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It has been another busy week, but less productive than last week. A wasted but tiring trip out of town, and then, on Thursday, an annual event that alas, can not be deferred, as well as a slight touch of some ailment that had my daughter out of school for a week (not Covid, happily), all make for a relatively sparse week of content. Perhaps I should have split last week’s eight articles into two weeks of release rather than one!
Our 2021 Annual Fundraising has formally ended, and we’re now at 358 supporters. That is of course 358 more than a worst case scenario, and is also three more than the count at the start of the fundraising drive a month earlier. So, while not 400, the sincerest of thanks to all of you who renewed your support, and for those of you who supported for the first time, or perhaps after a break of a year or two. What we might yet lack in quantity, we definitely have in abundance when it comes to quality! And with a new record level of per person support, I find myself very appreciative indeed. Thank you.
Of course, it is never to late to become a Travel Insider Supporter, but I’ll stop pestering you each week. But your support is appreciated at any time and at all times.
After much speculation, Facebook has changed its name to Meta. Am I the only one who finds its chosen name rather spooky? Doesn’t “meta” imply, to you, an over-arching and ever-present structure-of-the-universe? Which, of course, is exactly what Mr Zuckerberg doubtless dreams of as being Facebook’s role – as long as he can steer clear of the regulators, of course.
Thursday’s Covid diary entry is below, and Sunday’s can be found online, here.
What else? Some more things as always :
- Air Passenger Numbers Up Again
- Europe Stays Resolutely Open
- Breeze’s New A220s Are Looking Good
- An Italian Type of Flight Attendant Protest Event
- Disneyland’s Ticket Price Increase is Greater than it Seems
- Hertz Covers its Bets with its Tesla Buy; Danger to Uber Drivers
- Self-driving Cars by Next Year?
- Happy 20th Birthday to the iPod
- And Lastly This Week….
Air Passenger Numbers Up Again
Last week we were reporting a seven day rolling average of US air passengers at 78.1% of 2019 numbers.
This week, steady growth has seen that blast through the “80% barrier” and it is now at the highest levels ever since mid March 2019, apart from long weekend anomalies a couple of times earlier this year. The most recent numbers, through Wednesday this week, show 81.3% of 2019 numbers.
Not next week, but the following week, will see numbers start to lift further when there might be the start of measurable numbers of international visitors returning back to the US.
Europe Stays Resolutely Open
The good news – US new Covid case numbers dropped again in the last week, with an 8.4% drop. The bad news – Europe saw another sizeable increase, with new cases up 16% for the week.
But, at least so far, and after six weeks of rising new cases (16% for the last week, 20% the week before, 12% back a further week, 9% back another week, 7% the week before, 2% before that) Europe shows little sign of wanting to change the rules for foreign visitors. Whether this steadfastness will endure much longer remains to be seen (as does of course whether case number contine to rise or not), and we’re again saying “If you’re planning on going, go soon while you for-sure can”.
Breeze’s New A220s Are Looking Good
Exciting new airline startup, Breeze, hasn’t been getting a lot of press since its May launch. It is still small (13 Embraer E190/195 planes) and services only 16 cities mainly up and down the east coast.
But news came out this week of its first A220-300 being delivered. It has 79 more on order (as well as 33 more Embraers). The A220-300 is the larger version of the lovely A220 plane that is proving popular with airlines and passengers alike.
Breeze is a curious combination – a low-cost airline, but offering a first class cabin, or, as it calls it, “Nice”, “Nicer”, and now, with the A220 planes, “Nicest” seating. This article shows some pictures of the A220 cabins.
The A220s are planned to start flying for Breeze in the second quarter of next year, and will see the airline add more cities to its network.
An Italian Type of Flight Attendant Protest Event
As you may know, Alitalia finally seems to be down for the count and probably dead. After being “the beast that would not die” and lurching from government bailout to bailout over the better part of the last 20 years, each always conditioned on being the last one, it finally ceased operations a couple of weeks ago.
The problem in the past has been that each bailout has usually been accompanied with a proudly announced “reorganization” that promised to transform the airline and return it to profitability. But there was always one problem. The reorganizations never changed anything important – much of the route and hub structure would be left as it always was, and the employee terms and conditions of employment would also be preserved.
The final death of the airline has seen the airline’s former employees wishing to be employed by the new Italian airline that is sort of “replacing” Alitalia – ITA Airways. The new airline has many of the old Alitalia planes, about 30% of the old Alitalia staff, and even purchased the Alitalia brand name, too (but doesn’t plan to use it).
But it is refusing to give former Alitalia staff the same benefits and conditions as they formerly enjoyed.
This, and the fact they didn’t hire every last Alitalia employee, has upset many of the former Alitalia staff. So a group of 50 ladies, formerly Alitalia flight attendants, decided the way to show their disapproval was to partially strip in a Rome square last week. Details (and photo) here.
Disneyland’s Ticket Price Increase is Greater than it Seems
Disney hasn’t increased its Anaheim ticket prices since February 2020 – the Covid situation took the wind out of its sails. But now it is back with its more or less annual increases.
On the face of it, apart from a 20% rise in parking prices (now $30/day to park in the Disneyland carpark), most of the other price rises are modest rather than excessive, and generally less than 10%.
But Disney has also taken the five tiers of single day, single park tickets – a system it introduced in 2016 – and now added a sixth tier. So there’s every chance that the day you want to visit is in a higher tier, making for a double price increase – for example, a $124 Tier 3 ticket (rising to $134) might actually now be a $149 Tier 4 ticket (a 20% increase).
The cost of a one-day “park hopper” ticket now ranges from $164 – $224, depending on the tier. And, of course, there are the new paid-for ride reservation services that are replacing the former free FastPass reservation service too, adding another layer of increased cost to your park experience, too.
So, a major hike in parking, possibly obscured extra costs in admission, and new fees to reserve ride times. Add it all up, and the price “changes” are a lot higher than the Disney-loving bloggers are generally admitting.
Hertz Covers its Bets with its Tesla Buy; Danger to Uber Drivers
The news on Monday that Hertz was buying 100,000 Tesla vehicles pushed Tesla’s already stratospheric share price even higher.
I wondered, at the time, about the wisdom of putting neophyte EV drivers behind the wheel of a Tesla for the first time, unsupervised, as a rental. Talk about range anxiety? The complexity of mastering the Tesla computer interface; finding charging locations and charging (because, for sure, the hotel you’re staying at won’t have a Tesla Supercharger), regenerative braking, and everything else could be quite daunting. To say nothing of the seductive dangers of the “full auto” self-driving which is neither fully automatic nor self-driving.
More news has now leaked out. It seems that 50,000 of those vehicles will be rented through Uber and to Uber’s drivers. Uber has had various programs for leasing cars to its drivers prior to now, and has sometimes been criticized for profiting from the lease rates it charges.
This article reports that Tesla Model 3 cars will be rented for $334 a week to Uber drivers, with a plan, later on, to drop the rental to $299 a week.
Is that a good deal or not? Impossible to say without seeing the rental contract – will it be mileage limited? Apparently it includes repairs, which is a plus, but so too does the Tesla warranty on a new car lease, so it isn’t as big a deal as it might seem. Tesla will lease a Model 3 to anyone for $565/month on a 36 month lease and with an annual allowance for 12,000 miles. Traditional loan rates are higher.
The $565/month translates to about $130. So the Uber/Hertz rental is just over 2.5 times more expensive. Sure doesn’t sound like a great bargain to me.
Self-driving Cars by Next Year?
While Tesla continues to over-promise and under-deliver self-driving, GM CEO Mary Barra says she is “pretty confident” that self-driving car-company and GM partner, Cruise, will have self-driving cars on the streets by next year (two months away).
The thing about self-driving cars is that it is relatively easy to create a “half” self-driving car, difficult to create a 75% self-driving car, very challenging to create a 95% self-driving car, and no-one has yet achieved a 100% self-driving car. Has Cruise/GM been quietly perfecting things no-one else has managed? I guess we’ll know by 1/1/2022.
We also suspect that, if this milestone is achieved, it will not mean the cars can drive on any road, anywhere in the country, in any conditions. Which, to our mind, would invalidate the self-driving claim.
Happy 20th Birthday to the iPod
This week sees the 20th birthday for Apple’s turnaround product, now quickly becoming forgotten, the iPod. It seems a lot longer, to me, when the iPod first appeared, and then all the marvelous changes and different versions that appeared, including ones that claimed to make it possible to not just watch but even enjoy video on tiny 1.5″ screens.
Perhaps part of the reason that iPods seem older than they are is not just because it has been several years since Apple featured them, but also because there had been earlier MP3 players for some years before Apple released its first iPod. While the iPod was a key part of the revival of the Apple brand, it was in no way a technical innovation or new concept.
But, at the time time, they were amazing devices, and Apple’s design obsessions that were given full indulgence under Jobs saw some beautiful “works of art” designs. It was a shame their functionality was always crippled and restricted, although a thriving market in reprogramming iPods to use generic third party superior (but uglier) software gave aficionados opportunities to enhance the capabilities of the units.
Nowadays, of course, most of us either have music on our phone or streamed from the cloud. I still have a lovely Fiio portable music player, with a large library of FLAC format music files – much better sound than MP3. This collection of articles includes several articles on new ways to store digital music and the players to use.
And Lastly This Week….
Google’s new Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro phones are getting uniformly positive reviews, and look like they have real potential, particularly at their high-value low-cost price points, of getting appreciable market share. This would make a great change for Google, which to date has been great at making good phones, but terrible at selling them.
The good news is Google has already placed orders for more than twice as many Pixel 6 phones as it sold of all phones last year. But the bad news is Google only sold 3.7 million phones last year. Total phone sales last year were 1.5 billion, so Google’s market share was about one quarter of one percent.
So, if you’d like a Pixel 6/6 Pro, you better order one now and be willing to wait a while.
It remains a total mystery why Google, prime developers/custodians of the Android operating system, and with enormous resources every which way, and now even designing and building their own custom CPU chips for the phones, has such an extraordinarily small market share, and such modest ambitions for the future.
Switching now from modest to uncontained ambitions for the future, Jeff Bezos continues to “talk the talk” while struggling to “walk the walk” with his space dreams. His latest concept is to create a new commercial space station, approximately the same size as the ISS, and featuring a space hotel among other design elements. It is also full of aspirational “feel good” science type concepts, but those seldom promise to become commercially viable (just ask NASA!) and the ability to fund the space station from tourism income would seem limited rather than endless.
Bezos certainly got it spectacularly right, multiple times, as he developed the Amazon group of companies. But his former rigid unyielding focus on practical business strategies and realizable profits seems to be giving way now to a much less constrained series of fanciful imaginings. Even his enormous fortunes could get eaten up very quickly by space ventures (again, ask NASA) and with plenty of well-established competitors (totally unlike Amazon) he has no advantages to help him in his efforts.
Lastly this week, it seems that fewer and fewer of us ever answer our phones when they ring these days; deigning to do so only if we recognize the number and have an active wish to talk with the caller. That’s not necessarily a bad thing (unless you’re a telemarketer). But if you were a hiker lost in the woods, and your phone rang, perhaps you’d answer it then? Not so, this hiker!
Although, to be accurate, the hiker didn’t consider himself lost, just “delayed”, and the search for him was triggered by an anxious friend when he failed to return as originally planned.
I wonder if it is possible to be lost these days with probably every modern phone including GPS? Perhaps, in dense forest, the tree canopy might interfere with satellite signals?
Until next week, please stay healthy and happy (and don’t get lost)