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Friday, 23 October, 2009
My weekly happy-making celebration first :
Eight more people became Travel Insider supporters
last week, including one more 'Platinum Elite'
member - Don D.
In return, all 858 supporters received their
second supporter-only newsletter on Wednesday, offering them a 50%
discount on some items - although it was an offer with strings attached;
they had to agree to help me write a review on the products (note to
subscribers - Renee tells me two opportunities remain, so it is still
not too late to respond). And I'm already lining up a third
special offer for supporters.
Needless to say, if you choose to
join our 858 current supporters,
you'll be eligible for these deals too. And, again needless to
say, if you/your company has special offers it would like to make to
supporters or readers in general, please get in touch.
Talking about joining, it is almost time for
the 'last call' for our
annual Christmas Markets cruise, now only some six weeks away (14 -
21 December). There are still some cabins remaining, so if you'd
like to join our group, please do let me know.
And talking about deals, David from Golf
Odyssey tells me a lot of you have already chosen to take advantage
of his special Travel Insider offer - ten days of free unlimited
access to all the information on his website and a $50 discount if
you subsequently choose to subscribe to his excellent newsletter.
I recently added another amazing application
to run on my lovely iPhone, which got me to thinking about two things.
Firstly, it pointed me in the direction of this week's feature story (to
follow shortly) and secondly, it made me wonder what other amazing
innovative creative applications are lurking out there.
In total, there are thought to be 85,000
different applications that can be run on an iPhone, but in a way
this is too many. Searching for interesting good applications in
among the 85,000 is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. A
reader suggested I offer a feature article listing the best programs
for an iPhone, but there's no way I can start to look at even a
small percentage of the 85,000 different applications available.
So - using the collective wisdom of crowds
concept, or, in this case, the collective wisdom of Travel Insiders,
maybe we can collate a list that comprises the favorite applications of
us all. So, if you have an iPhone and have added some extra
applications to it that you would like to recommend, please would
me an email and tell me the application name, what it does, and why
you like it.
I'll see about collating our various
favorites and publishing it next week.
The application I loaded is a remote control
program for my lovely
Logitech Squeezebox music playing system. Although one of the
positive features of the Logitech system is its own excellent remote
controller, complete with color screen that shows what is currently
playing, the iPhone application is even better. Who'd have thought
I'd be controlling the music I play in my house, via Wi-Fi, from my
I've been getting a lot more use out of my
Logitech system recently after mastering the wonderful music services
that can be played through it - music services that amazingly adapt to
send you only the music you are likely to enjoy, based on some simple
information you give the service about the music you like and dislike.
There was a feeling of déjà vu about this -
I had tried to start such a service myself ten years ago, but it was
ahead of its time and was right when the dot com was transitioning to
the dot bomb. I couldn't get financing, and so the idea faded
away. It is nice to now see the marketplace affirmation of the
concept, however, and if you haven't tried these services yourself you
really should (they are even, for the most part, completely free).
And so here's a three part series :
This Week's Feature Column :
Personalized Internet Radio Service
: New internet music playing services flip the old concept of
'broadcasting' on its end and offer you free music streams customized
exactly to reflect your likes and dislikes. Here's all you need to know
about such services and how to best enjoy them yourself.
Dinosaur watching : Airlines
continue to lose money, even in the third quarter this year which is
traditionally the most profitable quarter of each year. With jet
fuel prices at five year lows, and staff costs at even lower levels,
with more fuel efficient planes than ever before, and with greater
passenger loads per flight than at any other time in history, it would
seem that every possible positive trend is all in the most favorable
level possible; but still the airlines can't get it right. Need I
restate that the airline industry has lost more money than it ever made
- from the dawn of flight until the present day, the airlines have lost
more money than they've made.
Sure, we know that business travel is down,
but possibly it was unpleasant overly costly air travel that turned
business travelers away as much as it was the generally depressed
business climate, and for sure, it is these same factors that are
keeping business travelers away.
Businesses are now re-examining the two-part
assumption they formerly held - firstly that their key employees need to
travel a lot, and secondly, that paying top dollar for premium cabin
service is justifiable. Are we now seeing a complete paradigm
shift on the part of business travelers; maybe they've finally
decided they don't need to travel as much, and also they can travel
coach instead of first class when they do unavoidably need to travel?
Whether this is an underlying issue or not,
you must agree that the extended inability of the airlines to be
profitable shows some sort of fundamental disconnect between the
market's needs and the services provided by the airlines to meet those
needs. The airlines need a top-down rethink of what they do and how
they do it - starting from the clean sheet of paper (as corny and
overworked a concept as that is) and must come up with something that is
more of a win/win for everyone.
Currently, no-one is winning. Business
people would presumably like to travel more, leisure travelers
definitely would, and airlines presumably like to carry more people
(although goodness knows they seem to consider any opportunity to reduce
their total lift as a success rather than failure!). How then to
create a service that is affordable and appealing for travelers and
profitable for airlines?
Alternatively, if there isn't a way to
achieve this built upon the current airline service offering, the
airlines need to completely redefine their business. Possibly
airlines need to retreat back to being high end niche providers of
occasional transportation to the wealthy and privileged? Or
possibly they need to consider something totally different, unlike
anything they've done before.
I can't pretend to have guaranteed solutions
myself, of course. But I just don't see any sign of much soul
searching or creative thinking emerging from the airlines. The
apex of their current creativity seems to be new ways to charge for
luggage and formerly free award tickets, and as Joe Brancatelli points
out, with some amount of validity, the more airlines charge for
luggage, the more money they lose.
Certainly his point about the disconnect
between the people who create new revenue/profit centers and feel good
about it, and any sort of overall perspective about 'are we being penny
wise and pound foolish' is very true.
What sort of fundamental changes could
the airlines make? Just about anything should be considered,
including re-examining all their underlying assumptions. For
example - one of the most hallowed assumptions is that airlines should
cater for high-fare paying business travelers who demand frequent
flights to their destinations.
Here's an example of an airline that is proving to be
extraordinarily profitable by turning that assumption on its ear,
and doing exactly the opposite - offering infrequent flights (perhaps
just a couple of times a week) on routes with more interest to leisure
travelers - people wanting to pay bottom dollar for their travel.
But, as contrarian as this strategy sounds, Allegiant Air is both
profitable and also rapidly growing.
The response from the dinosaurs and the
talking head (or should I say 'empty head') commentators? Much the
same as was formerly the response to discount airlines (the dinosaurs
first pretended they didn't exist, then said they didn't matter, because
passengers would always happily pay a 30% premium to fly on a full
service airline - a statement that sounded like nonsense ten years ago
and which has been definitely shown to be nonsense well before now).
They've tended to decry and denigrate Allegiant's success, rather than
point to it as a possibly significant new business model that should be
embraced by others.
Another example of redefining the
business the airlines are in can be seen with much-loathed Ryanair.
CEO O'Leary has stated that his objective is to give away all the
tickets on all the flights he operates, making his money instead through
add-on fees. Our local airlines have imperfectly glommed onto one
half of this - the fee part, but they don't seem to appreciate the other
part of Ryanair's success - giving away tickets for free. People
mightn't like Ryanair, but who likes the dinosaurs either? And at
least Ryanair continues to grow, and to do so profitably, unlike the
I mention these two examples simply to prove
the point that the underlying assumptions of how airlines do business
are not inviolable. Here are two very different airlines,
doing things very differently to the dinosaurs, and succeeding - perhaps
because of this. And so, the lesson to the dinosaurs is simple -
don't unquestioningly accept and continue any of your past business
practices. Nothing is working right for you at present, so
consider changing everything.
It isn't just the US carriers that are in
trouble. Japan Airlines - Asia's largest airline - has had three
state-bailouts since 2001 already, and looks set to need a fourth.
this article, currently its liabilities exceed its assets by
US$8.8 billion. JAL lost money in four of the last five years,
has $15 billion in debt, and a bloated cost structure making it
difficult for the airline to successfully compete with ANA.
So who would want to have anything to do
with such a terrible business? Oh - other airlines. Both
Delta and American Airlines are desperately keen to buy in to JAL - both
to get access to JAL's extensive route network and also as a strategic
measure. Delta would do this to take JAL out of the Oneworld
alliance and to move it instead to its own Skyteam alliance, and AA
would buy into JAL as much to keep it in the Oneworld alliance, which
would be massively weakened if it lost JAL.
But, really - how much would you pay to get
a share of a chronically unprofitable airline with a net negative worth
of $8.8 billion?
While airlines have problems, and are
shrinking, airports are apparently not so challenged, in large part
because they can charge us 'Passenger Facility Fees' and/or float public
bonds to finance most types of expansion without having to justify the
need for it in the same rigorous process that a normal business has to
justify its expenditures.
So, let's see how well you would do as an
Airport Director. Let's say you work for a large airport, one
blessed with a new international terminal some 25 years ago. Over
the last few years, your numbers are down - you now have fewer planes
landing and taking off, and fewer passengers going through your airport
than any time in the last five years, plus the region you're situated
within is suffering from the effects of the depressed economy.
Do you :
(a) Cut back on expenses due to
the reduced income
(b) Discount the fees you charge
airlines to encourage some more airlines to use your airport rather
than nearby competing airports
(c) Embark on a $1.3 billion
expansion program, including adding a million square feet of new
international terminal space
If you chose option (c), you've obviously
recently watched 'Field of Dreams' and you're plainly able to manage an
airport, because that is the option chosen by LAX and its political
Now think not just about the $1.3 billion,
but the one million square feet of extra terminal space.
How big is that? Think of an area half a mile long and 125 yards
wide - that's a million square feet. If it was a plane, and
including space for aisles, bathrooms, and the like, it would be enough
space to seat 200,000 coach class passengers. A million square
feet of new terminal space at an airport with declining passenger
numbers and declining revenue?
Seriously, isn't this a classic example of
all that is wrong with government today (and not just today)? Even
airlines know that when times are tough, you have to cut back on
spending. That's why they take extra leaves off your salad.
But LAX seems unconcerned with where the money is coming from, or what
the underlying need/justification is, and embarks on an expansionary
program that they have no money to pay for. The project - the
largest ever undertaken in Los Angeles - will be financed by bonds.
And the money to pay off those bonds? Well, ultimately, it will
come out of our pockets, won't it.
Can you think of a worse time to start a
$1.3 billion expansion? Details
Talking about airports, Gatwick Airport in
London has been sold for £1.51 billion. Its previous owner, BAA,
was ordered to sell the airport due to BAA owning Heathrow, Gatwick and
Stansted, giving it what was perceived to be a monopoly position.
BAA retain Heathrow and Stansted (although it may also have to sell
Stansted), while the new owners of Gatwick are also the current owners
of London City Airport.
BAA said, in announcing the sale 'We are
delighted to receive this money, which we plan to use to add another
million square feet of terminal space to both our Heathrow and Stansted
Airports' and Global Infrastructure Partners (new Gatwick owner) added
'We too plan to add a million square feet of extra terminal area at both
Well, actually, I joke. Neither BAA
nor GIP said any such thing.
And still talking about airports, we all
know airports can sometimes be a bit of a challenge to drive in and
out of with lots of confusing signs and such like, although the
chances are that once you've driven in and out of your home airport a
few times, you know where to go and how to get there.
But what is it like from the air?
Is it as hard for pilots to know where to land and take off?
There was the high-profile fatal accident just a year or so back where
pilots attempted to take off from a taxi-way instead of from the runway.
And now this week there was a case of a Delta flight that landed
(mercifully, safely) on a taxi-way instead of runway at Atlanta (Delta's
home airport and one which you'd expect pilots to have more than a
passing familiarity with).
So how hard is it to mistake a taxi-way for
a runway? Quite hard, actually. Runways have pretty flashing
lights leading up to them, big arrow heads pointing to them, colored
lights on the side of them, big numbers on them, and black markings from
tire scuffs where planes land at each end. Taxi-ways have none of
Indeed, why not go to
maps.google.com and have a look for
yourself. Zoom in on the general Atlanta area, then search for ATL
and that will take you to the airport on the south side of the city.
Switch to satellite view and zoom in some more on the runways and see if
you can work out which are runways and which are taxi-ways (and that's
without the flashing lights). If you can see the airport's five
runways, you're doing well. But if you see six or more, please
don't volunteer to fly any plane I'm on.
Still, at least the pilots on that plane
landed at the airport, more or less as expected. That's more than
can be said for pilots of a Northwest flight who, as
other articles coyly put it, were 'apparently distracted' and flew
150 miles on past MSP, ignoring calls from increasingly anxious
ground controllers, before finally turning the plane around and taking
it back to MSP and landing (on a runway not taxi-way).
According to this article the pilots did not
respond to radio calls from 7pm until 8.14pm. Their explanation -
the two pilots said they 'were in a heated discussion over airline
policy, and they lost situational awareness'.
It will be very interesting to see if the
cockpit voice recorder tapes show the heated discussion to sound like
rhythmic deep snoring. And, if so, one hopes that the pilots
will suffer extreme consequences, not just for falling asleep, but for
then making a pathetic lie to cover their sin.
Thank you to everyone who sent in
translations of the 1919 KLM poster. I think I've ended up with a
good collective translation that makes idiomatic sense, and (at least
for now), the poster wins pride of place as being the oldest airline
advertisement and slogan I've yet found. You can see it on the
airline slogan page.
I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how
Hertz is suing a company, Audit Integrity, that allegedly defamed
Hertz by naming it on a list of 20 large capitalization companies that
Audit Integrity deemed most at risk of declaring bankruptcy in the last
Audit Integrity is now fighting back.
They wrote to the Securities and Exchange Commission saying Hertz is
trying to 'silence' its independent analysis, claiming that Hertz 'has
offered no evidence of factual errors or inaccuracies in our analysis'.
Audit Integrity suggested 'The SEC would serve the markets and investors
well by insisting that companies with material financial risks not be
allowed to deny these problems exist without providing substantiating
This is a superficially valid claim, but
when you think about it, Audit Integrity is saying that it should be
allowed to make such allegations as it wishes, and when it does so, the
subject companies should be obliged to prove the negative, rather than
Audit Integrity being required to 'put its money where its mouth is' and
substantiate its claims.
For a change, a new airplane is about to be
released by a new airplane manufacturer, and it is not a threat to
Boeing and Airbus. The
is the latest attempt at a (don't laugh) flying car. It
actually looks very interesting and with the option of a full vehicle
parachute (when the wings fall off or something similarly dire occurs,
you push the 'open parachute' button and the remains of your plane - and
yourselves as occupants - float serenely down to ground under a
billowing white parachute canopy) seems to be reasonably safe, too.
The vehicle promises 30mpg on the road and
23 mpg in the air. Because it's takeoff speed is 80 mph you're not
supposed to activate the automatic wing extending control and take off
from a straight stretch of highway, but with a mere 27'6" wingspan, you
could actually take off from about 3/10th of a mile of straight two lane
road with no problems if you were so minded, and land in a shorter
distance. Deliveries are expected to start in less than two years,
and the car/plane is priced at just under $200,000.
I've been watching the explosion in eBook
development with astonishment. Even a keen eBook advocate as
myself is amazed to see how the technology has suddenly caught fire, and
there is a flurry of new eBook readers and eBook formats being announced
and soon being released.
The most interesting recent announcement
came from Barnes & Noble, who will be releasing their eBook reader on
30 November. In most ways it is nothing spectacularly
different from Amazon's Kindle, but it does offer an interesting new
twist on the copyright limitations of eBooks.
Unlike with the Kindle, the B&N product
(called a 'Nook') will allow you to 'lend' your titles to other Nook
readers. You can check your book out, giving electronic rights
to read it to any other Nook owner, and when they return the rights back
to you, the book becomes available for you to either read or lend on to
other people again.
This is a very clever idea - not just
because it is a much fairer compromise than the 'no compromise' approach
taken by Amazon, but also because it encourages other people to buy Nook
readers too, so that they can share books between themselves and their
And, the same as with the Kindle and its
free iPhone/iPod Touch reading program, the Nook will also offer free
reading programs that can work on (of course) the iPhone/iPod, and also
on Blackberries as well as on PC and Mac computers.
People continue to express disbelief at
the good sense in reading an entire big book on the tiny screen on a
cell phone. My response - don't knock it before you've tried
The iPhone in particular has a higher pixel
density than do the dedicated eBook readers, making for better formed
characters that are easier to read, and the small screen becomes
something you forget all about - I've read lengthy novels in single six
hour sittings on my iPhone and have found the experience as positive and
pleasing as if I were reading the hardcover book.
My advice - don't force yourself to
choose between a Kindle or a Nook (or any of the other devices that are
being released too). Simply download the free reading software for
all the devices you are interested in, onto your iPhone, saving yourself
the cost of buying the $250+ eBook reading device and the hassle of
another electronic device (and charger, etc) to travel with and look
At present the iPhone seems unstoppable,
and not just as a phone but as a portable electronic 'Swiss Army Knife'
device that does just about anything/everything you could conceivably
dream of. The latest quarter shows
even greater sales than any previous quarter, and Apple is admitting
the sales numbers could have been even higher if it had been able to
make enough iPhones to meet demand.
But my feeling is that the iPhone's
future pre-eminence is far from certain, due to the broad diversity
of phone manufacturers and wireless companies who are making and selling
Android based phones. And although the iPhone operating system is
a brilliant example of intuitive user friendliness, it suffers one
enormous weakness - it does not multi-task. The Android operating
system, developed by Google and based on Linux, can and does multi-task,
and with phone applications becoming more and more sophisticated, the
lack of multi-tasking is becoming more and more an Achilles heel of
On the other hand, there's no underlying
reason why a new version of the iPhone OS couldn't introduce
multi-tasking (and in truth it does actually have some multi-tasking
already in place - eg, making a phone call and surfing the internet
simultaneously). So, for now, the iPhone remains the phone of
choice, and with the short life of most phone handsets (due to their
becoming technologically obsolete) I continue to recommend it as being
currently by far the best phone to consider.
This Week's Security Horror Story : What happens when the
irresistible force meets the immovable object? Or, in this case,
what happens in Britain when political correctness and prudery conflicts
with airport security?
There was concern about the new airport
'back scatter' X-ray scanners that show a
person's body outline and parts on a screen, making it also possible to
see any items concealed beneath a person's clothing, whether they are
metal or not. Some people were concerned that such images, of
young children, would be of interest to - how to say this without
tripping everyone's email filters and getting rejects - well, to people
interested in seeing images of unclothed young children, although it is
unclear how the images would be taken from a private screening booth at
an airport and into the hands of such sad people, or even how much
interest the shadowy blurry images would pose.
Happily, as it turns out, everyone knows that terrorists are always aged
over 18, and never below. So that pointed out the obvious solution
- exempt children aged below 18 from needing to go through these
On the other hand, although all us enlightened souls know that
terrorists only take up their wicked ways after reaching full maturity
and adulthood, it sadly seems that not all terrorists yet know this, as
a Google search for 'young terrorists' clearly shows. And one has
to also hope that no terrorist would choose to 'cheat' by tricking a
child to conceal something under their clothing, even if the child
didn't actually know what the nature of the object might be.
But at least we don't have to worry about people somehow getting to see
shadowy vague images of unidentifiable young children. Because
surely that would be a much worse outcome than having a 17 yr old
precocious terrorist smuggle a bomb onto a flight.
He wasn't under 18, but he did manage to
smuggle a loaded handgun onto an international flight from DFW to Narita
in Japan. The US male was arrested when being rescreened for a
subsequent flight on from Narita, at which point the more alert Japanese
security officers noticed the handgun in his carry-on bag. Ooops.
The man said he had placed the gun in the
bag several years ago and mistakenly brought it with him. Question
- how many other flights had he taken the gun mistakenly on in the
several years it had been in the bottom of the bag?
tongue-in-cheek account of border 'security' on the border between
Canada and the US. One of these days I must try and walk across
the border, just to see what happens. I did, last weekend, drive
across the border at an official crossing, and on the way back from
Canada, I blessedly had no wait at the border, and drove straight up to
one of the 'toll-booth' points to speak to the US Border Patrol officer
Imagine my astonishment when, almost before
I'd stopped the vehicle alongside the toll booth, he stepped out and
said 'Good evening, Mr Rowell, how are you today?'. My goodness me
- in the short 50' distance approaching his toll booth, systems had
presumably detected my Nexus card and vehicle license plate, and flashed
who knows how much data onto his screen, allowing for him to then make
the cheery greeting to me, using my name.
Very impressive, so much so that I felt
compelled to confess the importation back into the US of a liter bottle
of ridiculously over-proof rum that by rights (because of my short stay
out of the country) I perhaps shouldn't have purchased. He was
gracious enough to 'not officially see' the bottle.
different take on 'Big Brother is Watching You' - this time in the
form of GM's OnStar vehicle monitoring system being used to foil a
carjacking. Also impressive.
Until next week, please enjoy safe travels