Weekly Roundup, Friday 24 September 2021

Times have certainly changed since the “Love Boat” (seen here in 1987 at the end of the television series). See article, below.

 

359 Supporters (+4 from last week) Target :  400  Please Join Here

 

Good morning

We’ve now completed the first week of our annual fundraising driveIf you’ve been a reader for a year or more, you already know that once each year I ask you to please choose to help support this website, and, most of all, to help support me, its sole resource/writer/everything.

You might infer, from the statistic above, that a mere four people responded.  Happily, that is absolutely not so at all.  Thank you so much to the many very kind people who have responded so positively over the last week.

The week has seen a lot of supporters renew their support for another year – doing so doesn’t increase the count, but stops it from dropping, plus there have been some brand new supporters choosing to respond for the first time.  Like all voluntary organizations, there’s a degree of “churn” each year – a polite way of saying that not everyone renews every year.  This not only underscores the great appreciation I have for people who do renew, but also the essential importance of you – potential new subscribers – choosing to become part of this movement.  Maybe, this year, it is your turn to become a supporter, too?

If we can continue to see a good proportion of last year’s supporters renew again for this year, plus bring in some more new supporters, we’ve a great chance of reaching the 400 target.  Please do your bit to helpYou’re free to choose whatever level of support you feel most comfortable with, it is all appreciated and helpful.

Everyone have access to an enormous wealth of resources on this site.  Almost 20 years of content, the best part of 1,000 different articles, and while some have now aged into oblivion (reviews of airlines and services now defunct, or of gadgets and gear long since superseded), many still remain relevant and helpful now, and of course, hopefully at a faster rate than things are aging, I’m adding new content all the time.  Supporters gain additional access to a little more, too.

It truly does take me way more than 40 hours every week to be incessantly seeking out stories, reading and researching material, sometimes buying, experimenting with, and reviewing items, maintaining technical aspects of the website and newsletter, and of course, the actual writing of the weekly roundup, the feature article, and the two Covid diary articles each week.  I can’t do this adequately as a part-time/spare-time activity – it demands and gets my full-time attention.  In return, I need some modest semblance of a living wage in order both to live and cover the business/operational costs of The Travel Insider.

I hope you get some value from my efforts.  Perhaps this is monetary, if I can help you make a good decision with something you’re about to spend money on; perhaps intellectually, if you learn something helpful, some new technique or strategy or concept; and perhaps simply some entertainment – a light-hearted laugh at the strange world we live in and the strange people we share it with.  Perhaps also, over the last 20 months, there’s been some peace-of-mind and reassurance about how to respond to and what to expect about this terrible Covid scourge afflicting us all to a greater or lesser extent.

I was mentioning reviews, above, as part of everything I do.  One of the sometimes substantial costs I have to cover is buying things to review for you, although sometimes readers help out with that, too.  One of the most popular article series has been my noise-cancelling headphone reviews.  Due to the very kind help of a reader, I’m expecting a pair of the brand new top-of-the-line Bose QC45 headphones to arrive today or tomorrow, and will get a review published next week.  I’ve now reviewed, let me see, the original Bose QC headphones, the QC2, the QC10, 15, 25, 35 and NC700 headphones, so this will be the eighth set of Bose headphones reviewed.  At prices now sometimes brushing close to $400, that’s a buying decision you don’t want to get wrong, and a major cost for me each time I have to buy a set of review headphones.  (Full disclosure – Bose sent me the first set of headphones for free.  But after my less than stellar review, they’ve refused to help out at any time in the 20 years that have followed.  The only reviewers getting free gear seem to be the ones who reciprocate with unquestioningly positive reviews.)  Please help me to continue helping you with honest, relevant, practical reviews.

For sure, your life would go on, little changed, if The Travel Insider disappeared.  But I hope you agree with me that in some small way, it is slightly preferable to continue to get your Friday morning Travel Insider fix.  And so, once a year – with that time being right now – I hope that you’ll choose to help ensure its continuance, by sending in some support.  Small or large, it is all appreciated, and, most definitely, is all neededThank you.

And now, on with the rest of the regular newsletter.  Attached is an interesting review (well, I think it to be so!) of a CO2 monitoring device.  No, not a CO, carbon monoxide, monitoring device, such as you might have in your home already.  A carbon dioxide monitor.  My review looks at these devices primary from the perspective of being an interesting way of determining the amount of breath from other people in the air you’re breathing (when indoors) and therefore, obliquely, giving you a rough measure of your risk of possibly contracting Covid.  But, as I came to use mine, I realized that simply knowing the CO2 level, even without an overlaid concern about Covid, can be helpful and beneficial.

Also attached is Thursday’s Covid diary entry.  Last week I “opened” up the special supporter section of the diary entry for everyone to read.  This week, if you’re not yet a supporter, you can see the introductory entries, some of the statistics, and a quick listing of the supporter content.  If something sounds interesting or helpful. please do become a supporter and get instant automatic access to the complete diary entry (and to all the preceding 244 Covid articles and lots more, too), plus everything in the archive and all new Supporter content for the next 12 months.  Sunday’s Covid diary entry can be found online, here.

Continuing now, are pieces on :

  • Air Travel Numbers Increasing
  • EU/UK Travel Update
  • UA FA’s – “We don’t clean toilets”
  • DoJ Disputes the AA/B6 Partnership
  • FAA Forced to Reverse Itself, Opens Up EWR Slots
  • EU and Asia Arguing About Air Travel
  • Pilot Shortages, Yet Again
  • Cruising Now and Then
  • What’s Up With China?
  • Hold Off on Amazon Device Purchases for a Few Days
  • Universal Power Supplies and Plugs
  • And Lastly This Week….

Air Travel Numbers Increasing

Air travel, as a percent of 2019 numbers, steadily increased in the last seven days, bringing us pretty much back to where we were before the Labor Day weekend a couple of weeks ago.

With strong drops in new Covid cases in the US over the last week, and with the US opening up its international borders again soon (see next item) the foreseeable future shows strong underpinning for continued growth (or at least, not for any further shrinkage as had been slowly happening since the July 4 weekend).  But that’s a situation that could change without warning and without apparent reason at any time, so I’ll of course be continuing my daily Twitter reporting on air passenger numbers, and weekly summaries here.

EU/UK Travel Update

The big news this week, clearly timed for the visit of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, is the ending of the ridiculous travel ban preventing people in 36 countries from coming to the US, vaccinated or not.  That’s a most welcome change, and way overdue.

This comparatively simple change, which you’d think would take all of five minutes to fully implement, is proving to be ridiculously slow to take effect.

The announcement was on Monday 20 September.  You might think it is prudent to give a week of notice so airports can staff up some, airlines can look at their schedules, and so on.  On the other hand, you might think the sooner the ban is removed, the better, and let the airlines set their own pace for how they respond.

But something you’d absolutely not think is that it might take six (or even more!) weeks from announcement to actual lifting of the ban, and you’d further not think that even now, on Friday morning, we still don’t know the exact date the ban will end.  All we know is “early November”.

This is actually the opposite of giving a decent amount of notice.  Because, until airlines and other affected companies know the day the ban ends, they don’t know when or how to respond.

Visitors will have to be fully vaccinated and also have a negative Covid test within three days of boarding the flight to the US.

As for the Canadian land border, that remains closed for Canadians, with the period of closure now extended until at least 21 October.  At the news conference announcing the removal of the travel ban for people from other countries, the White House spokesman declined to comment on the status of the Canadian border closure.  Unbelievable.  Canada currently has a Covid case rate less than one-third the rate we have in the US.

The UK has further liberalized its rules for who it allows to visit, making it less likely the US will move to a “penalty” category.  Furthermore, the last week has seen a wonderful 17% drop in new daily Covid cases in the US, meaning that, at least for now, our Covid count is trending down rather than up.  Hopefully, Europe will remain open to us for the foreseeable future.

My friend in Kazakhstan shared the good information that Kazakhstan is emerging from its own Covid closures, so maybe next year, we’ll try again for a “-stan tour”.

UA FA’s – “We don’t clean toilets”

An amusing article in View from the Wing reports how United Airlines has a new in-flight announcement encouraging passengers to report dirty toilets to a flight attendant during the flight.  The expectation/implication is of course clear – if you’re asked to report, as so often seems to be the case, a toilet with toilet paper strewn all over the floor, liquid of unknown origin sloshing about on the floor, and an overflowing trash bin, you’d sort of expect some sort of response and resolution.

But the Flight Attendants’ union is quick to point out that this is not in their contract.  They are only required to wipe splashes of water from the counter, restock supplies such as toilet paper and paper towels, pick up loose paper towels, and ensure the waste bin is fully closed.

Almost 50 years ago, I had a well-paying job, at sea around the New Zealand coast, that occasionally included cleaning toilets.  It wasn’t my favorite part of the day’s work, but it wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever had to do, either.  I don’t see why flight attendants couldn’t – and shouldn’t – do the same.  Change their contract.

DoJ Disputes the AA/B6 Partnership

(You surely know AA refers to American Airlines; fewer people know B6 is the airline code for JetBlue.  That’s one of the problems with more recent airlines, all the good and meaningful airline code designators have been taken.)

Back in July 2020, the two airlines announced a “Northeast Alliance” that would see the two airlines sell each other’s flights and share in each other’s frequent flier programs, covering flights in/out of Boston and New York.

The Department of Justice is now claiming this would be uncompetitive.  Of course, they’re absolutely correct when they say that, and it is slightly surprising it has taken them so long to work this out.  They’ve been joined in a lawsuit against the two carriers by six states (AZ CA FL MA PA and VA) plus DC.  The DoJ and states say that the revenue sharing agreement between the two carriers removes a lot of the incentive to compete, and claim the net result will be hundreds of millions of dollars extra in higher airfares, and fewer flight choices.

We totally agree.  The two airlines, unsurprisingly, do not, and have already offered the standard responses about remaining independent and how their alliance would (try not to laugh) increase rather than reduce competition, and will improve rather than harm passenger choices.

Those ridiculous claims have reliably won the day for airlines whenever they’ve been trotted out in the past.  Perhaps the six states joined with the DoJ will stiffen the DoJ’s response.  Or perhaps the net outcome will be some trivial concession to make the DoJ feel good, but which changes no part of the underlying core agreement/alliance at all.

It will be interesting to see.  Details here.

FAA Forced to Reverse Itself, Opens Up EWR Slots

Was it “regulatory capture” that saw the FAA make the extraordinary decision not to reallocate 16 slots at Newark after Southwest abandoned them?  That’s a question no-one seems to be asking, but which should be pursued.

In total, Southwest released 36 slots at Newark; 20 were in off-peak hours, and 16 were in “prime time”.  The FAA decided to reallocate the 20 less desirable slots, but held back the 16 best slot times, ostensibly to relieve airport congestion.

A US Court of Appeal ruling on a legal challenge to that move by Spirit Airlines resulted in Spirit winning and the FAA being required to allocate the slots to low-cost discount carriers, to give more discount flight choices to consumers at an airport that is dominated by full-fare United.

Now, a mere four months after losing the court case (let’s not rush…..), the FAA is proposing to finally get around to doing something and dishing out the slots.  It hopes to have allocated them in time for the winter flying season.

Details here.

So, the DoJ becomes less passive, and now the DoT/FAA is forced into a consumer-friendly move.  Whatever can we hope for, next!

EU and Asia Arguing About Air Travel

The EU is threatening to impose a “use it or lose it” rule on airlines holding landing slot allocations at some of their more in-demand airports.  The EU suspended such requirements for the last 18 months, recognizing that airlines weren’t just taking landing slots to stop other airlines from using them, but they truly could not use them, especially to and from countries that closed their borders.

But with a general opening of many (but absolutely not all!) borders, and an impatience on the part of EU regulators, they are talking about restoring that requirement.  Doing so would create self-inflicted harm on their own airlines of course, many of which are far from ready to resume full flight schedules again.

It would also in equal measure harm airlines from other countries.  In an unusual falling out, regulators in Singapore and Hong Kong (and possibly elsewhere, including Seoul) have said they’ll impose similar “tit for tat” rules on European carriers at their airports.

That’s actually a short-sighted action at both SIN and HKG.  With longer range planes, these two airports are no longer the “obvious” and “essential” hubs they once were.  Add to that changes in travel patterns and routes, and new competing hubs (Dubai in particular) and both SIN and HKG are and should be keen to keep all the airline business they can get.

It will be interesting to see how this resolves.  Details here.

Pilot Shortages, Yet Again

I have never understood the regularly recurring reported crises to do with dire shortages of pilots being suffered by our major airlines.  At times I’ve been tempted to disbelieve the reality of such shortages, both at present and as projected into the future, but at other times, militant pilots force the issue by all “coincidentally” being sick or on leave or otherwise unavailable, causing a sudden eruption of flight delays and cancellations.

The astonishing part of this seemingly ever-present problem is that the pilot numbers needed are easily predicted and projected.  It is a simple exercise, and doesn’t even vary based on passenger numbers – you don’t need more pilots if a plane is full compared to if it is half empty.  It is all determined by the scheduled flights, with schedules being set months in advance, and not massively changing, because flight schedules in turn are based on airplane availability, and the airlines know, years in advance, their future timings for airplane deliveries and disposals.

From the calculated number of pilots, you then simply look at how many pilots you currently employ, and adjust for known retirement dates, and further adjust for typical loss rates for all the assorted range of reasons that people leave an employer.

Reconcile the available pilots with the needed pilots, and you know to a reasonably precise degree if you need more pilots or not, and when you’ll need them.

If there’s a shortfall, start recruiting well in advance.  Take pilots from feeder and regional airlines, the typical progression for most pilots.  If you can’t do that, look to the military, and if they’re not releasing as many pilots (which is indeed the case) consider ways to train new pilots, maybe even right from a zero-hour never been in the cockpit basis, but more likely, from an “I’ve already soloed and have a private pilot license, I just need to build my hours up to get a commercial license, to be type-approved for your planes” and so on.

But this type of forward planning and taking control of a critical choke point seems to be beyond the airlines’ comprehension.  The pilots themselves of course are delighted about shortages – not only is it job security, but it also gives them more leverage in their regular rounds of pay negotiations.

I make these comments having read this article.  It goes into more specifics about the latest count of pilot number shortfalls and the dates when this will become critical.  But what are our major airlines doing, especially now that their future needs have been worked out for them?

Cruising Now and Then

To start off with the “then”, here’s one of those annoying and semi-literate click-bait type articles that take you through a series of pictures of what are ostensibly old cruises on old cruise ships.  It is interesting to see the pictures, but there’s one problem.  Almost none of them are of cruises as we would understand modern-day cruises.

A modern day cruise is a leisure/vacation experience, that typically travels from a port, does a circular itinerary, and brings you back to the same port.  No-one is on the ship as a way to travel from Point A to Point B, everyone is on the ship for a vacation.

Most of the pictures date back to when ocean-going liners where the major form of long-distance international travel across oceans.  Airplanes didn’t exist, or were unreliable and/or extraordinarily expensive.

When did “modern cruising” start?  There’s an assortment of dates offered, with a seminal event being the television series The Love Boat, which ran from 1977 to 1986, but cruising was already a “thing” prior to the television series, just in its infancy.

The ship featured in The Love Boat series was initially the Sun Princess, and subsequently the Pacific Princess (most of the time) and Island Princess.  The Pacific Princess, built in 1971 (so obviously cruising was becoming a thing back then) carried 640 – 750 passengers.

Since that time, cruise ships have steadily got bigger and bigger.  There are definitely some economies of scales that seem to apply to cruise ships much more than to airplanes these days.  Which brings us to the present day – actually, the future, and the launch and entry into service next March of Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas, to be the largest cruise ship afloat, carrying almost exactly ten times the number of passengers of the Pacific Princess – 6,800 passengers.

I can only guess what it is like to be on a 6,800 passenger ship.  The 150 – 200 passenger capacities of river cruising ships suit me fine, and I’ve been on smaller ocean ships too, with the largest being the QE2 (1,800 passengers).

When will the steady growth in cruise ship size end?  Is there a point where they become too big?  Already, some harbors are unable to accept the largest ships, and trying to convey 6,800 people from a moored offshore ship via tenders to the shore destination surely doesn’t sound like the work of a quick half hour or so.

Even if the port can accept the ship, some of the smaller destinations then struggle to accept a sudden inundation of many thousands of tourists, all in a rush because they’re only in port for half a day.  If there’s to be touring away from the harbor, 6,800 passengers, at 50 per bus/coach, would require 136 buses just to transport everyone.  Some ports already don’t have anything like that number of available buses/coaches.

The logistics of disembarkation in particular, at the end of a cruise, with most of the passengers keen to get ashore quickly, can be nightmarish.

Cruising is an industry and experience that is being threatened by its success.  But as long as dedicated cruisers allow themselves to be tricked by the illusion of glamor, and eagerly keep cruising, and with carrots in place such as the promise of a seat at the Captain’s table for dinner one night, cabin upgrades, and so on with frequent cruiser loyalty programs that are so much more sophisticated than hotel and airline programs, it seems the industry is not yet saturated.

As a “ps” to this section, here’s a nice article about the former British Royal Yacht, Britannia.  It is now a tourist attraction in Leith Harbour, Edinburgh, and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Scotland.  Well worth a visit, next time you’re in Edinburgh.

As an amusing aside and speculation, tradition has it in Britain that retired Prime Ministers receive an “Honour” – a knighthood or, more commonly, a peerage (making them a “Lord”).  But former PM Tony Blair, who left office in 2007, has yet to be offered any Honour at all.  Rumor has it the Queen was so outraged at Blair’s decision to retire the Britannia that she refuses to give him his customary Honour.

There has to be growing pressure on her to do so, because custom also has it that subsequent PMs don’t get given honours until their predecessors have been granted an honour.  Since Blair, there have been three more Prime Ministers who have served and left office, and of course, the current Prime Minister too.

What’s Up With China?

It used to be fun, listening to the tirades and diatribes from North Korea, especially when their inventive threats and insults absolutely could not be matched with anything remotely approaching a credible capacity to implement them.

But these days Kim Jong-Un is reasonably quiet, and has even slimmed down some and has been seen wearing a western business style suit instead of the traditional “Mao” type uniform he (and his predecessors) used to prefer.

However, China is becoming more and more vocal, and with every passing day, has the military might and materiel to back up its threats, which are ramping up the hyperbolic scale.  This week China threatened to pre-emptively nuke Australia, because the new eight nuclear-powered submarines Australia will buy over the next couple of decades could potentially be fitted with nuclear weapons.  That threat conveniently ignores that the cancelled French subs could probably offer the same ability, and perhaps even Australia’s aging current “Collins class” submarines could do so, too, and it sure makes it seem like a wise move on Australia’s part to invigorate its defensive capabilities.

China’s rhetoric and “war games” about Taiwan are getting a harder and harder edge to them, as are its moves to unilaterally take over much of the open international waters beyond its territorial waters, in direct contravention of an international treaty allocating who has what and where.

I offer these comments as background to an interesting rumor I heard a couple of days ago.  Apparently, in at least some parts of China, the Chinese government is refusing to renew the international passports of its citizens.  I assumed this would be because of Covid, but the suggested reason is China is doing this to protect its currency flows and international funds.  For the first time in almost 50 years, in mid-July China reported a shrinkage of 6.8% in its quarterly GDP, ending an extraordinary run of steady growth.  Add to that the financial problems of Evergrande – one of its major property developers – this week, and could the financial house of cards that is modern-day China be about to collapse?

If so, how will the increasingly aggressive and nationalist leaders respond?  Will they blame the west, and seek to create a redirected common enemy so the Chinese population has someone other than their own leaders to blame?

Hold Off on Amazon Device Purchases for a Few Days

Amazon is planning to announce various new devices on Tuesday 28 September.  This might include Alexa/Echo units, Fire tablets, and other Amazon branded electronics.

So if you’re about to buy anything like that, maybe wait until Tuesday evening or Wednesday.

We already know one product being released, because Amazon accidentally revealed it on some web pages earlier this week – a new Kindle Paperwhite, with a larger screen – 6.8″ diagonal instead of 6″ diagonal, and costing about $20 more than the current Paperwhite (which it seems might be about to be discontinued).  It also has appreciably longer battery life.

And just a couple of weeks ago Amazon announced its new Fire TV Stick 4K Max, a slight improvement on the already excellent Fire TV Stick 4K.

Universal Power Supplies and Plugs

Do you remember the bad old days when every phone and other portable electronic device had its own charger – necessarily so because they all had different sizes and shapes of plug and socket.  Even different model phones from the same manufacturer would have different plugs and sockets.

This was incredibly unnecessary, because, by the mid 2000s at the very latest, every such device was powered by the same Lithium-ion batteries.  They could all use the same chargers, if only the connectors were universal.

Eventually some countries passed laws requiring that all phones should have the same connector, and very quickly, the USB connector become universal and shared by every different device.  Over the years, the type of USB plug evolved, and currently we’re still seeing some older devices with USB micro connectors, and newer devices with USB-C connectors.

Even better, laptop computers are now starting to standardize too.  This has been more difficult, because instead of 3.7V batteries, laptops have two or three or four or more batteries in series, requiring 7.4V, 11.1V, 14.8V, and so on voltage supplies, and instead of taking charge current of about an amp, sometimes they’d take as many as 5A of charge current.  But now the latest USB-C specifications and “Power Delivery” protocol allows for devices to “tell” the charger what voltage they want, exactly to a tenth of a volt or so, and the charger will give them exactly the voltage they ask for.  Modern laptops increasingly now use the same USB-C connector and power supply that could also be theoretically used by modern phones.

Wonderful.  This saves us all money, because products no longer need their own power supply to be included.  There’s only one exception, the arrogant people at Apple who have refused to conform to the standards adopted universally by everyone else.

The EU is now looking to pressure Apple to comply.  About time.  Details here.

And Lastly This Week….

Talking about arrogant Apple, they deserve some humility.  This review describes their new iPhone 13 models as “the most incremental upgrade ever”, which is a slightly opaque way of saying “least compelling, most disappointing”.

Can you spot the error in this screen shot of a Twitter tweet?  Let’s just say that the photo hints that one of the eight cheapest ways to get a private jet experience might be, errrr, to hire a propeller plane instead.

The thought of returning to an office to work is increasingly unwelcome to more and more people.  Here’s an unexpected reason why suprisingly large numbers of people are reluctant to return to work.

The Elon Musk/SpaceX space flight for four private people ended up a success with a great landing.  I was astonished to see in the picture at the bottom of this article how close the capsule landed to where the support boats were waiting – very much different to the “good old days” of early NASA.

Strangely, President Biden was silent about this accomplishment.  It would not have been inappropriate for him to celebrate this latest bit of American free enterprise achievement, but he seems to be going cool on Musk’s companies, due to them not using union labor (Musk was not invited to an electric vehicle manufacturer summit at the White House a month or two ago, and the proposed new federal incentive for electric vehicles would only apply to EVs built with union labor).  Musk had an explanation for Biden’s silence that is probably not correct.

What do you do when thieves burgle your safety deposit box and steal its contents?  You know who the thieves are, and they taunt you with their theft, but refuse to return your items to you?  More to the point, what do you do when the thieves wear badges and carry guns?  Here’s a shameful example of the US government stealing from its citizens for no reason whatsoever, other than it has decided to, after claiming to have given itself the power to do so.  What happened to “presumption of innocence” and our Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures?

Every four years – well, actually, every two years when one considers the Winter Olympics too – some unfortunate sucker of a destination proudly boasts of how they will benefit from the billions of dollars commitment they’ve just made to host the Olympic Games.  They never do, of course.

Without fail, one of the ways the say they’ll benefit is through the creation of world-class new sporting event facilities that will be enjoyed by the city in which they have been constructed, for decades to follow.  Lasting infrastructure.  But, as often as not, many/most of the stadiums and other facilities constructed get abandoned, too.  This article shows some.

Well, here I am at 2am again on a Friday morning.  That’s it for another week.  Plenty more to come next week, of course, and hopefully continuing way into the future.  Which is the closing point where I remind you that the longevity of The Travel Insider is in your hands.  Please consider becoming a Travel Insider Supporterit is quick and easy, taking just a couple of minutes of your time.  Thank you.

Until next week, please stay healthy and happy

 

David.

 

 

 

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