Weekly Roundup, Friday 13 August 2021

New airline Norse Atlantic Airways shows off its livery – see article below

 

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Good morning

And welcome to a Black Friday, happily the only one of the year.

A happy birthday, to the internet, now 30 years old.  Well, to be more precise, to the world wide web and the concept of a common form of creating documents with shared links between them, what became known as hyperlinks on pages, with the first ever such document being published on August 6, 1991.

Ten years and a couple of months later, The Travel Insider appeared, and my life has never been the same since.  In the best possible way, of course!

It is another great collation of goodies for you today, as I hope you’ll agree.  I’ve added another part to my “buying a laptop computer” guide, and also realized that instead of being a five part series, it really needs to be in six parts, with at least a single part to also consider some other matters if instead of a laptop, you’re buying a desktop instead.  This week’s part is below the roundup, more next week.

Also below, as has been the case in an unbroken series since early March 2020, is Thursday’s Covid diary entry – I see it to be the 230th article I’ve written on Covid.

As you may recall, I’ve been vaccinated, so I feel I can fairly criticize the vaccines without seeming too extremist in my thoughts,.  I’ve noticed with each passing week that not only is the preponderance of new articles cropping up all over seeming to trend more negative about the vaccines, but so too is my own perceptions of things.  I try and express some of these thoughts in the diary entry, while holding out the hope that perhaps one of the dozens of other vaccines, either approved and in use elsewhere already, or “coming down the pike” and possibly to be approved in the near future, might be better than the ones currently being given to most people in the US.

Sunday’s diary entry is online, here.

Plus, plenty more for you immediately below :

  • Air Passenger Numbers – Possibly Dipping Down?
  • UK/EU Travel Update
  • Reader Survey Results – When Will it End
  • Trans-Atlantic Developments
  • Flying Is About to Become Even Less Pleasant
  • Southwest Censors Another Passenger
  • Thoughts on Hydrogen Powered Vehicles
  • Disney’s Tourism Businesses Booming
  • And Lastly This Week….

Air Passenger Numbers – Possibly Dipping Down?

It is now over a month since the end of the “ripple” in the daily air passenger numbers caused by the July 4th weekend, and as you can see, numbers have remained remarkably unchanging during that entire time.

If you study the chart carefully, you might wonder if the line is starting to ever so slightly dip.  Maybe it is, but only by the smallest of amounts, and it is impossible to say if it is anything more significant than random daily variations.  But the airlines themselves are starting to get a bit spooked, and they of course see both the actuality of the numbers of passengers boarded and also what their forward bookings are looking like.

It is extremely hard to read any significance into forward bookings this year.  There’s nothing meaningful to compare them to.  You can’t compare them to “ordinary” forward booking patterns in 2019 or previous years, and neither can you compare them to this time last year, when we were all struggling to understand what was happening and likely to happen in the immediate future, while being distracted by an increasingly tense looming election, wondering about the reality of future vaccines, and so on.

So I’m not sure the airlines really have a clue what the future holds, but it seems their forward bookings, by whatever measure they’re using at present, are weaker than they wish, as this article suggests.

The number which should please the airlines though is this one :  281.4%.  That’s the current percentage of 2020 air passenger numbers – while we’re tracking just under 80% of the 2019 numbers, we’re at nearly three times the 2020 numbers.  So, the glass is half full rather than half empty.

UK/EU Travel Update

The EU is slowly rolling out some type of vaccine passport in more countries.  It seems most countries are being very accommodating of US vaccination certificates, at least for now.  But it would be great if our federal government could give us something more “genuine” and less-readily faked.  We generally see ourselves still as the greatest most advanced country in the world, but we’re having to show slips of paper with handwritten notes on them, whereas other countries are giving their citizens QR codes on their cell phones that can be instantly verified by checkers.  Even our neighbors to the north are introducing what they’re delicately terming a “digital document”.

The big news of the week was that US visitors may have almost been blocked from traveling to Europe. An EU meeting on Monday noted that US new Covid case numbers are four times the maximum allowed for countries with no-quarantine visitor privileges.  The meeting decided not to put the US on the restricted list yet, but to wait and see and review things in two weeks’ time.

My read of this is in several parts.  The first part is that maybe the EU is sending a message to the US – “Hey, guys, if you don’t hurry up and let us start traveling to your country, we’ll ban you from traveling to ours”.  Remember that the US astonishingly still has yet to allow travel from both the UK and EU.

The second part is that the EU is torn between wanting our tourist dollars, but not wanting our virus infections.  If they start to sense that US visitors, even after being tested negative prior to flying to the EU, are actually leading to appreciable numbers of new cases, then they’ll stop us coming in.

Another factor is that if tourism is buoyant to the point where their tourism operators aren’t desperate for every possible visitor, infected or not; maybe then they’ll start to get more picky and choosy.  Currently it seems tourism levels are at about 80% of normal, so Europe is getting closer to a point where it could consider cutting back on less desirable groups – such as American visitors.

There’s also the simple reality that in two weeks time, the summer travel season will be closer to ending, so a ban in two weeks time would be less harmful to their tourism businesses than a ban now.

Meantime, between Monday and Thursday, US new Covid case numbers have increased 11%, and Europe’s numbers have also increased, albeit by a much smaller number.  So we’re going higher and higher above their “maximum” number of Covid cases, and while the growth rate of new cases is dropping, the actual count of new cases is still steadily rising every day, and is unlikely to turn around before the next meeting on Monday 23 August.

It is impossible to guess their decision on Monday 23 August, but there’s a tangible degree of risk that there might be additional restrictions imposed on US tourists at that time.

So, I again find myself concluding that the future does not seem any brighter than the present, and if you’re thinking of going to Europe, head that way as soon as possible.

Reader Survey Results – When Will it End

Talking about the future, last week I asked you when you thought things would return back to “normal”.  I defined “normal” as being no masks, no social distancing, easy travel, no vaccine or testing fuss, and no daily headlines about new Covid cases, etc.  As always, many thanks to everyone who sent in their opinions.

This is the fourth time I asked the question.  I’m placing the results here alongside the results of the same survey a year ago.

 

As you can see from the two pie charts, in August 2020, most people expected we’d already be back to normal by now.  Less than a quarter thought things would not be normal by the end of 2021.

But now, in August 2021, with things very clearly not being back to normal, most people are anticipating a return to normal in about a year’s time, and just over 40% of people expect we’ll still be having problems after the end of 2022.  Just over one in every five responses (21%) was from someone expecting we’ll never return back to normal.

The earlier two surveys, in April and May of 2020, make for amusing viewing.  In April, the halfway point had half of respondents expecting we’d be back to normal by August 2020 – barely three months into the future, and 4% saying never.  In May, one month later, the halfway point had slipped from August all the way to the first quarter of 2021, and now 9% were anticipating never.  Interestingly, in August 2020, the percentage for never had dropped slightly down to 7%, and now of course, we’re at 21% fearing we’ll never be normal again.

What do I think?  I really don’t know, even with 230 Covid articles and way more than half a million words of analysis under my belt.

Perhaps many of you don’t know either, because I noticed there were far fewer responses this time than for any of the other three surveys.  That might mean you no longer care, or that I didn’t provide the correct answers for you to select, with the two missing options being “we’re already back to normal” and “I don’t know” – I left both off simply because they were never offered in the earlier surveys.

Hopefully you don’t believe we’re back to normal already – not with almost exactly 150,000 new Covid cases reported on Thursday, and familiar headlines reappearing about chaos and shortages in hospitals in some states, and the same never-ending arguments about masks, plus new arguments about vaccines.

My feeling is there will be three levels of normal :

(a)  When we personally feel safe and unthreatened by the virus

(b)  When the country as a whole feels safe and unthreatened (and the numbers support this)

(c)  When most of the world feels safe and unthreatened (and the numbers support this)

Some people are already at the (a) level of feeling safe/unthreatened, or perhaps now just fatalistically accepting of whatever will happen.

The rest of us won’t get to that point, and neither will the US and the rest of the world until three things happen :

(i)  A truly effective vaccine that gives us long-lasting very-high protection against all possible types of the virus

(ii)  A simple easy “take one pill every day for a week” at-home cure to clear up an infection if, for whatever reason, we get infected

(iii)  Due to the two preceding points, case numbers drop down to trivial levels and the country as a whole lifts all remaining restrictions and recommendations and everyone stops talking about Covid, nonstop, every day

I see no clear timeline for either a truly effective vaccine (it is an incontrovertible observable fact that the current vaccines are not working sufficiently well) or a simple easy cure.  As I said in yesterday’s Covid diary entry, there are currently 21 approved vaccines being used in some countries, 41 more going through their Phase 3 final trials, and another 92 in earlier Phase 1 or 2 trial stages.  Several are showing great promise, and I have to believe we’ll end up with much better than the urgently rushed-out mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) and the other two vaccines (J&J and AstraZeneca).

But when?  I notice that Pfizer and Moderna seem to have sucked all the air out of the room when it comes to progressing trials/approvals of other vaccines in the US.

You already know I view ivermectin and lesserly hydroxychloroquine as already being excellent treatments, and there are many other treatments showing promise in varying stages of trials.  But for some reason, the authorities are doing a great job of pretending IVM and HCQ don’t exist, and new experimental drugs have a long path to travel along through three stages of trialing, then documentation, approval, and so on.

Until we get better vaccines and easy cures, or until everyone in the country gets the virus (which, even at elevated levels of infection is unlikely for some years – currently only 11% of the US population has officially had the virus, and based on the current levels of new infections, it is unlikely the “unofficial” count is drastically higher), things won’t/can’t be normal.

So I guess I’m saying second half of 2022 as an optimistic “best case”, and perhaps late 2024 as a worst case.  I hope we’ll all still be here every Friday to see which/when the actual date proves to be.

Trans-Atlantic Developments

This week saw the inaugural JetBlue flight from JFK to LHR take to the air.

JetBlue is operating single-aisle A321 planes on the route, meaning they’ll break even with fewer passengers than needed on a larger plane such as an A330/787, and also the A321 is an airplane type that can be more readily repurposed on some of their other routes if needed, too.

It is a truly terrible time to start new trans-Atlantic service, isn’t it!  Mind you, it would have been worse a couple of weeks earlier.  Just a week ago, the UK finally allowed US visitors to travel to the UK, even though the US hasn’t yet reciprocated, and doesn’t allow Brits to travel to the US, meaning JetBlue’s potential market is currently all based in the US with no help from travelers from the UK side.

It seems JetBlue is not yet offering any unusual discounts on its flights, but that may happen soon enough.

The other good news is a small step forward with the “replacement” airline that is stepping in to sort of fill Norwegian’s now vacated shoes.  Known as Norse, the airline showed off its livery and revealed more about its operational model, with a focus on long-haul flights only, not the combination of long and short haul flights that Norwegian offered.

It too is choosing a difficult time to enter the industry, although the exact timing of when we’ll start to see their planes (which are actually former Norwegian planes) arriving at our airports is not yet clear, and sadly, in large part will be in the hands of the DoT and their glacial approval process.  Norse bravely hopes for the first or second quarter of next year.

Flying Is About to Become Even Less Pleasant

Some readers regularly reminisce with me about the “grand old days” of air travel, when everyone dressed up for the experience, and were on their best behavior.  Plus comfortable roomy seats, great food and service, and an overall pleasant undertaking.  We conveniently gloss over how expensive such things were, of course, when so reminiscing!

More recently, there has still been one “hold out” group of people who continued to dress well before flying – the flight attendants.  Even a decade ago, there were still formal and fastidious dress code requirements covering every part of a flight attendant’s appearance, especially so for women.

United has now announced it will “empower our employees to represent themselves in the way they feel most confident”.  They continued to gush “Our modernized appearance guidelines promote a supportive, encouraging, and positive environment for our employees and customers alike.”

People of “all” (not “both” but “all”….) genders can now wear nail polish and natural-looking makeup, and have hair of any length.  Visible tattoos – surely the ultimate in ugliness and a visible indication of bad life choices – will also be allowed.

United says it has created its new appearance (non)standards based on employee feedback.  A question to United – how many passengers did you ask?

At a time when the airlines claim to be struggling with unruly passengers, do they really think it will be easier to earn the respect of passengers when their staff present themselves like they’ve just come out of the ‘hood?

United also no longer addresses passengers as “ladies and gentlemen” – I’m not sure if that is because it no longer considers us to be ladies and gentlemen, or if it is terrified that in using this time-hallowed courtesy it will offend the teeniest tiniest percent of its passengers who affect some other “non-binary gender” and demand to be uniquely acknowledged.

I don’t want to link to any of the articles that so enthusiastically write about this new change by United.  But, trust me, it is real.

Southwest Censors Another Passenger

It is a surprising contradiction – the airline that claims it “Loves it Passengers” so much it made its stock symbol LUV has some of the most officious martinets of all airlines when it comes to enforcing often imaginary dress codes on its planes.

This time, the offending item was not a slogan on a t-shirt or a low-cut blouse.  It was instead an election sign referring to now President Biden, on a flight between Phoenix and San Diego – so probably a flight with a good number of Biden supporters on it.   The lady with the sign was told the sign was offending “many” passengers and she’d either have to leave it behind or fold it up so it couldn’t be seen on the plane.

You probably guess I didn’t vote for Mr Biden in November.  But no matter who I did or didn’t vote for, there’s no way in the world I – or any other fair minded American – could possibly be offended by and complain about a passenger quietly carrying an election sign with them for either candidate, in any Presidential election.  Sure, if the woman stood up in the middle of the plane, in the middle of the flight, waved it about, and started electioneering, that would not be appropriate.  But just carrying a sign as a souvenir of the campaign back home?

What is it with Southwest and their eagerness to impose ridiculous and unAmerican restrictions on its passengers?

Is the New Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Ready to Compete with the Apple Watch?

Earlier this year, Samsung announced it was discontinuing its in-house watch operating system and would return back to using Google’s Android-based Wear OS for its upcoming range of new smartwatches.

This was an exciting announcement.  While Google’s Android OS has caught up with Apple’s iOS in the phone world, and may even now be better than iOS in many respects, it has failed miserably at coming up with a credible competitor to Apple’s Watch hardware and software.  There seemed no reason why Google’s enormous resources, and the many hardware manufacturers using the Google Wear OS for their watches, couldn’t at the very least copy Apple’s capabilities and probably push ahead of Apple, but it never happened, and the Wear OS and the watches using it have languished, largely overlooked.

Samsung itself abandoned Google’s OS and created its own, which didn’t help the development of Wear OS at all.  So seeing Samsung’s “return to the fold” promised to create the necessary synergy between software/OS and hardware that could create a true Watch competitor.

Earlier this week, Samsung announced the first new watches that will use the Wear OS – its Watch 4 and Watch 4 Classic.  But, even though reviews and reviewers like here were no doubt as keen as I am to like the resulting combination, my clear sense is that we end up with a product that is still too much Samsung overlaid “bloatware” and too little actual Google Wear OS.

The watches do have some impressive new health capabilities, and I wryly noted that if you buy the watch in jurisdictions away from the FDA’s clutches, the watch will even include an empirical form of blood pressure monitoring too (something all watch/health device manufacturers are desperate to perfect).

Maybe the next generation of Watch 5 products might be better than these ones, or perhaps new products from other manufacturers will get the balance of features and interface more balanced.  I find myself uncomfortably reminded of the terrible Samsung Galaxy A71 phone I struggled with for a month or so before returning it, and the nonstop battle I had on it between Samsung and Android for control of the phone, its main apps and interface.

Bottom line?  For now, the Apple Watch remains your best choice, but only if you have an iPhone to pair it with, alas.

Thoughts on Hydrogen Powered Vehicles

For a while, there was intense competition between two different technologies – battery-electric powered vehicles and hydrogen fuel-cell powered vehicles.

That competition has unmistakably been won.  The BEV option triumphed over the fuel-cell alternative, and it is only government subsidies – primarily in California – that is keeping a very few hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles going.

In addition, the big lie of the hydrogen fuel cell has been exposed.  “Clean burning, giving out only water” sounded wonderful, but the greenies were probably tipped off by BEV advocates and finally got around to asking the awkward question – “Where does all this hydrogen come from?”.

The earlier bland statement of “hydrogen being one of the top ten most abundant elements on the planet” obscured the uglier reality.  Most commercial hydrogen these days is made from natural gas, with the byproduct of the hydrogen refining being CO2; and with both natural gas and CO2 not being exactly the most popular products on the greenies list, this created some unexpected soul searching on their part and some more equivocal expressions of support.

But, never mind the hydrogen source.  The really big problem has always been that using hydrogen is expensive – it costs appreciably more to drive a mile using hydrogen and a fuel cell than it does to drive the same mile in a petrol powered car.  The BEV cost per mile is much lower than both fuel-cell and gasoline powered vehicles.

So this article is reasonably correct in its negative perspective on hydrogen powered vehicles.

But…

There’s a transformative evolution of power generating in this country.  As we slowly add more and more “renewable energy” sources – primarily wind and solar – we are facing a growing “problem”.  Much of the time, these power sources are offering us more energy than we can use, and the surplus is currently almost completely wasted, and the ability of the wind/solar power plant to pay its way is harmed in the process.  On the other hand, at times of peak demand, such as the evening, when maybe the winds have died down and the sun has set, we have no renewable power available, meaning we can’t retire any of the traditional power generating plants, because we still need them for some of every day.

A lot of focus is therefore on finding ways to store the electricity that is being wasted, and use it at times when it is actually needed.  This is a fascinating field with some very creative solutions.

One of the ideas is to use the wasted and therefore “free” (or, at least, low-cost) energy to convert water into hydrogen (and oxygen).  This is more energy intensive than refining methane, so is not normally a preferred way to get hydrogen, but if you have a source of low-cost or free electricity, you then have a very much “cleaner” method to get hydrogen.

Plus, another benefit.  Instead of needing a large refinery or chemical plant to refine the natural gas, then trucks to ship the hydrogen to filling stations, you simply run a power line to the local filling station, and whenever there is spare power, it automatically turns on a local electrolyzer to make and store hydrogen on site, ready to be transferred to cars coming in for fill-ups.  That cuts out the transportation cost as well as the manufacturing cost.

This is still largely futuristic, but the technology is already available.  All that is needed is the abundant low-cost energy, and that is slowly appearing, too.

So, maybe the final chapter of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles has not yet been written.

Disney’s Tourism Businesses Booming

Apparently, people are flocking back to the Disney amusement parks, and also to their ships, too.  Disney reported a great quarter this week (for the quarter April/May/June), with a return to profit, and positive projections for the future, albeit with the obvious provisos mentioned.

Perhaps the surest sign of Disney’s return to tourism boom times is their new Galactic Starcruiser Star Wars themed hotel, opening in Spring next year, in Orlando.  A two night stay is priced at $4,809 for two, and if you bring a child with you, it goes up further to $5,299.  That’s only slightly less than a real space flight, isn’t it!  Perhaps the high price is designed to add to the realism of the experience?

Details here.

And Lastly This Week….

I mentioned a week ago that deliveries of Tesla’s Semi were being delayed again.  It seems that deliveries for their, ahem, “distinctively styled” Truck are also slipping backwards.

Here’s a great new service from the FCC – not yet fully evolved, but already showing promise.  They are creating a cellular coverage map that honestly and accurately shows the coverage for all the mobile carriers.

Because there’s a large element of “self-reporting” from the wireless companies to the FCC, there have been many complaints so far about, ahem, “overly optimistic coverage claims”, but hopefully that will be progressively resolved, making it easier for us as consumers to accurately, on a single site, see the coverage for each of the carriers and use that to decide which we should select.

This article expresses indignation and outrage that the owner of an Airbnb rental had an outside camera mounted on his dwelling, and used it to – errr, catch out the writer who lied about when an extra person would join them in the rental, and who further lied about not infringing the no pets policy.

Hardly the most sympathetic of scenarios to complain about an outdoor camera, is it.

Talking about indignation and outrage, which sadly seems to be the perpetual state of too many people these days, you’ve probably heard the expression “dumber than a rock”.  There’s only one thing dumber than a plain unadorned rock, and that is people who complain the rock is racist.

No, I’m wrong.  Even dumber than people who complain that a rock is racist are the people who capitulate and agree that, yes, the rock is racist, and arrange to remove it.

Sheeesh.  Am I the only person to see a wave of lunacy flooding over every aspect of our lives and the society we live in – lunacy that now means that if some idiot feels a rock to be racist, we must all rush to remove it?

Talking about lunacy, I’ve written a couple of times about the pile of dirt in central London that briefly opened as a tourist attraction before closing again, two days later – “The Mound” as it is termed, at Marble Arch.  At the time, it seemed it had cost £3 million to create this massively underwhelming and temporary “tourist attraction”, and I – and many others – marveled at how it was possible to waste that much money and get so little in return.

Breaking news, just out today, reveals the true cost is now thought to be £6 million.  That’s about $8.5 million.  Totally unbelievable.  Let’s just hope no-one deems it racist and demands its removal.

Until next week, please stay healthy and happy

 

David.

 

 

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