Weekly Update, Friday April 29, 2022

The central station of the Las Vegas Convention Center Tesla-tunnel transportation system

Good morning

Sort of a newsletter this morning, thanks in largest part to kind help from Joe Brancatelli.  And a few mainly personal comments from me to start.

I’m just back from five days in Las Vegas, attending the annual National Association of Broadcasters convention and trade show, wearing my new hat of FM radio station owner.  The show was astonishingly poorly organized, but the only comment I’ll make is that I wanted to access the Las Vegas Convention Center Wi-fi while spending long days trudging around the show aisles.  I went to sign up, only to stop dead in my tracks – as you can see from the image, they were asking $80/day for not-very-fast internet.

That vividly exemplifies my perceptions in Vegas this time.  $4.50 for a bottle of water in many vending machines around the town – water that would cost 50c or less at Costco.  One night upon returning to the hotel, I just wanted a quick burger which I ordered from room service.  The cost for a very ordinary burger?  Including tax and tip – $39!

The high costs started immediately upon arrival.  A taxi ride the short distance from the airport to what was formerly the Las Vegas Hilton and now the Westgate (right next to the Convention Center) was $28.  They had credit card charge machines in the cabs, but if you charge your ride, add another 10% for the credit card usage (outrageous profiteering) and then try to work your way through the “suggested tip” options that start at 18% and go up to 40%.

Returning to the airport in a Lyft was $17.  Including credit card fee.  And tip truly optional and not expected.

I realized, when preparing for the journey, that I hadn’t packed any good quality trousers.  No worry, I ordered some from Amazon, plus some other gadgets too, and paid extra for urgent shipping.  They were supposed to arrive on Saturday – the show started on Sunday.  But Amazon used USPS for the last mile delivery, and for “security” the hotel has all packages diverted to an off-site receiving location where security staff pore over them before releasing them to the hotel.  I was told that the two packages would be available on Wednesday, and as of when I checked out Wednesday, they were nowhere to be found.  (Fortunately, the dress style was extremely casual!)

The Westgate is an absolutely horrid hotel, but to be fair, and to put that in perspective, I find that to be true of most Vegas hotels.  They are a bit like airport hotels, in my opinion – they know their guests are “captive” and are people who have not made a special trip just to stay in their hotel.  The veneer of opulence is exceedingly thin, while the patina of greed is becoming more and more apparent at every turn.  When I checked in, the Westgate not only took a credit card imprint, but – for the first time in decades – actually took a $200 deposit off my credit card (rather than just placing a $200 hold as is more common).  I was told it would be adjusted at checkout, meaning I couldn’t just do an electronic checkout when leaving.

The first room had no writing surface at all.  The second room had a writing surface but no chair, and while it had plenty of lights, five of them didn’t work.  Two of them were never fixed.  The bed broke on the second day (no ribald jokes, please!).  The a/c had a worn bearing which meant it was necessary to run the fan at a particular speed (medium) only to minimize the noises from it.

The monorail, fresh from its latest bankruptcy, looks more tattered and dilapidated every time I visit.  Much of the time it was running a “one train every nine minute” service, which is inconvenient and discourages people from using it.  The trains seemed to be running both much more roughly/bumpily than I remember, and also much slower.  I remember how they used to boast how fast the monorail would go in the on-train recorded commentary, now they say nothing about that as we lurch along the track in slow motion.

Talking about public transportation, I had to check out the Elon Musk developed Convention Center transportation system – a series of human-driven Tesla cars running in a narrow tunnel between the two far ends of the sprawling complex, and with a third stop in the middle.  It proved to be exactly as I expected – almost totally and completely useless and laughably inconvenient.  The stops were nowhere close to the actual trade shows, and the time/distance saved walking between points A and B were more than lost by the extra time going from point A to a tunnel entrance, down the escalator, waiting for a car, being driven to the exit you wanted, and then from there back to the show halls and to your point B.

The most extraordinary thing about this utter total nonsense of a “transportation system” is that the Convention Center people themselves love it, and are now expanding the system still further, to travel to more distant places as far away as the airport.  I guess when they are charging $80/day for internet, they’ve money to burn.

An airport connection would be wonderful, but will the taxi lobbyists ever allow that to happen?  The monorail too was originally promised to go to the airport, and also to run down the middle of the strip rather than way behind the hotels, but the taxi lobby and other vested interests made sure the monorail was designed to fail, right from the get-go.

My flights were surprisingly good.  I say surprising not just because any good flight these days is a surprise, but also because they were on the absolutely-no-frills airline, Spirit.  You can’t even get a glass of water for free on the flight, the seats don’t recline and have only the thinnest of layers of padding, and every imaginable courtesy now costs money.  But the actual flights were good, as were the check-in experiences (no lines) with the planes leaving on time or early and the same for arriving.

The inevitable glitch though was the TSA.  On the flight to Vegas, they had to scan one of my carry-on bags three times before deciding it wasn’t packed full of contraband.  And twice on the return journey.  Perhaps this was because I went through non-PRE lanes (there was no PRE lane where I was going through security at IAH, and the PRE lane was inexplicably closed, late afternoon, in LAS for the return).

Almost no-one was wearing masks, either on the planes or in the terminals, including staff.

A lot is being written about inflation at present, as we watch prices soaring all around us.  My sense is that the price increases are part inflation and part greed, with some companies hiding behind the excuse of inflation while pushing their prices way higher than needed.  I noted one product that had, for example, an item being sold at a “trade show special” for $5495.  The price on their brochure, printed less than a year ago, was $4800.  A 15% increase, “just because we can”.

Lastly from me today, before handing the baton on to Joe Brancatelli, is an item of how two pilots of an Air France plane lost control of their 777 when trying to land it at Paris CDG.  The problem was one pilot was trying to pull the plane up, and the other pilot was trying to push the plane down.

Neither knew the other was also struggling to do the opposite action – a situation that reveals a failure of one of the most basic protocols in the cockpit as to defy belief.  When one pilot takes over, he says “I have control” and the other pilot acknowledges by saying “you have control”.  In the unlikely event that “having control” means anything more than just being in charge of setting the autopilot, sometimes the pilot relinquishing control makes a showy display of taking his hands off the control column to visually confirm he has passed control to the other pilot.

The incompetence of those two pilots beggars belief – all the more so because it almost echoes an earlier event when two AF pilots were telling their plane to do opposite things.  The last time, it had a less happy ending – the plane crashed into the Atlantic with the loss of all people on board.

And now for Joe’s smorgasbord of delights.  Although he provides a paid newsletter to his own subscribers, he has opened all the links below for you, today.

Hi, my name is Joe Brancatelli and I’m filling in this week for the very busy David Rowell. And I’m happy to bring you this carefully curated selection of columns by some of the nation’s best travel writers.

As some of you may know, I run JoeSentMe.com, a noncommercial website for travelers that, honestly, wouldn’t exist without the continued assistance of The Travel Insider. David was one of the first to sign up to our all-volunteer roster of contributors and he’s been an invaluable tech guide to an otherwise unarmed scribe like yours truly. It’s an honor to step in this week and put together a newsletter for you while his attention is required elsewhere.

What you’ll see below is a collection of some terrific writing, analysis and advice from JoeSentMe crew, each of whom manages their own site and their own contribution. We’ve got some good on the road experiences, some excellent advice for these uncommon travel times and several terrific on-the-scene reports from faraway places. They’re all free to read, of course.

We hope you enjoy what we’re presenting and would be honored if you considered us a humble stopgap in David’s absence this week.

Cheers and travel well! — Joe Brancatelli

We celebrate the 105th anniversary of Ella Fitzgerald’s birth this week, but history seems to have forgotten the two astonishing live in-flight concerts that the First Lady of Song performed as she flew from Chicago to Los Angeles. https://joesentme.com/tti/ella.html

I’ve begun to wonder if the descriptive term for the international premium cabin, Business Class, is anachronistic. After all, business class is now full of leisure flyers. https://willallenontravel.wordpress.com/2022/04/12/whats-in-a-name

This week: Etihad Airways says 90% of its business class passengers are now leisure flyers. Europe flying is now more than 80% of 2019 levels. Israel drops its indoor mask mandate. Airlines in Asia carried just 11% of 2019’s international traffic in March. Italy and Germany extend some Covid regulations, but Malaysia is loosening up. And more. https://joe.newsstand.com

Are you kickstarting overseas travel after a two-year pause? Be flexible and be prepared for lots of last-minute changes. https://carolapucci-tips.blogspot.com/2022/04/kickstarting-foreign-travel-be-flexible.html

It occurred to me that the whole quest for the “perfect” travel credit card has become a farcical artifact of a past time. http://www.mcgarvey.net/2022/03/23/one-card

Overlooking the scenic Engadin Valley near St. Moritz, Orma Distillery of Switzerland ages the world’s highest-altitude whisky. https://ciaobella.co/orma-whisky

Spring is finally here and spring colors are everywhere in Europe. But n the Netherlands, spring color means tulip time at the famed Keukenhof gardens. https://expatadventures.org/tulip-time-in-the-netherlands

As a city girl who never even owned a pair of hiking shoes before, here’s what I learned when I climbed a glacier in Alaska. https://travelwithmeena.com/meena-musings/alaska-via-ferrata-climb

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