup piece this morning.  As you’ll see, I’m adding Thursday’s Covid-19 diary entry, and there are links immediately below to the other entries last week.

Plus there’s the first article in a new series on headphones – if you’re staying at home more than usual at present, and particularly if you’re sharing your home with others, listening to audio through headphones might remove a potential source of tension among all in your household.

The third item is something a bit different.  Like many of us, I’ve been trying to think what I could do to help everyone in some way during these difficult times.  One reader suggested I go work in an Amazon warehouse, and for sure, it seems Amazon desperately needs more staff at present – I was about to order an in-stock bit of electronics today, with Prime shipping, but instead of 0-1-2 days to get it, Amazon is now saying it will take three weeks!

The idea I came up with makes better use of my skillsets that Jeff Bezos would.  You’ll see it in the article attached.  Let me know if this concept might be of interest to you and your immediate neighbors too.  It would be entirely free to all supporters.

Again, this is necessarily a short roundup newsletter, but there’s something like 8,000 words of other material in the attached articles, and links to tens of thousands more words in the other diary entries this week.

Reader Survey – When Will it End?

As I said, I’ve formed some opinions about when and how we’ll finally shake ourselves free of the Covid-19 virus.  But it would be interesting to match my research with the “wisdom of crowds” – in particular, the always wise crowd of Travel Insiders.

When do you think we’ll see the current problems fade away, social distancing rules cease, with life (and travel) returning back to normal?  Of course, you probably don’t exactly know (I don’t think anyone truly does) but it would be helpful to get a sense of what people are sort of guessing at and expecting.

Please click the link that best describes your answer.  That will send me an email with your answer in the subject line.  I’ll tabulate the answers and present the results next week.

Does Anyone Actually Like Sir Richard Branson?

Sir Richard Branson is, to be sure, a darling of the press in many different countries around the world.  He can be counted on to put in regular appearances, complete with the mandatory coterie of beautiful young girls admiringly arrayed around him in a manner reminiscent of a combination of Hugh Hefner and Benny Hill, while reciting one of his standard utterances – Branson the underdog, Branson the visionary, Branson the eco-warrior, Branson the daring adventurer, or whichever other mantle of virtue he wishes to claim on that occasion.

He’s been amazingly successful at this.  He’s encouraged some unknown number of people to make huge prepayments in anticipation of going for rides on his “almost spaceship”, with the typically grandiose name of Virgin Galactic for that venture.  Never mind that these rides have been promised “any day now” for over a decade and still remain, even now, “just a few months away”.

He’s had probably a 50/50 mix of business successes and failures over the years (which is actually a great record) and is believed to have amassed a personal fortune in excess of $2.5 billion.

His mantra of “British Airways’ dirty tricks are trying to kill my airline” won him enormous public sympathy for Virgin Atlantic, and to be fair, it is true that BA did indeed try some dirty tricks to stamp the upstart airline out.  But the obscured truth of his first airline is that it takes a lot more than garish uniforms and cabin interiors, with loud pop music through the PA system, to make a quality profitable airline, and Virgin Atlantic has struggled to become a consistently profitable operation.

Do “normal people” actually like him?  That’s a question he’s never really needed to ponder much, leastways until now.

Now two of his airlines are asking for government bailouts – Virgin Blue in Australia, and Virgin Atlantic in the UK (and this is immediately after another UK airline he bought into then shut down because he and the other owners immediately asked for a government bailout, which was refused).

In both countries, neither the governments nor the general spirit of the populations seem very supportive, because in both cases, the airlines are owned by Branson and other major substantial airlines and investors.  The unanswered question is “why should the public bail out Branson’s airline when he has $2.5 billion himself and the other airline investors also have billions of funds available too”.

In Australia, the question has an even sharper edge because competitor Qantas has said it won’t be seeking and doesn’t need a government bailout, at least not for the foreseeable future, whereas as Virgin Blue rushed to ask for money.  The down to earth Australians frame the issue in very simple terms.  The government shouldn’t rescue any airline from their own ineptitude, as this article explains.

And in the UK, where being a brash billionaire is never looked upon as favorably as it is here, the general thought is again that the airline can afford to pay its own way, or, alternatively, why not let it quietly go bankrupt as per the normal process in such cases.  Government bailouts should be a last-resort action in unique cases, not an automatic expectation, and not until after the current major shareholders have pulled their weight.  Here’s one such article.

The Vanishing American Air Passenger

Thursday saw a new “negative” record set (see the chart at the top of the newsletter).  The TSA counted a mere 136,023 passengers through their airport checkpoints on Thursday, which compares to 2.15 million the same day last year.  So for every 16 people who were flying last year, only one is flying this year.  That is the lowest passenger count since probably 9/11 and the brief freezing of all flights.  Every day since 15 March has seen fewer passengers travel than the day before.  Will it go lower still?  It probably should.

The curious thing is that while passenger numbers are plummeting, all US carriers are still being slow to adjust their flights to a similar low level.  We hear stories (and see pictures) of planes with only one passenger on them, but we also heard two stories on Thursday of flights operating with only a dozen or two passengers on them, but – and get this :  The flight attendants insisted on grouping all the passengers together in a single block.

Social distancing?  Keeping at least 6ft apart?  No way at all!  So why did the flight attendants do that, other than because they’re stunningly stupid and don’t realize that the concentration of people all together is as bad for them, the FA’s, as it is for the passengers?

Our guess is because bunching everyone together makes it easier for the FAs.  They don’t need to go up and down the aisle with their carts, they can just focus on a couple of rows with all the passengers.

We’re surprised the airlines are so slow to adjust their flight counts, but perhaps there’s a reason.  The DoT is complaining that if the government is giving the airlines free grant money, the airlines should spend (waste!) it on unnecessarily operating empty flights that no-one wants.  The DoT is concerned that in some hypothetical town or city, somewhere in the US, someone might have such an essential unavoidable need to get on “the next flight out of town” to somewhere, that it is necessary to continue operating two or three times more flights per day, everywhere, than any type of load levels will support, just in case of this hypothetical emergency.

What the DoT doesn’t realize (because, in sad truth, there’s very little they do realize – these are the non-rocket scientists who believe every airline merger is good for competition, after all) is that the airlines will gleefully fly all the flights the DoT asks for.  And then, equally gleefully, turn around and demand more billions of compensation, because “you made us fly empty flights and lose more money”.

The World’s Largest Airplane Returns to the Air

No, not the A380.  The AN225.  This is the Ukrainian (formerly Soviet) Antonov AN225 “Mriya” airplane – an enormous six engined twin-tailed cargo plane.  Only one has been built (and another has been half constructed); the plane was grounded for an overhaul in 2018 and just this last week had its first flight since the completion of the overhaul.

This article includes pictures of this monster of a plane.

And Lastly This Week

If you’re stuck at home with little to do, how about a “virtual” trip to the zoo?  Taronga Zoo, in Sydney Australia, is now live-streaming some aspects of their zoo for people who are unable to visit in person at present.  Details here.

I had a link to an interesting bit of miscellanea last week – the origin of the word “Triscuit”.  It was an endearing story, although to me it didn’t altogether ring true.  Here now is a fascinating further look at the subject – a fun read if you’ve spare time, but otherwise, absolutely not essential.

And truly lastly this week, if time is indeed hanging heavily on your hands, by all means consider inventing your own cure for the coronavirus.  But don’t do like this Australian astrophysicist did.

Until next week, please be safe and well, and if you’ve time hanging heavily on your hands, please consider the daily diary entries – both from last week and the new ones being written/published each day.

 

David.

 

 

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David.