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Friday 16 January, 2009
Wow. You've doubtless heard about the
US Airways A320 that crash landed into the Hudson River yesterday mid
afternoon, coming neatly to a stop opposite midtown Manhattan, a mere
five minutes after taking off from La Guardia. It appears the
plane flew through a flock of birds - probably geese - and ingested one
or more into both its two engines, causing both engines to fail.
The pilot, who had been flying NNW from La
Guardia, was not able to fly back to LGA or to any other airport, so
turned almost 180 degrees around and landed towards the south on the
Hudson River. The landing was as smooth and good as one could ever
hope for with a water landing, and the plane didn't flip or plunge down
or misbehave much other than slightly veering off course.
It was a full flight, but all 150
passengers, 3 flight attendants and 2 pilots were able to safely make
their way to the over-wing or forward exits and leave the plane (which
started settling/sinking from the tail first). Some passengers
simply stood waiting rescue on the wing, while others from the forward
exits entered life rafts that automatically inflated when the doors
Rescue boats were on the scene within a
couple of minutes, and everyone made it safely to shore. Some
people suffered from exposure to the cold - outside temperatures were
below freezing, and one person apparently had a couple of bones
fractured, but that was all. Amazing.
People who like to be prepared might note
one small lesson from this incident. Have a warm layer of clothing
at hand in case of a crash immediately at takeoff (or at landing) in
cold/wet climates - there's no way you'll have time to get something out
of your carry-on in the overhead after a crash landing, and even if you
think you can, I can promise you that the people behind you will not
patiently wait while you block the aisle and do this!
Having a jacket with you while seated for
take-off and landing is about the only thing one can do in advance for
I sometimes (rarely) do this. But I do
always make sure I don't take my shoes off until after the flight has
climbed a few thousand feet, and always put them on as part of the
preparation for landing ritual - if something goes wrong, I'd rather not
be running down the aisle, possibly on fire, with broken glass and who
knows what else on the floor, with only socks on.
The people on this flight were lucky in
every respect, including being rescued from the cold outdoors within a
few minutes of landing. This event provided an excellent reminder
of an article I wrote five years ago, which I've now updated to reflect
Thursday's events. I'm happy to say that the Thursday crash was
consistent with my predictions back then, so not a lot of updating was
required other than to add the new information. And so :
This Week's Feature Column :
What Happens if an Airplane's Engines Fail?
The A320 crash into the Hudson River yesterday afternoon gives a very
positive example of a best case scenario outcome. Was this a
miraculous event, or is it realistic to expect everyone to walk away
from a water landing? I explore the issues surrounding 'crash
landings' and the possible outcomes in such cases.
One more comment about the crash.
While experts can argue whether it was an example of consummate piloting
skill, or just outrageous good luck, or whatever else that caused the
plane to land without problems in the water, there's one thing that
everyone must agree on, and that is the selfless heroism of the
pilot, Chesley Sullenberger.
It appears that after the plane landed (and
immediately started slowly sinking), he was the last person off the
plane, and delayed leaving until he had done two walk-throughs in the
cold dark interior of the plane, fastidiously checking that every
passenger was safely off his plane.
That's real class. He can fly me
An interesting aside to the crash on
Thursday. I first found about about the crash from a Twitter
user, and then went searching for news on the internet and couldn't find
any. And I, in turn, advised my Twitter followers of the event
through a 'Tweet' - a Twitter message - too. Twitterers (or is
that Twitterees?) were first with the news.
My understanding and appreciation of Twitter
is still evolving. What is it? Here are a couple of examples - in
the last week I've sent out a dozen or so tweets, including things like
Least likely excuse
for cutbacks so far this year - 'Giving away free beer wasn't popular' -
assertion : Googling is bad for the planet.
Still to come - living is bad for the planet?
Some of the things that do appear in the
newsletter are foreshadowed in tweets during the week, too.
Joining Twitter is free and easy.
If you choose to join, you can then follow me - my id there is
Dinosaur watching : Let's stay
on a safety theme for a minute, and, yes, the concept definitely is a
positive one of safety rather than danger in the air. Here's a
couple of reassuring statistics. Every month in the US, there are
over 700,000 plane flights. There have been no
fatalities - in the US - in either 2007 or 2008 - in round figures,
none during the last 17 million flights, during which 1.5 billion
passengers were carried.
Those are pretty good odds, aren't they.
Indeed, according to
this article, you've more chance of becoming President of the
United States than you do of dying on a flight in the US, Canada, Europe
Hmmm - so my chances of dying increase, the
more flights I take - I wonder if that means my chances of succeeding Mr
Obama increase too, the more flights I take?
On the other hand, while it is wonderful
that there have been no fatalities in the last two years, there have
been accidents; but lucky accidents, like the one today, and the one
three weeks ago where a plane ran off the runway in a failed takeoff at
Denver. Another example of a lucky escape was the BA 777 crash at
Heathrow a year ago. These are non-fatal accidents that could have
become very fatal if things had gone slightly more wrong.
That's not to say that air travel is
dangerous. Walking to the mailbox or taking a bath is more
dangerous than air travel in the US. We are very fortunate, and
should definitely see the statistics as giving us a glass much more than
half full, rather than slightly empty.
Talking about the December Denver crash,
the circumstances, such as have so far been made public, are puzzling
and don't point to any obvious certain cause. The NTSB is of
course investigating, and has yet to release any significant findings.
But that hasn't prevented two of the
passengers for deeming that the pilot negligently aborted the take-off.
They apparently have an inside scoop that no-one else does.
Needless to say, they're suing Continental Airlines.
And talking about suing airlines,
during the major snow fall in Seattle before Christmas, one of the
Alaska Airline jets inadvertently left its external air intakes open
while it was being de-iced. A white mist of de-icing fluid was
sucked into the cabin and started coming out of the overhead vents - not
very nice, and the 140 passengers had to abandon the plane.
A few passengers suffered from mild eye and
respiratory irritation, but did not require medical care.
But now one of the passengers is suing
Alaska Airlines, claiming she is suffering persistent headaches as a
result of being exposed to the toxic ethylene glycol de-icing fluid.
Ethylene glycol is indeed toxic, and can
also be found in automotive antifreeze. But there's apparently
a small weakness in this lady's law suit that may give her a bigger
headache than those she's allegedly experiencing at present.
According to Alaska Airlines, no ethylene
glycol was used by them. They use propylene glycol, a substance
considered so harmless that it is used in toothpaste and as a food
additive (but, bizarrely, while 'generally recognized as safe' by the
FDA for human food, its use is prohibited in cat food).
I'd mentioned before the strange situation
in Canada where airlines are now obliged to give, for free, a second
seat to people who need two seats (ie due to being obese). The
question remained, after the legal ruling, how to determine when a
person needed a second seat and qualified for a free second seat.
Just how tight a fit do you have to suffer?
The airlines have now decided that this is a
decision that only a doctor is qualified to make, and require people
requesting an extra free seat to get a doctor's note to that effect.
The Canadian Medical Association has said that this puts undue pressure
It is hard to know who to poke the
greater fun at here. The doctors, for claiming that this would
put too much pressure on them? Excuse me, but don't doctors deal
with life and death issues on a daily basis? Certifying a patient
as qualifying for two seats on a flight shouldn't be any more stressful
than giving them a sick-note to take time off work.
But are doctors really the competent
authority here? Does the average family doctor know the inner
width/distance between arm rests on a standard airline seat? Does
he have a sizing template he will use, and some sort of force
meter to see just how much discomfort is involved? Does he realize
some seats on some flights are wider than others?
Call me insensitive, but why can't airlines
have 'sizing templates' for passengers? This would be the fairest
and most consistent approach.
some speculation that Ryanair might be considering operating
charter flights between Dublin and Niagara Falls, NY, and apparently
the airport has pitched a proposal to Ryanair (which almost certainly
would involve the airport subsidizing Ryanair's costs and maybe paying
it massive fees to fly there.
My best read on this - don't expect
anything anytime soon. Ryanair doesn't have the appropriate
planes to sensibly fly between Dublin and Niagara Falls, and its
occasional public mutterings about service to the US have always been
very vague on details and timings, and involve such things as being able
to buy cheaply second hand the planes it would need.
For sure, Niagara Falls is just the sort of
place Ryanair might be attracted to, especially if it gets a very
favorable deal from the airport, but I'm reasonably sure we'll not see
them in the US this year.
My series on
why airlines are
shrinking last week was extraordinarily popular, and what was even
more surprising was how many people appeared to carefully read all three
parts of it. It also got picked up and featured in The Economist's
blog and newsletter, which brought in thousands more visitors.
I've now slightly updated it - October
traffic numbers have now been released, and it seems my estimates were
slightly too optimistic - the actual numbers were lower than I'd been
guessing. But this merely underlines my conclusions rather than
There are plenty of other things that could
go into a fourth part of the series, and I'll briefly mention one right
The airlines say their declining passenger
numbers are all to do with the crumbling economy. So how then
to explain the growth in cruising? Princess Cruises just
reported its best ever single day for new bookings, up 17% on its
previous best day of writing new bookings. As a whole, the
cruise industry projects a 2.3% increase in passengers this year
compared to last year.
Let's contrast some of the things airlines
and cruise lines are doing.
Airlines are cutting back on flights.
Cruise lines are adding more ships.
Cruise lines are zeroing out their fuel
surcharges from last year. Airlines aren't.
Airlines are cutting back on the routes they
fly. Cruise lines are adding new itineraries.
Cruise lines pay full commissions to travel
agencies. Airlines don't.
Cruise lines have in some cases increased
their commissions to travel agencies, and actively try to sell through
travel agents. Airlines have cut back and zeroed out their
commissions to travel agents, and actively try to avoid them.
Oh, there's one more difference.
Cruise lines are consistently profitable. Airlines aren't.
Do you see a pattern forming?
It isn't just the cruise lines that continue
to enjoy increased business. Eurostar - a direct competitor and
alternative to airlines said that it carried an extraordinary 10.3%
more passengers in 2008 than in 2007 - a number all the more
credible because it had to operate a reduced schedule for an extended
time after a fire in the tunnel in September.
One more distinctive thing about Eurostar.
Its trains arrive as scheduled 92.4% of the time. Flights
on the same routes have a 65.4% ontime arrival record.
Do you see a pattern forming?
Now, to look again at the ugly side of the
airlines, here's an outrageous example of airline fee charging.
We know the airlines are nowadays running amok with the fees they
charge, but here's a case of an airline that doesn't even know what
the excuse for its $25 fee charge is. What exactly is the
passenger getting? No-one at US Airways seemed to know or care,
and their only advice to the passenger was to dispute the charge with
his credit card company. Details
Just in case air traffic does increase
again (and it surely will), the UK government has finally approved,
this week, a third runway at Heathrow. This new runway, and
a new Terminal 6, will allow Heathrow to increase its passenger handling
capacity from its current 67 million or so (with overstressed
facilities) up to a new design capacity of 115 million passengers.
It took five years from the first government
paper proposing a third runway to its decision to proceed with it.
Now guess how long it will take to pour a bit of concrete, add a few
taxiways, and get the runway operational? Six months?
The hope is the runway will be in service in
2020 - 11 years from now. And, I'll wager it will take even
Meanwhile, the airlines continue to
threaten their imminent demise as a bludgeon to bully regulators into
giving them anything they ask for. But do any of us really
care if the dinosaurs die out or not?
The latest example of this is a warning from
BA chairman Martin Broughton, who said that the Oneworld alliance may
face collapse if a bilateral deal between BA and American Airlines
is not approved.
The two airlines, hoping to get permission
to 'coordinate fares and schedules' (a polite way of saying stop
competing with each other), need anti-trust clearance due to their
current dominant position across the Atlantic and at Heathrow.
They are currently on their third request for this anti-trust exemption,
the last two having been refused, but they remain ever hopeful that
sooner or later, they'll get lucky.
How would we as passengers would be harmed
if Oneworld collapsed? What would change? Almost nothing.
BA and AA would still codeshare as much as they could get away with.
They'd still be enthusiastically partnered with and by Qantas wherever
possible. And the other carriers that make up the rest of Oneworld
would still try to pick up as many scraps at the table as they could.
And so on and so on.
My request to the DoT and/or DoJ :
Call their bluff. Don't give them an anti-trust exemption, and
see what happens. No matter what does or does not happen, we as
travelers can only stand to benefit if you force these two airlines to,
gulp, actually compete a little bit against each other.
A rose by any other name? The
answers.travel domain name has just sold for $3.3 million.
According to Alexa, it is ranked at the 4,794,770th most popular domain
on the internet in terms of numbers of visitors. By comparison,
thetravelinsider.info is currently at number 76,087, and sometimes gets
into the top 50,000 sites.
Who in their right mind would pay $3.3
million for an almost entirely overlooked domain name? Please put
the purchaser in touch with me - I'll certainly sell mine for that
price, any day of the week!
The website claims to answer questions
related to travel, although with the nonexistent traffic they get, I
suspect they're not very busy doing much at all. Perhaps I should
have routed two very strange emails I got this week that were akin to
asking 'How long is a piece of string'.
Julie wrote to me
How much does a vacation cost? Because of your experience I was hoping
you might be able to shed some light on the subject.
A little advice would go a long way right now.
and Kim wrote
How much does it cost to take a vacation?
Since you have experience, I was hoping you could give me some clues
as to what you look out for.
Please help me. Thank you for your help. Regards, Kim
I'm still wondering what would be the best
answers to give these two people. My guess is an elementary school
gave their students some sort of assignment that prompted these two
emails. Yet again, an example that not everyone who can send an
email should send an email.
Of course, I'm not seriously considering
selling this domain or business (although $3.3 million can make anything
serious very quickly), and one of the things that has always kept me
here is the fact that I can't think what I'd do instead.
Until, that is, this week. The
perfect job is now being advertised in Australia. Perhaps I
shouldn't tell you about it, because anyone can apply (no need to worry
about work visas - it is all being taken care of as part of the job).
The only drawback - it is only a six month
posting; but for six wonderful months, you get paid $105,000 to do
almost nothing except enjoy a life of leisure on the Great Barrier Reef,
and doing a bit of blogging and publicity for Australia, Queensland, and
the Great Barrier Reef Islands. You also get free accommodation in
a gorgeous villa, and lots and lots of sightseeing.
There's - of course - a website that
explains the details. But you may or may not be able to access it
- the huge amount of interest from all around the world has
caused it to crash several times.
Here's an exciting new development in Italy.
Noting, no doubt, the enormous growth in river and canal cruising in
Europe, Italy has decided to get a piece of that action, and will be
reopening some of its medieval and renaissance waterways to allow craft
to navigate 300 miles from Lake Maggiore to Venice via Milan.
The Italians want to eventually be able to
navigate all of the 14th-century, 90 mile stretch of waterways from
Locarno in Switzerland to Milan. The canal system would eventually
connect to the River Po and then to Venice. Engineers are to start
work on the first five miles from Lake Maggiore to Somma Lombardo
In total, the project will cost about $1.5
billion. It is not thought the waterways will provide commercial
freight carrying services, but will be for tourism.
Talking about Europe, I received Bob
Bestor's (publisher of Gemutlichkeit) latest free newsletter earlier
this week, and he's got some excellent advice about driving and car
hire in Europe. I hope he doesn't mind me simply copying and
pasting his comments on three points (and I'll include his contact
details to remove the sting of the plagiarism, and because he truly does
have great rental car rates and wonderful service).
YOU'RE GOING TO NEED AN INTERNATIONAL DRIVER'S LICENSE Let's start with
the "breaking news" as the CNN and Fox mouthpieces are so quick to label
any Barack Obama sneeze or yawn. An international driver's license (IDL)
is law in Germany and, as of last Monday, Europcar won't give you a
rental car without one (please hold the emails telling us you just
picked up a car yesterday without an IDL; this is new policy and may not
be applied by every agent in every office - better
safe than sorry). In addition, we know of two recent instances where
Avis offices in Germany refused to rent cars to Americans not in
possession of an IDL. With many European countries already requiring an
IDL, we now strongly recommend that all North Americans who plan to
drive a car on the Continent obtain an IDL prior to departure for
Europe. According to our source in Germany, if you are stopped and don't
have an IDL the cops have the power to deny permission to drive further.
The license, which is a translation of your U.S. or Canadian license, is
available for about $15 from most AAA offices. For more info call us at
800-521-6722 x 3.
WHY YOU SHOULD BOOK YOUR EUROPEAN RENTAL CAR ASAP The October/November
surge in the dollar pushed guaranteed-in-U.S. dollars rental car prices
down. Even though the dollar has sagged in recent weeks, for now those
lower dollar-guaranteed rates remain, making January a great time to
book your 2009 rental car. If prices go up you are locked-in to the
current low rate. In the unlikely event they drop, you can cancel and
rebook at the better rate. This is made possible by our policy of not
charging for changes or cancellations. A one-week rental of a compact
car in Germany is currently $233, including unlimited mileage, value
added tax, and 3rd party insurance. Last summer that same car cost $256.
(Get us to
email you quote on a European car rental
or, if you prefer, phone Andy at 800-521-6722 x 3).
ADDED INCENTIVE TO AVOID AIRPORT/RAIL STATION CAR RENTALS The cost to
pick up a rental car at a German airport or rail station rises in 2009
from 19 percent to 20 percent. That's 20 percent of the total rental,
including taxes. The compact car mentioned above for $233 will cost $280
at an airport or rail station. Please be aware that this fee applies
only to rentals originating at airports and rail stations, meaning you
can avoid the 20 percent fee by picking up off-airport/rail station and
returning the car to an airport or rail station. Some countries charge a
flat fee for these "premium station" pickups. In France, Spain and Great
Britain, for example, these fees range from about $35 to $55. (Get us to
email you quote on a European car rental
or, if you prefer, phone Andy at 800-521-6722 x 3).
You can sign up for his Europe Travel
Tips newsletter, for free, on his
website. The newsletter joining form is about halfway down on
the right. He's a straight shooter and his newsletters are
If your travel plans are to stay closer
at home this year, consider Vegas. Hotel rooms can now be had
for less than $20/night, and airlines are regularly discounting their
flights there. Now if they'd just drop the price of the
all-you-can-eat buffets back down to under $10 like in the 'good old
days'.... More information
My comments about Blu-ray caused
several people to point out to me this rather
pessimistic article about the format and its future in the NY Times.
The article suggests that Blu-ray will be
superseded by internet downloading of high definition movies. I
think this is wrong for two reasons.
The first is that buying a movie has always
had an alternate rental type option. Blockbuster Video, or
Netflix, or whatever. People buy movies because they are
collectors, or as impulse purchases, or as gifts. That will always
The second is that I truly doubt if the
internet has the bandwidth to enable people to download and watch, real
time, high definition movies. A high definition movie requires
between about 18Mb/sec and 25Mb/sec of bandwidth. Who has that
much bandwidth coming into their home - and even if they did, the
internet backbone itself, and all the other steps along the connection
to your home, are not necessarily reliable.
Can you imagine how unpleasant it would be
to settle in to enjoy your high definition movie, only to have it
suddenly pause for 10 seconds until the internet speeds up again, and
continue to stop and start all the way through?
By comparison, internet radio services,
which are reliable but not always 100% reliable, typically use about
32kb - 96kb of bandwidth. You can have up to about 700 music
channels in the bandwidth it takes for one single HD video channel.
HD movies over the internet? Maybe if you order one in the
afternoon and plan to watch it in the evening. But not if you
expect to click on a title now and start watching it immediately.
Here's a much more
that claims Blu-ray sales are vastly higher, at this stage in the
product life, than DVD sales were at a comparable point in their product
life. That is encouraging (for us Blu-ray enthusiasts) but I
suspect it is a bit misleading, because it is doubtless counting all the
Play Station 3 game playing units that include Blu-ray capabilities,
even if they're primarily (or exclusively!) used for games rather than
Worst case (or should that be best case)
scenario is that real time HD movie delivery over the internet becomes
more or less practical. But it isn't going to be free. I
guess it will be somewhere between $5 and $20 to download an HD movie -
especially with many of the internet service providers seeking to limit
the amount of data we can download a month, and charge us extra for more
data. I pay $2/GB for data served from my webserver at present,
and if this rate applied to residential downloading too, a typical two
hour movie that was 12GB in size would cost $24 just to download, plus a
royalty to the studio, and they're going to want perhaps $2 -
5/download, and a margin for the company providing the service.
Compare that to the dropping cost of Blu-ray
discs - you can sometimes get a movie on Blu-ray for $10, other times
for $15, and we all know that prices will drop as the format becomes
more mainstream and popular.
So, which would you prefer? To buy
a movie to keep forever and play as often as you like on Blu-ray disc
for, say, $15, or to download and watch it once for, say, $25?
Talking about buying things on the internet,
taxes on internet purchases are moving inexorably closer to
becoming a nationwide reality. Details
This Week's Security Horror Story :
There's one part of the airline industry that isn't shrinking at
present. The TSA. Yes, passenger numbers and flights might
be down 10%, but the TSA is staying at its present size, and is
aggressively looking for ways to become more and more involved in more
and more aspects of aviation.
article detailing what general aviation participants feel about the
latest TSA moves to police/secure smaller and smaller planes and their
flights, a move which threatens to make corporate and hire private
flights almost as hassle filled as regular commercial flights.
Note in particular this quote from a pilot
'The imposition of this proposed regulation will, in fact, result in the
terrorists’ objective of crippling our free society and profoundly
altering our democratic way of life.'
With the departure of Mr Bush from the
Presidency in a few days time, we all must agree on one thing about his
presidency. He took a sleepy complacent and vulnerable nation and
hardened it so that, in the 7.5 years subsequent to 9/11/01, we
suffered no more terrorist attacks of any description on our soil.
If you'd have asked any one of us, on 9/12/01, what we expected for the
future, I don't think there was a single one of us that wasn't grimly
accepting a future filled with additional terrorist attacks.
Does that excuse the TSA lunacies we all
must suffer? Are the TSA lunacies actually profoundly effective
and sensible? My own feeling is that the lack of terrorist attacks
is due more to our actions elsewhere in the world, rather than to our
successfully creating an impassable barrier that keeps terrorists out of
the US, because we've clearly done no such thing. But, whatever
the situation, the bottom line is simple. To our mutual surprise,
and to what should also be to our mutual acclamation and appreciation,
the outgoing President has kept us all safer than we ever expected,
these last 7.5 years. I sincerely - and selfishly - wish similar
success on Mr Obama's watch.
Lastly, while many people are no doubt
rightly thinking that the pilot of the plane that landed in the Hudson
River yesterday should win some sort of 'pilot of the year' award, may I
Until next week, please enjoy safe travels