I must start off by thanking everyone who generously responded to the start of our annual fundraising drive last week. We had 40 kind people choose to send in some support.
Depending on if one’s glass is half full or half empty, the half full glass perspective notes that we collected almost as much this week as we did the first week last year; but the glass half empty notes that while supporters were being much more generous this year, there were fewer of them – 40 compared to 74.
Astonishingly, of the 40, 18 were super-level diamond or platinum supporters. Special thanks, therefore, to John, who was not only the first person to respond this year but so far is the most generous, plus Max, Mike, Bryan, Marty and Pete, all Platinum level supporters; and to Mike, Ian, Robert, Paul, Richard, Susan, Peter, Kim, Lary, Bill, Judy, and Gil for breaking through the Diamond level and being also extraordinarily generous.
As this week’s supporters clearly understand, The Travel Insider is a quite remarkable and eclectic collection of analysis, commentary, reviews, and sometimes ridicule about the travel and technology world around us. Our uniqueness however is both a strength and a weakness – it is hard to conveniently categorize us, and so we rely upon people like you, with an appreciation for more thoughtful and detailed commentary, and an aversion for mindless press releases and ‘feel good’ advertorial pieces, to empower us and our ongoing publishing.
We’ve made supporting us a relatively painless process – all it takes is a few quick details and a credit card. (There were some bugs in the new system last week, but I think they’ve all now been cleared.) In return, we have various little extra features for you, including this week a new special exclusive supporter five-page report, which is now the seventh special report exclusively for supporters.
This latest report gives you easy and helpful ways to reduce some costs that you might otherwise occur, while giving you more choices at the same time. I’m being a bit vague, because it uses a loophole that has been permitted to remain by most of the companies that would otherwise be charging, but it is best not to shout it too loudly and too widely for fear of causing the loophole to close.
Current supporting members can go to their Special Member Reports page, linked from the Member Home Page, to access the report. If you become a new member, you will get instant access as soon as you join.
So whether you’d simply like to help keep the The Travel Insider appearing in your inbox, or whether you’d enjoy one of these currently seven special reports, plus other items too, please do consider joining your fellow Travel Insiders and adding your support to theirs.
An update on our lovely French and Belgian Land Cruise this December – we had three more people join us this week. Yes, we can still gladly accept another couple or two, and/or another single traveler or two, so please do consider treating yourself to a week-long pre-Christmas celebration of fellowship, festivities, food, and fun as we tour around this beautiful and historic region.
What else this week? Please continue reading for :
- United’s “New” Boarding Process – Caution : Fake Photo
- United’s “Leadership” Role
- Airline Answer to Complaints About High Ticket Change Fees
- Qantas Brings About the End of an Inflight Tradition
- JetBlue’s Surprising Headphone Choice
- New iPads and High End Phones Due Soon
- Airline/Security Killjoys Punish Innocent Passengers
- And Lastly This Week….
United’s “New” Boarding Process – Caution : Fake Photo
One of the differences between The Travel Insider and other publications is that we’re probably the only one to reveal to you the fake photo illustrating this story about United’s “New” (as in, actually, not new at all – also a point other media have been too polite to make) boarding process. The photo is featured at the top of this week’s newsletter.
Why do we call ‘fake’ on the photo? Well, to start with, have you ever seen such an empty gate area! Second, note that all the people are young. No children, no elderly. Third, note that no-one is bringing more than the legal amount of carry-on with them onto the plane, and only one person seems to have a rollaboard bag.
As for the ‘new’ boarding process, United is reducing the number of lines from five down to two. They say it will reduce the time people spend in line waiting to board. That may perhaps be true, but will it reduce the time it takes to board the plane? Almost certainly, not.
The key element of speeding up boarding isn’t in how you line people up at the gate. It is how quickly you get people into their seats once they have boarded. Studies have consistently shown that the typical boarding systems don’t really speed things up at all, and any semblance of structure is lost by allowing people to earn or buy earlier boarding ‘out of sequence’ and the very loose policing of the boarding order at the gate.
The other huge factor that most US airlines seem unable to consider is that if they boarded from the front and back doors simultaneously, they’d almost halve the total boarding time. Time is money, and planes don’t make money while standing passively on the ground at a gate. Some airlines quote ridiculous three or even four figure sums for how much each minute or two of delay allegedly costs them.
But then, when you point out they could trim 10 minutes off their boarding time, and another 5 – 10 minutes of their deplaning time too (perhaps 15 minutes in total per turnaround) they say that it would cost too much money to get airstairs deployed and arrange for passengers to board front and back. Yes, the airlines that will trim an ounce per passenger from the weight of their inflight magazine and boast how this translates to tens of thousands of dollars saved each year then turn around and ignore the enormous savings – and the boost in customer experience too – they’d get if they allowed for both-door boarding.
United’s “Leadership” Role
We mentioned a few weeks back that United had boosted its checked bag fees. Sure, it was only by $5-10 per bag, but in a scenario where your bags can nowadays sometimes cost you more to fly than your own ticket does, every extra $5-10 in fee is unfortunate and unnecessary.
We wondered about the only other two remaining major carriers and what they’d do. Both American and Delta refused to comment, presumably wanting to make absolutely sure no-one could accuse them of collusion. And now, after waiting a polite few weeks, as if by random, and within a day of each other, both airlines have completed their ‘study of the issue’ and have decided – you’ll never guess – to match United’s bag fee increase. Surprise, surprise. Airline competition – not!
The true surprise/delight is that Southwest is still sticking to its ‘two bags free’ policy.
Airline Answer to Complaints About High Ticket Change Fees
One of the more egregious fees that airlines charge is their fee to change the date or time you fly. You can pay $200 to change your travel date, and that’s the minimum amount. You then may pay more if the new flight is priced higher than the original flight. And even if your new flight is nine-tenths empty and the flight you’re changing from is desperately oversold – in other words, you’re greatly benefitting the airline, you’ll still have to pay this “convenience fee”.
Just like baggage fees, change fees have been creeping up higher and higher. Unlike baggage fees, change fees will never go higher than ticket costs; well, actually they do already, but in such cases, you simply throw away your existing ticket and buy a new ticket that is cheaper than the change fee on your current ticket.
There’s something seriously wrong with this logic where it costs more to change a ticket you’ve already paid for than it does to buy an entirely new ticket and throw the old one away. It has got to the point where Congress is bestirring itself and – on a bipartisan basis, no less – is considering limiting the amounts airlines can charge for change fees.
So what does American Airlines’ CEO say when confronted with that possibility. He has suggested that if there was to be a limit on how much they could charge for a change fee, they might respond by just making tickets totally non-changeable! Details here.
It would be an interesting battle between legislation and airline end-runs to circumvent the legislation, but by the end of it, we passengers would be the losers.
There is, however, one very simple piece of legislation that is desperately needed. The legislation to complete airline deregulation in this country, so that we’ll move away from the farcical situation at present where, for all intents and purposes, there is no longer any significant airline competition. We have a mere three remaining major carriers with astonishingly similar policies, pricing, operations, and everything else.
Our current semi-deregulation has become a ridiculous situation in which, rather than encouraging a new golden era of airlines and competition, quite the opposite has happened. The entrenched dinosaurs are hiding behind high costs of entry that dissuade all but the most eager of new entrants, regulations to delay the entry of new carriers, sometimes by years (aided by a compliant and unbelievably inefficient DoT approval process) and anti-competitive tactics to squash new airlines when and if they do appear.
The solution is easy and obvious. What we need is to remove the restrictions on airline ownership, and a fast-track process for international airlines in good-standing to be allowed unrestricted access to flying within the United States.
You’d see baggage fees and change fees come crashing down to earth in double quick time if that were to happen.
Qantas Brings About the End of an Inflight Tradition
It is funny the things one remembers about one’s air travel experiences. I still remember, almost like it was yesterday (it was actually 35 years ago) my first business class flight – it was a Qantas 747SP flight from Wellington, NZ to Sydney, Australia. And the thing that sticks most in my mind was the music – they had “real” electronic headphones rather than the “stethoscope” type awful things that were to be endured in coach class, and a great selection of music, including – and this is the thing I most remember – a stunning performance of Schuman’s Carnaval by Youri Egorov. Back then, it wasn’t music on demand, it was a fixed program at a fixed time, and I realized at the end that the person next to me was also listening to the same piece. He turned out to be a concert pianist, and the music and good company (and, ahem, food and drink) made for a lovely experience.
Another strong Qantas memory was being introduced to the Stuart Grand Piano – a stunning Australian designed and made piano – via lovely recordings featuring Australia/Dutch pianist Gerard Willems who recorded all the Beethoven piano sonatas and piano concerti using a Stuart piano. That helped pass the miles on a long trans-Pacific flight some time in the 1990s.
While it is true that these days I, apparently like most others, usually choose to listen to the music I ‘brought with me’ on my phone or lovely FiiO digital music player rather than roam through airline inflight entertainment systems in search of unexpected treasures, it is still with a sense of regret, nostalgia, and appreciation for past musical treats that I note Qantas is now ending the provision of music channels on its planes. Not just classical, but all music.
Progress is sometimes a funny thing, isn’t it. The airlines have better on-demand digital entertainment systems than we’d have dreamed of a decade or two ago, but at the same time, they’re keen to replace the ever lighter and less expensive video displays with a requirement for us to use our own, and now they’re cutting back on programming, too.
JetBlue’s Surprising Headphone Choice
Qantas was also where I first ever heard a set of noise cancelling headphones on a flight; a concept I fell instantly in love with, and I now view my Bose QC25 Noise Cancelling headphones as an utterly essential piece of travel gear, on flights of all lengths.
Noise cancelling headphones provide two essential benefits on any flight. First, they cut out the background noise. Because it is ever-present and little varying in tone or volume, our brains struggle to process and cancel it out for us, which adds to our fatigue on a flight. Using noise cancelling headphones makes for a much more relaxing flight. Second, if you actually want to listen to music or watch a video, by cutting out the background noise, you have a broader dynamic range so you don’t have to strain to hear the quiet bits and hurt yourself with loud bits too loud.
Many airlines now provide very basic (almost to the point of useless) noise cancelling headphones in their premium cabins, and a few provide high quality noise cancelling headphones. But Jetblue is providing not just ordinary headphones with no noise cancelling at all in its Mint first class cabins, but, much worse, it is providing open-backed headphones, so they don’t even passively block out some of the background sound.
This is ludicrous lunacy. They spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on each first class seat/suite, but then save a few tens of dollars on totally inappropriate headphones. Details here.
New iPads and High End Phones Due Soon
Today sees the first of the new iPhone XS and XR phones being released for sale/delivery. But don’t let your eagerness run away with you – there will also be new Google Pixel and possibly Samsung phones announced in October, as well as other outstanding but less well appreciated phones. We’ll be discussing this more in the weeks that follow. It might pay to wait before you buy a new iPhone (although we do agree they’re the biggest step forward in iPhones since the introduction of the 6 series, four years ago).
We had also observed, with disappointment, that Apple did not announce any new iPads when it announced its new iPhones. It now seems likely that there will be a separate event for new iPad(s) in October, with the exciting expectation that just like the way iPhones have now migrated to a no-bezel screen, it is likely we’ll see iPads also with no or very thin bezels.
Size and weight have always been much more of a consideration with any iPad than with any iPhone, and there is a ton of bezel that could be eliminated on most iPads. For example, my iPad Air has external measurements of 9 3/8″ x 6 5/8″, but the actual screen size is 7 3/4 x 5 7/8″. The unit could lose 1 1/2″ of length and 3/4″ of width, or, if you prefer, could grow its 9.7″ screen to almost 11″ and stay the same size.
Both alternatives are exciting, and if we can get the same or more iPad screen in a package size smaller and lighter than before, that could renew interest in a product range that has been increasingly moribund over the last few years.
Also, on Thursday, Amazon announced a new expanded range of its Echo products, with most of them being available in early/mid October. Lots of exciting things to tempt us all with between now and Christmas.
Airline/Security Killjoys Punish Innocent Passengers
Never mind the First Amendment. We’ve long since been cowed into submission with the requirement that we can’t make jokes about bombs when going through airport security, because our screeners are incapable of distinguishing jokes from serious threats. Rather than hire people with a modicum of sense and humor, we instead have to zip our lips because somehow that makes us all safer. We celebrate our freedom by sacrificing it.
A passenger got into an argument with ground staff at London’s Luton Airport while walking out to board a plane, taking a short cut rather than going the official route. As a result of the argument about where he should and should not walk, he uttered the fateful words, “What do you think I’m going to do, blow up the plane?”. Anyone with anything but concrete between their ears would recognize this as a rhetorical statement designed to underscore how utterly unlikely it was that he was planning to do anything untoward at all.
But, alas, the ground crew clearly had 100% concrete between their ears, and so became alarmed at this passenger’s “threat” and the security of the plane. Overly compliant police eagerly rushed the plane and dragged the passenger off the flight, and then insisted on bringing bomb sniffing dogs onto the plane to check for the presence of bombs, delaying the flight and inconveniencing all the other passengers.
Would you be surprised to learn that, ahem, no bomb was found. As for the hapless passenger, he was evicted from the airport and refused travel. However, he was not arrested after being dragged off the plane and “interviewed” and no charges have been filed. Sadly, no charges were filed against the ground crew for calling in a totally fictitious bomb scare.
And Lastly This Week….
We might think this a comically incompetent spelling error, but when you consider the people doing the signwriting as likely as not neither spoke English as their first language nor used the Roman alphabet as their first alphabet, it becomes more understandable. But still funny.
“Fly me to the moon” was a Frank Sinatra song, and was meant to describe something unattainable. But these days, many things are possible if you have money, and Elon Musk (who else) is promising to fly a Japanese fashion magnate and a group of his friends to the moon (and hopefully back again), “as early as 2023”. The group of 6 – 8 would not actually land on the moon, and the flight would take about a week. We’re presuming that is each way, ie two weeks for the total flight, which would be similar to but slightly slower than an Apollo mission.
Talking about timings – never one of Mr Musk’s stronger points, we note that his earlier timeline announced in 2017 had him sending people to the moon this year.
How romantic – a China Eastern Airlines flight attendant’s boyfriend proposed to her during the course of a flight she was working. This delighted her, and the passengers on board. But it didn’t delight the airline quite so much, who claimed that this meant she abandoned her duties and jeopardized the security of passengers during the brief proposal ceremony. They fired her.
Apparently, airlines are the same, everywhere in the world, even in China.
Until next week, please enjoy safe travels