Weekly Roundup, Friday 1 October 2021

This Slovakian “flying car” concept has successfully and repeatedly flown. But will it enter mass production any time soon? See our article, below.

 

364 Supporters (+5 from last week) Target :  400  Please Join Here

 

Good morning

It has been another great week with many kind readers choosing to become Travel Insider Supporters during this, our annual fundraising drive.  While the statistic, above, reports a growth of “only” five new Supporters, that is a net growth, overlooking the many Supporters from last year who have renewed as well over the week.

So, thank you everyone who has reached into their wallet and chosen to Support The Travel Insider.  As an indicator of the value you receive in return, this week brings you another in my ongoing series of noise cancelling headphone reviews, this time of the new Bose QC45 headphones that were just released one week ago.

There are two interesting aspects to this review.  The first is to note that the review would not have been possible if it were not for a very kind Supporter sending me a set of the QC45 headphones to review.  At a $329 price (plus tax) I just couldn’t justify that cost myself.  The benefit to you is that you now know if the QC45 is truly better than the QC35 II, better than the NC700, better than the Sony headphones, and whether you should rush to spend $329 on a set or not.  You might be surprised how much money you will save if you follow my recommendations.

The other interesting part of this review is that, for the first time ever, I’ve added a video review “unboxing” of the headphones, together with a matching unboxing of my QC35 II headphones, and even adding a set of QC25 headphones for comparison too.  Recognizing that without the help of this Supporter, none of this would be possible, I’m releasing the video portion for Supporters only.

But, don’t despair.  You too can become a Supporter and get instant access to the video review, to the extra supporter material in the twice-weekly Covid diary entries, and all the other Supporter bonus material on the site.  Simply go here, choose whatever level of support you feel to be fair and convenient for you, and, hey presto!  Instant access.

Of course, many of you have probably already got noise cancelling headphones, and possibly as a result of one of my many earlier reviews – the first review was in November 2001, and there have been dozens subsequently.  Please don’t think “I don’t need to see David on video, so I won’t become a Supporter”.  Well, in truth, I’d probably not pay money to see me on video either!  But I hope you might acknowledge the steady flow of information you get from me every week, and that in turn, you’ll respond to this once a year request to help out in some measure, yourself.

I like to compare my newsletter to a cup of coffee, because many people talk about reading it with a cup of coffee in hand, as part of their Friday morning ritual.  How much does a cup of coffee cost?  Okay, if you make it yourself, and if you like instant coffee, not very much!  But even multiply that very modest sum by 52 weeks, and that comes to a measurable figure, doesn’t it.  How much do you tip a food delivery driver or a server in a restaurant, a barman in a bar?  They’re all doing their job, much the same as always, and there’s no compulsion on you to tip, but you do.  Could you please now choose to also voluntarily respond to my own efforts in some similar fair amount.  Thank you.

On now with the “regular” newsletter, and please note a new reader survey immediately below.  Also, attached is both the Bose headphones review and Thursday’s Covid diary entry, again brimming full of hard-hitting commentary and observations.  Sunday’s Covid diary is online, here.

  • Reader Survey – Travel Insider Videos?
  • US Air Passenger Numbers Rising
  • EU/UK Travel Update
  • The Ryanair Boeing Order is Still Out There
  • Boeing Announces Something
  • Naughty United Attracts DoT’s Ire
  • JetBlue Adds to its London Service
  • Isn’t it Time to Give Up on Flying Cars?
  • Amazon’s New Goodies
  • And Lastly This Week….

Reader Survey – Travel Insider Videos?

It took a long time to make the video that I’m offering to Travel Insider Supporters today.  Even a rather rough and ready video can take up to one hour of production time per minute of edited presentation, and more sophisticated videos require specialty equipment and even more production time.

Recognizing this, I’ve steered well clear of videos for the first twenty years of The Travel Insider.  Plus, looking at it not just from my perspective but yours, most of my commentary is, I believe, better read than watched.  However, after having acknowledged that, I wonder if some of my reviews in particular wouldn’t work in both a video as well as written form.  It would increase my workload, but if it is good for you, maybe I need to consider this.  I’ve noticed more and more people are forwarding me video links rather than article links – perhaps, as part of a “once every twenty years” review, it is time for me to think about this some more.

To start with, can I ask you your opinion.  How do you feel about videos?  Please click the link that best corresponds to your thinking – this generates an emailed response with your answer shown as the subject.  If you’ve additional thoughts or ideas/suggestions, please add them too.

I prefer video to text based newsletters

Maybe some parts could be video, but I like your newsletter too

I prefer reading to watching

I don’t care, either way is fine

Many thanks for your always helpful opinions and suggestions.  I’ll report back to you next week.

US Air Passenger Numbers Rising

US air passenger numbers, as a percentage of 2019, gently trended up for the last week, moving closer to the level of July/August.  Will this continue upwards and past the 80% “barrier” that seemed impassable back then?

If this doesn’t happen in the next few weeks, surely it will once international travelers start to return to our shores, some time in November?

EU/UK Travel Update

Most of Western Europe is enjoying regularly reducing numbers of new Covid cases each day, with the most notable exception being the UK.

We in the US are also enjoying substantial daily drops in new Covid cases – between the first and last day of September, our rolling seven-day new case count has dropped by almost one-third.  Add to that continued slow growth in vaccination numbers, plus a start of booster vaccinating too, and all seems better than it has for a long time.

So there’s little talk of new restrictions on either side of the Atlantic at present.  Britain’s gas shortages of the last week or two could risk making a self-drive vacation a bit challenging at present, but that seems likely to improve soon, or so the UK government promises.  I feel more confident about the next month or two than I have pretty much at any time since last February.  But I continue to resist the temptation to start offering new tours, no matter to where, or when!

The Ryanair Boeing Order is Still Out There

You may remember a couple of weeks ago Ryanair publicly withdrew from negotiations with Boeing to buy a large number of 737 MAX planes, due to Boeing refusing to drop the price as low as Ryanair felt it deserved.

I said at the time that this was merely “the end of the beginning” of the negotiating, and this week, Ryanair is telling anyone who will listen that they’re still interested in perhaps as many as 200 of the 737 MAX 10 planes, but not at the current asking price.

You can bet that as Boeing edges closer to the end of the year and needing to announce its year’s worth of new plane sales, the pressure to grab another 200 airplane orders and get closer to the Airbus order count will be getting stronger and stronger.  Ryanair says it is in no hurry to order more planes, which translates to “We know you’re desperate to ring up our order this year, but you’ll have to make it mighty tempting for us before we’ll agree to help you”.

Ryanair currently has 473 planes in service, all but 29 of which are Boeing 737 models, and another 201 737 MAX planes currently on order.  So, in theory, it doesn’t need to add another 200 planes to its “shopping cart”, but the MAX 10 planes being negotiated for at present are larger, carrying 20 – 30 more passengers than the MAX 8 and as many as 50 more than the 737-800 which makes up the largest part of Ryanair’s fleet.

If Ryanair is outlooking appreciable growth in passenger numbers, it might want the larger planes not for additional routes but for carrying additional passengers.

Boeing Announces Something

Boeing has become the poster-child for the frustrated phrase “It’s time to shit or get off the pot”.  It endlessly dithers about vital and time-pressing issues – it did this with the 737 replacement (before being eventually forced into the 737 MAX approach), and it has been doing it for over a decade on the subject of a replacement for the 757 and 767.  Scott Hamilton’s excellent book on the battles between Boeing and Airbus (I review it here) keeps coming back to these challenges – it has become a defining element of Boeing – when in doubt, do nothing.

Boeing excitedly announced this week that it had appointed a person (well, actually a woman, which it struggled not to boast about) to “lead an integrated product team to prepare for the planemaker’s next commercial jet development program, effective immediately”.  Here’s an article going into further detail.

Except, there’s one thing missing.  What exactly will this “next commercial jet development program” be?  With her appointment effective immediately, how about some lead times for the development program too?

But when it comes to that, there’s silence.  Will it be a single or twin aisle plane?  Traditional style design or something innovative?  Small or large?  We don’t know – probably because Boeing still doesn’t have a clue, either.

Naughty United Attracts DoT’s Ire

The DoT is fining United Airlines $1.9 million for 25 flights the airline allowed to stay on the tarmac longer than the maximum prior to being required to allow passengers to disembark (three hours for domestic flights, four hours for international flights).  In total, 3,218 passengers were inconvenienced on these 25 flights.

These flights were operated between 2015 and 2020, so the DoT hasn’t exactly been lightning-fast in responding to the 25 violations.

As for the $1.9 million, half goes to the government, United gets to keep $200k itself, ostensibly to develop and implement improved systems to prevent future delays, and $750k goes to the passengers (an average of $233 per passenger).

It is great to see the passengers getting a share of the fine, and great to see a modicum of accountability for such shameful tarmac delays.  Details here.

JetBlue Adds to its London Service

For a while, it was looking as though JetBlue’s plans to start trans-Atlantic service, initially to London, and subsequently to elsewhere in Europe, would be a casualty of the Covid crisis.

Now it is starting to look like, rather than being in the wrong place at the wrong time, they have actually proved to be in the right place at the right time.  After starting service between JFK and LHR on 11 August, JetBlue is now starting service to Gatwick, and from Boston, too.

I should point out that “in the right place at the right time” is perhaps being more positive than deserved; apparently JetBlue have cancelled some of their JFK-LHR flights due to very light loads.  I’m sure they’re gaspingly desperate to see the US finally open its doors to European travelers, allowing it to get passengers from both ends of their flights.

Apropos of which, the US has yet to state a date in November for the lifting of this travel ban.  Incredible.

Isn’t it Time to Give Up on Flying Cars?

The concept of a dual-purpose vehicle that you can fly in the air and drive on the road has been inspiring dreamers since the 1920s.  I have written about them regularly, and here’s an entire article devoted to the topic of flying cars that I wrote back in 2017.  Little has changed in the last four years (or the 40+ years previously).

Here’s a video of a flying car prototype.  It looks sort of super cool, doesn’t it.  But it is also wildly impractical, couldn’t scale up to allow everyone to operate one, and would be very expensive to own and maintain.  It also requires a degree of piloting skill considerably in excess of what a normal driver develops with a normal car (although automation would probably solve much of that challenge).  And, another challenge, it might be limited to “VFR” flying only – only during the daytime in clear skies with good visibility.  Making it IFR rated (instrument flying – at night or in cloud with zero visibility) is very much more difficult, both for human pilots and for automation too.

The car in the video is from one of the more persistent companies in the field, Slovakia-based Klein Vision.

My guess is that by the time a flying car finally becomes a reality, available at your local (flying) car dealership, it will have already been superseded by a “drone” type V/STOL vehicle that spends all its traveling time in the air and none of it on the ground.

Air travel and road travel don’t have as much in common as might be thought, with both having totally different design criteria and constraints.  It is not possible to create a compromise vehicle that works well at both.

Amazon’s New Goodies

As anticipated, Amazon released quite a variety of new products on Tuesday this week.  Of possible interest are :

A larger screened (6.8″ instead of 6″) Kindle, $140, coming out on 27 October

An enormous 15.6″ screened Echo Show, $250, “coming soon”

A low-priced smart thermostat, $60, coming out on 4 November

A Blink Video doorbell, $50, coming out on 21 October

I can see pluses and minuses for several of these items.  The thermostat seems to be almost entirely plus, though, especially at a price point less than half what some of the other smart thermostats cost, and all the more so because many electricity suppliers have rebates when you buy those sorts of devices.  As soon as I’ve worked out what paperwork is needed, I’ll be buying one of those – I love the thought of being able to ask Alexa to raise the temperature, from the comfort and warmth of my bed, prior to getting up in the morning!

The video and intercom doorbell is interesting, but I’m not sure how it works with battery life or if it can take existing doorbell power and use that.

I’m truly uncertain if I’ll ever buy another Kindle – my current Kindle failed (battery died) a few weeks back.  This surprised me – I have Kindles dating back more than ten years that still work, but this one, only two years old, has already failed.  There’s no warranty and no battery replacement service.  So in theory I need a new one, but in practice?  Not sure.  My phone screen is bigger with each new model, and my iPad is perfectly good for most reading requirements, too.

Talking about screens brings me to the large screened Show.  I regularly comment how poorly Amazon has used the screen on its smaller Echo Show devices – an afterthought for a product that is all about voice commands and voice responses.  Apparently Amazon has added new screen functions to the 15.6″ sized Show, and I can see how, if well managed, it could work as a home noteboard, a great way to display recipes in the kitchen, and so on.  But do I want to risk $250 and hope it will prove useful?

You might be thinking the same thing.  And of course, that is one of the ways in which I help you, isn’t it – by taking the risks and spending the time to evaluate items on your behalf.  But look again at those four items – between them, that’s $500 spent (plus tax).  More if I buy competing devices for comparison purposes (for example, I’m researching an article at present that has required me to buy four different similar products just so I know which is best).

If you’d like one of those items reviewed, please let me know, and perhaps consider underscoring your review request with some Support to help make it happen.

And Lastly This Week….

As part of the “popularization” (and promotion) of civilian/recreational space travel, the various proponents are trying their hardest to score as much free publicity as possible for their competing products.

It has been hard not to feel cynical about much of the posturing that is currently going on in the “battle between the giants” – Bezos, Musk, and Branson.  But one announcement this week feels just “so right” that I find myself becoming more starry-eyed and idealistic than I have been for much of the intervening time in the 55 years (is it really that long – yes!) between September 8, 1966 and the present day.

What happened on that date?  A certain television program first appeared.  Its key star will be flying in an upcoming flight of the Musk space ship, making him, at 90 years young, the oldest person to fly into space.

There are two things about space flights that attract endless speculation and jokes.  One is to do with, ahem, intimate relations between consenting adults, and the other is to do with, ahem, toilets.

Here’s a great article, and surprisingly sensible, that gives a great explanation about the second topic, including sharing some details of past malfunctions.

On a very similar topic, here’s an “industry insider” publication for hoteliers looking at the costs of providing decent plumbing for guests.  Their recommendation is to reduce the flow of water in showers and basins, and to go to a low-flow toilet that uses a mere 0.8 gallons per flush.  I’ve never seen a toilet with that small a flush before – I’ve one toilet here that uses I think 1.2 gallons and struggles to “do its job” after “I’ve done my job”; the thought of reducing that further to 0.8 gallons is a bit alarming.  The money the hotel saves per flush might be more than made up for by multiple flushes and emergency plumber call-outs.

This time next week sees an exciting event, and probably my first visit to a movie theater since things went south last February.  At last, the latest Bond film will be released in the US – it has already been released in the UK and by all accounts, it is not only the longest ever Bond film (2 hours 43 minutes) but possibly the best, too.  Looking forward to it.

Lastly, please may I repeat my earlier request – if you’ve not yet supported The Travel Insider this year, could you please consider doing so now.  Thank you.

Until next week, please stay healthy and happy

 

David.

 

 

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