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Friday 20 February, 2009
'As one door closes, another opens' is the
thought I'll seize for this week. I did not get enough interest
for the Russian Rail tour this year, so that is not proceeding.
But, when faced with the possibility of no
Travel Insider touring all the way through until December and this
year's Christmas Markets cruise, I
went looking for something good to tempt me, and you too. I hope
you'll agree I've managed to 'pull a rabbit out of a
hat' and created a compelling travel opportunity for us
Although financial worries are unavoidably
at the back of all our minds at present, we also should be sensitive to
the fact that we're currently enjoying what I call the 'perfect storm'
of travel values. Air fare bargains keep on appearing, the
dollar is incredibly strong, making international
travel better value than it has been for many years, and there are some
amazing bargains that can be secured if you're the right person
in the right place at the right time.
I've found one such bargain, and we've an
opportunity to be in the right place at the right time, and to benefit
massively from this. A large
group cancelled off one of Amawaterways cruises, leaving them with an
unexpected hole in their bookings, and so I've offered to help them fill
I should tell you that I found this only
while looking for a summer cruise for myself. I found a cruise I
wanted, then noticed that it was showing as unusually wide open with
only a few
cabins sold, even though other cruises on the same itinerary, shortly before and after this one,
have already been completely sold out. This anomaly was due to the
big group cancellation.
My point is that this isn't a bad
cruise at a bad time of year. It is a great cruise at a great time of
year; indeed, it is a cruise I'm going to go and do myself, even if I go alone,
because it is one I've long wanted to experience and enjoy. Happily, someone else's misfortune now translates to our
opportunity, and we're able to take this cruise at an incredible
This is a one week cruise along the Mosel
and Rhine rivers, from Trier to Nuremberg in Germany. A Paris
option before the cruise and a Prague option after the cruise are
offered by Amawaterways, and you can of course add anything else you
might wish, that you arrange on your own as well. I expect to make
my own arrangements prior to the cruise, and then to use the
Amawaterways tour/transfer from Paris to Trier as an easy/convenient way
to join the boat from a major convenient city to get to.
The cruise is in late
June/early July, giving the best combination of warm weather and long
hours of daylight, after schools are out for you teachers, but before the crippling
crushes of travelers later in July and August. I've done a lot of
European river cruising, but usually in late fall or winter; it will be
a nice change to be cruising in June/July, and to have the floor to
ceiling door/windows wide open and the warm fresh air flooding in to the
Oh - the special deal! How about a
chance to save $800 (or more) off the published cruise price? Is
that special enough for you? The published brochure rate on this
cruise starts at $2299 per person. Your price - $1499 per person,
and only/exclusively available through The Travel Insider. This is for an E
category cabin, and port taxes, as always, are extra ($98). Bigger savings are
offered on cabin upgrades, and if you've traveled with
Amadeus/Amawaterways before, you'll get a further $100 per person
discount for being a return passenger.
And so :
This Week's Feature Column :
Heartland Cruise : Please join me on a special Travel Insider
group cruise/tour along the beautiful Mosel and Rhine rivers in Germany,
If you've already cruised this part of
Europe's waterways, check out the
68 other cruises that currently (until 15 March) have special $500
discounts offered. There's a cruise for everyone on such a
long list of deals! And, of course, please don't forget our most
popular of all cruises, the wonderful
Christmas Markets cruise.
Dinosaur watching : Here's
another reason why airlines should be profitable. They continue to
let go staff, making them more efficient. In the 12 months between
December 07 and December 08, the US airlines gave up 28,000 jobs,
reducing 6.6% from 420,000 jobs to 392,000 jobs.
But although airlines in general have been
laying off staff - and so too have many other companies - apparently
this is not the case for Sir Richard Branson's airlines. In
this article (and many others) he was quoted as boasting in his
usual manner about how his companies were looking to hire more staff.
Apparently he said in a blog post 'We have roles in offices, on shop
floors, in call centres, gyms, on trains and planes, in resorts and
across different geographies. From customer service to finance to
product development to sales ... and much more.'
So how to reconcile that statement
news, only two days later, that his flagship airline, Virgin
Atlantic, will be laying off 600 people, about 6% of the
company's total workforce?
In related Virgin news, here in the US one
of Virgin America's (VX) major competitors is Alaska Airlines (AS).
The new low fares between Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle - AS's
major market - must be terribly hurting AS. And so AS has
decided to play the 'They're not really a US carrier and shouldn't be
allowed to operate' card yet again.
This strategy, which seemed at the time to
have a measure of underlying truth to it, had earlier delayed VX's
launch, and required a rejig of its management structure. But the
issues were addressed, resolved, and accepted by the DoT.
Does AS really have a bona fide reason to
complain, or is it desperately clutching at straws? My hope is
the latter, because the new presence of VX has done great things for the
cost of travel up and down the west coast.
Talking about losing jobs, Jetblue has
come up with an interesting twist. If you buy a Jetblue ticket
prior to June 1, and lose your job between buying the ticket and
traveling, you can request a refund, even on non-refundable tickets.
Quick question - so you're in a plane that
is about to depart. Should you turn your cell phone off, or
leave it on?
The right answer is you should turn it off.
But apparently not all pilots understand this. Apparently an FAA
inspector was on a flight when the pilot's phone started ringing during
take-off, and so the FAA has sent an advisory to pilots reminding them
of the need to turn their phones off prior to departure.
I know pilots who have confessed to making
calls from the cockpit during the later parts of a flight when the plane
is low enough for cell phones to work. I wonder if this FAA
advisory will change their habits?
This Week's Security Horror Story : In a cartoon, you know when
there's a bomb in the scene, because it likely has a label attached to
it that reads 'Bomb'. Apparently the US authorities assume a
similar logic applies to terrorists - ie, helpfully labeling their bombs
Before continuing this story, you should be aware that there is some
sort of punk/rock/folk music band in Florida with surely one of the most
ridiculous names ever given a pop group - 'This Bike is a Pipe Bomb'.
And, as an act of self promotion, they give away stickers with their
band name on them, and hope people will place the stickers in prominent
Do you see where this is leading?
Earlier this week, a cyclist in Memphis TN
cycled out to the
airport, leaving his bike parked by the Terminal C building. He
had one such sticker on this bike.
This was spotted by an airport policeman,
and caused the ticketing and baggage claim areas of the building to be
evacuated, and traffic to be rerouted away from the terminal until the
bike was deemed to not be a threat.
The bike's owner was - of course - taken into custody, and threatened with
being charged for committing various federal offences. But it now
appears the cyclist has been released from custody with no charges
Interestingly, there have been at least four similar situations
around the country in the last eight years.
It is hard to know how to respond when finding an unattended bike
complete with a sticker that seems to say the bike is a bomb (bikes do
have pipes, of course, so in theory could be bombs). But, once the
bike was found not to be a bomb, and after all of five seconds to type
'This Bike is a Pipe Bomb' into Google to confirm that it is the name of
a 13 year old band from Pensacola, FL, was it really necessary to keep
the cyclist in custody and threaten him with life-changing federal
There's a possible picture of the sticker
Meanwhile, this isn't the only
vehicle-mounted sign that is getting the vehicle's owner in trouble.
I'm not sure I've heard of any of the many people with anti-Bush/Cheney
signs on their vehicles ever getting into trouble the last eight years,
but in Oklahoma City on Thursday, police pulled over a driver who had an
anti-Obama bumper sticker on his vehicle. The Secret Service
subsequently visited the man and 'walked through' his house.
You might think it almost seven years
overdue, but the TSA has decided to
train its staff in how
to be polite. I'm sure the 80 year old grandmother will
appreciate the politeness of the TSA people who crowd around her while
at the same time, and also politely, waving on through Arab males in
Some people don't like them, but they really
are the most useful advance in security screening since the
initial deployment of metal detectors, decades ago. The new body
scanning machines that are being slowly deployed around the US have an
enormous advantage over metal detectors - they sort of see through
clothing and detect anything and everything, including non-metallic
threats such as plastic explosives. They also make one's body
outlines and, ahem, protrudences, somewhat obvious.
But, don't worry, the image will only be
viewed by a highly trained and polite professional.
Welcome to Britain? Visitors to
Britain all like to photograph the same things. A red phone box.
A black cab. Big Ben. And a British bobby, preferably with
the traditional helmet. As of Monday this week, you might be
breaking the law if you now take a picture of a policeman in Britain.
A new anti-terrorism law effectively bans people from taking pictures of
police and military personnel.
What's next? Policemen in masks?
One of the world's truly greatest ever
planes is the humble unassuming Douglas DC3. First flown in
1935, more than 12,700 were built by the end of WW2. At least 400
are still flying.
The plane was - almost literally - close to
bullet proof. During WW2, a DC3 was peppered with 3,000 bullets in the wings and fuselage
by Japanese fighters.
It made it back to base, was repaired with nothing more than canvas patches and glue and
sent back into the air without further ado.
The plane was easy to fly, and very
survivable, being the first plane designed to operate safely on only one
engine. It has carried more passengers than any other plane, ever
- indeed, for a while, over 90% of all air traffic in the world was
using DC3 planes.
But now, after 73 years, it appears we've
all been mistaken in our love for and veneration of this wonderful
airplane. New Health and Safety rules in the EU have deemed the
DC3, as it currently is, to be unsafe. These new rules require all
remaining DC3s to be retrofitted with emergency escape slides and
weather radar systems - expensive devices that are forcing most European
DC3 operators to simply give up flying them.
DC3s have been flying perfectly well without
state of the art weather radar systems; indeed for much of their lives,
they're relied on nothing more sophisticated than the 'Mark 1 Eyeball'.
And as for emergency escape slides, what sort of plane do the regulators
think the DC3 is? If a DC3 needs to be urgently evacuated, that's
no big deal. Open the doors and simply jump out. No slide
Does this selective over-regulation really
make us any safer?
Twitter followers also got commentary this week ranging from a long
overdue move to
give all cell phones the same universally compatible recharger sockets
amazing example of how airport runways used to be planned, in
massive contrast to the decades of time and legions of attorneys it
requires these days, and various other items hopefully also of interest.
And, of course, the video of
the woman who missed her flight.
Lastly this week, an assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University
has found that buying 'experiences', such as vacations, give people more
happiness than buying material things.
He studied 154 people ages 19 to
50 and found that experiences increased happiness because they are often
social in nature and tend to make people feel more alive and they are left
with positive memories, a sort of return on their investment. The study
came up with this conclusion 'For whatever you can afford, you'll
maximize your happiness, and the happiness of others around you, if you
spend it on a life experience. It doesn't matter how much money you
spend either. Whether you spend a little or a lot on the life
experience, you still have the same level of happiness.'
The study was presented at an annual meeting
of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology and will be
published later this year in the Journal of Positive Psychology.
So, you've heard the professor. Choose to come with some fellow
Travel Insiders on our June/July
Europe's Heartland cruise
- it will be good for you.
Until next week, please enjoy safe travels