Weekly Roundup, Friday 27 November 2020

Best Thanksgiving wishes to all.

Good morning

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving yesterday.  Did you have a reduced group for your dinner, or did you ignore the virus threat and press on regardless?

Fortunately (or not!) for me, a large family group is never a valid concept, and it was just David, Daughter, and Dog present.  And our “turkey” looked remarkably like something seen with wool rather than feathers…..

We decided to have an evening big dinner rather than a lunchtime one, so as to give me time to quickly dash out a newsletter too, because for sure, after over-eating and generously imbibing, I don’t think newsletter writing would be a good thing.

Another gentle flow of support came in over this week of our Annual Fundraising Drive.  Every penny of that is very much appreciated, thank you very much indeed.  But we’re still a long way from this year’s target.  Currently there are 274 active members.  I’d like us to reach a modest 400.

There are 198 former members from the last year or two who have not yet renewed.  If they come back, we’d be over the 400 count immediately – as I said, the 400 target is modest.  So, welcome back, all former members!  I always see my glass as completely full rather than partially empty when a former member renews again after a year or more break in membership.

If you’re not yet a member, please take a minute to consider the value and enjoyment you’ve been receiving for however long you’ve been a reader.  That is only possible because people like you choose to actively support the newsletter and articles that you get, week after week, year after year.  Please, and especially this year, will you too become a Travel Insider Supporter, and help keep everything continuing into the future, the same as it has in the past.  Please click to become a supporter now, while it is in your mind, and within a quick minute or two, you too will now be a Supporter, can enjoy the pride of participation that results, and the occasional Supporter bonus items.

You can probably already guess what I’m writing about in the attached article.  But just because you can guess the topic – Black Friday Bargains – doesn’t mean you can also guess the content.  I’ve found some brilliant bargains that might be of interest, either for yourself, or as part of early Christmas shopping.

I’ve twice now been “tricked” by online promotions for fun novelty type gifts, and bought them, only to discover, at the end of the process, that the products are being shipped from China and may not arrive in time for Christmas gift giving.  Ugh!  There should be a disclosure prior to parting with one’s money about when the goods are likely to be delivered.

Keep an eye on Amazon’s delivery promises, too.  I noticed that their lovely third generation Echo Dot units, on sale for Black Friday, will not be delivered until probably the second week in January, although that is due to the items having sold out and waiting for more to come into stock.  We also noted Amazon’s comment about how it will help to keep our holiday season “spoiler free” if we pick up our packages at one of their stores rather than have them delivered to our homes.

Also attached is a copy of Thursday’s Covid diary entry.  This continues a slight shift in “editorial policy” (that’s a rather pompous statement, isn’t it!) – I’m now offering the first part of each diary entry to everyone, and reserving some of the more specific discussion elements to Supporters, as a special bonus and thank you to them.

I hope I’m striking a balance that positively both rewards Supporters and incentivizes new readers to also become Supporters, too, while still leaving enough valuable content for people who for whatever reason can’t/won’t choose to become Supporters.  Sunday’s Covid diary entry is online.

Just a few other items today.  Please keep reading for :

  • Air Passenger Numbers Rapidly Rising
  • Insane Pilot Sues JetBlue
  • Business Travel to Shrink 50%?
  • Slow News Week?  Let’s Talk SST…..
  • A Different Type of Travel Shop
  • A Curious but Common Pricing Contradiction
  • And Lastly This Week….

Air Passenger Numbers Rapidly Rising

The curious contradiction continues.  Virus activity rates in the US are now approaching levels three times of the July peak, and six times the level of the March peak, but air passenger numbers continue to grow, every day.

Sure, you’d expect some amount of growth for Thanksgiving, but the numbers in the above graph are compared to the same time last year, so the Thanksgiving bump is being compared to last year’s Thanksgiving bump.  There should be no rise in the percentages, but as you can see, there definitely is.  A week ago, the seven-day smoothed average was 36.7% of last year, and now it has risen to 40.9%.

If you find this as curious – and unsettling – as I do, I am currently posting daily updates every morning on Twitter, each time I add each new day of data to the chart.

Insane Pilot Sues JetBlue

Here’s a story that perhaps could be prefaced “Only in the US….”.  A JetBlue pilot goes literally crazy on a flight and passengers have to hold him on the floor while the co-pilot does an emergency diversion to get the plane safely down and authorities on board.  This video shows what happened on the flight.

Okay, that much could happen anywhere (I think?).  But now for the two special twists.

The first is the pilot is found not guilty of all the usual federal offenses that you or I would suffer the consequences of, due to temporary insanity.

The second – the pilot is now suing JetBlue for almost $15 million.  He maintains it is all their fault that they let him fly the plane while insane.  It is not clear if the pilot was sane or insane when filing that lawsuit.

Should we require airlines to administer sanity checks on all pilots prior to all flights?  Apparently that is what this pilot maintains, and for sure, he would know!

And a suggestion – if you were on the flight, why not join in the pilot’s suit.  Perhaps you suffered some mental anguish and are now traumatized……

Business Travel to Shrink 50%?

Bill Gates is not an expert on business travel, but he is a sensible guy and still reasonably close to business decision making in general.  He said this week he predicts that business travel will more or less permanently drop by half compared to pre-virus levels.  He also expects on average people to spend 30% of their time out of the office and working from home.

We definitely expect a reduction in business travel too, but we also expect to see a slow growth back up in business travel over the years that follow, especially of the type that is as much “executive perk” as it is “essential business expense”.  (I’ve often wondered what the mix is between executive perk type travel and essential business expense type travel.)

Amusingly, the article also quotes the head of Microsoft’s worldwide commercial business.  He says he expects business travel – perhaps for Microsoft – to resume at the level they were before.

Slow News Week?  Let’s Talk SST…..

As I’ve remarked before, supersonic passenger travel is one of those topics we’re all interested in, so lazy journalists, when they’ve got nothing else to write about, and need a “space filler”, will regularly turn to that topic, even if there’s nothing new to write about.

The week before Thanksgiving is usually a slow news week.  And so, we have, for example, this article going way over the top by talking about “new” supersonic travel options on both Earth and Mars.  Puhleeze.

And this article doesn’t seem to contain a single bit of new information whatsoever, starting off with what must be the most underwhelming sub-heading of 2020 – “The Talon’s first demonstration flight is months away”.

A Different Type of Travel Shop

There’s probably only one reason most people ever visit Scottsboro, AL, a small town 40 minutes east of Huntsville.  To go to the Unclaimed Baggage Store, and to browse through stuff that has been found in lost/unclaimed bags and which is now offered for sale to you.  They have over a million visitors every year (to put that in context, the town has a population of only 15,000).

It is astonishing what they’ve found in the luggage they buy, unseen in bulk.  This is their top ten list of their weirdest finds :

  • Three suits of armor over the course of the shop’s 50-year history.
  • The original, 4-foot-tall Hoggle puppet from the 1986 film, Labyrinth starring David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly
  • A 15-foot rocket, which arrived in two pieces.
  • A 40.95-carat emerald appraised for $25k (sold for $17k)
  • An authentic shrunken head. Since its ghoulish arrival in the 1980s, Unclaimed Baggage has received several replicas.
  • A Gucci suitcase filled with artifacts dating back to 1500 BC—the time of Moses. Among the contents were an Egyptian burial mask and a preserved falcon. All were auctioned at Christie’s.
  • A tribal walking stick with an intricately carved depiction of a warrior’s face that, on closer inspection, was inset with real teeth.
  • A xylophone from Neil Diamond’s 2008 tour, complete with a name-stamped case.
  • A six-foot paper maché Tinkerbell. After “surgery” to repair her broken knee, she has been on display ever since.
  • A bear pelt packed in salt for curing but not for long enough to finish the job—an unfortunate fact that became apparent at first whiff.

Until recently, you’ve only been able to buy if you visit their location.  But they’ve now opened an online store – better yet, they have some Black Friday bargains there, too.

I noticed a curious collection of items online.  One of the things that surprised me was a pair of ladies panties for just under $10.  Without pondering as to the nature of the market for (presumably used) women’s undergarments, what did stun me was their suggestion the normal retail is $129.  So, maybe a bargain, maybe not.  I certainly know that $10 buys me plenty of underwear at Walmart!

Some of the items seem to be well priced, but that’s not automatically true of everything, including some cell phones that one wonders what the state of the battery life might be, and whether or not their rightful owners have called their cell phone companies to block the phones, or if, when turned on, they don’t then send a signal back to their owners saying “here I am”.  They do have a 14 day return policy though, which reduces such concerns.

Most of all, the phones were sometimes being sold for very close to current street prices.  As I mention in the Black Friday Bargain article, Google is selling Samsung phones at Black Friday rates for appreciably less than the Unclaimed Baggage Store.

They also had 13 Apple Watches, but of the previous generation, and sinfully overpriced.  $560 each, whereas as little as $399 can get you a new Series 6 Watch (more for the larger size units, and more for cellular capabilities, but still less than $560 unless there’s a premium band involved).

I was interested to see a Kindle Voyage for sale.  That is my favorite of all Kindle models, and it was for sale at a reasonably good price ($61).  There is also a pair of Bose 700 Noise Cancelling headphones for $240, which is a great price.

If nothing else, it is fun to browse around their categories and see the strange types of things they have available.  But don’t automatically assume that what you see is a true bargain.

A Curious but Common Pricing Contradiction

Talking about pricing, we noted that Comcast is now imposing monthly data caps on almost all its internet subscribers, except for some areas where they have credible competition.  A bit unfortunate, particularly at present where, spending more time at home and less time out, we’re all consuming more internet than normal.

Invariably, whenever any company starts to restrict a service, it says the same thing.  “This will affect almost none of our customers” – a statement that always makes one wonder why they are doing it.  Comcast too says that its new data capping policies will affect almost no-one; that may well be true, but we should wait for the second shoe to drop – when they then start lowering the amount of data you can use before you have to start paying penalties for more.

The unfortunate lack of internet connection competition in the US (which can be traced back to the usual source – regulations ostensibly to protect consumers but which do the opposite) is why we lag so far behind other developed countries in terms of internet connection speeds and affordability of internet connections.

And Lastly This Week….

The camera never lies?  Ummm, yes it does, these days.  Actually, have a look at these images – maybe we shouldn’t blame the camera, because no camera was required.

A strange monolith was discovered in a remote part of Utah.  I suggest you read the article while playing this music.

The previous item begs this next item to follow, even though it is sad in nature.  The US is shutting down its one-time marvelous and still enormous radio telescope, located in Puerto Rico.  It was the world’s largest such structure from when it was completed in 1963 until 2016, when another country completed a larger one.  Guess which other country – hint, it begins with the letter C.

Just one more small way in which we’re passing the leadership baton on to that other country.

There’s quite a substantial number of people who collect “unofficial” airline souvenirs – not just timetables and that sort of thing, but cutlery and crockery and anything else that isn’t nailed down and which can be carried off a plane without attracting too much attention.  There is even an association of collectors, and they hold annual shows around the country where people can exhibit, buy and sell items of uncertain provenance and ownership history.

So does the ability to now buy such things delight or disappoint these collectors?  BA is the latest airline to put some of its first class items on sale.

Truly lastly this week, could I ask you to consider being thankful, not just for “everything” this coming Thursday, but also for The Travel Insider, today.  Please join in our annual fundraising drive and become a Travel Insider Supporter.  Thank you.

Until next week, please stay healthy and safe





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