Weekly Roundup, Friday 23 April 2021

A new (actually old) type of airplane concept. See article, below.


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Good morning

it is almost the traditional start of summer, although I was told by a reader in Rochester NY they have snow this week.  That global warming – truly a strange thing!

That’s far from being the only strange thing this week.  I walk a difficult line of compromise in my Covid diary entries, which are all-too-often crammed full of strange things.  I want to give extra value to the lovely people who have voluntarily become Supporters, but I also want to share as much as possible with as many people as possible.  Where to set the dividing line between free and extra content?  Yesterday, I set the needle over to one extreme and made it all free, so everyone can see what they’re missing out on, twice a week, with my diary entries.  If you’re not a supporter, please do enjoy your full access – it follows below, after this newsletter.

To be fair, I think Thursday’s diary entry is one of my “better” ones, and whether you become a Supporter to continue getting the full version or not, I hope you enjoy it – well, it isn’t actually something to enjoy; the items within it are more things to cringe about, and to feel frustrated about.  I am astonished (and very disappointed) that now, well over a year since I first started writing articles on Covid (today’s diary entry is the 198th article I’ve published on the topic), there is still an abundance of new material demanding to be shared and commented on/corrected, every week.

But our vaccine numbers are soaring, and it seems clear they are starting to dampen down our new case numbers, so perhaps we are finally turning a big corner in this pandemic.

Sunday’s Covid diary entry is available online.

What else this week?  Please see :

  • Air Travel Numbers Give Mixed Messages
  • Travel Insider Touring Maintains a Positive Projection
  • Boeing Waives Mandatory Retirement for CEO
  • Plane Has Engine Problems.  Lands Safely.  Passengers Sue, Anyway.
  • Fascinating New (Old) Plane Design
  • Free Breakfasts?  Don’t Know What You Mean!
  • Apple Did Something This Week, I Think
  • Mercedes-Benz and Cadillac to Introduce New Electric Vehicles
  • And Lastly This Week….

Air Travel Numbers Give Mixed Messages

While the last week effectively ended the sharp decline in numbers flying that had been happening the previous week, it replaced the marked drop with more of a very gentle but still slightly downward slope.

The airlines are optimistic about summer travel, as this article shows, but they must be starting to feel slightly anxious.

It will be interesting to see what type of travel numbers are reported for Memorial Day weekend next week.  This article talks some more about what the travel industry is expecting/hoping will happen.

The current halt to air passenger growth continues to be totally perplexing.  There seems every reason to expect some continued growth in air travel, not a shrinkage.  It certainly makes bold claims such as by the CEO of the Intercontinental Hotel Group that he expects such a boom in hotel bookings that there’ll be a shortage of rooms (reported in the Covid Diary entry) seem over-confident and unlikely.  Air travel at 58% of 2019 numbers surely doesn’t imply a desperate shortage of hotel rooms any day soon.

Travel Insider Touring Maintains a Positive Projection

Britain continues to do an excellent job of keeping its new coronavirus cases under control – so much so there’s a hint of danger that instead of becoming more permissive and opening up the country, they might become more protective and shield their precious achievement from external threats.

But the news out of Britain is almost entirely positive.  Just yesterday there were new announcements about the country planning to introduce a “vaccine passport” to allow Britons to travel internationally this summer (ie no sooner than 17 May), with the hope being that international travel for the Brits, going out of the country, will be matched by allowing international travel into Britain from other countries too.  Earlier in the week it was suggested that the US would become one of only eight countries given the most favorable “green light” terms for travel.

In terms of numbers, a week ago Britain was averaging 2,665 new cases and 30 deaths a day.  The current numbers are now 2,493 new cases and 22 deaths a day.  It is good to see the numbers continuing to drop.

There’s still a lot that could happen, and a lot that needs to happen, between now and the start of our touring schedule in mid August, but my feeling of cautious optimism continues to climb.  I’m daring now to hope that I might be meeting with you and a small and select group of other Travel Insiders and sharing some wonderful times and experiences as we enjoy our travels together in Wales, then Scotland, then England.

As you can see here, this is the coaching schedule for the third of the three segments, what we’re terming “Overlooked England”.  Although the coach itinerary only starts being marked at Stratford upon Avon, you can join us before that – in York, Edinburgh, or of course, at any time previously during our Scotland’s Four Corners or Wild Wales tours.

The tour ends in Oxford, at the rail station, where you can then travel on as you wish, or return to London and fly home.  It is a quick journey to London, either to Paddington or Marylebone stations, taking about an hour, with no changes of train on the way, or you can take a bus directly to Heathrow.

Touring maps for the other two segments, and some more general information, is all on this page.  Next week I’ll see about coming up with some estimated pricings and more detailed day by day itineraries.

As past Travel Insider Tour Members know, I insist on always having a coach with toilet.  Normally, it doesn’t need to be used a great deal, but it is always nice to know it is there.  One of the important things that still need to be universally re-opened in Britain are the public toilets, as this article rather shockingly explains.  Maybe the toilet on board will be more helpful this year!

Boeing Waives Mandatory Retirement for CEO

I’m seldom in favor of any policy, about anything, that includes the word “mandatory” as part of it.  Boeing has a mandatory retirement policy – all employees must retire when they turn 65.

That’s not a good policy to start with, and with people both living longer and remaining active longer, it has failed to keep up with the times.

When Boeing appointed their latest CEO, David Calhoun, in January 2020, many industry commentators opined that his was clearly to be a temporary role, because he turns 65 in April 2022, giving him barely two years in the CEO seat – enough time to make some changes and do some difficult things, but not enough time to create and execute any new strategic visions, or to preside over new airplane models being designed and developed, and so on.

But Boeing’s board has now announced, as Calhoun turns 64, that they’re granting him a special exemption from their retirement policy and allowing him to continue as CEO until he turns 70.

We’re happy to see Boeing allowing Calhoun to stay on.  But how about all the other people who work for Boeing who’d love a chance to remain employed – why not allow them to stay on, too?  Could it be that as the most senior and long-serving employees, they’re also the most expensive employees, and it saves Boeing money by forcing them out and replacing them with new inexpensive twenty-something-year-olds?

In other Boeing news, their 737 MAX electrical problems have got worse, with more issues now discovered.

Plane Has Engine Problems.  Lands Safely.  Passengers Sue, Anyway.

A sight you don’t want to see, when looking out your airplane window, is the outer cowling of the plane’s engine spinning away, and flames coming out of the rest of the engine.

But if the plane continues flying more or less normally, the other engine still working, and the plane quickly lands safely and smoothly, your thoughts turn more to having a great story to tell people for the decades that follow, and annoyance at a disruption and delay to your travel plans.  You probably also hope for an appropriate “apology” from the airline in the form of a free drink or two, and maybe 500 frequent flier miles or something else probably similarly low in value.

A subsequent investigation suggests the airline wasn’t at fault, rather, it was caused by “just one of those things” that happen in high-tech high-stressed airplane engines, even when perfectly maintained “by the book”.

So, what do you do?  Well, if you’re two of the passengers on a United flight that experienced this problem shortly after departing Denver recently, you sue the airline, asking the court for the maximum damages possible, due to your suffering personal, emotional and financial injuries as a result of the incident.

We seldom find ourselves siding with United, but on this case, we definitely do.  It was in no way United’s fault, nor really anyone else’s fault.  It truly is as close to a random act of pure chance as is possible to ever experience.

Fascinating New (Old) Plane Design

As often as not, “new” airplane designs (and also new “airplane” designs) are actually not new at all.  As the saying goes, those who ignore history are fated to repeat it.

An example of “what is old is new again” is shown in this article about a new type of airplane – a ground effect craft.  The “ground effect” is what happens at very low altitudes (just a few feet about the ground) when the air underneath the wing, which is deflected downwards, hits the ground, and provides a type of “cushion” that keeps the plane off the ground.

That’s the concept underlying a new airplane – in this case called a “flying electric ferry”, and shown in the illustration at the top of the newsletter.  Once it takes off, it flies more or less like a plane, and more or less at regular airplane speeds (the company designing this concept says it will have a top speed of 180 mph).  The ground effect helps save some of the energy cost of otherwise keeping a plane in the sky; but against that, the plane is flying in very thick/dense air at sea level, so there is more friction.  It is also moderately turbulent air, because it is in the weather rather than above the weather, and we suspect there may be a limit to how large the waves can be before that starts to impact on the ride quality, too.

So, a plane that goes at about one third the speed of a normal plane, and in very rough air, and more weather sensitive to flight interruptions than normal planes.  What’s not to like about that trifecta of “features”!?  (There are other “features” as well – for example, turning the craft is difficult because you don’t want a wing to dip too low for fear of it making contact with the sea surface.)

Perhaps these “features” give us a hint as to why earlier ground effect craft have never been spectacularly successful.  The Soviet Union experimented with a number of very strange designs of such craft (called ekranoplans by the Russians) – here’s an article on one that actually was almost operational for a while.  Other countries and designs have also come and gone over the years.

Free Breakfasts?  Don’t Know What You Mean!

Do you remember “the good old days” when hotels actively chased after you for your business, and truly/genuinely appreciated you staying with them, and gave you valuable rewards and perks as a frequent and loyal guest in return?

It certainly worked for me, for a while, and I did all I fairly could to focus my business on one particular hotel brand, and got what I thought to be a generous level of rewards in return.  In the last decade or so, we’ve of course seen an obscured consolidation of hotel operators – I say “obscured’ because there are more brands than ever before, but fewer actual ultimate companies.  Perhaps inevitably, as competition has dwindled, so too has the generosity of hotel frequent guest programs.

There’s also been a nasty asterisk attached to much of what is promised to us in terms of frequent guest privileges.  In its simplest form, it is something along the lines of “at participating properties only”, but it gets uglier.  As you doubtless know, most hotels are not owned by the brand that you see on their sign.  Indeed, it can become a multi-level thing.  A hotel is built by Company A.  It leases the hotel to Company B, who actually operate the hotel.  Company B in turn chooses a hotel brand and buys a franchise from that brand, Company C, so as to present itself as a member of that hotel brand’s group of hotels.

Just to mix that all up, sometimes Company C also operates a hotel (owned by a Company A) and sometimes Company C also owns the building.  Sometimes Company A also operates the hotel, too.

The problem is – who do you look to when you have a problem and want a solution?  If it is something like a dripping tap or broken television, of course, Company B is who you turn to – it is their people who are at reception, in the maintenance and housekeeping departments, and so on.  But if you don’t get any satisfaction from Company B, and if you’re an elite level member of Company C’s frequent guest program, can you now involve Company C?  In theory yes; in practice, often not.

The problem becomes even more complicated if, as a high level member of Company C’s frequent guest program, you are promised certain benefits at each hotel you stay at – room upgrades, free upgraded Wi-Fi, free breakfasts, or whatever else.  If Company B doesn’t give you the perks you’re entitled to, and instead offers some transparently nonsensical excuse, how can you escalate the situation and get a solution?

Of course you turn to Company C.  But, as often as not, you’ll get a meaningless form letter response from Company C that shows they didn’t even read or understand your complaint and the underlying problem.  If you press further, you’ll then end up either with a non-solution that is as frustratingly inappropriate as it is unsatisfactory, or you’ll get Company C flashing its “Get Out of Jail Free” card – “We’re sorry, but that particularly property is not a corporately owned hotel, it is operated by a franchisee, and we have no control over what they do”.

That statement is almost certainly a lie, but is regularly offered as the ultimate passive-aggressive “We are not going to honor our promises” statement/excuse.  I’ve looked at hotel franchise agreements in the past, and most times they clearly oblige the franchisee to honor all company policies and promotions.  That’s exactly as you expect – what is the point of a promised benefit if in reality, it isn’t a promise, nor a reality, at all?  What is the point of going to a name-brand hotel if it doesn’t offer a consistent level of service?

Imagine going to a McDonalds and finding that their Big Mac didn’t have any lettuce – would the McDonalds corporate office say “We’re sorry, that’s a franchise store and we can’t control what they put in their Big Macs”?  No, not in a million years would they ever say that!

Yes, this lengthy ramble is actually heading somewhere.  It is to introduce you to this article that reports on a terrible series of disappointments as Marriott branded properties try every trick in the book to get out of their obligation to give some frequent guests free breakfasts.

Shame on Marriott.  If they’re not willing to quality control their franchisees, they’ll find that unwillingness is increasingly matched by former valuable and loyal frequent guests who are not willing to stay at Marriott properties in the future.

Most of all, I encourage yourself to treat hotel frequent guest programs the same way I treat airline frequent flier programs these days.  Unless you’re a truly frequent flier/guest, abandon any thoughts of loyalty to any hotel chain.  Tactically choose the best hotel for you based on location, services and amenities, and costs, for each stay.  Use services like Priceline and last minute hotel booking sites to get the best deals possible if you’re slightly flexible about location.

You’ll invariably end up with better stays and lower costs than if you stick to a single brand.

If you go to particular cities regularly, create direct one-on-one relationships with your preferred hotel in that city.  Get to know the Sales Manager or General Manager, and negotiate your own special corporate rate and upgrades/amenities/whatever.

Apple Did Something This Week, I Think

Apple’s new product releases, in the Job era, were matters of highest drama, with an enormous build up in excitement and anticipation, followed by announcements of amazing new products that as often as not exceeded expectations, and presented in impressive lavish staged events.

These days, it seems the company has been grateful to seize on the excuse of Covid as a way to change its presentation/release format.  Instead of live presentations in a theater to an audience, they now stream pre-produced heavily edited video, and while it is sort of fun to see some of the special effects being used, the reality is there’s a lot more flash but a lot less substance.

Earlier this week Apple announced new iMac computers and iPad tablets, and some other things too, I think, but don’t really recall, because none of it really made much impact.

The desktop iMac computers seemed to have as their main two features the fact the screen was thinner than ever before (does reducing 1/8″ of thickness really matter with a desktop screen?) and available in half a dozen fancy colors instead of just white (is that the strongest feature in its favor – the color of its case?).

Yes, I had to keep wiping away the drool from the side of my mouth while watching the feature on the 12.9″ screened iPads – now with a ridiculous storage capacity of up to 2TB – but I also found myself wondering at how the iPad as evolved, from being “another screen” to now being an awkward “replacement screen”.

The first iPad (mine – part of the first shipment – still works well) was positioned as a new way of being connected, and doing some simple tasks in addition to browsing the web, email, reading books, watching videos, and chat.  It did all those things well.

But nowadays, with iPads twice the cost of the original iPads, they are necessarily being upsold as a replacement for a laptop.  Except that, they’re not.  Even the huge 12.9″ screen is too small – most of us have laptops with 15″ or larger screens on them.  It doesn’t have a keyboard, but you can get an add-on keyboard accessory for much more money, and it is awful to touch type on.  It doesn’t have a mouse.  It won’t work with external storage devices, other than via complicated kludgy workarounds.  And so on, through a whole list of limitations and compromises.

There’s a lot I didn’t agree about with Steve Jobs, but his original clear demarcation of “this is a phone, this is a tablet, this is a laptop, and this is a desktop computer” was clear, simple, and successful.  The new high-end iPads are trying to do too much, and fail.

Mercedes-Benz and Cadillac to Introduce New Electric Vehicles

Mercedes-Benz announced a compact electric SUV that will go on sale in the US some time next year.  It seems nice enough, although will initially offer a rather disappointing range of about 230 EPA-rated miles on a charge.  Very little is yet known about what form it will take in the US, or when it will be available.

Cadillac announced a new crossover electric vehicle, the Lyriq.  It will be released at some time next year as a 2023 model, and initially will come in only one configuration.  It is expected to come with over 300 miles of range per charge, and will be priced at $60,000.

The one thing in common between these two cars is neither of them will appear in the next twelve months.  That’s another year for Tesla to enjoy the lion’s share of the EV market, still unopposed.

And Lastly This Week….

Do you still have a landline?  If you do, that implies you’re older rather than younger.  And do you ever answer incoming anonymous calls?  If you do, have they ever been anything other than junk calls!?  This article predicts the end of landline phones – a prediction that has been made plenty of times before.  I’m not about to give mine up, although I’ll confess I have its number ring on my cell phone too.

Talking about the end of gadgets, I’m always fascinated with how products become rapidly adopted, integrated into a society’s life, and then, just as rapidly, disappear again.  Such as, for example, the Polaroid camera – a device that, to me, was about as close to magic as it ever came.  I particularly loved the beautiful SX-70 model, but even the more boxy/ugly/plastic ones were still magical with their instant gratification.

Whatever happened to Polaroid?  One day, everyone had one.  Then, the next day, no-one did any more, and I’ll wager that younger people wouldn’t even know what a Polaroid was.

Apparently, the company is still out there – well, the original Polaroid company, with 21,000 employees in its heyday in the late 70s and early 80s, went bankrupt in 2001.  A successor company went bankrupt in 2008.  The brand name was purchased in 2017 and the company revived yet again, and has just now announced a new model, what it claims to be the world’s smallest analog instant camera.

Will it sell?  I doubt it, and had to laugh, because I found myself thinking the exact opposite of what I used to think when first considering digital cameras.  Back then, a common concern was “how can I print these digital pictures out to share with other people”.  Now, the first thought I had when reading about this new tiny Polaroid, was “how can I digitize these pictures so I can email/share them with other people.”

If however you’d like to buy a larger gift for someone important in your life, Australia might have just what you might be wanting.  Particularly in these unsettled times, and with the possibility of further encroachments on our Second Amendment freedoms, what could be a more appropriate purchase than one’s own Black Hawk helicopter.

Indeed, you could outfit an entire squadron.  Australia is selling 27 of them.  We’re not quite sure if missiles are included in the price, but I’m sure if you were buying more than one, that could be negotiated.

Perhaps the most bizarre new piece of “Big Brother is Watching” is the revelation this week that the US Postal Service has been running a “covert operations program” to monitor social media posts.

I can only assume that someone at USPS failed to understand that a social media post doesn’t involve an envelope and stamp.  Why otherwise would the USPS – short staffed and struggling to meet service standards and absolutely not a high tech or intelligence-gathering organization – divert people away from their core business and now become yet another snooping-on-us agency?

Until next week, please stay healthy and safe





1 thought on “Weekly Roundup, Friday 23 April 2021”

  1. Loved your hotel comments, especially focusing in on Marriott. I am out of the country and discovered to my chagrin, that even though I am an Ambassador level member, because one of my room reservations was a discounted rate (bought on Bonvoy, I would point out), I wasn’t qualified to have “lounge access”, and the food/beverages that entails (and they have been drastically reduced, and the actual lounge space has been closed for nearly a year and moved to the lobby. The actual difference in room cost was something like $3 a day or so.

    I looked up the actual Terms on Bonvoy, and all of their “guarantees”, of any kind, only apply to North America (or more accurately US and Canada). Anywhere else and you’re begging for scraps.

    When I spoke to a manager, he informed me of this and when I asked about the constantly declining Lounge offerings, he stated that “they were in line with local market conditions”, in other words “the race to the bottom”.

    When I asked him why all the tables were so close together and fully occupied with non mask-wearing patrons for many hours, his comment was that, until the government specifically requires it, he has no responsibility to ensure 6 foot/2 meter spacing. So much for all that Marriott, “we take special Covid precautions for you” (yeah, you have a bored waitress wipe a table with a dirty rag once in a while, and have a thermometer at the door, congratulations).

    The longer I stayed, the more obvious it was all theater. Anyone who is loyal to a company these days, either as a customer or an employee, is not sensible.

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