Posts in category Gulliver


Business and financeGulliver

An inglorious return to Austin for Uber and Lyft

UBER and Lyft will make their triumphant return to Austin on Monday. Whether the Texas capital will welcome them back is another matter.

The ride-hailing giants left in a huff a year ago, after Austinites had the temerity to vote in favour of maintaining the city’s requirement that the firms perform fingerprint checks on their drivers, as traditional taxi companies must. The pair have long resisted being held to the same standards as taxis, with an insistence bordering on arrogance. They have also tended to assume that customers had their backs. So it was a rude awakening when, after forcing a city-wide ballot on the issue, and spending close to $9m on their campaign, Uber and Lyft found themselves on the wrong side of the progressive Austin population, which didn’t want to be pushed around by big companies from out of town.

Even so, the city had become reliant on the ride-hailing firms, due to a combination of hedonistic nightlife,…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Donald Trump considers congestion pricing for American cities

DONALD TRUMP made a splash during the American presidential campaign when he called for a trillion-dollar investment in infrastructure. But when he actually released his first major budget proposal this week, funds for roads and bridges hardly attracted notice. Though the document does lay out a target of $200bn in direct federal spending, to be augmented by private investments, it provides only $5bn in 2018. “President Trump’s campaign promises on infrastructure are crumbling faster than our roads and bridges,” said one senior Democrat.

Yet tucked away in the proposal is one short paragraph that ought to intrigue the country’s city-dwellers, who overwhelmingly vote Democratic, as well as business travellers who often find themselves visiting American cities.

In a paragraph titled “Incentivize Innovative Approaches to Congestion Mitigation”, there is a proposal to “provide valuable incentives for localities to think outside of the box in solving long-standing congestion challenges,” modeled after…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Who owns the space between reclining airline seats?

TO WHOM does the legroom on an aeroplane belong? More specifically, who owns the four inches of knee-space into which a passenger can recline his seat?

The accepted notion is that such territory belongs to the person seated in front. That flyer has, after all, paid for a reclining chair and thus believes it is his “right” to occupy the space behind. If he remains upright, magnanimously bequeathing extra inches to the person behind, it is on the understanding that he can move the border whenever he likes. 

But, in common with many borders, disputes are inevitable. Sometimes the newly squished passenger will wage a guerilla war, perhaps by wedging his knees into the back of the seat in front, ensuring that the price of territorial expansion is discomfort. Weapons may also be deployed. The Knee Defender, a device that can be attached to the chair in front to render it rigid, is banned by many airlines, but that does not deter desperate flyers from using them. All too often, real warfare ensues….Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Airport terminals for the super-rich might be best for everyone

ON MAY 7th a fist-fight broke out on a Southwest Airlines flight that had just landed at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, California. The violence began when a passenger accused another of “messing with his chair”. It was, inevitably, captured on video and quickly spread on social media.

Twenty miles down the road, Los Angeles International Airport unveiled a new $22m terminal. The facility, called the Private Suite at Los Angeles International Airport, will be the first of its kind in America when it opens on May 15th: an exclusive hideaway for Hollywood types who want to avoid the masses (and the paparazzi) en route to their flights. For an annual membership of $7,500, plus $2,700 to $3,000 per flight, a group of up to four travellers can enjoy luxury suites before being screened by a dedicated security team and transported directly to the plane in a BMW. Once there, they can board using a separate staircase,…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

A mixed April for United Airlines

UNITED AIRLINES has just had a great month. Of course, there was the odd downside. First, the video of a bloodied United passenger being dragged off an overbooked flight for the crime of wanting to stay in the seat he had paid for. Then there was the giant rabbit, en route from London to Chicago to compete for the title of world’s largest bunny, who died in United custody with lawyers alleging the airline put the live beast in a freezer for 16 hours. Then there was the airline’s apology to the Paris-bound passenger who ended up in San Francisco instead. And the flyer whose trip was cancelled after he taped an argument with a United employee.

Yet despite this month of PR…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

America may extend its laptop ban to cover flights from Europe

THE Trump administration is considering extending its ban on laptops and tablets to include flights from Europe, according to CBS news. Security officials originally banned electronic devices larger than a phone on routes from ten Middle Eastern airports in March, citing intelligence that suggested terrorists might be planning to smuggle a bomb on board flights in such gadgets. CBS says that a decision on whether to include flights from Europe, including Britain, will be made in the next few weeks. “Sources say Department of Homeland Security officials are weighing the advantages of expanding the ban against disruptions it could cause,” it reports.

This blog has argued that, where possible, security services should be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to keeping flyers safe. But there is no doubt that the original…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

When flyers end up in the wrong cities

WHEN Gulliver’s fiancée was growing up in Jeffersonville, Indiana, her uncle came for a visit. But as his flight landed in Louisville, just across the Ohio River from Jeffersonville, he was fast asleep. And he remained in that state as the plane took off again. It was not until an hour later that he sheepishly called his relatives to inform them that he was 100 miles away in Cincinnati.

Was that the airline’s fault? Perhaps the flight attendants should have done a more forceful job of making sure every passenger, conscious or not, was aware of his arrival in Louisville. But one can hardly blame the airline more than one would a train conductor for a passenger’s missed stop.

Earlier this year, a Dutch teenager in search of adventure before starting college booked a flight to Sydney. On his layover in Toronto, he thought that the plane he was boarding seemed awfully small to take him 10,000 miles to Australia. But the flight was designated as Sydney-bound, so he got on board. It was only after takeoff,…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Did a selfie accidentally reveal the administration’s plan to halt all visas?

PEOPLE tend to disagree on which adjective best describes Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s strategy chief, but most agree that he is canny. So in reporting that on May 2nd, a rabbi tweeted a selfie with Mr Bannon posing in front of a whiteboard in his office, and thus “inadvertently” revealed a list of possible policies, it feels appropriate to use quotation marks.  

The picture, uploaded to social media by Shmuley Boteach, who likes to describe himself as “the most famous rabbi in America”, seemingly runs through policies for changing travel to America, among other things. Some of these plans—dutifully ticked on the list—have already been attempted. These include the suspension of a programme to admit Syrian refugees. But the pledge (as yet unticked) that is of most concern to a travel blog was “Sunset our visa laws so that Congress is forced to revise and revisit them.”

The idea seems to be to cause chaos. Taken to its extreme, suspending visa laws would, as the Skift website Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Congress is right to be upset with America’s airlines

WHEN politicians feel they must summon industry bosses and implore them to treat customers better, it is a sure sign that the market is not working as it should. On May 2nd, a Congressional committee pleaded with airline bosses to improve service or, by implication, face legislation to force them to be nicer. Flyers, said Bill Shuster, the Republican chairmen of the House transport committee, are “tired of being treated inappropriately and without courtesy. Something is broken, and the obvious divide between passengers and airlines needs to be addressed.” Fix it, he added, or “we are going to come and you’re not going to like it”.

Among the executives hairshirting it to Washington, DC were representatives from American Airlines, Delta, Southwest and Alaska Airlines, as well as Oscar Munoz (pictured), the boss of United, which has become the emblem of just how disdainful carriers have become towards their customers. In the face of repeated criticism from Congressmen, the airlines did their best to sound contrite. Mr Munoz again repeated his mantra that the recent controversy, when a doctor was dragged semi-conscious from the seat he had paid for to make way for airline staff, “is not who…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Home-sharing sites are targeting business travellers

BUSINESS travel accounts for about a third of total travel spending in America, according to the United States Travel Association, an industry group. But Airbnb, a private firm which is probably the world’s second most valuable hospitality provider after Marriott, gets less than 10% of its business from people travelling for work. As the San Francisco-based company continues to expand, it’s pretty clear whom it will be targeting.

This week Airbnb is rolling out a new tool specifically for business travellers to book home rentals. All listings deemed “Business Travel Ready” (BTR) feature free Wi-Fi, a desk, soap, shampoo, a hairdryer, an iron and check-in with a doorman (or a digital lock). In other words, all the basic amenities of a hotel. The tool also allows companies to track their spending, receive invoices directly, and manage employees’ itineraries.

Even if it is still principally for vacationers, Airbnb has seen a surge in…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Alitalia is bankrupt again. This time perhaps it’s terminal

WHEN employees of Alitalia were offered the chance on April 25th to vote for pay cuts and redundancies to save the troubled airline, they spurned the opportunity. In some ways it is difficult to blame them. After all, in the past they have been able to rely on the Italian government to come to the rescue of the country’s flag carrier. 

That may not happen this time. Alitalia has lost billions of euros over the past decade. (Indeed, over its 70-year history its accountants have barely had need for a black pen.) The firm had pinned its hopes on a €2bn ($2.2bn) capatilisation plan. But that had been dependent workers accepting cuts that were negotiated by the government and agreed with trade unions. With the workers’ no vote, that cash is now off the table.

Alitalia has been here many times before. In 2008 it was placed into bankruptcy after the government blocked plans for a sell-off. In 2014, with the airline on the verge of failing yet again, the government helped broker a deal with Etihad, a Middle Eastern superconnector, which took a 49% stake. A plan to make Alitalia Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

An air marshal leaves her loaded gun in a plane toilet

PEOPLE often enter a public toilet with a sense of trepidation; after all, who knows what horror might await behind the cubicle door. Even so, a passenger on a service between Manchester, Britain, and New York got a nasty surprise. 

Earlier this month an American air marshal accidentally left her loaded gun in the loo of a Delta Air Lines plane bound for JFK. According to the New York Times, the weapon was found by a passenger, who handed it over the to the flight’s crew. The crew then returned it to the officer. The Times says that the air marshal did not report her oversight to authorities for several days, as is required, and had been assigned to other planes in the meantime. Using unimpeachable logic, one former air marshal explained to the paper: “You can’t have inept people leaving weapons in a lavatory. If someone with ill intent gets hold of that weapon on an aircraft, they are now armed.”

The idea of placing armed air marshals on commercial flights is a divisive one. We have discussed the issue on this blog…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Is Tom Stuker the world’s most frequent flyer?

“AFTER entering a competition a lucky punter wins first prize: a week’s holiday in Skegness. Second prize is two weeks there.”

For some reason this most ancient of British jokes came to Gulliver’s mind when he read about Tom Stuker in the International Business Times. Mr Stuker, it is claimed, is the world’s most frequent flyer. He is about to clock up his 18-millionth mile on United Airlines. And as the Boarding Area blog points out, 18m miles with United means just that:

United calculates million miler status based on your “butt in seat” revenue miles flown on United. That’s right, we’re not talking about 10 million award miles, or even 10 million miles taking into account elite bonuses for flying first or business class.

Mr Stuker is president of a firm that trains sales staff at car dealerships around the world. He has flown to Australia over 300 times for business and pleasure; he travels to Hawaii “three…Continue reading

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