Weekly Roundup, Christmas Day, 25 December 2020

Very best wishes for Christmas 2020 and the New Year ahead.
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Good morning and, of course, Merry Christmas!

Do you have a tree up?  Lights around the outside of your house?  Snow outside?  Have you already opened some presents?  Depending on where you are and when you read this, how is that Christmas dinner looking?  And the, ahem, “Christmas cheer”?

Talking about Christmas dinner, I wonder what your idea of a traditional Christmas dinner is.  In New Zealand, where it is summer, we’d probably have a family get-together outside around the barbeque, or maybe honor our English traditions and have a nice big family roast – beef or lamb, with all the trimmings – Yorkshire Puddings, roast veges, and lovely thick gravy.

But in Japan, they celebrate Christmas with another tradition.  KFC.  You’re probably wondering what that acronym is short for, but your first “no, it couldn’t be” thought is the correct one.  Here’s a fascinating article on how Kentucky Fried Chicken “saved its bacon” (to inelegantly mix metaphors) and became Japan’s idea of an appropriate Christmas meal.

Still considering strange foods, how about this – distinctive – burger that McDonalds offered one day this week in China?

I’ve a request.  Are you, or do you know, an active or retired military person?  Ideally someone who served in the Navy, even better if in the “Silent Service”.  Ideally someone with some understanding of submarine operations who can read and review my next book – this one a fiction “techno-thriller/spy” novel – think Tom Clancy crossed with John le Carre.  I am hoping for a reader endorsement to add to the book.  If you are such a person, or know someone who could be, please get in touch as soon as convenient.

How is it I have another book almost ready to publish, so shortly after the virus book?  Well, this second book is actually something I wrote nearly 20 years ago.  I had various publishers/agents reject it, and back then, self-publishing was much more complicated than it is now, so it languished, gathering dust.  Having now gone through the publishing exercise for the virus book, I thought I may as well toss this other book out there too.  I’ve always liked the story myself, and while it is even harder to get a fiction book noticed than a non-fiction book, I don’t mind if it doesn’t sell brilliantly; I simply want closure and to get it available for sale.

Talking about book sales, the virus book now is available in both Kindle and printed form, and while sales have not been stellar, I’ve managed to get to the top of various categories on Amazon such as Public Health, Viral Diseases, and a bunch of other relevant topics.  It is a sad commentary on the book industry, perhaps, that so few sales are needed to become a best-seller!

If you have a copy, I hope you’ll have a chance to read some of it over the Christmas break.  Please do share your thoughts with me – your input helps make the updated versions that will follow (free updates for the Kindle version) better.

I’m getting ready to publish two or even three more noise-cancelling headphone reviews.  But I realized all of them have a huge element in common – a deep dislike of the way these wonderful products have evolved from simple, with nothing more than a simple on/off switch, to now having multiple buttons and lights and even needing (mandating!) a matching phone app as well.  The worst example is a set of Sony headphones I reviewed a year or so back – they had two colored lights, which could change color and flash in a total of 16 different combinations to provide 16 different utterly unguessable (and unseen – they were on the headphones, on one’s ears, so couldn’t even be seen, other than by people around you) messages.

Why have we spoiled such a great product with such massive over-complication?  I blame it on Bluetooth.  For more, please see the feature article that follows.

I’ve updated my special article earlier in the week about the new virus book, and attach that too, and of course, Thursday’s Covid diary entry is also attached.  This week it is a bit longer than normal, and includes a deep dive into the implications of the new more infectious virus strains that are simultaneously appearing in many different parts of the world, and which might even have started in the US.

Plus, yes, a few other items to enliven your Christmas day.  Please keep reading for :

  • Air Travel Numbers Shoot Up for Christmas
  • An Airline Christmas Bonus
  • Good News for Boeing and the 737 MAX
  • The Logic of Boeing’s Future Airplane Manufacturing
  • Tesla’s Valuation Defies Traditional Measures
  • A Modern Day Equivalent of a Smoking Cabin on a Plane
  • And Lastly This Week (and Year!)….

Air Travel Numbers Shoot Up for Christmas

As I’d guessed last week, the percentage of people traveling has been steadily rising since last Friday in anticipation of today and the “holiday week” ahead.  Although numbers are only in, so far, through Wednesday, we’ve already set a new one-week rolling average record, and Wednesday’s actual travel numbers were both the highest since things started to drop in March and the highest percentage of the same day last year, too (61.5%).

My guess is numbers will be even higher for Thursday – I’ll tweet those on Friday morning – and I hesitate to speculate how numbers will continue from now until early January and things return back to whatever new normal 2021 will offer us.

We set new records for virus infections and deaths after Thanksgiving’s travel spurt.  If air travel numbers are any measure, look for even more terrible new records in early/mid January.

An Airline Christmas Bonus

Well, it could be argued that having passenger numbers shoot up to 61.5% of last year’s number is a Christmas bonus of sorts, particularly compared to earlier in the year when numbers were below 10% of last year.

But the real Christmas bonus has to be the $15 billion gift from the government as part of its latest bailout bill.  To qualify, the airlines have to rehire 32,000 currently furloughed workers.  Now you might think that makes sense, but not really.  The airlines currently are employing every person they need to maintain operations, and probably a few more they don’t need.  Most of the 32,000 people they now have to rehire are people they don’t need.  Adding another 32,000 people won’t suddenly see a matching number of travelers return to the skies.

What will these 32,000 people do?  Will the airlines double the number of pilots and flight attendants per flight?  Will there no longer be any waiting on hold to call their (800) numbers?  Will requests for refunds be actioned amazingly quickly?  And so on.  I think we can all guess the answers to those questions, can’t we.

There’s an interesting conundrum – by demanding the rehiring of 32,000 people, the government is dooming the airlines to more loss-making quarters, and in turn, the airlines will go back to the government for more money.

There’s another thing too.  If you do the math, you’ll see that the government is in effect paying almost a half million dollars for each of those 32,000 rehired workers.  But the airlines only have to keep the rehired people on the payroll until 31 March.

I know pilots and executives earn sinfully high salaries, but I also know that most other people in the airlines earn disappointingly low salaries and wages.

Is this really the best way to keep the economy going?  Paying $500k per protected job for four months of guaranteed employment?  Sending $15 billion to companies that could afford to continue in business without the $15 billion, while overlooking the tens of thousands of small businesses that are closing, permanently?  Wouldn’t the $15 billion do more good if it was offered to businesses on the basis of $50,000 per rehired or retained worker, rather than $500,000?

And, as always, what about other travel industry sectors?  Hotels?  Rental car companies?  Tourist attractions?  Restaurants?  Even cruise ships?  Why is it always the airlines that get special treatment, better than every other sector?

Is it fair that one sector, selectively, is more or less “made whole” while other sectors are hung out to dry, almost without help at all?

Good News for Boeing and the 737 MAX

Does anyone still remember the purple encrusted nonsense that was Virgin America?  Like most other Branson projects, it was a much delayed airline that was full of hype, hope, and pretentious gaudiness, but lacking in substance.

Eventually, after never really building up much of a market presence beyond the west coast, it allowed itself to be bought by Alaska Airlines in 2016, which created an interesting situation.  Alaska has been a very loyal Boeing customer, and Virgin’s fleet was comprised of Airbus A319 and A320 planes.

Alaska Airlines kept the Airbus planes, and in the last year or so, went through the motions of getting proposals from both Airbus and Boeing for more single-aisle narrow-body planes.  Airbus was full of hope that the introduction of their planes into Alaska’s fleet would give them a chance to sell more.  No-one really expected that outcome, but it made for good speculation late in an evening – “What would it mean for Boeing if Alaska Airlines defected and ordered more A320 planes?”.

Well, that’s a question we’ll never know the answer to, because Alaska Airlines has now confirmed an order for 23 additional 737-9 MAX planes.  Boeing is ending up what had promised to possibly be its worst year ever with a rush of new orders.

The Logic of Boeing’s Future Airplane Manufacturing

Talking of Boeing, we could hope that now it has secured another order from a Seattle based airline, it might be more favorable to continuing its airplane assembly operations here, particularly when considering the empty space it has due to the 747 production ending and the 787 production moving to South Carolina.

But Boeing’s management, in Chicago, have developed an ever-greater loathing of Washington State.  Some of it is deserved – Washington’s politicians have sent mixed messages to Boeing, and sometimes appear to have taken Boeing for granted and treated it as an income source to be abused, without considering all the employment and industry Boeing both offers directly and indirectly via the huge network of Boeing suppliers also based in the region.  On the other hand, just like you can get a special introductory trial deal on so many things these days, but when you go to renew, you find the rates are very much higher, Boeing is being regularly tempted with “special introductory trial deals” by other states keen to buy its business and woo it away from Washington.

In particular, Boeing’s crass mishandling of its industrial relations with its unionized workforce in the Puget Sound area makes the company very keen to move to non-unionized states.

With one or maybe two new airplane models needing to be developed asap (757 replacement and 737 replacement) the question of where Boeing will build them is becoming more pressing.  This is a very good analysis.

Tesla’s Valuation Defies Traditional Measures

We all know that Tesla’s share price has been shooting up and up and up.  But probably none of us understand why.  The share price seems to be entirely based on future performance hopes, not on present value.  Surely, and possibly sooner rather than later, the major car companies will astonish us all and start credibly selling decent electric cars that pose a competitive challenge to Tesla.  Even if not Ford and GM, how about Toyota or Honda or any of the European manufacturers?

But until that time, Tesla remains supremely unchallenged in the electric vehicle marketplace, to the point now that its market capitalization ($615 billion) is not only much greater than the second most valuable car company (Toyota, $211 billion), but exceeds the total valuation of the world’s top seven automakers, in order being Toyota, Volkswagen, Daimler, GM, BMW, Honda and Ford (in total, $587 billion).

Tesla’s annual revenue?  $30 billion.  The annual revenue of the big seven?  $1,100 billion.

This article ponders some more the disparity between Tesla’s market footprint and market valuation.

A Modern Day Equivalent of a Smoking Cabin on a Plane

Who doesn’t remember when planes had smoking sections at the rear of the plane.  Some may remember such times fondly, and others, not so much.  The airlines themselves were eager to get rid of them, because it made seat assignment much easier, cut down on their cleaning costs, and allowed the airplane air filters to last longer between changes.

Here’s an amusing modern day equivalent – Aeroflot is now offering masked and unmasked sections in its planes.

Do you remember, how if you were in the rows close to the smoking section, the smoke would invade your space, too?  Or, if at the front of coach, you’d get all the smoke from the smoking section in the rear of first class?  Now, keep in mind that virus particles have very similar properties to smoke particles……

If you’re flying Aeroflot, try not to be too close to the no-mask sections.  And hopefully, there are toilets on board that don’t require you to “run the gauntlet” through the maskless section.

What about getting on and off the plane?  If you’ve an aisle seat in the masked cabin area, will the unmasked people all walk past you and breath unfiltered and maybe contaminated air on you?

Still, at least it isn’t like in this video, with a “chewing” and “non-chewing” section on the plane…..  Warning – do not watch this with a mouth full of coffee!

And Lastly This Week….

While it is true there are some things the TSA gets wrong, it has always had a reasonably positive social media presence.  As evidence of that surprising statement, they’ve just released a 2021 calendar that you can print out at home, featuring some of their (and other service) dogs.  Lovely.

As a Travel Insider, you’re probably better educated and more traveled than most.  So, perhaps you know the answer to this question already – it is one of those questions which can be used as a way to win bar bets.  For example, you could say “I bet you can’t name the state with the eastern-most point in the United States”, and people would probably try to choose between Massachusetts and Maine (Maine goes further east than Massachusetts).

But how many people would get the answer correct?  Can you?  The answer is here.

Even though I was neither born nor grew up in the US, our New Zealand television was filled with American shows, and we learned about American history in school – almost as much as we did about NZ history.  So, to me, and probably to you, the phrase “The Oregon Trail” stirs emotions of a brave and bold part of America’s settlement and growth.  I was astonished to see, in this article, that there are places where you can still see the wheel ruts from all the wagons that passed along it.

All going well, I would love to go and see at least one of those places in 2021.  Details here.

To my astonishment, I’ve just realized this is the last newsletter for 2020.  The next one will appear on 1 January, 2021.  Is there a single person reading this who doesn’t desperately hope that 2021 will be totally different (and in a good way) from 2020?

Until 2021 (and way into the future, too), please stay healthy and safe





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