Friday 28 November, 2003

Good morning.  Did you eat too much turkey yesterday?  In my case, most of the day was taken up first preparing and then eating a seven course meal with a traditional English style Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding as its centerpiece, and - yes, way too much was eaten.

The good news for the many people traveling is that Wednesday (the busiest travel day over the Thanksgiving weekend) saw manageable delays at most airports, notwithstanding the dire predictions earlier in the week.  But, of course, if you acted on these warnings, and arrived at the airport two hours earlier than you actually need to, it is cold comfort to then discover no delay getting through security!

Many thanks to the more than 600 people that answered the logo survey last week, and special thanks to those that added often very helpful comments to their answers.  The three most popular logos were the current logo, and new options 1 and 4.  The least popular were numbers 5 , 6 and 7 (you can see them here if you're interested).  Most of the people that made comments tended to advocate keeping the current logo, and I do understand the concept of 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'.  I'll let you know when the site redesign has progressed further.

My article reviewing the Nokia 3650 cellphone was incredibly popular last Friday, and 92 people clicked the link to the Amazon page that is selling them for free prior to 6.45am that morning.  How do I know this?  Because, alas, I had a mistake in the link!  Here is the corrected link for those of you that would like to take advantage of the super deal.

The reason for writing this review was Monday's introduction of number portability.  Although estimates had suggested as many as 8 million people would immediately switch their network provider, it seems that fewer than 1 million did so on the first day.  As for me, I waited until Tuesday, and then attempted to change a phone number from AT&T Wireless to T-Mobile.  I needed to speak to four people at T-Mobile, but there were no waits on hold, and all people were pleasant and competently helpful.  At the end, I was promised that my number would be transferred over in 3-24 hours.

Alas, it is now more than 72 hours, and still no number transfer.  I'm told that AT&T are being intransigent and very slow to respond.  Delays on AT&T's part are obviously outside of T-Mobile's control, and as aggravating to them as to me.  In contrast to my experience, the FCC has set a target that changeovers should be done within 2 hours.  Hmmm.

There's no new feature column this week, due to Thanksgiving, but I revised one of the perennial favorites, and now also include fascinating pictures of the damage to the DHL Airbus A300 that was attacked by missiles the previous week, so here for your holiday reading pleasure is :

This Week's Column :  SAMs - The Unresolved Air Security Threat :  More and more people are now accepting that portable surface to air missiles pose a danger to airplanes.  But - how serious is the danger, and how effective would the various proposed $1-3 million per plane 'solutions' be?

As an interesting aside to the attack on the A300 while it was taking off from Baghdad, there is a rumor from a reliable source suggesting that the attack was in large part staged to impress a French reporter who was with the group of terrorists that launched the two missiles!  I do hope this isn't true.

Dinosaur WatchingThis week's award for living on a different planet goes to Sean Donohue, United's VP in charge of their ridiculously named low cost subsidiary Ted.  He qualified for it twice.  First, in his description of the first plane in Ted colors, after describing the airline as 'warm, friendly and casual (not adjectives normally associated with its parent company!) he then added 'if this airplane could wink, it would'.  More likely, if the airplane could cringe, it would.

He then claimed that the pre-launch publicity for Ted generated 'more excitement, more buzz and more attention' than anything else for the last 10 or 15 years.  Maybe on his planet, but not here on Planet Earth.

The best joke yet about the stupid name Ted is :  'What does Ted stand for?' The answer - 'The end of United'.

I mentioned last week the surprisingly generous C$21 million 'retention bonuses' being paid to Air Canada's CEO and 'Chief Restructuring Officer'.  You don't get much for your money these days - the two gentlemen presided over Air Canada reporting a third quarter loss of C$263 million (announced Wednesday) compared to a profit of C$125 million the same period last year.  Revenues were down by 19%.

CEO Milton was quick to defend this dismal performance, claiming it was caused in large part by the impact of SARS.  But SARS was essentially over in Canada by the end of April, and the entire world declared SARS free in early July.  AC's third quarter is July, August and September.  How could SARS still be influencing travel so profoundly?

It is also interesting to note that although AC reduced its domestic capacity during the third quarter, all other Canadian carriers increased their capacity.

Meanwhile, AC's share price continues to defy logic and remain sky high.  Shares actually increased in value to close 2c higher at 96c on Thursday (the third quarter loss was announced late on Wednesday).

Shortly after announcing its C$21 million bonuses to its senior managers, AC also gave out bonuses to 100 employees that scored top marks for good customer service.  Their bonus?  A soon to expire C$5 hamburger coupon.  So - score tops in customer service and get a C$5 hamburger coupon.  Manage an airline into bankruptcy and a C$263 million loss, and get a C$21 million bonus.

In contrast to AC's disappointing quarter, Israeli airline El Al has just reported a third quarter net profit of $61 million - its best result in a decade, and up from a $42.8 million profit for the same quarter last year.  Revenues increased 6.6%.  Well done.

It is increasingly likely that Sir Richard Branson won't need to dress up in a woman's flight attendant uniform and work on board a Qantas flight.  On 24 July he challenged the Qantas CEO to a wager as to whether or not Virgin Atlantic Airways (VS) would start flying to Australia within the next 18 months (Qantas had made disparaging public comments about this).  A copy of his letter - and delightful picture - is here.

It is understood that VS this week secured the necessary rights to fly between Hong Kong and Sydney (it already flies between London and Hong Kong.  The deal is subject to EU approval, but this is expected to be granted, with daily A340-600 service starting next summer.  Their London/Hong Kong/Sydney route is slightly shorter than the London/Singapore/Sydney route on which BA and QF currently dominate.

Writing about VS always worries me, because a number of people's spam filters reject anything that includes the name of the airline (the 'v' word).  But VS is not the only airline that is difficult to mention - Joe Brancatelli told me that he was writing about Ireland's national carrier, and the second word in its name caused many spam filters to bounce his emails back, too!

Here's an interesting table of US 'low cost carriers'.  It is amazing how much impact a very small airline like, eg, JetBlue is having on the industry as a whole.

Airline Planes Daily Flights Destinations
Southwest    386    2800      58
America West    140     800      92
AirTran     84     508      45
JetBlue     50     194      22
Frontier     39     200      40
Song     36     142      13

Good news for Concorde lovers.  EADS - parent company of Airbus - is looking at joining forces with a Japanese group to develop a replacement plane that would carry three times as many passengers, twice as far, and at twice the speed of Concorde, while making about the same noise as a regular 747.  Details here.

This is a major change from the economics of Concorde, but should not be greeted with astonishment or disbelief.  There is no reason why supersonic (and, in this case, hypersonic) flight can not be made more effective and economical, in the same way that subsonic flight has also evolved enormously over the last fifty years.  The surprising thing is not that this research is being done now, but rather, that it has taken so long for companies to focus on developing solutions to higher speed air travel.

A three hour flight between Los Angeles and London is very appealing, and this shrinking of travel times could encourage a new boom in international travel, and might also become a necessary response to technological developments that are otherwise threatening the future of much business related travel.

The major development I'm referring to is web conferencing.  Teleconferencing technology has been available for many years, but until recently, it has been prohibitively expensive to use.  New technology and cheap broadband internet access is dramatically changing this.

MCI, which has been surveying business travel habits for three years, found that nine out of ten respondents expect to use audio, video or Web teleconferencing in the coming year, and that 39% used it for the first time in the last year.

While nothing can replace a true personal interaction, the enormous convenience of being able to 'meet' with other company members, clients and suppliers, without leaving one's office will surely see a reduction in business travel combined with a great increase in 'virtual meetings'.

Interesting developments at Boeing.  They fired their CFO and another executive this week for unethical behavior related to Boeing's attempts to sell 767s to the Air Force.  On the face of it, this is laudable, but are we to believe that only these two people were involved, and that no-one else knew about what they were doing until much later?  Are these two people scapegoats or are they truly the only two culpable people?  Meanwhile, the very controversial tanker leasing deal refuses to go away, with more hearings scheduled for next year.

This Week's Security Horror Story :  I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the President of the EU being selected for secondary security screening as a potential terrorist when he flew out of JFK.  This time it was the turn of the New Zealand Prime Minister, who was selected for secondary screening while flying through Sydney, even though they were told who she was.

The Australians said that their secondary screening by new explosives detection devices was done on a strictly random basis.  Somehow, I don't find this very reassuring!  I'd rather they use some logic and sense, rather than just close their eyes and randomly choose.

I'm the first to agree that Michael Jackson is very weird, but I have no personal knowledge of what goes on in his bedroom and so, like everyone else, can't and shouldn't comment (something about people being innocent until proved guilty, I think).  But it is easy to comment on the inappropriateness of what almost happened to him.  As you probably knew, he flew by private jet from Las Vegas to Los Angeles to surrender to authorities.  Unknown to him, the pilots secretly videotaped him during the flight, and then tried to sell the tape to the news media!  A judge is currently preventing them doing this.  Doubtless the video cameras were installed 'for security'.

Talking about Vegas, I know that hotel rates go up and down based on supply and demand, but, in planning an upcoming visit there, I was astonished to see the Las Vegas Hilton charging $360/night, and then two days later, charging $56/night.  A six fold difference in rate is hard to accept as fair.

You've surely heard of EasyJet - the very successful UK discount airline.  Their founder is now proposing a new company, called easyBus.  This would provide discount transportation in minibuses, and is quoting a London to Birmingham fare for potentially as low as 1.  He is also planning to launch easyPizza, easyDorm (discount hotels) and easyCruise (discount cruising), all within the next twelve months.

Lastly this week, here's a splendid example of why California is in such a mess at present.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels, and be careful what you call your computer components

David M Rowell aka The Travel Insider
ps :  Don't forget to visit Joe Brancatelli's site for his weekly updates, too.

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