Weekly Roundup, Friday 10 September 2021

A futuristic new city design, due to be developed in the US desert just as soon as the $400 billion in funding is secured. See article below.

 

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Good morning

I hope you had a lovely long weekend.  We had great weather here in the Pacific Northwest, and it seems lots of people headed to the airport and treated themselves to a short visit somewhere else.  As I discuss below, air travel numbers lifted for the weekend.

The main feature article this week touches on the implications of growing air travel numbers.  Not during the last 18 months of course, but in general, more air travel means a need for more airports, runways, and terminals, and surely nowhere more so than London, a city that has been struggling to resolve the at times terrible maxed out capacity and consequential delays and hassles at Heathrow for decades.  Currently Heathrow’s third runway plans are in limbo, but on Thursday Gatwick unveiled plans to sort of add another (ie second) runway to its airport.  What was going to be a paragraph of commentary grew to become a free-standing 3,450 word article.

I (self-evidently) find Britain/England/London’s struggle to give itself adequate airport facilities somewhere between funny-ridiculous/tragic and funny-haha, and am fascinated at the endless convolutions and non-action that has afflicted the London region, dating all the way back to 1946.  So there was plenty to write about, and I hope you find the article interesting.  It is below.

Also below is Thursday’s Covid diary entry.  It includes a “must read” article link; if you normally skip the Covid diary entries, please at least read this so you can be well informed about a controversy gripping the nation at present.  You never know, your life, or that of a loved one, might depend on the knowledge in that article and the decisions you make in response.  Sunday’s diary entry is online, here.

What else?  The London airport article ate into my writing time, so I’ll keep other things slightly shorter than usual today.  But please continue for :

  • US Air Passenger Numbers Rise Over the Long Weekend
  • EU Travel Update
  • Airport Fast Covid Testing
  • Clear Covid Pass
  • Is Your Airline For Sale?
  • Are Your Airplanes For Sale?
  • Another Type of Horrible Accommodation Fee
  • And Lastly This Week….

US Air Passenger Numbers Rise Over the Long Weekend

The number of people traveling in the US each day, compared to 2019 numbers, rose from about 76% previously to almost 86% over the weekend.

Surprisingly, Wednesday’s travel numbers (the most recent currently available) remained high, and we won’t know for sure what the new “normal” might be for another few days.  Stay tuned, I have daily updates every morning about 9am or so, Pacific time, on Twitter.

EU Travel Update

It is now a week and a half since the EU removed the US from their list of safe countries, and the reaction to that move by individual countries remains surprisingly minimal.

The Netherlands sow imposed a quarantine requirement on all US visitors, whether they are vaccinated, or tested, or not.  Everyone has to be quarantined.  Denmark has banned unvaccinated US travelers, and some other countries have too, and really, like it or not, if you’re going to travel, you really should be vaccinated first.  The last thing you want is to come down with the virus and be unable to return back to the US for a couple of weeks.

The most surprising change in policy was Sweden.  The country had been one of the most relaxed in all of Europe, with few if any mandatory social distancing type measures last year.  But they announced a blanket ban on all US visitors, even if you’ve been vaccinated.

We expect other countries will slowly make changes to their policies too.  The current good news is that since the long weekend, the US has been reporting dropping daily new Covid case numbers.  We’re still way higher than EU guidelines allow, but if the trajectory continues to be downward rather than upward (and that’s definitely an “if” statement), it is easier for countries to avoid imposing restrictions on US visitors.

Looking at things from the other side, this article advises that the inexplicable and embarrassing US ban on EU/UK visitors looks likely to stay in place at least until after Thanksgiving.

Airport Fast Covid Testing

One of the worst parts of international travel at present is the usual need for Covid tests within 72 hours/3 days of your flights.  That’s a hassle in the US, and doubly so a hassle in other countries, needing to find an approved tester, be tested, and get results, all in a narrow window of time before traveling back to the US.

So it is good news to read of a new test that might start to be offered at airports, giving results within ten minutes.  That would totally remove the hassle of being tested somewhere, somehow, prior to your travel.  But when this testing might become commonplace, and what the cost would be, remains unknown.

Clear Covid Pass

I got an email this week from the pharmacy that gave me my Covid vaccination, telling me they had now shared my records with the Clear company – the company that we probably best recognize as offering very expensive and not very useful “fast track” airport security lanes at some US airports.  Clear is now trying to add Covid screening services to events in general, it seems, and after a somewhat convoluted process, I now have an app on my phone that claims to show a QR code and my picture confirming my vaccination status.

Except that, after going through the entire process, including taking my picture three times, when I go to start to program again a day later, it doesn’t remember my earlier registration and details, and I have to start all over again.  What would have happened if the first time I discovered this was at an airport, hoping to board a flight?

“Frustrating” isn’t the word beginning with “f” that sprung to mind when I discovered this failure.  I’ll stick to clutching my scrap of paper certificate, and feel totally validated in never having the slightest interest in their totally overpriced and totally unnecessary not-very-fast-track lanes at airports.  If this is the best that private enterprise can do in the form of creating vaccine passports, I am not surprised that so many people are unenthusiastic about them.

Is Your Airline For Sale?

Should we be surprised that the Covid pandemic has not seen a new round of airline consolidation?  Certainly, in the US, the government rushed so much cash to the airlines that they all seem to be surviving well, with no “distress fire sale” type bargain prices/valuations.

Elsewhere in the world, there have been some closures and changes – Philippine Airlines this week went into a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, for example.  Other airlines have disappeared, for example, Norwegian, and Alitalia is about to finally close, with the “replacement” no longer sporting the Alitalia name.  Other airlines are grimly hanging in there, hoping for better times “real soon now”.

Perhaps it has been the lack of a clear duration for the pandemic that has made it hard for airlines to understand their situation, and for opportunists to react and chase down low-hanging fruit.

Nonetheless, it was interesting to read this week that Easyjet had to fight off a suitor this week.  But now Easyjet has publicly announced the rejection of one takeover bid, we wonder if more bids will start to come in.

How long before some airlines start accepting what might be low-ball offers?

Are Your Airplanes For Sale?

Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryanair, while much quieter for the last five or more years than before, remains one of the more opinionated and less filtered of airline CEOs, and can still be relied upon to occasionally say something controversial.  This week he reprised something he has done before, and loves to do – throwing his weight around and bullying Boeing.

Boeing has the not entirely unalloyed pleasure of currently being Ryanair’s sole supplier of planes, and a bit like Southwest, Ryanair has a fleet almost entirely made up of 737s (they currently also have some A320s as a result of their purchase of Lauda Air, now Lauda Europe).  Ryanair has 438 737s in service at present, and another 208 on order.

Apparently O’Leary has been trying to negotiate a good price for some 737 MAX10 planes, but has not received what he deems to be an acceptable price offer from Boeing, so erupted in the press and blamed Boeing, suggesting their prices were too high for the market and the plane.  If that is so, and he truly believes it, I’m sure Airbus would be delighted to make him an A320/321 offer.  To some of us, it sounded more like a sulky child complaining that his mother wouldn’t buy him more candy.

We expect to see a Ryanair order for the MAX10 at some future date, with O’Leary boasting that he got the planes at a fantastic price, and Boeing smiling enigmatically.

Another Type of Horrible Accommodation Fee

I’ve commented before about how the mandatory “resort fee” that some hotels love to add to their nightly room rate can sometimes be higher than the published room rate itself (ie in Las Vegas), a ridiculous scenario that clearly shows the unrealistic and rip-off nature of the fees.

But it isn’t just “normal” hotels that are embracing unfair fees.  Airbnb and VRBO are starting to do the same, and here’s an example where four different fees, plus lodging tax, added up to almost as much as the headlined nightly rate.

We can understand the pet fee as applying to a specific additional service, and of course, the lodging tax can’t be avoided, but what’s with “Property Damage Protection”?  Does that mean you are free to smash things?  For that matter, why should we, the renter, pay the commission to Airbnb, rather than the property owner, as is the case with normal hotel bookings?  The cleaning fee, at $100, is clearly a profit item rather than a genuine pass-through cost, too.

I remember the early days of both VRBO and Airbnb, when you could get to stay at great places, at great prices.  Now it seems the places are not so special, and the prices even less special.  For one or two people, and a short stay, a hotel room is once again usually less expensive and more than adequate.  A bit like taxis and Uber/Lyft.  The pricing advantage Uber/Lyft initially offered has all but entirely evaporated; indeed, when they have their “surge pricing” on, regular taxis can be cheaper.

In both cases, the reasons are similar – the providers of Airbnb rentals and Uber driving services have changed from non-professionals, from people simply making a bit of spare money from an underused asset, and now are “professionals” who do it full time and require a fair return.  People buy apartments – sometimes very many of them – and furnish them not for their own use, but to the lowest standard they can get away with, and rent them for the most they can get through Airbnb.

And Lastly This Week….

The airplane fashion police strike again.  On the other hand, it is probably not entirely inappropriate to wish that some passengers had slightly better dress-sense….

One of the growing throng of “air taxi” developers put a promoted tweet onto Twitter boasting of their company and plane-to-be and asking people to follow their account.

Their tweet created a lot of comments.  Normally that would be a marketer’s dream, but look at the comments.  They’re almost entirely negative.  Maybe the market for VTOL flying taxis won’t be as great as the developer hopes it might be.

Missing the “good old days” of air travel, complete with “living room comfort” on board sleek “modern” planes?  Here’s a lovely poster probably dating to the early/mid 1950s.

Talking about the good old days, remember when there were only one or two, or even ten or twenty different television channels, and no internet streaming?  Life was easier then – turn the tv on or off, no endless agonizing over what to watch.  How much time do you spend trying to decide what to watch?  Possibly more than you think.

Still on the good old days, I have always been fascinated by the phenomenon of musicians and music that shoots to the top of the charts, then fades away, with the musicians or song writers never repeating their one enormous hit.  It is a bit like that with software companies, too.

Here’s an interesting list of “one hit wonders” from the 1960s.  How many of them do you remember?

How does Amazon make most of its money?  Invisibly, for most of us.  Their cloud computing services, known as AWS (Amazon Web Services) is believed to be by far the biggest profit center in their overall company.

Here’s a fascinating look at AWS and how it makes money.  AWS is enormously larger than any of the other providers of cloud computing services, which is probably what allows Amazon to be aggressive in its pricing (ie, to price high rather than low).  AWS also has a subtle way of “encouraging” customer loyalty – the amount of work required to move a computer program from AWS to any other type of hosting environment is enormous, due to the way AWS is designed.

To be fair, while AWS is profitable for Amazon, it is also generally good value for its customers, offering computing resource at much lower costs, and with much easier growth paths, than if a company had to buy all its own equipment.

Talking about Amazon, its “automatic/cashier-less” shopping service is now going to start appearing in Whole Foods stores too.  Meanwhile, a similar concept has opened in Dubai.   The most amusing comment about this new store :

But Carrefour stressed that human workers, at least in the short-term, would still be needed to “support customers” and assist the machines.

“There is no future without humans,” Weiss said.

I wish I were as certain as Mr Weiss about that.

And talking about futuristic things, here’s an interesting article that doesn’t really reveal any secrets, even though its heading teases “Inside Skunk Works, Lockheed’s super-secret weapons facility“.

A futuristic thing that failed to materialize (may I say “I told you so”) was the always unrealistic notion of a former cruise-liner being repurposed into becoming a floating high-tech “city”.  Unrealistic – yes, most definitely.  But a fascinating concept, and interesting failure – also, most definitely.  Here’s a great article that tells the story.

Another futuristic city concept seems to have slightly more chance of success, although I wish they weren’t planning to set up in an unappealing (and water-starved) desert location.  With a $400 billion budget, we guess the concept, while intriguing and even potentially sensible, is definitely going to be “pending subject to financing being secured”.  We love the idea of a 5 million person city where everyone is never more than 15 minutes from their workplace/school/amenities.

The best of French cuisine, according to this person, is to be found not in its Michelin starred restaurants, but in its fast-food joints.  I have to note that I’ve generally found mid-priced French restaurants to be unremarkable in terms of food quality, no matter how much the French try to pretend them to be special.

Truly lastly this week, it has happened before, and probably will continue to happen in the future, but every time it does, I’m again amazed at the lengths some people will go to avoid missing their flight.

Until next week, please stay happy and healthy

David.

 

 

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