29 July, 2005
I must be getting old - I'm still feeling a bit under the weather after the 34 hour journey from Seattle to Auckland via Los Angeles and Sydney on Monday. The good news - my Qantas flight was glorious in all respects. A lovely seat, wonderful food, excellent service, and lovely views out the window all flight long.
The bad news - I'm describing the short 3 hour flight between Sydney and Auckland. I had planned to do a feature review based on my 14 hour Qantas Business Class experience between Los Angeles and Sydney, but after a generally disappointing flight which I'm sure did not fairly reflect Qantas' usual high standards, I've decided to delay that review until I can combine the return flight experience which will hopefully be more positive.
Meantime, I'm having a wonderful time in New Zealand. On checking out of the Auckland hotel, I pointed out they'd forgotten to charge me for a breakfast. The response? 'Oh, don't worry about it'! What a nice change from hotels desperate to charge you every last cent for every last thing.
Last week's column on planning a trip to New Zealand was well received, and so here's the promised second column providing more information -
This Week's Feature Column : When to Visit NZ and How Long to Stay : The short answer - visit any time and stay as long as you can. The longer answer - well, you'll have to read the article for that!
Talking about short and long, splitting the October NZ tour into two shorter options has proven popular. But there are still spaces available, so please, go review the three different tour options now available and then come join us for some or all of the tour.
And the special low airfares to New Zealand on Qantas have nearly expired - hurry to get your tickets before they go off sale in a couple of days. Details here.
And still talking about short and long, this week's newsletter will be the former, for a change, rather than the latter.
One more comment about my travels on Monday. My first flight on Monday - an Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle to Los Angeles - was like a descent into hell, and all the more objectionable due to the unnecessary nature of the torture inflicted by AS on its hapless passengers.
They started boarding the flight 30 minutes before departure. The flight was lightly booked, and so all passengers were on board within 10 minutes, meaning we then sat waiting until the plane eventually pushed back, later than its scheduled time. If the gate staff had chosen to do so, they could have boarded the plane not 30 minutes prior to pushback, but 20 or even 10 minutes prior.
And, on this occasion, that is exactly what they should have done. The airline had no air circulation in the main cabin, and with a bright summer sun shining down on the plane, my guess is that temperatures were over 100 degrees. Various lies and unrealistic promises from both flight attendants and the captain did nothing to cool us down, and the flight attendants were all sheltering up by the cockpit, where the a/c mysteriously was still working perfectly, rather than passing out cool drinks to those of us in the back of the plane.
This is why we hate the airlines. They act stupidly, they lie, and they uncaringly inflict discomforts on us that would be illegal in any other context.
Why else do we hate the airlines? Because we are powerless to do anything about it. What am I to do? Refuse to fly AS and fly UA instead? Hardly a positive move! Refuse to travel to NZ at all and just stay at home? Also a not very positive response. And so, I'll continue to fly AS, the same as before, and they know this and exploit that fact by abusing me, and the rest of the customers.
Dinosaur watching : One of the most meaningless measures the airlines like to quote is their 'operating profit'. Think of this a bit like a 'gross profit' in any other company. It means nothing, except that if you can't get a positive operating (or gross) profit, then you're in a world of trouble. Because this operating profit ignores almost all the fixed (and some of the variable) costs of doing business, a positive operating profit has no bearing on whether the final true net profit exists or not.
This point was deliberately ignored by United's CEO Tilton when he proudly pointed to his airline's second quarter operating profit of $48 million as if it were the real profit. Maybe he thinks it is - didn't he keep reading down the page to the bottom line? He even had the gall to compare his airline's result with that of American - an airline that made not just an operating profit, but a real $598 million net profit, too.
United's net profit? A loss of $1.43 billion. For the three months, that is an average loss of $15.7 million every day. Last year its loss was 'only' $247 million.
And so, although United made a $1.43 billion loss, Tilton stupidly said that based on operating profits, his airline was one of only three that were profitable in Q2. What nonsense - equating a $1.43 billion loss with airlines that trade profitably, and also, more than two other airlines were profitable in Q2. For reasons best known to him, Tilton refuses to acknowledge the existence of airlines such as Southwest and JetBlue, even when they're eating his lunch right off his plate.
To be fair, nearly all of this net loss was made up of one time costs associated with their restructuring, but to be equally fair, the loss was what it was. $1.43 billion, $12.33 a share. United shares continue to trade around the $1.50 mark, seemingly unaffected by this result, further underscoring the ridiculously high share price for the airline (remember that current shareholders will likely get nothing at all when UA exits bankruptcy, probably late this year).
Delta's CEO continues to beat the Chapter 11 drum, this time in an internal memo in which he said the airline's current restructuring plans were not enough to save it. This caused the company's stock to plummet 20% on volumes five times normal, which provoked the NYSE into asking DL to issue a public statement to indicate if there had been any corporate developments to explain the unusual activity. Delta said it is not its policy to comment on unusual market activity or rumors.
I don't have to write as 'carefully' as the mainstream media. I don't have to worry about upsetting advertisers, or about readers choosing to unsubscribe, and have no editorial board reviewing and neutralizing my commentary. Chances are, a lot of mainstream media reporters would love such unfettered opportunities to say what they really feel about issues; but they can't. Instead, we as readers have to read between the lines as best we can to see if the writer gives us any clues as to their thoughts.
Here's an article where it is fairly easy to sense an air of indignant outrage. The article describes how Delta's last but one CEO - Ron Allen - has just now finished an eight year 'consulting assignment' at $500k/year after leaving the airline. It isn't clear if Mr Allen spent a single minute of consulting during these eight years, but it is clear that his half a million a year for possibly nothing sees him earning twice what the present CEO is earning for his fulltime work.
The article is well worth reading.
I wrote about management leaving US Airways last week. A reader from Northwest writes
Talking about NW, Northwest has decided to do us a favor by reducing our baggage allowance on international flights. You may recall that over the last year or so all the domestic airlines have lowered their free baggage allowance from about 70 lbs down to 50 lbs per bag for domestic flights, while leaving the international allowance unchanged at about 70 lbs.
Northwest tells us that passengers found these different allowances confusing. And so, to eliminate any more confusion, they have now made it a uniform 50 lbs per bag on all flights, domestic and international. Thanks, NW!
The FAA revealed that flight delays have increased during July and are exceeding the number of delays in July 2004 by 31%. This year delays are more the result of more people flying than of weather. In the past airlines often cancelled flights and moved people onto other flights but now most planes are full so that option is not readily available, hence more and longer delays.
This Week's Security Horror Story : Three Pakistani passengers on a United flight from Los Angeles to London asked if they could change seats, and asked questions about where the plane was during the course of its progress to London. They also made 'offensive comments about London's transit bombings'.
And so, naturally, the United captain did what any rational person would do. He made an emergency landing in Boston, causing a nine hour delay to the passengers because the flight crew then became unable to continue the flight due to running the risk of working more than their maximum amount of hours. Upon landing in Boston, machine-gun armed state police boarded the flight and took the three men into custody.
The three men were charged with - well, actually, nothing. The FBI detained them overnight while 'security checks' were run to determine the men did not pose any threat, whereupon they were allowed to continue their travels to London.
In the past, people found guilty of 'air rage' have been required to reimburse the airline for the costs of the plane being diverted and making an emergency landing somewhere. I wonder if the UA pilot is now liable for anything as a result of his decision to divert to Boston.
Radiation detectors are being quietly introduced into airports. This will help detect people smuggling radio-active materials. But they can also be tricked by people who have had radiation therapy or testing.
Researchers at London's Royal Brompton Hospital say patients should be given an information card after diagnostic or therapeutic procedures involving radioisotopes, warning them they could set off security radiation alarms in airports for up to 30 days after the procedure. Radioisotopes in such scans render patients temporarily radioactive, according to a news release from the Lancet, a prominent British medical journal, and they are at risk of setting off radiation alarms at airports.
Airports can now switch from TSA screeners to private screeners. But only two airports are seeking to do so - Sioux Falls, SD, and Elko, NV. When the TSA took over, five airports retained the use of private screeners in a test program, and now the other three airports would seem to be happy to take TSA screeners instead.
But there's more to this story than meets the eye. If an airport uses TSA screeners, it has no liability if something bad slips by the screeners - which is just as well, because by most estimates, the TSA screeners miss one in every five guns, knives, and other illegal objects. But if an airport uses private screeners, they can be held liable if something slips through and is used to crash a plane.
This is the real reason why airports are apparently very happy with the TSA. They're not happy with the TSA, they're just terrified of the consequences if they switch to private screening companies. San Francisco Airport, one of the other three airports that had tested using private screeners, wants to continue using them, but is asking for immunity from liability first.
The biggest benefit of using private contractors is that they can be scheduled more flexibly and responsively, meaning an airport isn't stuck with too many people on duty when not needed and too few when needed, as is the case with TSA manning procedures.
I wrote several weeks ago about hotel signs trying to embarrass us into re-using our towels 'for the sake of the environment'. Here's a very strange hotel sign I found in the bathroom of my reasonably up-market Rotorua hotel last night - I'm not quite sure what the sign is implying, and I'm not quite sure I want to know.
Lastly this week, here's a note from another David, who writes
Until next week, please enjoy safe travels. The newsletter timing next week is again a little uncertain, due to writing and sending it from New Zealand.
David M Rowell aka The Travel Insider
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