Posts in category Gulliver


Business and financeGulliver

Sleep pods are becoming increasingly common at airports

IN THEORY, overnight air travel should be wonderfully convenient. Instead of booking a hotel for the night and losing a day, travellers simply sleep while they fly. In reality, sleeping on a plane is hard, and at an airport tougher still. The chairs in terminals, nobody’s idea of comfort to begin with, tend to have armrests that make splaying out unfeasible. Even in business-class lounges, travellers contort themselves into impossible shapes to pretend that workspace desks are actually beds.

But soon there may be less need for such acrobatics. Sleep pods are coming to more and more airports. Last month, Washington Dulles International put out a call for proposals for a company to provide “a quiet and comfortable place within the airport to sleep, relax, or work while waiting to board a flight”. Mexico City’s airport has just added sleep pods with a space-age design for $30 a night. YotelAir, which offers pods in…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

The Ryanair cancellations

SOME strategies are too successful. When Ryanair convinced many of its pilots to take less vacation during peak-travel season, it probably thought it was being clever. However, pilots who ferry tourists to holiday destinations need vacations too. Poor planning and a bit of bad luck have left Ryanair with a shortage of working pilots for the autumn. This shortfall has forced the low-cost airline to cancel around 2,100 flights beginning on September 16th and continuing through October. The abrupt cancellation of last weekend’s flights and the short notice provided to customers has left many angry.

Ryanair’s woes were caused in part by a change in the way the airline determines employee leave. Previously, Ryanair staff took their vacations over an operational year from April to March. In 2016, under pressure from the Irish Aviation Authority, Ryanair adopted the calendar year instead. As part of the transition, it needed to allow its employees to take the entirety of their vacation time between April and December of this year. That…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

The value of credit-card points

THE value of credit-card points has long been a topic of debate among business travellers. The subject is also picked over online on an impressive number of dedicated blogs and forums. Now it is getting an airing in a different sort of venue: the corruption trial of an American senator.

Robert Menendez, a Democratic senator from New Jersey, is facing charges for allegedly doing favours for Salomon Melgen, a Florida-based eye doctor and friend of the lawmaker. Prosecutors say that Mr Melgen was trying to avoid repaying the government $8.9m that he had allegedly overbilled Medicare, the public health-care programme for seniors. And he wanted Mr Menendez’s help in exchange for lavish kickbacks. These included flights in a private jet, stays in a fancy hotel and more than $750,000 in campaign contributions. 

But at the centre of the third day of the trial last week was the issue of credit-card points. In 2010, Mr Salomon paid for Mr Menendez to stay for three nights at the Park Hyatt Vendome, a five-star hotel in…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

More business travellers are booking their own trips

A friend of Gulliver’s recently received some devastating news, in the form of a change to company policy. No longer would he and his co-workers be able to book their own flights and file for reimbursements. Instead, the firm would buy all employees’ plane tickets from the start.

On the face of it, this is a convenient change. It saves staff time by ensuring that they do not have to fill in tedious expense forms. But many business travellers may not see it that way. A study from Phocuswright, a travel-research firm, finds that more and more employees are booking their own travel and filing for reimbursements. Sometimes doing so allows for a better itinerary: travellers can avoid annoying layovers and airlines for which they reserve particular ire. Sometimes, if they are feeling generous towards their employer, it can save money too. 

But the most-compelling reason is often the credit-card reward points. Say you are booking a flight from London to New York. On United Airlines, the round-trip will earn you close to…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

What effect is Donald Trump really having on American tourism?

WHEN Donald Trump was inaugurated in January, he wasted no time in trying to bar people from certain Muslim-majority countries entering America. He swiftly, too, promised to make good on his pledge to build a wall along the Mexican border. The nation’s travel industry shuddered. It did not feel like the actions of a man keen to woo visitors from abroad.

The predicted “Trump slump” quickly appeared to materialise. Within months, several online travel firms, including Kayak and Hopper, reported that fewer people were searching for flights to America. That seemed plausible. The country was getting terrible press abroad and the firms that sell flights online seemed the best placed to monitor demand for travel in real time. Come July, however, the U.S. Travel Association revealed that everything was rosy. Instead of a Trump slump, the country was in fact enjoying a Trump bump. The organisation’s Travel Trends Index, which tracks flight and hotel bookings, plane boardings and other data, suggested that the number of…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Less lost luggage at the airport

WAITING to see if your checked bag will bump down the carousel and join you at your destination is one of the enduring anxieties of air travel. Though the number of “mishandled” bags—an industry term meaning lost or misplaced—is at an all-time low, six out of every 1,000 passengers can expect to be separated from their luggage for longer than they expected, or possibly even forever. These mishaps cost the airline industry $2.1bn a year and cause untold stress and inconvenience to passengers. 

From June 2018, however, travellers’ frustrations should ease when the International Air Transport Association’s Resolution 753 comes into effect. It will require mandatory tracking at four stages of a checked bag’s journey: when it is first handed to the airline, when it is loaded onto the aircraft, when it is delivered to the transfer area and when it is returned to the passenger. The resolution, which was devised in conjunction with Airlines for America, an industry…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Appalling behaviour on London’s Tube

WITH 1.4bn passengers annually, the London Underground is one of the world’s busiest transport systems. It is also one of the most crowded, sometimes producing an element of friction among commuters over small acts of inconsideration. This week YouGov released the results of a survey of the things that most wind up passengers as they scurry around the Tube. Impatient commuters pushing to get into the carriage without letting riders off first are what drives people mad the most.

The survey also revealed some interesting differences when broken down by gender: “manspreading” (unfurling one’s legs wide enough to take up unnecessary room) and…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Involuntary bumping seems to be a thing of the past

IF AVIATION had an astrological sign, 2017 would surely be the Year of the Bump. Most infamously, it was the year that a United Airlines passenger who refused to leave an overbooked flight in April was dragged violently from the plane. There followed airline policy changes to reduce involuntary bumping, a novel system to make bumping less inconvenient, and even bipartisan action in Congress to render involuntary bumping illegal.

Such headlines suggest that the practice is spiralling out of control. In fact it is at its lowest level since the government began recording data in 1995, according to a Department of Transportation Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Airlines want tighter control of alcohol sales in British airports

TRYING to stop Britons from boozing can be a forlorn task. Drinking has been woven into the nation’s culture for centuries, from the “loose-tongued” pilgrims of Chaucer to the apprentices who ran amok on London’s streets in the 16th century. According to Susie Dent, a lexicographer, English has 3,000 words for being drunk. Some take that list as a challenge. Whether at football matches or funerals, children’s parties or cheese-rolling, Britons turn almost any occasion into an excuse to get ramsquaddled (thanks, Ms Dent).

A visit to a British airport is a crash course in this culture. Regardless of the time of morning, the bars are full and the English breakfasts come accompanied with pints of Guinness. That is an increasing problem for airlines….Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

The problem of contaminated air on planes

AT 30,000 feet the skies may be clear, but the oxygen certainly is not. Anyone who has wheezed his way through a long plane journey will know that cabin air is hardly pristine. Nearly all aircraft draw in air by way of the plane’s engine compressor. It is common for a small amount of oil to leak over the engine, which then contaminates the stuff that passengers and crew members breathe. Most of the 3.5bn passengers who traveled by plane in 2015 were probably exposed to at least a low level of contamination. But frequent exposure can come with debilitating symptoms, including memory impairment, dizziness and vision problems.

A recent study from the University of Stirling and the University of Ulster reveals the scale of the problem. Researchers examined hundreds of aeroplane crew members and discovered a direct link between air contamination and respiratory, cognitive and even neurological health…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Why an eight-hour bus ride from Los Angeles to San Francisco might beat a flight

THERE is a new way to travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco. At $230 for a round trip, it may not be cheaper than flying, but at least it is slower.

Cabin is an interesting experiment; an attempt to compete with airlines by promising a better night’s sleep. Flying between the two cities may take less than an hour and a half. But getting to the airport, shuffling through the security queue, waiting at the gate, picking up your bag upon arrival, and getting from the airport to your actual destination can nearly quadruple the total travel time. That means a trip can eat up most of the day. Or if you want to travel at night, you have about an hour to sleep, between several hours of hassle and tedium.

Rather than go through that rigmarole, Cabin is betting that some passengers will instead choose an overnight bus, on which they crawl into sleeping pods, stacked like bunk beds but ensconced behind curtains and soundproof walls, and wake up eight hours later at their destination. On offer: water, coffee, melatonin and a…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Two Chinese tourists are arrested for making a Hitler salute in Germany

IGNORANCE of the law is no excuse for breaking it. Over the weekend two Chinese tourists were arrested in Germany for photographing themselves making Hitler salutes outside the Reichstag building in Berlin. The country has strict anti-hate laws, which prohibits pro-Nazi symbols and speech. The Chinese pair were released on €500 ($590) bail; police said they could face as much as three years in prison. However, the men were told they were free to leave the country, and that if a fine was handed down at trial, the bail money could be used to cover it.

Gulliver does not intend to get into the rights and wrongs of Germany’s anti-hate laws. (For what it’s worth, he would think the Hitler salute crass, insensitive and insulting while not considering that a high enough bar to curb freedom of expression.) But the incident provides an opportunity to think about the extent to which foreigners should make themselves aware of local laws and sensitivities.

We do not know for certain the Chinese travellers’ motivation for their…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

A judge rules on the case of the "incredible shrinking airline seat"

THE airlines are not doing it. Congress could not either. Nor could a petition with tens of thousands of signatures. The Federal Aviation Administration declined to do it, too. But now, a federal judge may finally do what the others failed to, or would not: stop seat rows on aeroplanes inching closer and closer together.

“This is the case of the incredible shrinking airline seat,” began Judge Patricia Millett of the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, in her strongly worded ruling, handed down on July 28th. The case began nearly two years ago, when FlyersRights.org, a non-profit passenger advocacy group, circulated a petition demanding regulation of the distance between rows of plane seats, known as seat pitch. Average seat pitch in America, the petition noted, had declined from 35 to 31 inches in the past few decades. (American Airlines planned earlier this year to space some rows just 29 inches apart on new planes, before agreeing under pressure to add an extra inch.)…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Many business travellers prefer not to interact with others when on trips

AS ANYONE who flies regularly for work can attest, business travellers are not constantly being doted upon. Flights are not all booked by a travel manager, nor are never-ending drinks being poured by dutiful attendants. Indeed, corporate travel might be becoming a more independent affair.

According to a recent survey, a growing number of business travellers would prefer to avoid interaction with people when on the road, at least until something goes wrong. The research by Egencia, Expedia’s business-travel arm, questioned nearly 5,000 business travellers in Europe, America and Australia. Half of them said they want to avoid human contact while travelling.

That is not because business travellers find their time on the road repugnant and want to bury themselves in their smartphones….Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

A high-speed rail connection between Hong Kong and the mainland is proving controversial

ON JULY 1st Hong Kong marked 20 years of mainland rule with a rare visit from Xi Jinping, the Chinese premier. Mr Xi arrived on an Air China flight from Beijing. The next visit by a Chinese president is unlikely to take place until 2022, when Hong Kong will be half way through its 50-year transition period between British and Chinese rule. Then, perhaps, he will travel by high-speed rail, and arrive at a smart terminal being built in West Kowloon.

Hong Kong is in the midst of an infrastructure-building boom. Work on a third runway at Chek Lap Kok airport began last year. Just outside, the finishing touches are being made to a 40-kilometre (25-mile) bridge-and-tunnel road linking Hong Kong, Macau and Zhuhai. And by next year a new rail line will connect Hong Kong to Guangdong and the rest of China’s high-speed network.

Trains on the “XRL” can travel up to 350km/h (although it is estimated that it will take 14 minutes to travel the 26km between Kowloon and Futian, making the actual speed more like 110km/h at first). The…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Has Ryanair become too nice?

THREE years ago, Ryanair, Europe’s biggest budget airline, made the sudden decision to be nicer to its customers. Before that, brusqueness had been part of its strategy. Fares were low, but check-in staff were famously ruthless. One family was charged €600 ($701) to print their forgotten boarding passes (“idiots” according to Michael O’Leary, the airline’s boss, when they complained). Gatekeepers would obsessively check carry-on bags, demanding huge fees for those a smidgen over the limit. That culture started at the top. Mr O’Leary liked to berate his passengers, the second their expectations rose. “You’re not getting a refund so fuck off. We don’t want to hear your sob stories. What part of ‘no refund’ don’t you understand?”, he once told them.

It was a highly successful, perhaps even clever, strategy. The airline went from being an insignificant Irish operator to Europe’s second largest carrier after Lufthansa, regularly reporting juicy profits. Every time Mr O’Leary mooted the idea of installing…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Climate change might prevent airlines from flying full planes

THIS summer America has experienced some of the most intense heatwaves in decades. In parts of southern Arizona the mercury has climbed to a sweltering 48°C. That has had an impact on the state’s infrastructure. Last month, a single day’s heatwave grounded dozens of planes. As global temperatures climb higher, such incidents are likely to increase.

Climate change could have a dramatic impact on aviation across the world, according to a recently released paper by a team from Columbia University and Logistics Management Institute, a consulting firm. The researchers predict that as early as the middle of the century, some 30% of flights departing during the most blistering parts of the day will not be able to take off at their maximum weight because the hotter, less dense air will not provide enough lift.

Of the 19 airports examined, Dubai and LaGuardia in New York are expected to see some of the worst effects. During the harshest…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Restrictions are lifted on the last airline affected by America's laptop ban

JUST like that, America’s laptop ban is all but over. Four months ago the Trump administration announced that travellers from ten Middle Eastern countries would be barred from taking electronics larger than a mobile phone into plane cabins, citing security concerns. In the past few weeks, the government has been gradually freeing carriers, including Emirates, Etihad and Turkish Airlines, from the restrictions. On July 17th, it lifted the ban on the last remaining airline covered, Saudi Arabian Airlines.

That represents a shift by the Department of Homeland Security. John Kelly, the department’s chief, had at one stage suggested that the laptop would be extended across the world. But at the end of last month it was instead decided that America would demand a slate of tighter security measures at all airports with flights into the country. Mr Kelly said at the time that around 325,000 flyers each day, on 2,000 flights from 280 airports in 105 countries, would be subject to a more “extensive screening process”. That would include…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

United Airlines is testing a novel way of bumping passengers

IT IS a classic traveller’s dilemma: you are waiting in the boarding area for your flight, and an airline employee asks over the loudspeaker if anyone is willing to be bumped in exchange for a voucher. You like the idea of sacrificing the unimportant meeting you were scheduled to attend in return for a few hundred dollars of travel credit. Then again you do not fancy explaining this to your colleagues, or sitting about in an airport for three hours waiting for the next flight.

Now imagine that instead of having to make this decision just before you board, you could do it do it several days in advance, in the comfort of your home. Changes the equation a bit, does it not?

United Airlines is contemplating a new scheme along these lines, called the Flex-Schedule Program. If a flight is overbooked, or looking like it might be, United will contact passengers who have signed up to the scheme up to five days ahead of departure. They will be given the option of switching to a less popular flight on the same day between the same…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Why the spectre of a hard Brexit has European airlines so worried

PILOTS are taught that a too-hard landing is better than a too-soft one. A plane can absorb more shocks than one might think, but a runway is only so long. But when it comes to Brexit Britain’s government seems to differ. And as the deadline for Britain’s secession from the European Union approaches, the spectre of a hard Brexit has some airlines scrambling. For carriers with big operations in Britain, the terms of Brexit cannot be cushioned enough.

Of most concern is that a hard Brexit will involve Britain leaving the European Common Aviation Area. Europe’s open skies fall under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, whose yoke the country must be free from, insists Theresa May, Britain’s prime minister. That in turn would bring into question the right of British carriers to fly routes within the EU. The most pessimistic within the industry, including Michael O’Leary, the boss of Ryanair, say that unless a new bilateral agreement is agreed, there is a real prospect that flights between Britain and the continent…Continue reading

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