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Friday 14 May, 2004 

Good morning

And greetings from the delightful small village of Beauly in Scotland where the weather is amazingly good and everything on our Scotland's Castles and Monsters tour seems to be exceeding all tour members' expectations (including my own).

However, enjoying oneself on vacation is proving to be very time-consuming (!) and so I'm copying the example of fellow tour member Joe Brancatelli.  Joe is not publishing his newsletter this week, and as you'll see, this newsletter is very short.

We will be operating a nearly identical tour at a similar time next year, and hopefully more of you will be able to enjoy the beauty of Scotland with me then.  Meantime, to give you a taste of this fascinating country, here is a review of a lovely book.

This Week's Column :  Book Review - The Illustrated History of Scotland :  This book is a rare combination of both beautifully presented 'coffee table' type picture book and also solid history book.  It gives an entertaining and interesting overview of Scotland's long and often complicated history.  Recommended for all people who have visited, or who are considering visiting, Scotland.

Dinosaur Watching :  Is US Airways to re-enter Chapter 11?  This is now being talked about by their own executives as a possibility if they can't secure the concessions they say they need from their unions.

I have grave reservations about the general fairness of Chapter 11 these days.  While the underlying noble intention - to help save good companies and the good jobs they create - is admirable, the reality is that in some cases, Chapter 11 seems to be used as nothing more than a tool by incompetent management to try and undo the gross mistakes they've made in the past, by using the provisions of Chapter 11 to break contracts that other companies had negotiated in good faith with them.

It also seems that there should be a limit on the frequency with which a company can adopt Chapter 11 reorganizations - it is less than a year since US Airways emerged from its last Chapter 11.

Contrary to what might be first thought, Southwest's new presence in Philadelphia is not just for a simple Southwest vs US Airways battle.  Instead, the main battle is likely to be between Southwest and other discount carriers that are also keen to build a beachhead in PHL.  Sure, US Airways is definitely experiencing some 'collateral damage' - damage that may well prove fatal, but the major struggle here may be between the low cost carriers as they stake out their territories in what was formerly exclusively dinosaur land.

Airtran, America West, and ATA have already started services from PHL, and with Frontier starting service also, the competition between five low cost carriers is likely to be much more brutal than between any of them and US Airways

One of the sacrosanct principles of travel has been that once you've bought an airline ticket, you are protected against any future increases in ticket prices by the airline.  The airlines even use this as a reason to sometimes hurry you up to buy your tickets 'before the price increase'.

So imagine then the surprise of people in Britain who had bought tickets on British Airways, when they were told that BA's new fuel surcharge would apply not only to future ticket sales but also would be backdated and collected from people who had already bought tickets, but not yet started their travel.  Shame on BA.

Usually when a new startup airline starts operations, you expect they will survive for at least a few months, indeed showing sufficient cash resources to survive at least six months is part of the licensing process in the US.  But apparently not so in Ireland.

A new airline, calling itself JetGreen Airways, started operation one week ago and then closed down on Wednesday after a single week.  It had been offering flights for only 1 ($1.20) - including all fees and taxes, meaning it was selling each ticket for less than the cost of taxes alone!  The airline sold over 40,000 tickets, and its sudden closure left over 400 people stranded in Spain.

This Week's Security Horror Story :  Things got a little backed up in Atlanta on Monday.  The line of people waiting to go through security stretched out half a mile, with people waiting over 90 minutes to get through security.

The TSA's reaction?  They say they will 'closely monitor' 25 of our largest airports during the upcoming busy summer travel season, and said that their plan could reduce delays by 20%.  This is the same agency that sets itself the target that security delays will not exceed ten minutes, and which quotes its own internal surveys that show improbably short average wait times.

How good is a 20% reduction in waiting time?  If you're only waiting 5 - 10 minutes, a 1-2 minute time saving is immaterial, unnecessary and unimportant.  But if you're waiting 90 minutes at Atlanta (as has happened three times this year now) or as much as 5 hours in Las Vegas (when major conventions are in town), a 20% reduction (down to 'only' 4 hours in Vegas or 72 minutes in Atlanta) is a pathetic failure at providing the type of service we pay for and have every right to expect.

Lastly this week, thanks to reader David for this story.

A photographer from a well-known national magazine was assigned to cover the recent Southern California fires. The magazine wanted to show some of the heroic work of the firefighters as they battled the blazes.

When the photographer arrived, he realized that the smoke was so thick that it would seriously impede or make it impossible for him to photograph anything from ground-level.  So he requested permission to rent a plane and take photos from the air. His request was approved, and arrangements were made. He was told to report to a nearby airport, where a single-engine plane would be waiting for him.

He arrived at the airport and saw a plane warming up near the gate. He jumped in with his bag and shouted, "Let's go!" The pilot swung the plane into the wind, and within minutes they were in the air.

The photographer said, "Fly over the park and make two or three low passes so I can take some pictures."

"Why?" asked the pilot.

"Because I am a photographer for a national magazine," he responded, "and I need some close-up shots."

The pilot was silent for a moment; finally he stammered, "So, you're telling me you're not the flight instructor?"

All going well, I'll be writing to you from Moscow next week.  Until then, please enjoy safe travels

              David M Rowell aka The Travel Insider

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