aargh's blog http://travelhell.net/01/blog/4 en Summer Reading, part 2 http://travelhell.net/01/node/329 <p>More cheating -- erm, summer reading.</p> <p>"15 Brilliant, Bad and Downright Strange Plans to Save Airlines"<br /> <a href="http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/air_space/4328912.html" title="http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/air_space/4328912.html">http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/air_space/4328912.html</a></p> <p>Not sure I agree with all of these, but at least people are willing to think about it.</p> <p>I strongly believe innovation is the key. The right type of innovation, that is:</p> <p>- Customer-side innovation to retain and attract passengers</p> <p>- Technology and business innovations to make the airlines run more efficiently</p> <p>These may sound like business-school cliches but ask yourself how they came to be cliches in the first place?</p> <p>To simply nickel-and-dime customers is a short-sighted idea. Think of gambler who keeps looking for items he can pawn off, or the person living check-to-check who juggles credit to make ends meet.</p> <p>(and to dress up the fees in a fancy term "a la carte" is just an insult.)</p> http://travelhell.net/01/node/329#comments Mon, 07 Sep 2009 17:07:20 +0000 aargh 329 at http://travelhell.net/01 Perhaps air travel makes us stupid? http://travelhell.net/01/node/328 <p>A typical airport screens passengers for appropriate documentation, baggage size, and footwear.</p> <p>Can we please add "intelligence" to that list?</p> <p>"20 ridiculous complaints made by holidaymakers"<br /> <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/picturegalleries/5005019/20-ridiculous-complaints-made-by-holidaymakers.html" title="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/picturegalleries/5005019/20-ridiculous-complaints-made-by-holidaymakers.html">http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/picturegalleries/5005019/20-ridiculous...</a></p> <p>"20 stupid questions asked by tourists"<br /> <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/picturegalleries/4973350/20-stupid-questions-asked-by-tourists.html" title="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/picturegalleries/4973350/20-stupid-questions-asked-by-tourists.html">http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/picturegalleries/4973350/20-stupid-que...</a></p> <p>What really frightens me is that these are likely from the smart end of the bunch.</p> http://travelhell.net/01/node/328#comments Tue, 25 Aug 2009 22:45:45 +0000 aargh 328 at http://travelhell.net/01 Let them eat cake http://travelhell.net/01/node/327 <p>It's tough to get comfortable in an airport gate area. Admit it. Having just passed half a lifetime waiting for someone to figure out what will set off a metal detector, you hustle off to your gate and try to claim a spot on some terribly uncomfortable chairs. Or worse yet, you've just stepped off a plane and you have to while away four hours' worth of layover while carrying nine hours' jetlag. No amount of meditation will shield you from the chatterboxes on their mobile phones, nor their larger counterparts the gate-area loudspeakers.</p> <p>If you're only in an airport now and then, maybe you don't notice or you chalk it up to the experience. (-and if you're only in an airport now and then, chances are you're part of the problem.) So here's a tip -- and no one's paying me to say this -- if you're involved in any serious air travel, get yourself signed up for your airline's lounge. American Airlines calls theirs "Admirals Club." I call it home.</p> <p>Airlines, knowing the wear and tear airports wage on travellers, have managed to create a very un-airport atmosphere tucked away behind big metal doors and membership cards. Comfy seats, subdued lighting, some degree of snacks and drinks all help you forget that you, yes you, are in Chaos Central.</p> <p>The decor ranges from "tastefully upscale" to "palatial and opulent." If you're short on ideas to remodel your home, here's where to look. Take special note of the newest Admirals Club in DFW terminal D. I about cancelled my flight so I could move in.</p> <p>Best of all, if your flight has been delayed or cancelled, you won't be at the gate area when the barbaric masses decide to revolt. </p> <p>This year American Airlines is celebrating the 70th anniversary of its Admirals Club line. I didn't think much of it until, just the other day, I saw someone snapping a photo of a display at Chicago's O'Hare AC:</p> <p><img src="http://media.travelhell.net/2009/08/ac-70th-cake.jpg" alt="fancy cake" /></p> <p>No, that's not a statue. <em>That's a cake.</em></p> <p>A cake made and delivered by this guy right here:</p> <p><img src="http://media.travelhell.net/2009/08/ac-70th-duff.jpg" alt="chef Duff Goldman of Charm City Cakes" /></p> <p>That's right, the ORD Admirals Club celebrated with a presentation by none other than chef Duff of Charm City Cakes, the bakery behind the TV hit <em>Ace of Cakes.</em></p> <p>There's nothing quite like learning about an event after it has happened. Had I known, I would have arranged to pass through O'Hare Thursday instead of Friday...</p> http://travelhell.net/01/node/327#comments Mon, 17 Aug 2009 17:54:38 +0000 aargh 327 at http://travelhell.net/01 But will the big screen show the strip clubs in the background? http://travelhell.net/01/node/326 <p>Compared to air travel, videoconferencing has much lower variable costs, avoids ancillary costs such as hotel stays, and doesn't require participants to get a free glove exam by airport security.</p> <p>Which is why, every once in a while, people ask whether videoconferencing will kill business air travel.</p> <p>They asked this question during the dot-com heyday, after 9/11, and I'd swear it has come up several times since then. Just recently, a <a href="http://blogs.harvardbusiness.org/winston/2009/08/will-videoconferencing-kill-business-class.html">blog on Harvard Business Review posed the question</a> once more.</p> <p>(Mind you, no one's asking <em>me</em> -- I'm not that important. But since they pose the question I may as well answer.)</p> <p>So, will it? Will videoconferencing largely overtake face-to-face meetings, to the point of swallowing business air travel?</p> <p>No, it will not. </p> <p>So long as people want to see exotic locales on the company dime,</p> <p>So long as there are fat businessmen looking to hit strip clubs and claim it was at the client's request,</p> <p>biz travel will live on.</p> <p>(Let's pretend that the businesses stop collapsing upon themselves and continue to exist long enough to send people around.)</p> <p>Videoconferencing will likely eat some of air travel's market share for people jaunting between different offices of the same company. But let's face it, there are some aspects of business that the human animal insists on doing in person. And in seedy bars. And far away from anything that could lead to the conversation being replayed in a courtroom. But let's not worry about that.</p> <p>Now, granted, there are quite a few deals that take place online or by phone. The modern age of technology has opened up a new class of professional, one who needs just a laptop, a mobile phone, and a coffee shop to do their do. These people and their parent companies are increasingly comfortable not seeing their coworkers in-person. And I'd say these are people who weren't going to fly anyway.</p> <p>But that brings up new questions:</p> <p>Given the pace of communications technology, will something come along and eat videoconferencing's lunch? That is, will the full-blown videoconference -- with its big brand names and requirement of an established physical location for the hardware -- yield the floor to something newer and more nimble and with a cute name that ends in some consonant followed by a letter R?</p> <p>As this new hyper-wired generation sets the tone for the next era of working, will business travel atrophy as its current clientele fades away without a replacement?</p> <p>If so, does that mean I can look forward to a plane trip that doesn't involve loudmouthed salesman barking into their earpieces? Please let me know. I can hardly wait.</p> http://travelhell.net/01/node/326#comments Mon, 10 Aug 2009 19:28:17 +0000 aargh 326 at http://travelhell.net/01 In-Flight Opiates http://travelhell.net/01/node/325 <p>As I have mentioned before, we here at TravelHell aren't crack journalists. Which means no one comes here expecting the news. As such I won't apologize for sharing something that's not exactly hot off the presses nor even lukewarm. (This is where I could be a jerk and say that I'm doing my impression of print journalism, talking about a story well after it has hit The Great Internet, except that I'm too nice to say that.)</p> <p>Here's an interesting piece if I've ever seen one: <a href="http://venturebeat.com/2009/07/23/airlines-may-jettison-in-flight-entertainment-for-personal-gadgets/">airlines may ditch in-flight entertainment.</a> The reason? Apparently, so many passengers have their own gadgets that they're able to entertain themselves.</p> <p>Makes sense, right? They're already <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/08/AR2006020802366.html">yanking the galley areas</a> since they no longer serve food. Why not take the next logical step and ditch the flight crew?</p> <p>(Note to the airlines: please don't do that. You'd be better served replacing the flight attendants with riot police. But that's another story.)</p> <p>Even if this report were anything more than one <em>possible</em> direction the airlines may take, I'm skeptical.</p> <p>I have seen an increase in personal DVD players in recent years, true. But I say "increase" in the most technical, mathematical sense of the term: increasing from zero to two or three per flight. Statisticians worth their Greek letters would call that a sampling anomaly. I simply call it a rounding error.</p> <p>Let's pretend for a second that personal entertainment gizmos are indeed the majority. My dear airlines, don't you realize that mass-frustration and rampant individualism make for a dangerous cocktail? Let in-flight movies be the opiate for your masses and quell the mutiny. Let the passengers stare at the little flickering screens to help them forget how little personal space they'll have for the next twelve hours. Take their mind off of the nickel-and-dime charges you've tacked on to their voyage. Hell, it may even <a href="http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25777330-25837,00.html">steer them astray of joining the mile-high club</a>. </p> <p>(Well, maybe not. Ask around for the numbers on couples who watch television in the bedroom. If you can't get official stats just ask your local cable guy.) </p> <p>No, no, and no. Since we here at TravelHell like to pretend we are somewhat business-minded, we propose a solution to the weary airlines and their accountants:</p> <p>If you're so hurting for cash, why not sell the systems? I don't mean sell the equipment; I mean, sell the <em>rights</em> to our in-flight entertainment. Let some television network or film group decide what to pump into the little screen. Let some video game studio put their wares in front of your passengers. Any media company worth a dime these days would salivate at the thought of flashing their logo and content in front of a captive audience. International flights could become a testbed for new movies. Passengers would benefit because we wouldn't be subject to The Same Old Movie Again.</p> <p>Just think about it. <em>Please.</em></p> <p>You could even sell the rights to some ad broker system, like many websites use. And when you do, drop us a line here at TravelHell. We'll pony up a spot we like to call, "Ten Ways to Annoy Your Fellow Passengers."</p> http://travelhell.net/01/node/325#comments Tue, 04 Aug 2009 00:25:34 +0000 aargh 325 at http://travelhell.net/01 Summer reading, part 1 http://travelhell.net/01/node/324 <p>(Enjoy some light summer reading instead of my usual pander.)</p> <p>Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here are 1,000 of someone else's words:</p> <p><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/metrobest/3491197426/sizes/l/in/set-72157617478192160/"><br /> <img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3097/3491197426_b94ec83fae_d.jpg" alt="chart: compare cheap vs regular airline costs" /><br /> </a></p> <p>(There's a full-sized, 1754x2991 version available via the link.)</p> <p>It's a comparison chart of low-cost carriers versus their larger, lardier counterparts based on cost breakdowns. (I first saw it on <a href="http://chartporn.org/2009/07/08/cheap-airlines/">Chart Porn</a>, which is a great site for those of you into visualization of numeric data. Before you ask, no, there aren't many flesh tones. But it's still an interesting site.)</p> <p>For one, I am quite surprised to see just how much the difference in seat density impacts the bottom line. </p> <p>Two, I wonder how well the traditional airlines will fare as they try to play catch up by cutting frills. Can they narrow the gap? Would they even want to?</p> http://travelhell.net/01/node/324#comments Tue, 14 Jul 2009 03:02:16 +0000 aargh 324 at http://travelhell.net/01 Closing a couple of doors http://travelhell.net/01/node/323 <p>To celebrate the USA's Independence Day I've done away with one liberty: TravelHell isn't accepting any new accounts at the moment.</p> <p>Nothing personal against you fine readers. Just that there's too much spam.</p> <p>When we've locked up the spammers (or found a way to simply tax them out of business) TH will permit new signups again.</p> http://travelhell.net/01/node/323#comments Sun, 05 Jul 2009 01:42:11 +0000 aargh 323 at http://travelhell.net/01 Safety Speeches: Your Pre-Flight Space-Out Time http://travelhell.net/01/node/322 <p>As I mentioned before, I had decided to <a href="/01/node/53">postpone my rant on airline safety</a> in light of the Air France 447 crash a few weeks ago. (I had, quite eerily, completed the draft the day before the incident.)</p> <p>Everyone's favourite mock newspaper <em>The Onion</em> recently released an article on the event -- <a href="http://www.theonion.com/content/news/investigators_determine_air_france">"Investigators Determine Air France Disaster Caused By Plane Crash"</a> -- so I reason it's safe for me to pull my post out of the bin. Here you go.</p> <p>You may think that anyone who uses <em>The Onion</em> as a gauge of sensitivity and acceptable social behaviour shouldn't be writing at all. And you'd be right. And you'll also understand that only evil people and bedbugs dislike <em>TravelHell</em>.</p> <p>And now, on with the show ...</p> <hr/> <p><em>(Originally prepared for release 2009/05/29)</em></p> <p>If you fly often enough you will eventually develop your own routines and safety procedures are no exception. A friend taught me to count the number of seats between mine and the exit door, in case my vision is obstructed or I have pulled on a blindfold so as to miss the melee. (This also gives me a strong case of plausible deniability in the event I step on some elderlies on my way out, or use a fellow passenger as a battering ram.)</p> <p>Statistics taught me not to sweat it, because I'm more than likely a goner in the event of any air mishap.</p> <p>Whatever the case, veteran travellers tend to ignore the pre-flight safety speeches. We realize they happen a few minutes after the doors close, and anywhere from five minutes to five hours before takeoff.</p> <p>Nonetheless, I occasionally find myself with nothing better to do and I keep half an eye open. Just in case they've changed everything around, like the Eddie Izzard routine claims.</p> <p>(Let the record show, I have resisted all temptation to stare quizzically at the flight attendants during the life safety training as though to say, "really? now what the devil are you talking about? what do you mean there's a chance something will go wrong??")</p> <p>I recently caught myself wondering, as I watched the safety video:</p> <p><em>When the air masks drop from the ceilings, why is everyone so bloody calm?</em></p> <p>Really. They've just received notice that they're T-minus ten minutes to impact but they're cool as cucumbers. Not even a sign of Winnie The Pooh's "oh, bother." They have the same demeanour as someone asking, "would you like a bag of peanuts?"</p> <p>It would be one thing if airplane crashes had such a high survival rate. Then you could claim the people in the video were swapping stories about their <em>last</em> crash, and the funny face the flight attendant made as she spilled chicken into his lap.</p> <p>I demand more realism in airplane safety videos: screaming. Crying. Prayers. Maybe one unlikely couple shrugging and walking off to the loo to join the mile-high club.</p> <p>I also want to see some fancy charts that show me the odds. Not just the odds that there will be an incident, but also the odds of actually surviving the impact. (In this day and age of cheap technology and glitzy animations, maybe the chart can adjust the numbers based on the phase of flight: high during takeoffs and landings, low at cruising altitude, and peaked when we've been sitting on the tarmac for four hours and we're about to riot.) Because while I believe most pilots have the steely nerves of Sully Sullenberger, I also understand that there are events beyond the control of diety pilots and that when my number's up it's up.</p> <p>Finally, as a paying passenger, I demand the FAA expand the black box flight recorders. So that every person can leave a ten-second farewell message to the world. It'd be great for socializing with your seatmates. You could swap ideas on what to say if and when it happens. </p> <p>I already know what mine will be:</p> <p><em>See? I told you: first class crashes just as often as coach.</em></p> </hr/> http://travelhell.net/01/node/322#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2009 15:55:04 +0000 aargh 322 at http://travelhell.net/01 The ever-present threat of a shower in your sleep http://travelhell.net/01/node/171 <p>It takes a brave traveller to just waltz into their hotel room and setup shop. Even if you've stayed in the hotel before, even if you've had that room before, standard travel procedure dictates you do a quick survey of your surroundings when you first arrive. My punch-list is as follows:</p> <p>Room appears clean? Check. Closet free of corpses? Check. Sprinkler system? Over the bed.</p> <p>What?</p> <p>That's right: in every modern hotel I can remember, there is source of water right over the sleeping area. Like some Nozzle of Damocles, ready to unleash itself in the event of a bed fire. (Chances are it has better water pressure than the shower.)</p> <p>This makes sense, mind you, except that it doesn't make sense.</p> <p>I agree that hotel guests goofing around with flammables could be a risk for starting a fire. But are smokers really that much more likely to light up <em>right as they slip into bed,</em> versus anywhere else in the room? What moron reaches for a lighter when he's drowsy? And why can't we spot them at check-in, and simply refuse them entry? "Sir, if you could please answer the following questions I could assign you a room. Do you often dream of fires? Mmm-hmm. Do you think smoking tobacco mixes well with duvet covers? Do go on ..."</p> <p>If this is such a worry, let's just cut to the chase and put the bed in the bathtub. The housekeeping staff wins double on that one.</p> <p>Even if that last bit were possible, it still wouldn't make sense. Because I see this even in non-smoking rooms. Which, these days, is all of them. The only thing people burn in hotels is money, and that's just in the metaphorical sense.</p> <p>A hunt for safety stats isn't any more reassuring. Like the one that expects federal employees, when travelling on official business, to <a href="http://www.usfa.dhs.gov/applications/hotel/hm-faq.cfm">stay in "fire-safe accommodations" at least 90% of the time.</a> Only 90%? And do we really need to make this a rule? Who the hell decides to get naughty and stay in a dry-timber shack the other 10% of the time, just to show off?</p> <p>Enough, already. There's clearly no point in having the sprinklers over the bed but, since they're there, we may as well put them to good use.</p> <p>Here's my take:</p> <p>Can I call the front desk and request a spray for the amorous couple (or triple, or other multiple) in the room next door? I'm trying to sleep.</p> http://travelhell.net/01/node/171#comments Mon, 15 Jun 2009 18:53:05 +0000 aargh 171 at http://travelhell.net/01 Safest ride around http://travelhell.net/01/node/53 <p>One can hardly describe TravelHell as hot-off-the-presses journalism. We don't crank out content inspired by some long-sought muse who shows up just moments before deadline. We're closer to the Hone An Idea Over The Course Of Several Days crowd.</p> <p>Sorry to disappoint. But I thought I'd start with that to explain why you don't see any of the usual type of material here today. I had prepared a snarky little run on why I ignore the pre-flight safety speeches. Yesterday it was sitting in draft mode awaiting tonight's release. Today I awoke to hear the news that Air France flight 447 from Rio to Paris had disappeared and there was a slim chance anyone aboard had survived.</p> <p>Bloody hell.</p> <p>For one, this is a tragedy. I don't use that word often, and when I do it's usually a sarcastic jab, but this is terrible news indeed. I hope the friends and families of those aboard find peace, and soon.</p> <p>Two, this story understandably received quite a bit of press coverage. This was just about the only topic on tonight's TF1 newscast. What caught me, however, wasn't just the amount of time spent on the story but that most of the time involved interviews with various aviation and weather experts. And they all had the same quizzical look the rest of us did. </p> <p><em>Because airplane accidents are so rare.</em> </p> <p>Rare and improbable. </p> <p>Which is why we can honestly look at every such incident mouth agape and mutter, "well, that's not supposed to happen." </p> <p>Barring my cynical remarks on air travel statistics, it truly is a safe form of travel. Quite a bit of science goes into the metal birds, and the people in the cockpit have their act together. The greatest opportunities for danger occur at takeoff and landing, yes, but given all that's involved pushing those beasts into the air and bringing them back down in one piece it truly is a wonder so many of them go off without a hitch.</p> <p>Which, believe it or not, brings me back to what would have been today's post. </p> <p>The whole reason I can make jokes about the pre-flight safety routines is that they're so rarely needed. I step into the tin cigar, that wonder of travel, knowing that more than likely I'll step off some hours later and my only real complaint will be that my fellow passengers were jerks. (Sadly, no amount of Boeing or Airbus engineering will change that.)</p> <p>I'll share the original post at a later date.</p> http://travelhell.net/01/node/53#comments Tue, 02 Jun 2009 03:41:38 +0000 aargh 53 at http://travelhell.net/01