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Air Travel

Ideas for air travel and how to really run an airline

Tons of new ideas in aviation. Will regulation stop them?

XTI hybrid-electric VTOL design

This week I attended the "Revolution.Aero" conference on advanced new ideas in aviation, including electric VTOL aircraft (often called "flying cars.") I learned that there's a lot of interesting new stuff going on in aviation, but the strong regulatory environment keeps much of it repressed.

Flying Cars and National Parks

Opener's "Blackfly" VTOL aircraft is happy to land on grass or water.

Sleeper cars

Volvo concept in bed mode

Yesterday, Volvo got some good buzz for a concept car which included a bed for sleeping and asking the question "why fly when you can be driven?". I've written about sleeper cars before, as well as the full robo-RV, but let's put all the issues together.

What does airline competition tell us about robotaxi competition?

A couple of years ago I released my list of factors by which robotaxi companies might compete. Many people wonder if there will be a natural monopoly, limiting us to one or two companies per city, or if we might get more.

Can travel books enter the 21st century?

When you travel, a whole ton of online resources are available, but there is still great value in the classic guidebook that you pay money for. Free tourist information (particularly from tourist boards) is not acting in your interest. Some of the ad or booking supported travel sites do give independent information (or aggregated user information) but they have their biases as well, and are also full of review-spam.

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The wonderful no-security airport terminal

Recently the TSA indicated it is once again considering having no security on planes under 60 seats at small airports. This is controversial, of course, but many security experts think it is the right course for a number of reasons:

I wish Uber pickup at the airport were instant, like the taxi line

When I get off planes in San Francisco and summon a Lyft or Uber, I usually have to wait 8 to 10 minutes. That's because the airport has forced these companies to force drivers to wait in the "cell phone waiting lot" which is quite far from the terminal. When I don't have checked bags, it's OK because I know this and I summon the car while walking out of the gate, but with bags I have to wait for my bag before I can summon.

Tips for having a car-cooler on a road trip

When doing a road trip, I like to have a cooler in the back of the car. This lets you have cold drinks and snacks, and also means you can shop for things that need refrigeration, particularly things like cheese in Europe. You can buy groceries at any convenient time, even if you won't get to your hotel until later in the day.

Another big plus, when you stay in hotels that have no fridge, is that you get an in-room (literal) icebox.

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Banishing tour groups with Uber and AI

I hate tour groups. I hate the very rare times I am part of one, and I hate encountering them at tourist locations. And with few exceptions, I suspect most people also hate several aspects of them, other than perhaps when it's a group of family or friends. Like so much of the tourist world, I think there is immense room for improvement thanks to new communications and transportation technology.

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How to fly to Europe Biz Class for $2800 this summer, and in the future

I'm off in June to do some speaking in Europe. I'm flying to Milan in business class from San Francisco for $2,800 on UA and Air Canada, which is about the lowest price I've ever seen for biz class to Europe in summer on the major airlines. The coach fare can be as low as $600 for those not able to splurge. Let me tell you how to use these fares, even if it's not Italy you wish to visit.

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Second driver's revenge: Why does car rental pricing suck so much?

As a customer, the pricing plans of the car rental companies baffle me. I mean I understand about the goals for differential pricing -- finding ways to charge richer customers more money -- but still, I find it very frustrating, and I am curious why one of the majors doesn't have the courage to break out of the current pricing models and win over customers.

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Using video and telepresence for below-average academic conference talks

A sad reality today at most academic conferences is that it's fairly common for at least one speaker to not make it due to visa problems. This is not just true because of the USA's reduced welcome to foreigners, it happens in other places as well.

Can we get rid of touts/hawkers at tourist sites with a medallion?

So many of the world's great sites are made much worse by the presence of "touts" (also known as hawkers, souvenir sellers etc.) particularly the ones who are pushy, constantly talking to you to advertise their wares, or even getting in your way. They can range from those who just fill the site with cheap souvenirs to those that constantly try to start a conversation with you about something else as a way of catching you off guard.

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Could hybrid-electric aircraft rule the skies?

Companies are proposing a hybrid airliner with electric motors, a smaller battery, and a liquid fuel powered generator.

One advantage of this design is you can get the redundancy that safe flight needs a different way. Today all commercial airlines have 2 or more liquid fuel engines. They can still fly if they lose one.

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I flew transatlantic on SAS with no food or drink, and it was actually pretty nice

On Nov 3 I flew on SAS from Copenhagen to San Francisco. The 11 hour flight had no food or drinks (other than water) due to a strike by the caterers, Gate Gourmet. It was actually surprisingly pleasant! (Unlike my experiences on Air Baltic which I will relate at the end of the article.)

SAS certainly could have done better. Since I checked in online I did not learn of this until, while waiting in the lounge, they announced that flights overseas would have "limited food choices." I figured that was not that big a deal, especially since I was seated in business class. On the way out I asked about it and they said that "limited" actually meant "absolutely none" and I was given a coupon, which I took to the airport 7-11 to get some sandwiches and snacks. There was a giant line at the 7-11 of course, but I made it to the flight.

(Trigger warning: If you only fly in coach, it will seem pompous to read complaints about problems in business class. The harsh reality is that if you travel frequently for your work, spending all that time in the compressed horror of coach simply isn't an option, especially for a big guy like me. You won't be able to do your job. So I pay the extreme prices of business class because otherwise I would not travel. If you pay that much, you expect a higher quality of flight.)

While annoying, there were some fairly positive results of the experience. The flight was actually much more pleasant without all the constant distraction of food and drink service. It makes me give serious thought to the virtue of flights, even long ones, which offer boxed food and drink that you grab at the gate and take to your seat to consume when you like.

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What every AirBNB needs

I wrote earlier about tips for hotels and AirBNBs naming things like desk space, amenities, good illumination and more, but let me add some things I would like to see in every unit (and listing) for AirBNB hosts, not all of which apply to hotels.

Universal power strips

So many places don't have enough plugs for the modern electronics-laden technomad. So get some power strips. In particular, get the ones that have universal sockets which take US, Euro, UK and Aus/China plugs. Yes, I bring adapters but it's always nice to have some extra plugs. Put one of these power strips by the bed (especially if the plugs by the bed are occupied by lamps and other things.) Put one by the desk space -- you do have desk space, right?

Select your main photo well

What is the most important feature of your unit? Most of the time it's the view or the location, though also high on the list are its internal quality (fancy and new vs. older and plain,) the living space or the kitchen. But while everybody wants a place with a nice kitchen, living room and bed, few are shopping primarily on that.

Pick the most important feature and make it your main photo. Possibly combine two photos for that main photo. However, if you choose to show the view, make it a realistic photo or include one after. If you show the location by showing a nearby sight, put text in the photo saying "Near to this" or similar.

When I shop for properties, that main photo should grab me. If I'm looking for a view, that's probably what you want to show me. On the other hand, while location is important to me, AirBNB is already showing me that. Having a picture of the famous local landmark is pointless, unless you can see it out your window.

Realistic photos

It is important that your photos be realistic. Many are tempted to photograph things to make them look bigger than they are, or to hide something. Don't do it. People will be disappointed and leave you bad reviews, which is worse than an unflattering photo. Yes, your "competitors" are using misleading photos but in the end they will pay for that.

This is particularly true when photographing the view. Don't take a small view only visible if you lean out on the terrace and crop it to make it seem like the view from the property. If your view is only from the terrace, use a wide angle to make it clear you're standing on that. If the view is inside, take some photos inside of the window, showing what you will see walking around the room that has the view. Photos of rooms should not be super wide angle (that makes the room look bigger than it is) but photos of the view often should be.

If you include photos of nearby things, like the town's main tourist site to show that you are near it, mark these photos as "Not from the home, 200m away" or similar.

You should show your "view" even if you have no view. People should know if the unit looks out on a courtyard or back street, and what it looks like. You may be surprised -- even a quiet back street may be exotic to the tourist.

When shooting inside including the windows and view, use a camera with an "HDR" mode (most phones do this now) or get some HDR software so your photo can show the inside and outside at the same time. And seriously, no crappy, blurry photos. I know you're not a professional photographer but today's devices make it easy to get a good shot if you hold reasonably still. You're trying to make serious money -- borrow a friend or their camera if you have to.

Throw in photos of the amenities I describe below, if you have them, to let people know they are there.

If you rent your place for longer-term tenants, consider a photo of a floor plan, if you have one, or sketch one if you can. When renting for more than a week, this is very handy.

Talk about the flights of stairs

Many AirBNB users are older and don't want a unit where they have to walk up 4 flights of stairs, or even 1 in the case of those with a mobility problem. AirBNB lets you say "elevator in building." which is good, but it should really be "Elevator in Building OR unit is on ground floor" -- and I think that people should actually check that box for ground floor units until AirBNB fixes that. Of course be clear in the listing on that, or on how many floors the guest will need to climb, and whether there will be assist for luggage.

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Whoops, UA you could sure do a lot better with long delays and cancels

Last night, as they were towing our plane from the gate in Miami there was a very unusual bump -- turns out they put the tow bar on wrong and damaged the landing gear. It became clear in time that we would not fly that night (FA timeout loomed.) I've seen this a lot, so I was on the phone immediately to book another flight, but I would still need a hotel voucher for the night, as would most other folks on the flight, even if they took the same flight the next day after the repair.

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Your eclipse guide (with the things not in many eclipse guides)

I will be heading to western Idaho this weekend to watch my sixth total Eclipse. That makes me a mid-grade eclipse chaser, so let me tell you some important things you need to know, which are not in some of the other eclipse guides out there. For good general sites look at places like NASA's Eclipse Guide which has nice maps or this map.

Totality is everything

The difference between a total solar eclipse and a partial one -- even a 98% partial one -- is literally night and day. It's like the difference between sex and holding hands. They are really two different things with a similar sounding name. And a lunar eclipse is again something vastly different. This does not mean a high-partial eclipse is not an interesting thing, but the total eclipse is by far the most spectacular natural phenomenon visible on this planet. Beyond the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Norway, etc. So if you can get to totality, get there. Do not think you are seeing the eclipse if you don't get into the zone of totality.

People debate about how total it should be

Many people seek to get close to the centerline of the eclipse. This provides the longest eclipse for your area. You will only lose a modest number of seconds if you are within 15 miles of the centerline, so you don't have to get exactly there, and in fact it may be too crowded there.

On the other hand there are those who deliberately get close to the edge, giving up 30-40% of their eclipse time in order to see more "edge effects." Near the edge, the edge effects are longer and a bit more spectacular. In particular the diamond ring will be a fair bit longer, and you may see more prominences and chromosphere for longer. If this is your first eclipse, I am not sure you want to get too close to the edge. But try any of the map web sites that will tell you your duration, and get somewhere that has within 30-40 seconds of the centerline time.

You look at the total eclipse with zero eye protection

You've been hearing endless talk about eclipse glasses and how well made they are. Eclipse glasses are only for the boring partial phase. They give you a way to track the progress of the moon while waiting for the main event. Once totality is over, everybody packs up and does not even bother to watch the 2nd half of the partial eclipse, that's how boring the partial part is.

But don't be one of those people who, told about the danger of eclipses, does not watch totality with your bare eyes. In fact, use binoculars in addition to your naked eyes, and perhaps a short look through a telescope -- but not during the diamond rings or any partial phase.

Update: There is a nice large sunspot group that should still be there on Eclipse day, making the partial phase more interesting to those with good eyesight.

In totality you are looking not at the sun, but its amazing atmosphere -- the "corona" -- full of streamers, and many times the size of the sun or moon. You may also see jets of fire coming off the sun, and at the start and end of totality you will see the hot red inner atmosphere of the sun, known as the chromosphere.

If you are crazy enough to be outside the total zone but close to it, you still can't look with your bare eyes at any part of the eclipse.

There are some cool things in a 99% partial eclipse (which you see just before and after totality.)

An eclipse is most glorious in the sky but a lot of other things happen around it. As it gets very close to total you will see the nature of the sunlight change and become quite eerie. Shadows of trees will turn into collections of crescents. About 20-60 seconds before and after totality, if you have a white sheet on the ground, you will see ripples of light waving, like on the bottom of a giant swimming pool. And the shadow. You will see it approach. If you are up on a mountain or in a plane this will be more obvious. It is going at 1,000 to 2,000 miles per hour.

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Car Rental: Rent me a cooler and lots of other gear for road trips

Something I do from time to time is a road trip in a rental car. And while car rental companies much prefer the business customer who rents a big car at a high price, then just drives it to their meeting and back to the airport, they are not averse to the less profitable road trip business.

So here are some things they could do to make it better for that sort of customer.

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Can't we make overbooking more efficient and less painful with our mobile devices?

I've written before about overbooking and how it's good for passengers as well as for the airlines. If we have a service (airline seats, rental cars, hotel rooms) where the seller knows it's extremely likely that with 100 available slots, 20 will not show up, we can have two results:

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