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27 May, 2005 

Good morning

I'm unfortunately starting this week's newsletter the same way I started last week, by commenting on an internet outage that caused me (but not the site) to lose internet access for just over a day on Wednesday/Thursday.

The matter remains largely unresolved - something on my main network server is generating massive amounts of traffic to fill the SDSL line, leaving no bandwidth for regular email and other communications.  The rogue machine is a Win2K server; if I disable its DNS service the mystery traffic drops off, and if I re-enable DNS (which I need - it is the root DNS server for most of my domains) traffic overloads again after a while.

Sounds like a virus, but a Computer Associates virus scan gave the computer a clean bill of health.  All in all, a vexing puzzle to which I yet have no solution.

There are still some people I haven't shipped phones to.  I hope to get this cleared up today, and will let you know if any are left over (I think there might be a few, and if you've asked for one, I hope to have good news for you soon).  Meantime, if you have a GSM phone and would like just a Mobal SIM by itself, I've collected some great easy to remember numbers that are available at low prices here.  With a number that can potentially last a lifetime, it makes sense to get a easy to remember one.

More sale news.  This time it is Pro Travel Gear's turn.  10% off everything on their site if you enter the discount code necktie when ordering.  Chances are you'll find something you want, although after the crazy discounts we've had during the last month or so, 10% isn't quite so exciting.  But it is still 10% better than nothing.

There's no column this week, my excuse being the three day holiday.  Instead, maybe you can help me write a future column.

I want to collate the very best travel related tips - please send in your best tips and tricks (and traps to watch out for) to do with how to travel better, how to avoid problems and how to resolve them if they occur.

I've already come up with some of my own - here are four examples :

  • Put something brightly colored or distinctive on your luggage so you'll recognize it on the carousel and other people won't mistake it for theirs.

  • It is better to not break your journey but to go all the way to (and back from) your final destination in a single long continuous journey, and then to have extra time at the destination to relax and recuperate from the long travel experience.

  • Carry at least two credit cards, from different credit card issuers.  That way if one card is switched off for any reason, or if you're in a store that doesn't take one type of card, you have an alternative.

  • When booking a hotel room in a small town in Europe, ask for a room not overlooking the street.  Chances are the room isn't air conditioned, and in mid summer, you'll want to have the windows open for cooling, which means the street noises will assail you all night long if you're facing the street.

I'm sure you have plenty more tips to offer.  Please send in your ideas and suggestions, and between the 16,307 of us, we can develop the best collection of travel tips on the entire internet.

Dinosaur watching :  So what have the airlines been up to this week?  Well, no unions have gone on strike (in the US), although plenty threaten to do so.  No more airlines have gone into Chapter 11 - although plenty threaten to do so.

Quite the opposite - Hawaiian Airlines has announced it is about to leave Chapter 11 on 1 June, and with all creditors paid off and existing shareholders keeping their shares.  Amazing.  Now let's see UA or US do the same.

The Air Frankenstein merger between America West (HP) and US Airways remains as mysterious and speculative as it was a week ago.

Disappointingly no-one in the main stream media is as questioning as I am about where the promised but mysterious extra investors needed to make this merger feasible will materialize from.

Perhaps recognizing the weakness of the HP merger concept, US Airways has invited other people and companies to submit alternate re-organization plans to its bankruptcy court.  But, if you're thinking of doing this, be warned.  There is a breakup fee written into the merger agreement - if either airline calls off the merger, it has to pay the other airline $15 million.

In court documents, US Airways' management says the merger is their best plan, because it could boost the combined airline's bottom line by as much as $600 million by 2007.  Which sounds impressive, but for the fact the two airlines lost $700 million between them in 2004.

Goldman Sachs reduced their rating on HP stock, and Moody's reduced their outlook on HP debt, while JP Morgan said revenue projections had been over-estimated.  In response to these gloom and doom messages, HP shares rose 7% last Friday!

US Airways better hurry up and sell itself before there is nothing left to sell.  They will be eliminating another 15 flights as part of their retreat from Pittsburgh, as of 21 August.

Perhaps after inferring there was easy money waiting to be scooped up by its competitors, Delta announced it has obtained shareholder approval to double the number of shares it can issue.  At the same time, it reduced the par value of each share from $1.50 to a mere 1 each.

Which reminds me of the joke :  Invest with airline X, and get a guaranteed 50% return on your money in one year.

What is the catch?  There is no catch :  For every dollar you invest, you're guaranteed to get 50 back in a year's time.

In more Delta news, their Song subsidiary has started to sell - no, not airline tickets, but instead, music.  Someone presumably thought it a shame to waste a brand name like 'song' on only flying planes, so, as the press release trumpets in sickening pr-ese, they have launched a new

brand venture to celebrate great music and provide a unique platform for showcasing a diverse collection of recording artists. Song Records provides us with a melodious way to show our commitment to offering our customers great entertainment which is a fundamental part of the Song brand. It is incredibly exciting to be able to offer Song Records through unique channels, including our industry-leading in-flight entertainment system.

Maybe Song finds this incredibly exciting.  Personally, I'd be more excited by a comfortable seat, on-time arrival, and decent free food and drink.

While Song is crowing about its new music business, SAS is more quietly mentioning it has become the only airline to offer high speed internet access on all their intercontinental flights.  Using Boeing's Connexion technology, all their A330 and A340 planes (am I the only one to find it ironic that the Airbus planes are being fitted with Boeing technology) have Wi-Fi (802.11b or 802.11g) coverage and all Business and Economy Flex seats on board have power outlets.  Unlimited use for one flight costs $30.

While people have been worrying about the prospect of cell phone use on planes, a plane with broadband Wi-Fi would allow passengers to use a VoIP connection to place phone calls to people on the ground.

Plus don't forget about the seat-back phones already in place in some planes.  But no-one uses those because they are so ridiculously expensive (about $4/minute), right?

Wrong.  Verizon have announced a new usage plan that would allow you to place and receive calls for only 10 a minute, and to have the cost charged to an existing Verizon Wireless account.  You can even configure your (Verizon) cell phone to forward to the seatback phone nearest you while you're on the plane.  2000 phones in the US already have Verizon's Airfone service installed.

By all accounts and measures, air travel continues to sharply increase.  The top nine trans-Atlantic carriers reported a 7.6% increase in traffic for April (compared to a year ago).  March had been even better - 8.7% up.

Overall, US domestic airlines are expecting to carry 200 million passengers over the summer season, a 4% increase on last year.

And all that surplus capacity the airlines complain of?  North American load factors for the first three months averaged 77.6%, higher than anywhere else in the world.

As travel numbers increase, so too do the number of proposed new airline ventures.  The latest is a proposal by a former BA executive to operate an all business class airline flying between London's Luton airport and New York.  The airline would operate 757-200s with 48 business class seats.  A roundtrip ticket would be $6100 and the airline says it needs to sell only 16 seats per flight to break even.

Step one in this new airline-to-be's plan is to raise $45 million by 10 June.  The money that DL and HP/US are hoping for has a lot of other people chasing after it.

Meanwhile, looking at the ugly side of the airline life cycle, creditors of bankrupt Tower Air are suing Ernst and Young, saying the accounting company defrauded creditors of Tower Air by helping the airline inflate profits and understate losses.

The creditors allege E&Y, Tower's auditors, hid the airline's debts and improper business practices, formed a too-close relationship with the CEO of the airline and destroyed evidence in the case.

A very popular destination this year is slated to be China (yet again).  Arthur Frommer made this prediction last weekend, and said it was due to travel costs being vastly lower in China than Europe.  Other growth destinations for this year are Vietnam and South America.

If you are going to China, maybe a side trip to Macau might be called for.  Macau wants to become the gambling capital of the world, building an underwater casino as part of a plan to overtake Las Vegas. The $1 billion resort's casino hall will have a capacity for 450 gaming tables and 3,000 slot machines. There will be deluxe apartment blocks, 2,000 hotel rooms, a shopping mall and a 4,000 seat performance hall.

Amazing but true part 1 :  Continental Airlines was named OAG's Airline of the Year, for the second year in a row.  Continental also received best airline based in North America and best executive/business class airline awards.

Amazing but true part 2 :  United Airlines was named the Best Transpacific Airline by OAG as part of the same award series.  Unbelievably, UA was deemed better than Singapore Airlines, Qantas and Air New Zealand (among others).

The competition is open to all airlines, not just US carriers.  Award winners are selected on the basis of a worldwide poll of business travelers.

Which do you think is the key most central and ' hubbiest' airport in the world for travelers, connecting to and from flights?  London?  Los Angeles?  New York?

A new study by researchers from Northwestern University analyzed 531,574 flights operated by 800 airlines, between 3,883 different communities around the world, for one week from Nov. 1 to Nov. 7, 2000.  While the data is four years old, the researchers say current worldwide airport network is virtually identical to that time.  Their conclusion :  The key airport is actually Paris.

So, if Paris is first, which airport comes second?  London comes third, Singapore comes fourth, and New York is fifth.  Number two is - believe it or not - Anchorage.

The study showed a person can get from any of the 3,883 communities to any other of them via an average of 4.4 flights.  More than half the communities required only four or fewer flights.  And the most difficult two communities to connect to?  Mount Pleasant in the Falkland Islands and Wasu in Papua New Guinea, which required 15 different flights.

Paris had flights to 250 other cities, followed by London, 242; Frankfurt, 237; Amsterdam, 192 and Moscow, 186.  The number two airport, Anchorage, had only 39 nonstops, but it had a better 'centrality' rating (whatever that means).

The research was paid for by the National Institutes of Health, who will use the results to better understand how diseases can spread around the world.

The world's best tourist attraction is under threat.  Well, at least according to Pringles Chips, the London Eye wins this sobriquet.

Unfortunately, the success of this giant Ferris wheel has attracted the attention of its landlord.  The London Eye, which opened in 2000, had been paying 65,000 a year in rent for the land it is built on.  It cost 85 million and took seven years to build, and now brings in 40 million a year in ticket sales.

Their landlord wants to increase the rent 38.5 times, up to 2.5 million a year.  The owners say that this 2.435 million increase in annual costs would make the London Eye - apparently still struggling to recoup its initial development costs - uneconomic and are threatening to close it.

This Week's Security Horror Story :  Airport officials at Cincinnati warn that as many as one in every five bags going through the airport's luggage sorting system at peak times could miss flights this summer.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reports the security operation that screens all checked baggage for explosives can't keep up with the volume of luggage during afternoon rush hours.

'This could be a major customer service issue for all passengers,' said the manager of government affairs for the airport.  'With both the FAA and the airport showing increases in air travel, and that projected increase occurring in both domestic and international flights, more than 20% may not get their bags on time at their destination.'

But, for unlikely good news, USA Today concludes there are fewer long waits to get through security in most US airports now than was the case a year ago.  Based on data provided by the TSA(!), in the first three months of this year there were 299 airport lines with waits longer than 40 minutes, compared to 1140 lines last year.

Does that match your experience?  Are you finding it easier, the same, or harder to get through securityLet me know.

Reader Sue makes an interesting comparison when she says

I miss the good old days, when the travel business made sense, was profitable (read, a good career opportunity), and the act of traveling itself was kind of sexy and exotic. There's just nothing sexy about having to remove your belt and shoes for no other reason than to walk through a metal detector.

And to add insult to injury, you don't even get a meal out of the deal.  Wow, it's worse than dating!

My item last week about the UK policeman who was acquitted of speeding charges after being caught driving at 159 mph brought some interesting comments.  Reader Mick writes

It is not, as at first appears, a "one rule for us, one for them" scenario.  I too am a Police Class One driver, albeit now retired, and this police officer did nothing against any rules. He was allowed to make up his own mind as to how and when test the new patrol car. The rules have since been changed, but the bottom line is that he did absolutely nothing illegal.

When I took my advanced test I was driving at one time at 135 mph on the main A5 highway out of London to the north, at 11 am in the morning. Totally and perfectly legal, and though I say it myself, totally safe as well.

Expressing a contrary opinion, Mark says

It would appear the British police authorities allow their officers (at least the "advanced drivers") to practice on public roads under certain circumstances. Whether it's at 85mph or 159mph doesn't matter - the entire notion is just completely mad.  Any practice driving that is going to exceed normal traffic laws should be done on a closed road facility.

I think (but am not 100% certain) that no police department in the US permits their officers to ever violate normal traffic laws on a public road unless they are in an emergency response situation, in which case they'll be running with lights and/or sirens.

A follow-up story in Britain's Daily Telegraph reports that leniency seems to be the order of the day for speeding police officers in Britain.  59 police officers in Derbyshire were caught speeding last year.  None of them was answering an emergency call at the time, and yet not a single one was prosecuted.

But football player Rio Ferdinand was fined 1,500 and banned from driving for 28 days earlier this week after being caught doing 105mph on the M5 in January.

Best (worst!) of all, PC Daniel Swain was accused of driving at 90mph in a 30mph zone, hitting another car and crashing into a house. The case against him was dropped this week, when it emerged that the "black box" trip recorder from his patrol car had mysteriously gone missing.

And as for the motorist at the wheel of the car into which PC Swain crashed at 90 mph?  He was charged with careless driving.

Perhaps the best comment on the topic comes from Norman, who builds on my opening last week, when I compared the speeding policeman to us driving a company car.  He shares with us the Ten Characteristics of the Company Car (last time I saw the list, it was describing rental cars, too)

  • Accelerates at a phenomenal rate

  • Has a much shorter braking distance than the personal car

  • Can take speed humps at twice the speed of personal cars

  • The battery, radiator water, oil and tires never have to be checked

  • It can be driven up to 60 miles with the oil warning light flashing

  • It needs cleaning less often than personal cars

  • The suspension is reinforced to allow for weekend loads of bricks, concrete slabs and other building materials

  • Unusual and alarming engine noises are easily eliminated by turning up the radio

  • It needs no security system and may be left anywhere, unlocked and with the keys in the ignition

  • It is especially sand and waterproof for bar-b-q's and fishing expeditions on remote beaches

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels and have a great Memorial Day long weekend

              David M Rowell aka The Travel Insider

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