Weekly Roundup, 1 January 2021

Emirates proudly shows off its new A380 Premium Economy cabin. See article, below.
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Good morning

This is the first time I’ve typed “2021” as a reference to the present, rather than talking about the future.  I’m not entirely sure I’m ready for 2021 – perhaps like you, I had so many positive plans for 2020, and so few of them were achieved.

We all know why, and I’m not going to risk being the only person in the entire world who doesn’t say he hopes that 2021 will see us put this terrible scourge well and truly behind us.  It seems reasonable to believe we will, although exactly when you and I will not only choose to be vaccinated, but decide which vaccine to take, and then be able to actually be given the vaccine remains very much an open and unresolved question – I write about that in some length in the Covid diary entry that follows.

On the upside for 2020, I’m now a “best-selling” published author.  Thank you everyone who has purchased a copy of my Covid book (and please keep buying it!) and helped me earn that surprisingly easy status – sure, to become a NY Times best-selling author is exceedingly difficult, but to be able to claim best-seller status in at least one of Amazon’s many Kindle categories, even if only for a brief day or two, is much more easily achieved.  As I explain in the attached Covid Diary entry, I’m hoping to repeat that status with my second book, being released in mid-January, and this time a novel – an action/adventure spy/techno-thriller story.

Do have a look at the Covid Diary entry.  It is longer than usual, because, even now, nine months after things became “real”, we’re still doing dismayingly crazy things.

But let’s leave those challenges to their own article, and focus here on other things.  A modest sized newsletter for New Year’s Day; please continue reading for :

  • Air Passenger Numbers Stay Steady
  • Alaska Airlines Sort of Says “Leave Rover at Home, Next Time You Go Roving”
  • Emirates’ New Premium Economy Looks Nice
  • FAA Chooses Most Inconvenient Time for Discretionary Closure in Dallas
  • 2020’s Least Surprising Headline Competition Entry
  • And Lastly This Week….

Air Passenger Numbers Stay Steady

After shooting up in the build-up to Christmas, passenger numbers have hovered in the low 40’s percent range the last week, on a rolling weekly basis, compared to last year.  The big question now is about to become what happens after this second holiday weekend.  Will, like every other major holiday since March, numbers decline again, and if so, how far?  The answer to that question may be hinted at in my daily Twitter updates, and might start to become more clearly apparent by next Friday’s newsletter.  I’m going to guess a drop, but I’m not going to guess how far.

This article provides an interesting perspective on the “other” types of travel.  Automobile traffic has been estimated as being about 75% of last year’s volumes.  Rail numbers were more steeply down than either plane or car.  It seems people generally have restricted their travel over this period, whether it be by car or plane.

Alaska Airlines Sort of Says “Leave Rover at Home, Next Time You Go Roving”

The pendulum seems to be swinging to the other side.  After having almost complete zoos of small and not-so-small animals being welcomed unquestioningly on board flights under the guise of being service/support/comfort animals, the airlines, with the FAA’s approval subsequent to a regulation revision on 2 December, are now becoming more restrictive about what creatures they allow to accompany their owners in the passenger cabins of their flights.

Alaska Airlines has now said that it will ban all emotional support animals with effect from 11 January.  Only certified service dogs will be allowed in the future.

But, before you celebrate, what AS is actually doing is allowing all types of service dogs, including “psychiatric service dogs” as well as guide dogs for the blind and other service dogs.  The distinction between an “emotional support animal” and “psychiatric service dog” seems wafer thin to me (although it definitely will reduce the number of pigs, snakes, peacocks, and smallish horses).  As for the certification, it seems owners can self-certify their dogs as qualifying, so that loophole remains fully open for the unscrupulous.

So we expect to continue to see dogs in cabins on sometimes specious grounds.

Emirates’ New Premium Economy Looks Nice

Premium Economy is such a strange beast.  We all have a fairly accurate expectation of what we’ll get in Business Class, and in First Class, and while there are some differences in detail, the general concept is similar from airline to airline.

But Premium Economy has never had a clearly defined commonality.  Some airlines simply give you another couple of inches of leg room – that was pretty much all you got to start with, but these days it is rare to get no more than that.  Some airlines give you standard coach class meals, others give you upgraded meals.  Some give you free drinks, too.  Maybe you get a slightly bigger seat back video screen.

Some give you wider seats as well as more legroom – that, to me, is the most valuable feature of all.  Most of us these days are as cramped from side to side as we are from front to back in coach class, and while more legroom is nice, if you’re in a dreaded middle seat and still fighting over the arm rests and unable to spread your shoulders, you’re never going to be happy unless the seat widens.

There are other points of differentiation – or not.  I remember the last time I flew Premium Economy on BA – it was many years ago, and the last flight I’ve subjected myself to on what has become increasingly an awful airline – still charging high prices, but no longer offering anything other than dreadful flying experiences.  BA didn’t even give priority boarding to Premium Economy passengers.

Even though there’s been no clear definition of Premium Economy, it has seemed to me that it is a reasonably profitable offering for the airlines – well, it is, but only as long as the PE passengers are people upgrading from coach class rather than people downgrading from Business Class.  If PE cannibalizes into Business Class passengers, clearly it is extremely harmful to airlines offering it.

Maybe that is why the Middle Eastern premium quality airlines have been slow to embrace the concept of Premium Economy, sticking rigidly to their three class cabins.  Maybe they were concerned they’d have more passengers downgrading than upgrading.  I don’t know, but I do know that when I raised the issue with the Emirates US Regional Manager well over a decade ago, he laughed and changed the subject.

Emirates have finally stepped up to the plate and are now about to start offering Premium Economy on their redesigned A380 planes (see picture at the top of this newsletter).  Articles such as this suggest it will be a great product, and, yes, with wider seats – about 2″ or so wider, plus the seats are spaced slightly apart from each other.  The combination makes more difference than you might think it does. Legroom/seat-pitch is a generous 40″.

Emirates have a curious way of making sure they don’t miss out on any Business Class ticket sales, however.  They’re reserving their Premium Economy exclusively for complimentary upgrades – you can’t actually buy a Premium Economy seat.  This is apparently because until they refit all their A380s – or at least, more of them – they don’t reliably know which routes and on which dates their updated A380s will be flying.

FAA Chooses Most Inconvenient Time for Discretionary Closure in Dallas

One of the distressing things about too many government services is their services are designed to maximize the convenience of the government employees, no matter how inconvenient that makes it for us, their tax-paying clients.

As a brilliant example, the FAA decided they needed to do a “sanitization” of their regional control center after three employees tested positive for Covid over a one week period.  Now, they could choose any hour of the day to do this – and keep in mind, as far as I can tell, there has never been a single confirmed case of anyone, anywhere in the world, catching Covid from contact with a possibly infected surface.  For people concerned about such risks, simply using hand sanitizer or washing one’s hands from time to time, seems to be perfectly sufficient to guarantee safety.  But by all means, if one wishes to apply “an abundance of caution”, go ahead and “sanitize an area”.  But choose the time you do it carefully.

A careful selection of time was important in this case because the FAA decided, during the time of closure, they decided it would be easiest for them to simply stop all flights in and out of the airspace they were controlling, creating a ground hold for affected flights, and the cleaning was expected to take about two and a half hours.  This was a surprising decision.  It was not a ground control tower that needed lines of sight to see where planes were on the ground.  It was a remote controlling facility in a windowless building somewhere, and there are procedures to allow control to shift from one such facility to another in emergencies.

So, when do you think they chose to freeze all flights for two and a half hours?  Perhaps in the wee hours of the middle of the night, when there were no flights actually operating?  Or, perhaps instead, between 3pm and 5.30pm on Wednesday 30 December, just in time to catch dozens of flights in the afternoon/early evening peak travel period?

For reasons best known to the FAA, they chose to close between 3 – 5.30pm on the day before New Year’s Eve.

As I said, one of the defining characteristics of too many government departments these days is the way they treat us, their customers, the people who pay their generous salaries and benefits, with total contempt and disdain.

2020’s Least Surprising Headline Competition Entry

“Amazon Air Continues to Grow” – is there anyone surprised that Amazon’s move into every part of the freight business is growing, particularly in this of all years?  Probably not.  This article reports how Amazon now has over 70 planes, and has switched from leasing planes, having bought seven old 767s recently.

Amazon Air and its slightly over 70 planes is still very much smaller than UPS (275 planes) and Fedex (465 planes), but we expect Amazon’s growth will see it racing to catch up with both the larger companies.

The article has an interesting map showing the airports it serves.  If you’re in “flyover country” then that’s exactly what happens.  But the west coast and generally east of the Mississippi is increasingly well served by Amazon.  Amazon’s backward integration and speed of delivery service is astonishing to behold and delightful to experience, but we all surely know, deep in our hearts, that the ability to deliver items costing under $10 to us, the same or next day, for free, can not be a long-term sustainable business model.  What will happen to Amazon’s service and pricing when it no longer feels it needs to keep new competitors such as WalMart away?

And Lastly This Week….

One of the sad abuses of the internet is the rise of “click bait” articles that require you to click through tens of pages, each page having no more than a sentence or two of vapid content while being filled with advertisements that gullible advertisers are paying for but surely getting absolutely zero benefit from.  The internet’s promise as a creativity outlet and an opportunity for high-quality non-commercial content to flourish has largely failed to be realized.

But, once in a while, there’s an article that is so unexpectedly delightful that one returns to optimistically visiting click-baity pages in the hope of other surprises.  I’m writing about an example of an unexpectedly delightful article – it unassumingly promises little other than a mention of the current shortage of some type of pasta, and as many of us know, all pasta was in short supply earlier in the year, at the same time that toilet paper and cleaning products also vanished off shelves.

But I urge you to visit the article and prepare to enjoy a wonderful voyage into unexpected quirky elements of the pasta world.

Another interesting bit of trivia – did you know that McDonalds had a trial catering franchise to provide food on selected trains in Germany, in the early 1990s.  Astonishingly, for a company that seldom completely fails (sure, they’ve had some less-than-memorable menu items come and go) the trial was an abject failure.  Another interesting article if you’re having an easy New Year’s Day.

One more interesting article – a service that sells books by the foot, allowing people to create instant libraries.  You can even specify the color of books you want if you’re trying to color-coordinate a room.  Apparently their business has boomed due to people video-conferencing from home and wishing to have an “impressive” background of filled bookcases.

Estimates vary, but in round figures, about half of all books that are printed are never sold – at least, not at normal prices through normal bookshops.  They are either pulped and recycled, or sold at very low prices to companies such as this.

And so, here we both are, at the end of the first newsletter for 2021.  I hope you’ve a great list of New Year Resolutions – I think we all deserve a pass when it comes to reviewing our 2020 resolutions!

Until next week, please stay healthy and safe





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