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Friday 22 August, 2008
I wrote in last Friday's
newsletter of an incredible 50% savings opportunity offered to Travel
Insider readers by our good friends at
Pro Travel Gear. So many of you sensibly responded to this amazing
deal that Pro Travel Gear's server crashed three times on Friday.
Even so, they reported sales for the day came in 4.5 times higher than
projected. Wow - Travel Insider readers sure know how to spot a
bargain when one is offered to them!
A good example of the shopping sprees that
some of you shared with me was offered by reader Linda :
.... but it made me wonder if
there is a back up for my cell battery when the car battery is
caput. I found one on the Pro Travel Gear site and added that
to your noise canceling earphone recommendation. I also
couldn’t resist the Baggallini Cell Phone Bag and Lipstick Holder,
especially since it was available only in a snazzy orange!
Since I have imminent travel plans, I added a TSA approved lock in
bright purple and the airplane headset adapter. All in all, a
successful shopping spree!
This special has now concluded (and they've
just about sold every item in stock), but for people who had problems
accessing their site last week they have agreed to hold open the 50%
discount, but only on their own three products - the Plane Quiet NC7
noise cancelling headphones, the Solitude In-the-Ear noise blocking
headphones, and the new Plane Quiet Platinum noise cancelling
headphones. At half price, these cost you respectively $29.98,
$9.98 and $49.98.
If you don't mind earplug type headphones,
then the Solitude In-the-Ear headphones are a brilliant bargain.
You can use them instead of regular airline headsets, as an improvement
over the silly earplug headphones includes with iPods, and in just about
any other audio/music playing application. They're tiny and light,
can fit in your pocket, give great sound quality, and at a giveaway
price of $9.98, who cares if you lose a set or two. Buy half a
dozen or more - enough for everyone in your family, and some spares for
As between the two other headphone sets, the
smaller 'on the ear' NC7 headphones are reportedly a bit more fragile
than the new 'around the ear' Platinum headphones. Neither are as
good as the $300+ Bose headsets of course, and you get what you pay for,
but at $29.90 or $59.98, these are priced at the bottom end of the noise
cancelling headphone product range while offering mid-range performance
and quality, making them great value.
If you'd like to take advantage of this
remaining special, you only have until the end of Sunday to do so.
That's right - just today, tomorrow and the next day. So,
go to their website, order as many of these three items as you wish,
and use the new special discount code "TI50" (but without the quotes of
course) to get your 50% discount.
There are some seasonal aspects to the
website, and this is the time of year when I invariably notice an
upswing in people visiting the pages about traveling to New Zealand -
they come top of several Google searches for NZ information which brings
in a steady stream of people considering a trip to my home country.
And so I was guilted into adding a few more pages to reward people
visiting my site (and to encourage them downunder as well), with the
result that there is now :
This Week's Feature Column :
Touring around New Zealand : Here are nine different
sample driving itineraries to get you started on planning your own
driving tour around New Zealand.
Dinosaur Watching : Whenever
I'm talking of New Zealand, my thoughts inevitably turn to my airline
of choice whenever I travel down there, Qantas. For sure
Qantas has had a terrible run of bad luck recently, with all sorts of
bothersome things happening to its planes (but no serious accidents),
however, on the positive side they just yesterday announced their last
fiscal year's results.
Proving them to be not just one of the
world's very finest airlines, but also one of the world's very best
managed airlines, they announced a whopping great A$1.41 billion
(US$1.24 billion) before tax profit for the year ended 30 June 2008.
Perhaps even more astonishing was that this profit is 46% up on last
year, tough economic times and high fuel prices notwithstanding.
This is an 8.7% net profit (ie gross income was A$16.2 billion), and is
an extraordinary result that deserves the heartiest of congratulations.
Of course, even this outstanding result and
profit margin by Qantas is eclipsed by the over-achievers at Qantas'
arch-rival Emirates (US$11.2 billion in revenue and US$1.45 billion
net profit, a 12.9% margin), but to say that in no way takes away from
the massive profitability shown by Qantas.
Do you think this means Qantas can afford
to reduce their high fares between the US and Australia? Well,
that is possibly going to happen, and not so much because of their
profit, and neither because of the A380 that they'll start flying the
route in mid October, but rather because of a new Australian airline
competitor that will start services to the US in mid December - V
Australia. V Australia is a subsidiary of Australian airline
Virgin Blue, and with some remaining ownership by Sir Richard Branson,
but can't use the Virgin name on its international subsidiary due to
Singapore Airlines being able to veto the use of the word Virgin on
Singapore Airlines can do this as part of an
agreement when it purchased a 49% shareholding in Virgin Atlantic
The new airline will start daily service
between Los Angeles and Sydney on 15 December, and will add three extra
flights a week between Los Angeles and Brisbane in March 2009. It
will be flying 777-300ER planes in a three cabin configuration -
Economy, Premium Economy and Business Class, and has stated that it will
set its base economy fares 16% below the base Qantas fares.
It will be interesting to see what happens.
It is hard to exactly calculate the number of seats Qantas and other
airlines fly between the US and Australia (how do you allow for flights
that go via New Zealand, or Hawaii, or Fiji, for example) but it is
accurate enough to say that Qantas controls more than half of the
available capacity with its six daily 747-400 flights, and while I've
never known them to compete unfairly, I've yet to see any airline
dislodge Qantas from its market primacy across the Pacific, even though
many have tried.
website is online and they'll
accept bookings already, but there are no exciting deep discounts on
offer, and you'll have to wait until after the peak Christmas/summer
season (downunder) - 16 Feb and beyond - for fares to drop at all.
My guess would be we'll start to see some good discounting when
we move to low season (our summer/their winter) and V Australia have
more flights to fill. So sometime around March/April, look for low
season deals from V Australia and perhaps some reluctant matching from
Qantas, United and Air New Zealand.
I wrote about the pilot who suffered what
is known as an 'Accidental Discharge' of his pistol shortly before
landing his plane back in March. The gun went off, and the bullet
went down through the side of the plane, but nothing (and no-one) was
After some speculation as to what on earth
could have caused his pistol to discharge (other than him
inappropriately playing with it) a very convincing explanation came out,
showing how the poor design of the pistol's holster could cause this
to happen. You can see an explanatory video
here, with the
simple explanation being that when placing a TSA mandated padlock through the holster
and the pistol's trigger guard, the design of the holster can allow for
a pilot to inadvertently put the padlock hasp in front of rather than
behind the trigger without realizing his mistake. If the pistol
then moves forward in its holster, the hasp 'pulls' the trigger, causing
the pistol to fire.
This is a terrible design weakness (the holster/pistol/padlock
combination was developed and is mandated by the TSA) and needs urgent
correction. As far as I am aware, five months later and there's
been no change to the holster design.
What has happened to the pilot, a man who has flown with US
Airways for 24 years? Now, remember that pilots who crash planes
or have other accidental mistakes generally don't get fired.
Instead, they are encouraged to share the issues surrounding the problem
in a 'no fault' environment that encourages open discussion which
hopefully leads to understanding what weakness in the management and
monitoring systems allowed the accident to
occur and how to solve it.
But not, apparently, in this case. US Airways fired the pilot.
He's now unemployed, and waiting probably another three months before an
independent arbitrator can decide if he should have been fired or not.
How's that for justice : Fire the pilot first, then hold an
arbitration second, three plus months later, to decide if that is right
or not. Meanwhile the pilot can't really seek alternate
employment, because he might get his old job and seniority restored.
He is in limbo, and not earning a penny while in this awful situation.
Discussing this with industry members
predictably caused the somewhat controversial issue of 'should pilots be armed or not' to
arise. For quick background, after 9/11 the airline pilots union
lobbied successfully for the creation of what is now termed the 'Federal
Flight Deck Officer' program that allows pilots, but only after an extensive
amount of training and testing (in their own time and on their own
dollar) and psychological evaluation, to be permitted to take a
pistol into the cockpit with them.
As an interesting contrast, the
Air Marshals who may or may not be sitting in the cabin with you have
arguably had less training and testing than the pilots in the cockpit,
and the only time a firearm has been fired 'in anger' on a plane was
when an Air Marshal shot and killed a man with some mental problems who
was running away from the Air Marshal and trying to get off the plane.
Anyway, back to the pilots. The concept is that
an armed pilot is
the last ditch defense - if the unthinkable should occur and
hijackers/terrorists seek to take control of the plane, there'll be an
armed pilot in the cockpit to resist their attempts to break in and take
over the cockpit. The pilots aren't allowed to go armed into the
rest of the plane, and if there is any sort of terrorist event on board,
they aren't allowed to go out and start shooting it out in the passenger
compartment; all they can do is hunker down in the cockpit and prevent
the terrorists from taking over the flight deck.
Pilots I know who have joined the program,
which seems to have been designed to make it as inconvenient and
difficult as possible to participate in, are not gun crazed Rambo
wannabe's keen to pack a pistol on their hip. They tend to be
serious responsible and concerned people who are keen to add one last
layer of safety to protect their planes, their passengers, and
Allowing pilots to have personal sidearms has been a controversial move,
with some people arguing that there's too much added danger or risk by
arming pilots, and/or there's no need for the pilot to be armed these
days because of strengthened cockpit doors.
What do you think? You're a group of sensible and
experienced frequent travelers. I've offered to share your views
on a closed forum that some of the elite of the airline and aviation
industry participate in; here's your chance to provide a valuable impact
on an ongoing debate within the industry.
And due to the importance of the issue, rather than use an instant
single answer type email response poll, I've blown the dust off my more
sophisticated online survey software.
Please go to this page and
answer the several short and simple questions about the topic; all
answers are optional and all information is confidential and in no way
can be traced back to you.
I'll present an analysis of the results next
And talking about analyzing results, your answers to our survey on
should airlines charge passengers by weight got sidetracked by my trip
to China, so allow me to now share those results with you.
You'll recall the question you were answering was whether you
support or oppose the concept of weight based fares, and to make the
answers more interesting, we asked you to rate yourself as to if you are
of less than average weight (and therefore presumably a winner in any
shift to weight based fares), average weight (with presumably neutral
impact) or of, ahem, greater than average weight and therefore perhaps
likely to be penalized on a weight based fare system.
This added analysis aroused the ire of one reader, who wrote
Not only am I am strongly opposed to the idea of
weight based fares, I am also strongly opposed to your attempt to
determine weight demographics for your newsletter subscriber base. My
weight plays no role whatsoever in forming my opinion regarding weight
Does one's own weight influence one's
opinion on this subject? Is the reader right or wrong? As it
happens, he is totally
wrong. 53% of less than average weight readers
support the concept of weight based fares, whereas only 11% of greater
than average weight readers support the concept.
One other piece of survey trivia (at the
risk of evoking the previous writer's ire). 13% of readers consider
themselves less than average in weight, 58% think themselves to be
average, and 30% admit to being more than average in weight. An
Here are the results in table form. I'm showing the responses in
percentages to adjust for the different number of responses for each
Less than Average
More than Average
And, to give a total picture, adding up all responses without regard to
weight, more than twice as many readers oppose weight based fares
as support them :
With something as clearly unpopular as the
concept of weight based fares, it would seem to be only a matter of time
before the airlines introduce it, while telling us variously that it is
forced on them by high fuel prices and is a response to what the
As always, thanks to all who participated and helped make this another
interesting insight into what we all think about a current topic.
And talking about new and unpopular fees,
United announced changes to its food policies. You'll no longer
get free meals in coach class on United's international flights, and
business class flights in the US also will stop offering free food.
'Buy on board' food will continue to be offered. United also says
it is cutting back on flight attendants to the bare minimum required by
There are none so blind as those who will
not see. There seems little political objection to the
developing NW/DL merger. Anti-trust and anti-competitive?
Harmful to travelers and communities? Apparently not, according to
this article from Delta's home town paper.
Good news and bad news for those of us
who live on the internet.
The good news - AA has now started
offering internet access on some of its planes. Delta will follow
shortly. At $12.95 for flights over three hours, if the bandwidth
is fair and the connection reliable, it sounds like a great way to
convert dead time into productive time, and a reasonable price.
Oh, wait. Did someone say bandwidth?
Time for the bad news. The US is increasingly lagging the
rest of the world in terms of internet access speeds. We now are
the 15th in the world, with an average download speed for internet users
connected via some form of broadband (primarily cable, fibre or DSL)
being 2.3 Mbps (Megabits per second) in the US.
The country with the highest average speed
is Japan, where the average speed is a scorching 63 Mbps - 28 times
faster. Average US speeds increased from last year when they were
only 1.9 Mbps, but other countries are outpacing us even faster.
Great news for all people who fly
through, to or from Britain. It seems the company that owns
Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Edinburgh and Glasgow airports and two
smaller airports (BAA - not to be confused with BA) is to be broken up
and required to sell off two of its London airports, and perhaps either
Edinburgh or Glasgow as well.
Currently, BAA controls 90% of the
airport capacity in the London area, and what some consider to be
its lackadaisical approach to effectively and efficiently managing its
airports has not only been evidenced in massive increases in fees
charged to airlines but also in service breakdowns such as with BA's new
Terminal 5 launch earlier this year.
Here's an interesting story. I've been
impressed at the marketing success of the 'Airborne' vitamin product -
massively overpriced mega-doses primarily of Vitamin C in nicely
illustrated packages and with convincing materials explaining how these
tablets variously prevent you catching colds or help you get over a cold
if you have one. They have even been copied by look-alike similar
As one who invariably seems to catch some
sort of minor ailment after a long flight, I've wondered if they might
actually work as promised. But now they've won a different type of
distinction, and my question has been answered - they've been fined $30
million by the FTC for false claims. Ooops. Details
Lots happening on the cell phone front.
As I said in my article on
competitors to the Apple iPhone 3G a month ago, the iPhone is far
from the only exciting new phone coming onto the market.
RIM has now released a new Blackberry, and has an even better one
(with an iPhone like touch screen) still in the works, and
the new Google operating system based phone has now taken concrete
shape, with it going on sale sometime prior to Christmas in the form of
an HTC made phone sold by T-Mobile. HTC make some of the best
full-featured phones out there, so this is definitely an interesting
thing to watch for.
Oh - there's also a
new Palm Treo type phone, but, alas, who cares about Palm any more.
The marketplace has moved on from their - at the time very good - Treo
phones of several years ago.
And as for the iPhone 3G itself, Apple has
now admitted that rumors of problems with the phone working with the
high speed 3G data networks are indeed true. It released a
software patch earlier this week that Apple claims will solve the
problem, but others aren't so sure, fearing it to be based on the
chipset hardware rather than the software that runs on the chipset.
A possible massive product recall/exchange
by Apple? We'll have to wait and see on that.
I got 2071 words into an essay on the
price of oil (22 word summary - it won't stay low, it will shoot
right back up to $140 a barrel and keep on going before we know it) that
I was going to include in the newsletter and realized that it was making
for a ridiculously long newsletter, and a woefully over-simplified
discussion on oil pricing, so I've taken it out but will offer it as a
future article instead.
On the context of word counts, a little bit
of trivia for you. This week sees the number of words written
so far this year in new articles or newsletters (ie ignoring updates
and rewrites of existing material) break through the quarter million
point, about the same as three full sized books.
By comparison, this time last year saw
'only' 185,000 words written. Yes, it has been a very busy year
This Week's Security Horror Story : I
wrote last week about flight attendants
bullying passengers and telling lies, and the willingness of law
enforcement authorities to believe the flimsiest of stories from flight
attendants while ignoring ordinary decent victimized passengers who did
Little did I suspect, when writing that
section of last week's newsletter, that there'd be such a terrible
example of this behavior to share with you this week. This story
is one that appalls me and almost makes me physically ill - a plucky 56
year old grandmother who has never so much as even had a speeding ticket
in her life tostands up to the bad treatment and lies of flight
attendants on a JetBlue flight, gets taken off the flight in handcuffs,
is told she'll be banned for life from JetBlue and probably all other
airlines, and gets savaged by the Las Vegas Police for daring to ask
their names. Details
Think about this carefully, folks.
Which bit of this scenario belongs in America? Being bullied by
lying flight attendants? Being taken off the plane by armed police
in handcuffs? Or being savaged by the LV Police when she asks for
their names (see the picture of her showing where the handcuffs, long
since removed, had bitten into her wrists)? Answer : None of
this is anywhere near acceptable. And how about the official
coverup - 'because no arrest was made, no record of the event or the
participating officers exists'? And the TSA, who apparently
participated, now saying it is nothing to do with them? And
JetBlue, also refusing to comment.
If anyone is to be banned for life from
JetBlue - and all other airlines - it should be the flight attendants
and their willing empowerers, the various airport officials in Las
We need some accountability here. Our
police and other security forces seem to have less accountability - and
less sense and fairness - than the police in two bit banana republics.
What is happening to our country, once truly and proudly an honest and
honorable upright country and citizenry, but now a place where anyone
with a fabric badge (a la TSA) and gun can get away with whatever they
And how upside down is the situation where
paying passengers who behave themselves in a quiet orderly manner can
unexpectedly find themselves being
viciously slandered by flight attendants who seem able to do so with no
fear of any accountability for their outrageous lies and misbehavior.
overwrought story, but still worth reading, of an American who got
caught up in our own Immigration Service's treatment of suspect arrivees
into the US.
And here's an
incredible story of a pilot who is also a retired Brigadier General
and an FFDO (see above - a pilot who has been approved to carry a
firearm into the cockpit with him) but who can't get to his plane
because his name appears on a TSA terrorist watch list.
The pilot's name is also very generic - I
wonder how many other James Robinsons are also suffering the same
problem he does every time they try and fly too?
Here's a question that apparently TSA
staffers aren't quizzed on : 'When inspecting an aircraft, what
do you do if you see a sticky out bit coming out of the fuselage with
the words 'Don't Step' written on it?' You and I might be able
to guess the correct answer, but at least one TSA staffer believes that
the letters n't should be disregarded. Details
But wait - there's more.
This article suggests the TSA staffer has done this before!
Phew. I think we need to end the week
with some lighter material, don't you?
When I went down to San Francisco for the Emirates A380 launch ceremony,
I had a chance to meet and speak with several travel agency owners, from small 'mom
and pop' agencies to the head of one of the largest mega-agency groups
in the English speaking world. When talking about Emirates, based
in Dubai, and operating flights from the US only to Dubai, common
question we shared with each other, and which none of us could really
answer, was 'why would anyone want to visit Dubai for fun?'.
is a key question that Emirates needs to answer, especially for the US; whereas in some parts
of the world their business comes from people who find flying from their
origin to their destination via Dubai to be convenient, that is seldom
the case for American travelers, and with the new huge coach class on
their A380s (399 coach class seats in addition to their 76 business and
14 first class seats) plus their new services from San Francisco and Los
Angeles, they've an increasing amount of capacity to fill.
But - why would anyone want to visit Dubai?
None of us could come
up with a convincing answer, or a unique attribute that one can only
experience or enjoy in Dubai. On the other hand, here's an
amusing, but - I suspect - painfully accurate recounting of
twenty reasons not to move to (and live in) Dubai.
Three closing thoughts for you. First,
range of furniture that might appeal to the aviation buff.
Second, here's a slightly foul mouthed take
safety by George Carlin.
And, last for this week, it's time for a
change from impersonal, unfriendly, uncaring airlines. Why not fly
Yorkshire Airlines next time you're traveling somewhere from LBA
(Leeds Bradford Airport) in England? In particular, the part 47
seconds in to the video clip is sure to appeal to that other theme of
continuing interest to Travel Insider readers.
Until next week,
please enjoy safe travels