Air Travel

Ideas for air travel and how to really run an airline

Where's my flying car? Coming in for a landing...

Opener predicts the Blackfly will be for sale in 2019

Readers all know I love robocars and write about the tremendous effect they will have on our lives and cities. But a new technology, running about a decade behind but now real, is coming which could have even more dramatic effects, the e-VTOL or "flying car."

I still want better luggage solutions

The more you travel the less luggage you want to take. Our world where a laptop and phone can almost do it all, combined with the cloud, is helping. But sometimes you have to bring stuff in checked suitcases.

When you do road trips, especially outside the USA, you learn that most cars don't have the trunk space of North American cars, not even close. You're lucky to get two rigid body suitcases in the typical small car, 3 needs a car with special capacity.

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.

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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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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