Weekly Roundup, Friday 18 June 2021

The Christmas Markets in front of the Vienna Town Hall – thought to be the largest in Europe, possibly in the entire world.

 

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Good morning

Last week saw the release of this year’s Christmas Markets Cruise along the Danube, with a wonderful pre-cruise option to Prague and Budapest, and a rare post-cruise option to Liechtenstein and Zurich.  Five people have already rushed to sign up, including one person who will be on her fourth cruise, and another on their third (and another on their second).

Please do check out the details of the cruise here, and choose to come along and join us on what promises to be a wonderful pre-Christmas experience.

The annual Amazon Prime Day sale is about to be unleashed on us, starting Monday morning 21 June at one minute past midnight, Pacific time, and ending at one minute before midnight on Tuesday night, 22 June – so basically two full days.

Amazon started offering super special deals for “one” day only, designated their Prime Day, back in 2015.  We’ve now come to understand some of what to expect in a typical Prime Day sale.  For example, almost certainly, there will be big discounts on Instant Pots – my recommendation being not to pay extra for one that includes an air fryer function.  (I know this because, ahem, I did pay extra for the air fryer option!)

And also, for example, there are sure to be big discounts on Amazon’s own electronic items, and in particular, their Alexa Echo speakers.  It is only seven years since the first Echo unit was released, and five years since the first practical/affordable Echo Dot unit appeared, and after the first two slow years, there’s been an ever faster pace of new products being released, and buying a unit becomes a more and more complex issue.

Should you get an Echo, an Echo Dot, an Echo Plus, an Echo Studio, an Echo Sub, an Echo Show, or any of the other Echo products?  Which is the best and worst, and why?  What are clever uses for them that not everyone thinks of, but which are easy and helpful to add?  How many do you need?

I’ve been working on answers to all those questions, but this definitive guide is not quite complete, so rather than rush it out inadequately this morning, I’ll send it to you on Sunday, in time for your Prime Day shopping decisions on Monday and Tuesday.

Attached today is Thursday’s Covid Diary entry, with some great content.  Sunday’s can be viewed online, here.

What Else?  Please continue on for :

  • Air Passenger Numbers Slowly Rising Again
  • European and British Visitor Admission Policies
  • Boeing’s 787 Future Not Too Bright
  • Naughty Air Canada – Lucky US DOT
  • Easyjet Moving Flights from UK to EU
  • Back to Normal in France….
  • And Lastly This Week….

Air Passenger Numbers Slowly Rising Again

As you can see, the last week has seen small growth and no drops each day in air passenger numbers.  Not apparent in the chart is the record number of passengers last Friday and Sunday.  Friday was the first day that passenger numbers exceeded 2 million since the slowdown started in March 2020, then the 2.029 million record on Friday was almost immediately broken on Sunday, with 2.097 million.

Sunday’s number also represented 90.4% of the 2019 passenger number, this being the first time that a single day passenger count exceeded 90% of the same day in 2019.  It was very much a one-off high, though – the day before was 66.5% and the day after was 68.2%.

The airlines are doubtless happy to see passenger numbers climbing inexorably up again.  Soon their attention will start to turn to “yield optimization” – ie, raising ticket prices as much as they can without turning people away.

European and British Visitor Admission Policies

I announced, a week ago, that I felt it necessary to cancel this year’s three British tours, slated for August and September, due to the lack of certainty about the virus situation in the UK and what that could mean in terms of opening up/locking down, and also, most of all, due to the current inability for tourists to travel to the UK, and those who do get permission need to be quarantined upon arrival.

Monday this week saw the announcement by the UK Prime Minister that he was delaying the relaxation of current lockdown measures for another month until 19 July.  There is no guarantee as to what will happen on 20 July, and with the UK’s daily new Covid case numbers steadily increasing for the last few weeks, just maintaining the status quo in terms of social distancing restrictions is unlikely to deliver a fast and certain solution.  Britain is racing to vaccinate more people to build up more of a barrier to the virus, but as you’ll see in the Covid diary article, the race to vaccinate more has actually seen steadily dropping rates of daily vaccinations rather than increases.

So, a week later, and I’m not second-guessing the difficult decision a week ago to cancel the tours.

On the other hand, the EU has announced that American visitors will be welcome to visit Europe.  Details of what we will have to do/show/prove to qualify for admission remain unclear, but there is a thought this information might be advised as soon as today.  At the same time, the EU announced that the UK would have stricter admission requirements imposed on their citizens.

This has caused the UK to start to make pensive statements about “not wanting to get left behind” and to start considering how they can allow their own citizens to travel to other countries and easily return.  Hopefully once they’ve that sorted out, extending the plan to allow American visitors to the UK becomes easier to add on to the framework.  But what and when?  As former Prime Minister Theresa May pithily points out, “It’s incomprehensible that one of the most heavily vaccinated countries in the world is one that is most reluctant to give its citizens the freedoms those vaccinations should support”.

So, the actual bottom line?  Another week has passed, and while the torrent of good news from the EU increases with every passing day, the specific details of what is required to be admitted to the EU remain as elusive now as they were a week ago.  In the UK, while they now acknowledge that possibly some allowance could be made for vaccinated visitors, there are no details or timelines yet expressed.

It must be lovely to be a politician and to never have to worry about deadlines or time pressures…..

Boeing’s 787 Future Not Too Bright

Although it got off to a very shaky start (do you remember the battery box fires and the grounding in 2013?), the 787 has steadily sold subsequently and now has received almost 1,500 orders (for a while it was over 1,500 before cancellations over the last year), of which just over 1,000 have been delivered and 484 are in backlog.  That makes it one of the best selling wide-body planes, but that is a fairly empty statement because there have not been a lot of widebody planes (for Boeing, there are four – the 747, 767, 777 and 787) and almost all have been or promise to be good sellers (the most notable two exceptions being the Airbus A340 – it received a mere 380 orders, being unfortunately timed right at the turning point where four-engined planes were being superseded by twin-engined planes under new more liberal ETOPS flight regulations, and the A380, a plane that was tragically bigger than the airlines’ ability to conceive and benefit from).

But what of the 787’s future?  Boeing announced it was closing the assembly plant in the Seattle area, and moving all 787 production to its troubled South Carolina plant – a vivid example of how, with labor, “you get what you pay for” seems to still be true.

Here is an interesting analysis of the future potential of the 787.  The gist of the article is hinted by its headline – “Boeing CEO’s Dreamliner Recovery Prediction Is a Pipe Dream“.  Not only has the virus impacted on the type of air routes best serviced by the 787, simultaneously depressing demand for more 787s and also creating an inventory of available-for-sale used 787s, but the Airbus A321 large size narrow-body plane is threatening both to continue cleaning up the opportunities Boeing is leaving on the table by not having replaced either their 757 or 767 model planes, and is also starting to nibble into the lower parts of the 787 sweet spot too.

There are really no healthy elements in Boeing’s future, if one just extends from the present.  It desperately needs both a 737 replacement and a 757 replacement.  The new 777X models seem to be more or less on hold, and the 787 is stuck in a market downturn.

Naughty Air Canada – Lucky US DOT

Many airlines have been as slow as they can get away with, over the last year, when it comes to refunding passengers for cancelled flights.  The US DOT requires airlines to refund passengers within seven days (if the flights were paid by credit card) and within 20 days if paid by cash.

Air Canada apparently simply decided it would not refund passengers at all.  The US DOT says it estimates at least 5,110 US passengers have had to wait 5 – 13 months to get a refund from AC, and so has issued a notice of its intention to fine the airline $25,550,000 – ie, $5,000 for every delayed refund.

We’re delighted to read the DOT’s self-congratulatory announcement, although we’ll believe the reality of this proposed fine when we see the money change hands.  It is common to see DOT fines being at least halved, and sometimes reduced still further based on good behavior, and much of the amount fined being used by the airline for things like “staff retraining” to “ensure the problems don’t repeat” rather than paid to the DOT.

Also worthy of note is that not a penny of this would go to any of the passengers who actually suffered the consequences of the airline keeping their money for months.  If indeed the DOT does take any “real” money from AC, it gets to keep the money itself.

It has always struck me as strange that the person who suffers the loss is not the person who gets compensation in the case of US airline rule enforcements.  At least in the EU, if the airline delays or cancels a flight, they have to pay the passengers compensation, not the EU equivalent of the DOT.

We were pleased to note a vague reference to the DOT investigating other airlines with a view to possibly threatening them with fines too.

Easyjet Moving Flights from UK to EU

A tangible indicator of the harm Britain is gratuitously inflicting on itself is this story of Easyjet moving some of its planes from Britain to Europe, due to the inability to operate flights from Britain to Europe, and the growing ease of flying within Europe.

Back to Normal in France….

So, in France, virus case numbers are down, and the borders are opening.  Summer is starting, and July promises to be good for tourism, both domestically and internationally.

You know things are getting back to normal when this tempting set of factors results in French transport workers’ unions announcing their plans for summer strikes.  Who ever thought that a return to normal would be so bitter-sweet!

And Lastly This Week….

The Loch Ness region of Scotland is truly beautiful.  At the south end of the lake, there’s the lovely little town of Fort Augustus, half way up are the evocative ruins of Urquhart Castle, and at the top is “the capital of the Highlands”, the city of Inverness.  Tree covered steep hills come down to form “The Great Glen” on both sides of the long narrow loch, and the loch itself is peaty in color due to the water washing over the peat on its way to the loch.  Yachts, motor launches, even small cruise ships steadily sail up and down the loch because it is part of the Caledonian Canal running between Fort William and Inverness.

But of course, for many of us, what makes Loch Ness most special is its monster.  There are two interesting exhibits, competing for tourists side-by-side in the town of Drumnadrochit, not far from Urquhart Castle, and a number of different companies offer cruises on the loch, complete with echo/depth sounders optimistically scanning for submerged beasts and many tales of the monster.  It is hard to think of a more appropriate setting for a possibly prehistoric monster to live.

If, like me, you’re intrigued by the entire Loch Ness monster story, you’ll find this a good read.

We’ve never understood how Microsoft makes money from Windows 10, and have greatly appreciated their strange approach.  When it came out seven years ago, it was free to just about anyone/everyone with a copy of Windows 7 or Windows 8, and the up-until-that-time cycle of new versions, each one of which cost money to buy, was abandoned, with Windows 10 steadily evolving in a process that surely represented lost opportunities to otherwise sell upgraded versions of Windows.  Microsoft is now on the verge of announcing Windows 11, and has said it will stop supporting Windows 10 in 2025.

I’ll be sad to see the end of what has been a wonderfully reliable operating system, and definitely the best value piece of free software I’ve ever enjoyed.

These thoughts were evoked by this article, and I was also surprised to see the article doesn’t seem to acknowledge that Windows 10 was the successor not to Windows 7 (as it claims) but to the awful Windows 8.  Definitely a product best forgotten, but nonetheless, surely the historical record should be kept correct.

Talking about products, this article suggests there will be four models of this year’s new iPhone 13 (the headline says seven, but the actual article text talks about four).  But – wait!  Will Apple really call its next model iPhone the “13”?

There have been a spate of articles over the last few weeks about how unruly passengers are becoming more prevalent than ever before.  Of course, we’ve seen such articles every year or two for decades, although curiously, I don’t recall ever seeing an article with a screaming headline “Air Rage a Thing of the Past” for years when numbers drop rather than rise.

Here’s an article about a recent act of air rage that seems very much like so many other such situations, except for a twist.  The offending unruly passenger who needed to be subdued so severely he required hospitalization is – oops – a flight attendant.

Still, the flight attendant was lucky.  In the past, it has not been unknown for unruly passengers experiencing enthusiastic “subduing” to die as a result of their experience.

Here’s a new YouTube video that came out yesterday, recommending a couple of invaluable apps for travelers – toilet locator apps.

 

Truly lastly this week, your flight is coming in to land, and you glance out the window as the plane is on its final approach.  The picture on the left is what you see.

Where in the world are you?  What airport, in what country, are you about to land in?  I’ll advise the answer next week.

Until next week, please stay healthy and safe

 

 

David.

 

 

 

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