Weekly Roundup, Friday 2 July 2021

The lovely Amacerto gracefully slicing through the still waters of the Danube – our home for a week during our December Danube Christmas Cruise (see below)

 

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Good morning

I hope you’re looking forward to Sunday and some wonderful Independence Day celebrations.

Sadly, the traditions of hundreds of years have recently gone out of fashion, with some communities making it illegal to show American flags, for fear of offending illegal aliens who inexplicably hate the country they’ve smuggled themselves into (and equally puzzlingly, apparently offending some of us who choose to enjoy this country legally, too).  Even more communities have made it illegal to enjoy fireworks.  The same communities that are now happily pretending the country isn’t still losing 300 people a day to Covid deaths, and many more “injured” by long-lasting or permanent Covid side-effects, are using the fear of foolish people potentially harming themselves with fireworks as an excuse for why sensible people can’t enjoy them responsibly.  Why am I being told I have no choice but to accept the risk of an unmasked person coughing Covid all over me at the local supermarket, but am told I can’t let off some fireworks because I might harm myself?

The fireworks hate isn’t confined to just the US.  I see London scaled back its New Year fireworks last year not only because of Covid, but also “to save the planet”, because letting off fireworks releases carbon gasses, and so on.  I can’t start to guess at how infinitesimal an amount of carbon is released by a spectacular 20 minute firework display, compared to the carbon released on a single 737 fight up or down either US coast.

One of the things that puzzles me is the same killjoys who mean-mindedly try to constrain so much of what makes modern life enjoyable, in the name of “saving the planet”, develop total selective blindness and refuse to even consider that one of the most effective ways to save the planet would be to reduce population growth.  Apparently harming the planet by way of unrestrained procreation is an inalienable right not to be touched, even though all the environmental problems, such as they may or may not be, can be summed up in a single word – overpopulation.

Yes, I’ve been a tad more curmudgeonly than normal this week.  A skull-splitting toothache that started on Sunday can do that to one, or so I’m discovering.  Yet again, I find myself uncomfortably contemplating the curiosity that, as amazingly advanced as much modern medical practices are, when it comes to teeth, we return back to practices seemingly little changed in hundreds of years – abrasive drills, amalgams, and pliers to pull teeth out with.  Or, who knows – maybe in the decade since I was last dragged, screaming (variously in pain and terror) into a dental office, things have improved?  I fear I may be about to find out.

A few weeks back I had planned to write an article on Elon Musk’s wonderful seeming Starlink satellite internet service.  While writing it, I realized it needed to be in two parts rather than just one.  This week I turned to finish the second part, and realized that actually, it needs to be in three parts.  So, attached below is the second part of what is now expected to be a three part article, and hopefully I’ll get you the third part next week.

Also below is Thursday’s Covid diary entry, and Sunday’s is on the website, here.  Thursday’s entry is a bit shorter than normal, but has some important commentary within it.  The short summary though is simply stated – US case numbers are indeed, as I feared last week, inexorably rising again – we’ve now had ten days in a row of growing daily new case numbers.  But no-one seems to care.

And what else?  In between tooth “experiences”, I’ve prepared :

  • Air Passenger Numbers Keep Growing
  • Traveling to Europe This Summer?
  • December Danube Christmas Markets Cruise
  • United’s Big Airplane Splurge
  • Cowardly Southwest Looks the Other Way
  • Hotels Use Covid As an Excuse to Cut Back Service
  • More Electric Cars
  • The Camera Never Lies, But….
  • And Lastly This Week….

Air Passenger Numbers Keep Growing

The last seven days have seen average passenger numbers flying every day increase from an average of 1.96 million a day to an average of 2.02 million, and in terms of compared to 2019 numbers, from 75% to 79% of the 2019 numbers.

The holiday weekend will upset the averages for a while, of course, but at this point, it seems air travel is continuing to steadily increase.  As I mentioned last week, full flights are now the same normal occurrence as they were in 2019.  As are airport delays, as this article details.

The article quotes TSA officials as saying that air travel is skyrocketing.  Do you see any skyrocketing in the chart above?  Quite the opposite.  Air travel numbers have been slowly, steadily, and totally predictably growing.  Why are the TSA only now astonished by the “skyrocketing” growth – particularly because the statistics used for the chart above are collected and distributed by the TSA themselves!

Traveling to UK/Europe This Summer?

I think I’ve finally come up with the ultimate statement about traveling to the UK or Europe this summer.

If you’re planning on traveling to UK, abandon your plans.  There is still no cogent plan, or even plan to plan, for a methodology to have the UK allow vaccinated visitors to arrive without needing multiple Covid tests and a period of quarantine.  I’m sure that eventually the Brits will work something out, but I’m not sure when or what that will be.

In addition, they’re experiencing growing rates of new Covid cases (up another 70% in the last week alone), and while they still say they plan to end the remaining lockdown rules in mid-July, that would seem extremely foolish with the way their cases are so strongly increasing at present.  It is best not to plan for any summer travel to Britain.

If you’re planning on traveling to the Europe, bring your dates forward as much as you can, and get on a plane as soon as possible.  There are two reasons for saying that.

The first reason is that with the US starting to see growing case numbers again, and in particular, of the Delta variant, it is only a matter of time before Europe changes its policy and starts to restrict American visitors again.  Hopefully Europe might continue to make an exception for vaccinated visitors, but I can’t predict how, what, or when they will respond to our growing cases.

The second reason is that Europe itself is also starting to experience growing Covid cases again, too.  As you can see in the chart, this is particularly the case in Portugal and Spain, but many other countries are now in the early stages of a return to growing cases, which might mean either that Europe starts to block travel from some of its own countries (Germany is doing that already) and/or, the affected countries might start to block visits from other countries such as ours.

For both these reasons, it seems the next three months are unpredictable, and so, it is best to go there while you still can.

December Danube Christmas Markets Cruise

Although I’m concerned about the new few months, I’m much more confident that by the time we get to the other side of Thanksgiving, both the US and Europe will have a fresh handle on Covid containment, and a developed smooth solution for vaccinated visitors.

So our lovely cruise and tour in December remains appealing, and we now have nine Travel Insiders who have decided to treat themselves to this absolutely lovely pre-Christmas experience.  That’s a great core for a group already, and a nice collection of people, some of whom know each other, and all of whom seem like they’ll make great companions to share this experience with.

There’s still plenty of room to welcome you to join us, of course.  Whether you treat yourself to the full experience, with Prague and Budapest added before the cruise, and Liechtenstein and Zurich after the cruise, or simply the core cruise along the Danube from Vienna to Nuremberg, you’ll love every day and minute of it all.

Why not read through the details and explore the itinerary page over this lovely long holiday weekend – I’m sure the more you look at what is included and featured, the more you’ll want to come and join in.

United’s Big Airplane Splurge

An official order for new single aisle planes by United has been expected for some months, with the only uncertain elements being when it would be announced, and the actual makeup of the order.

United announced their order on Tuesday.  It was the largest airplane order United has ever made, for 200 Boeing 737 MAX planes and 70 Airbus A321 NEO planes.

Clearly Boeing got the better share of that deal.  Although United has both A319 and A320 planes, the airline favored Boeing and the 737 MAX with its choice, ordering 50 of the smaller MAX 8 planes, and 150 of the new MAX 10 planes.  The MAX 10 hasn’t yet started deliveries and isn’t expected to be certified by the FAA until some time in 2023.

United is clearly planning on aggressive growth over the next five years or so – it is expecting to receive 40 planes in 2022, 138 in 2023, and as many as another 350 (from this and earlier orders) spread over 2024 and some years subsequently through to 2030.

But Boeing shouldn’t be rejoicing too sincerely.  The 70 A321 planes could have been theirs to win as well, if only they had done something about developing a 757 replacement.  United already had 50 A321 planes on order, so in total, there are 120 planes that Boeing could have shared in or won entirely, but missed out on due to its inability to actually come up with a clear direction and specific new plane proposal for airlines to buy.

Here’s a good commentary on the order.

Cowardly Southwest Looks the Other Way

There have been an outpouring of articles in the last few months about greater rates of “air rage” and of passengers refusing to wear masks, and of course, of the dire consequences such people have suffered.

Whether one agrees with the underlying sense of mask mandates on planes or not, reality tells us that we are required to wear masks, and we all know the consequences of not doing so will be unpleasant, ranging all the way up to being frog-marched off the plane by a squad of armed police, charged with a federal crime, and banned for life by the airline.

We all know this, unless of course, the grey matter between our ears is concrete rather than brain, and it is a gentle form of Darwinism in action that the people with concrete rather than brain suffer the consequences.

One of the airlines that makes a great deal of “Luvving its passengers” is Southwest Airlines, but the curious contradiction has always been they are also one of the most unpredictable and likely to enforce imaginary dress codes if a flight attendant is offended by a t-shirt slogan or an attractive woman.

But apparently, even Southwest has a blind spot – if you’re a member of Congress, you can refuse to wear a mask on your flight from DC to Austin and not a single crew member will do anything other than ask if you’d like another drink.

Shame on Southwest Airlines for not evenly enforcing its mask wearing rule.  That’s truly outrageous and totally unfair.

Hotels Use Covid As an Excuse to Cut Back Service

Now that’s about as unsurprising a heading as there ever is, isn’t it.

Covid has provided hotels with a perfect excuse to cut down on staff – ostensibly for the safety of guests.  To reduce the frequency of housekeeping visits, sheet changes, etc.  And to provide automated check-in services, all for “guest safety and convenience”.

This article talks about such things, and other abominations such as food vending machines as if they are good things, and offers up nonsensical justifications.

While I’m no great lover of forced small talk, and of long waits in line to check in, I also enjoy a bit of human interaction, a chance to perhaps schmooze the front desk person in the hope of getting a better room, a chance to get some local knowledge about places to eat at (and to not eat at) and so on.  It is nice to have the option, to either be processed through the check in speedily and without human contact, or to slow down, pause, and linger a bit.

This recent article by Chris Elliott “How To Get A Room At A Sold-Out Hotel” talks about how to use the human element to best advantage.  It certainly is hard to try and persuade a computer to give you a room for the night when it is telling you the property is full (but not so hard if you have a good relationship with hotel management, because “full” is invariably a relative rather than absolute term).

More Electric Cars

I continue to marvel at how the mainstream auto manufacturers continue to generously give more and more free advantage to Tesla by not releasing competing cars.  The latest act of puzzling kindness comes from Honda, who have finally announced their plans to release their first ever battery-electric car, to be called the Prologue.

But, why on earth are they waiting until 2024 to bring the vehicle to market?  That’s almost three years from now.

Also announced this week was Tesla’s plan to introduce yet another new car model – in 2023.  This is a new model vehicle that Tesla doesn’t even have a name and probably not a finished design for (other than to describe it as a hatchback), but which Tesla tells us will be made in China and sell for less than $25,000 (here in the US), creating a new low price point that is sure to be as outstandingly popular as was their Model 3 with its notional $35,000 price point (and currently priced from a low of $39,990 plus $1,200 delivery fee but more commonly sold in configurations from about $60,000 and up).

Now, for sure, the Tesla 2023 promise has to be considered with open-mindedness, but the point is that while Honda continues without a single EV model all the way until early 2024, Tesla currently has four models in production and is introducing perhaps three more models between now and the first ever Honda model.

As I’ve often said, Tesla’s success isn’t as much its brilliance as it is the incredible apathetic incompetence of the rest of the auto industry.

The Camera Never Lies, But….

Now there’s a phrase long since obsoleted by technology – these days the camera can lie most convincingly, especially after a bit of Photoshop manipulation.

China seems to have taken this concept to its logical conclusion, creating an entire destination that is nothing more than a series of staged photo opportunities.  I guess it is a bit like a Potemkin village (pronounced “Pa-TYOM-kin”, by the way), a town that was sadly lacking in tourist appeal, but which wanted tourists and the money they bring.  So, if you don’t have it, fake it, at least in China – and, in brutal truth, in much of the rest of the world and their tourist attractions, too.

That reminds me of when I was selling travel to Australia and New Zealand.  I had one couple come in, and I suggested, while they were in the Cairns area, that they should visit the excellent Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Center.  The woman sneered, looked down at me, and exclaimed “Oh, no!  That isn’t genuine, it is artificial.  We want to see real true Aboriginal culture, and attend a real corroboree, not something touristy like that!”

I put on my “look of intelligent uncertainty” and wondered how to explain to her that “real true Aboriginal culture” takes place on an unscheduled basis, hundreds of miles from roads or civilization, and to which visitors are absolutely excluded….

And Lastly This Week….

Here’s one of these “tell all” stories that really doesn’t tell much at all, although there might have been one or two things I didn’t know before – “Confessions of a flight attendant“.

I was excited and appreciative about the new Windows 11 release last week – excited about its possible new features and maybe slightly faster performance, and appreciative that Microsoft is allowing it as a free upgrade.  But now we all know a bit more about it, some of my appreciation may be misplaced.  Unless you have a fairly recent computer, it will probably not meet the hardware requirements to qualify for the upgrade, and indeed, one reader pointed to his fairly new and high end computer that is also failing to pass Microsoft’s upgrade check.  As for my historic monster, it is sadly way too old, so rather than having Win11 possibly give the computer a new lease of life, it seems like it will accelerate the need to replace it, and for me to buy both a new computer and therefore also, a new copy of Windows 11.

Clever Microsoft…..

Los Angeles is currently not the worst city for traffic in the nation.  Covid has changed the rankings, as shown in this article, but with the lessening of Covid impacts, LA may make a comeback for whenever such things are next ranked.

Whatever traffic might be or become, I do not expect “flying cars” will ever be a solution, but this article believes otherwise.  It boldly suggests that flying cars will be a “reality” by 2030.  For sure, the term “reality” is vague, but even so, I’ll wager that if both you and I are still driving vehicles of any sort by then, the vehicles we have will not be flying cars.

Even more unlikely is the claim that flying cars would cut vehicle emissions.  Planes/flying cars will always require more energy to travel anywhere than a car.  A car doesn’t have to fight gravity.  A plane does, and the energy cost of fighting gravity is a large part of the total energy expenditure that a flying vehicle requires.  Maybe what the person means is “a new battery powered flying car will emit less “bad stuff” than an old gasoline powered car does at present” but that’s not fair – the comparison should be between a flying car in 2030 and a state of the art Tesla of the same year.

Also talking about traffic, it seems increasingly plain that Elon Musk’s tunnel under the Las Vegas Convention Center will underwhelm and not perform as projected.  That’s a totally unsurprising finding to most of us, of course.  This article has plenty of details about the extraordinary shortfalls between original promises and present realities of the system.

Last week I asked if you knew which airport has three different three-letter city codes assigned to it.  No-one replied.  The answer is the airport with the glorious name that could only happen in Europe – the “EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg Airport”, with codes EAP, BSL and MLH.

The airport operates in France, almost on the border with Switzerland, and a special treaty creates a “corridor” for travel through France to Switzerland, so it is possible to land at BSL airport and clear Swiss customs (at the airport) and enter Switzerland without ever formally going through France.  You can also land at MLH airport and clear French customs and enter France, or you can choose EAP and do whatever you like as well.

I hope you’ll have a great long weekend, with or without flags, bunting, and fireworks.  But hopefully for sure with some great weather, maybe some outdoor barbequed food, some friends, and perhaps even some “suds” – adult libations.

Until next week, please stay healthy and safe

 

David.

 

 

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