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Friday 1 August, 2008
It has been a harrowing day and week, and
I've been distracted by other matters, so here's a short newsletter
for a change.
I mentioned last week in my review of the
excellent Sugarsynch software that I use Roboform to manage my passwords
for all the different websites I visit. Several readers asked me
about Roboform, so it seemed appropriate to answer that question for
Roboform is an excellent way of solving the
problem 'How do I remember all the different passwords for all my different
websites?' And note that the answer to this question is NOT 'Use
the same password on all the websites you visit!' A better answer
is 'Enlist Roboform's help'. And, to tell you more about it, here
This Week's Feature Column
: Roboform Password Management Software : Here's a safe and
convenient way to remember all your passwords for all the sites you
visit. Easy to use, and tremendously helpful, and with a 30 day
free trial, this can make your online password use very much more
convenient and secure.
I was interrupted in writing the preceding
and had to go to a new website to check something. It required me
to sign in and register, and I was just about to do that when I noticed
Roboform advising me that I had visited and registered before. I'd forgotten
my earlier visit, but apparently I had indeed
been there and the site accepted Roboform's inputting of my user
information. Thanks again, Roboform!
Dinosaur watching : Just three
weeks ago I proudly offered an updated tabulation of
airline bag policies, and expressed the hope that the various
changes in bag charging policies had completed their ripple through the
system and the new structures would not change much more for the
Well, so much for that hope. This week
one of the airlines doubled their fee for passengers checking a second
bag, raising it from $25 to $50. In making the announcement, the
airline predictably offered the now standard lines about how, 'as fuel
costs remain high, it believes revising its fee structure for excess
bags and specialty items is essential to generate the necessary revenues
to offset its higher costs.'
Well, that sounds all very noble, but let's
keep several things in mind. Firstly, this announcement
was offered at the same time that oil prices have dropped from
$147/barrel on 11 July down to (today) $124 a barrel. Apparently
the airline doesn't read the paper - the news of the steady decline in
oil prices has been near front page headlines most days for the last
couple of weeks.
And let's also remember that this
airline made a $135 million profit in the last quarter (before special
items). It is currently profitable - it doesn't need an extra $25
per second checked bag.
Let's also not forget this airline is
predicting a further $2 billion in savings when it merges with Northwest
- yes, the greedy airline in question is Delta. Delta - a
profitable airline, outlooking a rosy future, and with oil prices
dropping, says it is essential to charge more for second bags?
Lastly, while most of us are probably willing to accept fair fees for fair services, is $50 a fair price to
ask to check a second bag? Perhaps we'll grudgingly accept
reimbursing the airline its costs, and maybe even allowing it a fair
profit margin as well. But does it cost anywhere near $50 to transport a second bag one way
domestically? No, of course it doesn't! Rather than
simply trying to pass its costs on, Delta is rapaciously trying to gouge
their customers/passengers for all they can get away with.
Delta is trying to profit from its alleged misfortune of high oil
That's not the only change, and none of the
other changes are positive, either. For example, Delta's
new industry best friend, Northwest, is about to start charging for the
first bag you check. And other changes are ongoing, too, so I
guess I'll have to keep modifying these pages on my site regularly.
For the ultimate in baggage disservice,
you can't beat Ryanair. The UK discount airline has announced it
will try out 'zero baggage' flights this winter, limiting passengers to
carry-on bags only. Yes, on these flights you can't check a bag at
all, no matter how much your offer to pay.
The flights will be on a trial basis
and are flights where most of the passengers are business people.
Apparently business travelers don't need to check baggage?
If Delta really wants to save money, perhaps
their CEO and other highly paid executives might like to consider
following the lead of JetBlue CEO, David Barger. He has
voluntarily cut his pay in half for the second half of this year (From
$500,000/year to $250,000/year).
And if Delta is continuing to up the fees it
charges, it needs to get more on the ball with providing a decent
standard of service in return. A Delta flight from JFK to Las
Vegas on Sunday spent seven hours on the tarmac at JFK, waiting for
thunderstorms to clear, only to then give up entirely and return to the
gate, with the flight being cancelled.
A Delta spokesperson couldn't explain why
the plane didn't return to the gate sooner to allow passengers to
deplane while waiting for flight clearance.
If you're flying on Lufthansa any time soon,
be aware that their current labor problems are now resulting in flight
cancellations. LH cancelled 128 flights on Thursday (50 more than
Wednesday), including 28 to North American destinations, and the
situation may be worse on Friday.
Lufthansa partner carrier United is
also suffering labor problems. United has asked for a
preliminary injunction in US District Court in Chicago, to stop what it
called "organized and unlawful job actions" that partly include a
"public campaign of intimidation." The airline said it was forced
to cancel 329 flights between July 19-27 which cost it millions in
potential profit and disrupted travel plans for some 36,000 passengers.
United said the Air Line Pilots Association has encouraged members to
'work to rule' and refuse voluntary assignments as a way of pressuring
management to open contract talks early. United also claims that
pilots are abusing sick leave, saying first officer sick leave is up
103% this summer.
Who'd invest in an airline at present, especially a smaller airline (ie
more vulnerable to other airline pressures)? And even more
especially an airline based in Denver, which is a major United hub, and with
an increasing Southwest presence?
However, Frontier Airlines -
currently in Chapter 11 bankruptcy - managed to answer that question
positively, and announced this week it had raised $75 million in
financing from an investment firm, Perseus that has an option to buy
79.9% of the reorganized airline for $100 million.
Good luck to them. Details
And now for some good airline news. The
Airbus A380 is finally
starting service to/from the US, with the first carrier to fly A380s being
Emirates. They took delivery of their first A380 on Monday this
week, and its first flight will be arriving into JFK from Dubai at 5pm
today (Friday). The long flight exposes another rarely mentioned
advantage of the A380 - it flies faster than the 777 plane it is
replacing on this service, reducing the journey time down from 14 hours
to between 12.5 and 13 hours.
Emirates was the first airline to order the A380, and is the second to
receive one. The airline currently has orders for 57 more A380s to
join the one it has now received.
The planes are equipped with 489 seats - 14 first, 76 business and 399
coach seats; slightly more than Singapore Airlines and their 12/60/399
configuration. But that's not to say the plane will be cramped or
crowded - it will have first class showers, and two lounges on board as
I'll tell you more about the A380 in great detail next week. It is
my good fortune to be flying a short flight on one this coming Monday.
Not be outdone by a mere A380, Sir Richard
Branson unveiled the mothership that will fly the space ships being used
by his new
Virgin Galactic enterprise, that plans to offer short space
flights in perhaps as soon as 18 months.
And talking about Emirates, here's a
chilling story of what happened to the British VP of Sales for Qatar
Here's an inconclusive
about the potential for credit card fraud if you swipe a credit card to
establish your ID when checking in for a flight at an airport electronic
bad news that we already sort of know. Frequent flier
awards are getting harder to get, and more expensive in terms of
mile costs per award.
Wow - do you think
this couple have read my series on 'How
to Complain'? After being initially offered a paltry 10,000
frequent flier miles for a booking messup by Alaska Airlines, they
persevered and ended up getting free roundtrip business class tickets to
Zurich from Seattle, 240,000 frequent flier miles, all not otherwise
reimbursed expenses now reimbursed, and direct access to a senior
booking agent for their future award bookings.
An incredible turnaround, and a very fair
offer by AS too.
This Week's Security Horror Story :
The TSA is so proud of this incident that they've created a special web
page to heap praise on themselves for having successfully detected and
impounded a device in a passenger's carry-on.
The reason for impounding the device (a
battery pack)? It looked like a bomb - to be precise, 'the item
could be seen by other passengers as a threat'. And in a piece of
doublespeak that doesn't seem to actually mean anything at all, Federal
Security Director David Wynn said 'We must treat every suspicious item
the same and utilize the tools we have available to make a final
determination. Procedures are in place for a reason and this is a
clear indication our workforce is doing a great job.'
Does this mean now that anything that my
some stretch of the imagination might look vaguely like someone's idea
of what a bomb could like will not now be allowed on planes, even if it
is completely harmless?
Well, this was as far as the story went
earlier this week, but there's been a new postscript added to the story
which makes my last question even harder to answer. The TSA might
have seen some reason on this point - they've added a new commentary
above the original article on
So who is now speaking for the TSA and
setting their policy? TSA spokeswoman Ellen Howe, or their Federal
Security Director, David Wynn?
Does Wynn really believe that every
suspicious item must be treated the same, whether it be a huge big bomb
that is ticking with the digits counting down to 00:00 on the one hand,
or a slightly larger than 3oz bottle of lotion on the other hand?
Perhaps it is no surprise the agency that is blind to the difference in
security threat as between a 22 year old Muslim male and an 88 year old
US war veteran will also think it essential to treat everything that
comes out of the scanner ambiguously the same.
It's not our fault, claims the TSA? We
all know the terrible stories of people who have a name similar to that
of a possible terrorist on a no-fly list and who suffer no end of
difficulty every time they try and fly. Getting one's name off
such a list is a very difficult challenge.
The TSA has now said that it is prepared to
fine airlines up to $25,000 when they mistakenly tell a passenger they
are on one of these terrorist watch lists. Rather than doing
something to quality control the lists, or fining the various other
three letter government security agencies who put the names on the list,
the TSA has decided to chase after the easy target - the airlines, who
are nothing other than the meat in the sandwich.
The TSA says the airlines should keep a
separate list of 'passengers with names like terrorists, who have
problems with the terrorist watch lists, but who we know aren't actually
And that is stupid on so many different
levels - operationally, and in terms of national security - that it
makes impounding things that look like bombs but which aren't
Are we going to have to start going through
metal detectors to get on buses?
This incident provides a most startling reason why this might soon
Have you ever bizarrely wondered, while
waiting impatiently outside an airplane toilet that has been
occupied seemingly for ever, just exactly what the person inside is
doing? 'I do hope they're alright' is a semi-humorous line of
banter exchanged between people waiting for their turn. And if
there is a bank of multiple toilets next to each other, it isn't always
obvious when one toilet is occupied for a much greater time by one
single person than the others.
this story isn't as altogether startling as it otherwise might be.
I wrote about the sand castle hotel last
week. Here's a
more traditional hotel, of interest to people like me who have a
special place in their heart for the movie, Sound of Music.
Political correctness is a debilitating
affliction, and all to commonly the people so afflicted have no
comprehension as to how stupid they are.
That is certainly the case
here, where an advertisement for air traffic controllers, who, we
are told in the ad, are required to have perfect 20/20 vision. So
where is the political correctness? The ad offered itself in
alternate versions - in both audio format for the hard of hearing and -
yes, get this - Braille for the vision impaired.
When this was pointed out to the airport
operators, they saw nothing wrong with it.
Talking about political correctness,
something I hate with a passion is this nation's obsession with asking
for ID before serving people alcohol, even when they're so clearly much
older than 21. Signs about in stores 'we ask for ID if you're
The religious fervor with which some servers
demand ID is sad to behold. My own state of Washington seems one
of the worst, and
this item recounts how our governor, a 61 year old woman, was
recently refused alcohol due to not have an acceptable ID on her.
Lastly this week, a refreshingly
totally un-politically correct alternate view on travel to that
generally offered to us. And much as I enjoy travel, there are
occasions when I completely sympathize with the writer.
Until next week,
please try to enjoy your safe travels