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Black Friday, 13 March, 2009
Daylight saving is now upon us for another
year, but extraordinarily, we got still more snow in the Seattle area
earlier this week. Snow, Seattle, March, and daylight saving are
not usually concepts you read in the same sentence.
I can't help noticing that 'global warming'
is increasingly being referred to, by its advocates, as 'climate change'
- a nice change of name which not only takes away the paradox that many
of the people who are now terrified of global warming were, only a
decade or two back, equally certain there was a new ice age coming; but
of course, 'climate change' also allows them to 'have their cake and eat
it too' - they can use any type of weather to support their cause.
And, talking about weather, no matter what
variation of the climate change doctrine is your personal preference,
the chances are reasonably good that the weather in Europe will be
pleasant come late June/early July, and our river cruise along the
Rhine and Mosel rivers in Germany.
Although you're welcome to choose to join us
on our lovely June/July
European river cruise any time you like, can I point out that there
are only twelve days remaining to take advantage of the extra bonus
discount for bookings made and paid prior to 25 March. So, if
you're planning on adding your name to our growing number, perhaps you
should do so today while the extra discount is still available.
A bad week, and some out of town travel,
means a short newsletter and no feature article this week. But
I'll offer a 'Blast from the Past' to give you some alternate reading.
Blast from the Past : Way back
in 2002, I was writing about international
cell phone usage - a topic I've regularly commented on. Most
of the article remains current, but stay tuned for a special 'Travel
Insider' phone deal we'll be releasing soon.
In 2003, I wrote about
what happens when an airplane's engines fail,
a topic that had recent relevance with the Hudson River water landing.
Fortunately my 2003 article proved reasonably accurate in its
And in 2004, I was writing about
USB flash drives,
with the teaser line in the newsletter referring to 'holding up to 2GB
of data'. Today, USB flash drives can be found holding 64GB, and
costing only a little more than $100. To put that another way, the
capacity of a USB flash drive has doubled every year between 2004 and
now, while the price has remained fairly steady. And the 2GB state
of the art drive of just five years ago has almost been discontinued,
due to being too low a capacity and of too little value to
manufacture/sell - they're priced as low as $3.50.
Sometimes progress is good, isn't it.
Dinosaur watching : I took my
first ever flight on Virgin America (VX) earlier this week,
flying from Seattle to San Francisco. Boarding the plane (at
6.30am when it was still dark outside) caused one to be greeted by an
unearthly blue/purple diffuse glow - VX's time of day sensitive mood
lighting. The first class seats looked to be marvelously better
than on any other domestic short haul airline I'd ever seen, but there
were only two rows of two on the A320; clearly VX doesn't anticipate
many first class fliers (other airlines might have four rows on that
size of plane).
My coach class seat was okay, but the
effective seat pitch seemed very minimal with my knees pressing into
the seatback pocket in front of me, even with the seat in front not
A reasonably good in flight entertainment
system in each seat back gave one a choice of movies and tv shows (well,
correction - it didn't give the movies, but instead charged $8 to watch
a movie (and one would struggle to be able to watch a full movie in the
short flight to San Francisco) and tv shows ranged from free to $3.
One of the things that the new startup
airlines like to feature are nice friendly young crews. After all,
friendly positive customer service costs nothing extra, and with the
Virgin family of airlines priding themselves on being 'airlines with
attitude' I was curious to see what the flight attendants (sorry, on VX
they call themselves 'hosts') would be like.
Alas. The flight attendants were a
total disappointment. In flight announcements were delivered
in a high speed monotone with no personality at all.
And the flight attendants were both mean
minded and stupid. Three of the four exit rows (two on each
side) were empty, with apparently almost no-one choosing to pay the $25
extra fee to sit in an exit row. I wondered if an airline was
obliged to sit people in its exit rows so people would be present to
open the emergency exits in an emergency, but apparently that isn't the
When the flight had finished loading and the
door was shut, a couple of ladies moved from the rows they were in
(which were full) and spread themselves out, two across an emergency
exit row of three seats. This was good, giving them more room and
comfort and also freeing up the otherwise full rows they came from,
giving the other passengers who remained more space and comfort too.
But a flight attendant rushed up and told
the two ladies that unless they paid extra, they'd have to go back to
their original seats. How mean minded is that?
But, wait, it gets better.
The flight attendant who'd rushed up then
turned around and walked back down the aisle, triumphant. As the
ladies gathered up their things to move back, another flight attendant,
passing by, said 'oh, you can sit anywhere' and pointed to one of the
other empty exit rows on the other side of the aisle!
And, don't stop now, there's still more.
After we finished climbing to cruise
altitude and with the seat belt sign off, one of the two ladies decided
to move to the empty emergency exit row behind the row the two of them
were currently in. I guess these ladies liked as much empty space
around them as possible.
Within a minute of moving, a 'host' came up
and told the woman she wasn't allowed to sit there, because it was an
emergency exit row, and made the woman return back to her earlier seat,
which was, of course, also in an emergency exit row! What was that
My return flight back to Seattle was with
Alaska Airlines. Sure, I had the hellish discomfort of a middle
seat with large men on either side, but overall, the Alaska flight
was more normal, the lighting was simply white, and the flight
attendants more gracious.
So - weird colored lighting, weird crew
behavior, and cramped seating. Nothing amazingly positive at
all. I continue to be pleased that Virgin America exists, if for
no other reason than it has driven down fares from Seattle.
Also this week,
it was announced that the US investors in VX sold their shareholders
back to the UK Virgin Group. This would seem to cause the
airline some problems meeting the requirement that a US airline be
both 75% owned and 75% controlled by US entities. Alaska Airlines
had already filed a complaint with the Department of Transportation,
prior to the sale of the US ownership. It will be interesting to
see what transpires.
Incredible shrinking airlines -
American says it plans to cut its domestic operations by 9% and
international operations by 2.5%. United is reducing the business
and first class seats on its international flights by 20% (as part of an
upgrading process). Delta is reducing its international flights by
10%. And Southwest is reducing its capacity by 4%.
This week's stupidest cutback by an
airline - United is discontinuing its weekly E-Fare updates,
formerly sent to its Mileage Plus members. The fares will be
available if you to to their website and look for them, but they'll no
longer be emailed out.
Ummm - did no-one tell United that sending
out emails is actually as close to zero cost as is possible? It is
hard to know how abandoning a form of free publicity/promotion will
either save United money or help it to earn more money.
Close call - An American Airlines
MD-80 made an emergency landing at JFK earlier this week after an
apparent engine failure.
The pilots declared an emergency shortly
after takeoff, during the plane's initial climb from La Guardia.
According to the Wall Street Journal, = maintenance on the engine
that failed was overdue and it had a history of problems.
The right engine suffered a major turbine
failure and the pilots opted to divert to JFK. The engine failure
will likely prompt scrutiny from both the FAA and the NTSB because it
was an 'uncontained' failure - pieces of the engine escaped outside of
the engine, and some metal fragments were found embedded around the
plane's tail. In addition, metal parts, believed to be from one of
the aircraft's engines, fell on a neighborhood in in the Queens area.
This is the second engine failure in less
than a month for American (the other being with a 757).
Talking about American Airlines, here's an
interesting story of a man who spent $400,000 to buy lifetime passes
for first class travel for himself and a companion on AA. The
airline revoked his passes, claiming he was fraudulently making
'speculative reservations' for companions, whatever that means.
The man is now suing AA for $7 million, this being what he values
the lost use of the passes at.
For sure, if the passes could be used to buy
$7 million worth of extra travel, you can understand why AA would be
keen to revoke them at any possible opportunity. But let's also
try and guess what the future pass values might be worth. The man
bought the passes in 1987, and let's say he was perhaps 30 at the very
youngest back then. So today he is at least 52. Maybe he has
another 23 years of flying left in him.
Let's say that he always travels with a
companion (an assumption that gives him the benefit of the doubt) and
let's say that two first class tickets, on average, are worth $4000
(this assumes a mix of domestic first class travel, with tickets usually
costing less than $1000 each, and international travel, with tickets
costing $5000 or more each). $7 million would buy 1750 roundtrips
for two. In other words, both he and his companion would each have
to be flying 76 roundtrips every year to use this value of tickets.
Not very likely.
Talking about suing airlines for huge
amounts of money, how about the
Yale student who is suing US Airways for $1 million. And what
terrible thing did US Airways do to warrant such a large suit against
them? Oh, the student's Xbox gaming computer was stolen out of his
luggage during his flight.
In all seriousness, this is a nonsense
lawsuit that will fail for several reasons, not the least of which
being that by law airlines have a maximum liability of $3,300 per
passenger for lost luggage. But don't only blame the silly student
for his opportunistic ploy. How about the attorney that agreed to
take his case? What is the attorney hoping to achieve?
This Week's Security Horror Story :
Back in 2005 an Austrian tennis player was on his way to a tournament
when he was taken off a flight at Vienna after clearing security.
Apparently, after thinking about it,
security decided that his racquets posed a terrorist threat. Okay,
so far, so stupid. But wait - it gets better. Whereas the
TSA, for all their faults, publishes a list of banned and permitted
items on its website so we have a general idea what we can and can't
take on a plane with us (note that the TSA reserves the discretion to
ban anything it chooses for any reason it chooses), the EU takes a
For incomprehensible reasons, the EU's list
of banned items were kept secret, for (of course) security reasons.
The tennis player sought compensation from
the Austrian authorities for failing to inform him that he would be
carrying banned items. The Austrians, in turn, took the case to
the European Court of Justice, where one legal advisor accurately
referred to this as a 'fundamental absurdity'.
The outcome? The list has now been
made public, and - ooops. Tennis racquets aren't on the list.
Notwithstanding this, British airport
operator BAA is now 'advising' tennis players to check rather than carry
on their racquets. Which just goes to show that even after winning
this case at one level, tennis players - and common sense - have still
From time to time we hear about the
government's various terrorist watch lists, and in the last year or
so, there have been a number of official stories about how these lists
are being quality controlled, duplicate and wrong names being removed,
and so on.
So you'd think then that the total number of
people on these lists might be reducing, or at worst, staying constant.
If you thought that, you'd be wrong, as
this article points out. There are now one million names on
these lists, a 32% increase since 2007. Apparently terrorism is a
massive growth industry.
Talking about watch lists, the TSA is
about to require more details from all airline passengers when we
make air reservations. In the future, we'll have to disclose our
gender, our date of birth, and our full name, which will be required to
exactly match the name as shown on the Photo ID we present at the
airport. This information will be used to check our identity
against these watch lists, and we'll only be given a boarding pass if
our details don't match a watch list entry (which many times does not
include a full name or date of birth.....).
This new process - known as 'Secure Flight'
will shortly be instituted on domestic flights, and later in the year
for international flights. The airlines claim it will cost $630
million to enhance their reservation systems to store and forward this
information to the TSA. And that's a number that's almost as
nonsensical as the $1 and $7 million lawsuits mentioned above.
Until next week, please enjoy safe travels