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Friday 28 November, 2008
Did you eat too much turkey yesterday?
Whether you did or not, I hope you're enjoying the rare luxury of a four
day weekend and not reading this at work on Friday morning.
I've had a somewhat lazy Thursday myself,
and plan for this to be a short newsletter, hopefully to be sent out
early rather than at the usual 1am or later time every Friday morning.
I spent the day doing some 'back end'
maintenance of the website - frustrating trivial things that take a lot
of time but result in no apparent change to the public front of the
website, making me sometimes worry that it is a waste of time (it isn't,
but it feels that way with usually nothing tangible to show for it).
Believe it or not, there are some 1600 pages of material on the website
these days, so any type of 'search and replace' or update can take a
long time to ripple first through the development server and then the
production live server.
Reciting my annual list of things to
give thanks for has to include you as readers, and the airlines and
travel industry in general. Without the generosity, encouragement,
and intelligent participation of you as readers, I'd be writing this for
no good purpose, and without the idiosyncrasies (to be kind) and
idiocies (to be sometimes more accurate) of the airlines and travel
industry as a whole, there'd be precious little to write about, readers
And perhaps we should all be thankful that
200 years ago this month saw the birth of Thomas Cook, the pioneer of
popular tourism. Here's an
interesting photo-journal story about the rise of his company.
There will be some small changes to
the newsletter in the weeks that follow. I am going to be
experimenting with including advertising in each newsletter, and may
also agree to send occasional supplemental mailings comprising only
advertising messages from individual advertisers.
I'm sure you appreciate it is rare to
get a free newsletter these days that has no advertising in it, and I
hope you'll understand that I absolutely must do all I can to bring in
desperately needed cash. The advertising will hopefully
be inoffensive and minimal, and I'm not allowing any advertisers direct
access to your email address or anything like that.
With that in mind, anyone who wishes to
consider advertising in the newsletter is invited to view the page on
advertising, also linked at the top of the newsletter. Your support may
be welcomed if you've an appropriate product to offer.
Today is of course 'Black Friday' - a
name that sounds negative, but which (and particularly this year) is
filled with bargains for us as shoppers.
The bargains aren't confined only to
traditional retail stores. Increasingly online merchants are
adopting a similar policy, using the concept of 'beat the crowds'.
These days I find I never begrudge the shipping costs on an online/mail
order order (assuming them to be fair and reasonable) - the time saving
and gas saving more than matches the shipping cost.
One such online store with a great deal is
our good friends at
Pro Travel Gear. They are offering a 40% off everything in
stock sale, but it is for today only - Friday. It ends at
midnight Friday. Go check out
their comprehensive site, and use the coupon code AFTERTG when
completing your order for the 40% discount.
But - please hurry. The last time we
mentioned one of their sales, some of the hottest items sold out very
early on, and just about everything had sold out prior to the end of the
Black Friday marks, among other things, the
traditional start of the Christmas shopping season. While
retailers are fast to encourage us to buy, buy, buy, not all retailers
are willing to acknowledge what the underlying purpose of this buying
orgy is. Here's a
table showing the retailers who find themselves unable to refer to
the concept of Christmas in their 'holiday' promotions, and the
retailers who have no difficulty with the 'C' word at all.
Another bargain basement type sale - this
time from British Airways. They're offering roundtrip business
and first class fares between the US/Canada and London at massive
discounts. As little as $1998 for business class and $3996 for
first class - these prices being roundtrip from New York to London, with
taxes and fees (but no fuel surcharge) to be added.
The prices are amazingly low compared to
regular business and first class fares that can quickly go way over
$10,000. They are good for travel from 2 December through 22
March, and have no blackout dates. The last date to buy this fare
is Monday, 1 December.
Dinosaur watching : Well
deserved congratulations to Continental for winning the Zagat
Airline survey as best large domestic carrier in terms of customer
satisfaction and also best value on international flights. JetBlue
came top in two categories, Southwest won four categories, and Virgin
America also won in a category.
Talking about surveys, thanks to everyone
who responded to my question about London hotels and where you
generally stay in London. The largest group of answers were
from people who would stay anywhere. Very few people were
interested in staying in 'The City' and the eastern parts of London, and
very few people wanted to stay south of The Thames, which really does
act as a definite boundary between the tourist and
international/business parts of London and the local parts.
Another survey, this one by IBM, asked
consumers for their opinions about airline fees and other related
issues. There's no surprise to learn that 78% felt the charges
for checking bags were unfair, and 76% didn't like the extra fees
associated with redeeming 'free' frequent flier awards.
More surprising though was the 70%
who felt that coach class fares were reasonable, the 42% who were happy
with first class fares, and the 50% who didn't object to fuel
Talking about fuel surcharges, there's been
an unwelcome removal of a 'fuel surcharge'. Unwelcome?
Yes - the IRS is dropping its standard mileage rate rather than
increasing it on 1 January, going down from 58.5c/mile to 55c/mile.
The rate was increased to 58.5c on 1 July in response to the massive
increases in gas prices.
Even the IRS can get with the new lower
costs of fuel. But not so most airlines, now with oil around the
$50/barrel level as it is now.
More on baggage scales - the New York
Department of Consumer Affairs has recently checked 810 baggage scales
at JFK and found 102 of them to be calibrated incorrectly. The
largest offender was AA, with 28 incorrectly calibrated scales.
AA compounded its sin by continuing
to use the scales after the DCA had stickered them as being unfit for
use and issued a 'stop use' order. If you should see a big red
sticker from the DCA on a scale that the airline is using to check in
your bags, report the airline to the DCA.
Strangely, the department doesn't say if the
scales were reading too high or too low.
Only in Canada? Let's hope so.
Canada's Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal from the airlines,
therefore allowing to stand intact a lower court judgment that
obliges airlines to give 'people of size' two seats on a plane.
Yes, airlines must now give - for free - a
second seat to people who are too large to fit in a single seat.
Is this fair? And is it sensible?
It is neither. Why should a for-profit airline be obliged to
forego the revenue it could make selling a seat to a passenger, and
instead give it for free to another passenger? An airline could
normally sell two seats to two 150lb each passengers, but now has to
give them both to one 300lb passenger.
How will the airline plan for this - what
say it doesn't have spare seats available at checkin? Does that
mean the overweight person will have to be denied boarding, or can they
voluntarily relinquish their right to two seats?
Could an airline have an overweight person
on either side of a block of three seats and have the two people 'share'
the middle seat's extra space?
Have you ever noticed in some clothing
stores that you pay extra for large sized clothing? Will that too
And, is it sensible? There are no
clear guidelines as to what the trigger point is for a person qualifying
for a second free seat. Will we see sizing templates for people as
well as luggage?
What say a person of average or even below
average size finds themselves wedged into a middle seat with 200lb +
passengers on either side? They're going to be very uncomfortable,
too. Will airlines (in Canada) have to give them a second seat?
How about tall people with their knees
wedged into the back of the seat in front of them? Will the
airlines have to upgrade them to first class for free so as to give them
more generous leg room?
This ruling opens a Pandora's Box of
consequential entitlements. Shame on the Canadians for
displaying too much political correctness and too little common sense.
Last Friday saw the much awaited release of
Blackberry's answer to the iPhone - what they are calling their Storm
phone, with a touch screen similar to the iPhone. Is it a good
phone? Should you get one?
Well, often, I'd be rushing out to get such
a phone myself and excitedly sharing my thoughts with you, but this
time, I don't think there's any need. In a review that has to
be even more blunt and brutal than me at my worst, David Pogue of
the NY Times leaves no doubt at all about how dreadful he considers this
phone to be.
The review is fun to read, even if you're not considering buying a
new cell phone. I didn't think the 'main stream media' could be so
raw in their commentary.
This Week's Security Horror Story :
A group of nine counter-terrorism unit police officers swoop in and raid
two offices and a private home, arresting one individual who they take
to the police station and interrogate for nine hours straight.
What's this, you ask? A major
terrorist plot foiled? Actually, no. The individual is none
other than a British Member of Parliament, a senior Opposition figure.
And the charges that may be pressed against him are not at all terrorist
related. The MP is alleged to have received whistle blower
documents from Britain's Home Office and passed them on to journalists,
who published them. The documents in question - at least the ones
published to date - are nothing to to with terrorism or security, and
are, instead, a series of embarrassing revelations about the ineptness
of the ruling Labor party.
Is this the best use of counter-terrorism
police? Or is it a scary standover tactic by a ruling party that
is seriously behind in the polls, attempting to quieten its critics, and
a tactic more at home in a 'banana republic' than in Britain? More
Talking about the problems of whistle
this article shows that protections for whistle blowing Federal Air
Marshals in this country are woefully inadequate.
In more scary 'security' news from Britain,
here's a story of a reality that echoes the science fiction movie
'Minority Report'. Computers analyze security cameras and
predict when they think crimes are about to be committed based on
the observed behavior of people and cars. In such cases, police
will be dispatched and they will ask the potential criminals to explain
That will be an interesting discussion in an
otherwise 'free' country that formerly adhered to the presumption of
innocence, won't it - now requiring innocent citizens to 'prove a
negative' - that they aren't about to commit a crime. More details
And in some security good news, the TSA
is liberalizing its liquid laws, allowing greater than 100ml bottles
of liquids to be taken onto planes in cases of medical necessity.
This is due to them rolling out the ability to scan bottles and
determine what type of liquid is inside the bottle. Details
Lastly this week, as readers know, I'm
considering a Travel Insider tour to Dubai and the UAE in November 2009.
the story of an event there this November - try as I might, I don't
think I'll be able to beat or even match this for next year's Travel
Talking about touring, if you were/are
traveling this Thanksgiving, I hope your travels have been convenient
and free of delays. With both air and road travel down this year,
and no major weather disruptions, it promises to be a better travel
experience than for some years.
Until next week, when I'll be back with a
full newsletter and feature article, please enjoy safe travels