Nobody Asked Me, But ...
Context and Nuance Edition
SUNDAY, APRIL 14, 2024 -- Nobody asked me, but ... Context and nuance are sorely lacking in public discourse these days, so let's have heaping helpings of both this week.

Nobody asked me, but ...

On April 14, 2020, at the height of the first wave of the Coronavirus pandemic, 87,534 people passed through TSA airport checkpoints. The TSA subsequently amended the number to 113,147. On April 11 (Thursday), the latest day for which TSA has posted data, 2,636,046 went through the checkpoints.

If you're concerned by the apparent uptick of bad passenger behavior, nasty flight crews and broken tray tables, consider: Virtually all of those 2.6 million passengers had a camera at hand. All had access to social media. I think it's fair to suggest that we're not really experiencing more of anything, but now we have 2.6 million reporters ready to document any passenger who puts bare feet on a bulkhead, any flight attendant with a snippy attitude and every aircraft that goes out with a broken overhead bin or trash between the seats.

Nobody asked me, but ...

Because I carry my own toiletries, I've never paid much attention to hotels switching to wall-mounted bathroom amenities. But there is a hygiene issue, a refilling issue and the reality that unscrupulous hotels or evil-minded guests may put different stuff in the bottles. Now this from JoeSentMe member Andy Abramson: housekeepers inadvertently putting the wrong product in the wall-mounted bottles. (Apropos of my point above, would we know this if Andy wasn't active on social media?)

I read Andy's piece after I returned from an airport Hyatt hotel that doesn't follow the chain's decision to use wall-mounted bathroom amenities. People smarter than I say the hotel's brand of amenities--Le Labo--denotes attention to quality. But what stunned me was the size: 2.5-ounce bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body lotion and a gargantuan 3.5-ounce bar of soap. That's a long, long way from the one-ounce bottles and soap slivers hotels used in the era when individual bath amenities were the norm.

Nobody asked me, but ...

San Francisco and Oakland are in a cross-bay spitting match over OAK's decision to rename itself "San Francisco Bay Oakland International Airport." San Francisco's city attorney says he'll sue because the new name infringes on the trademark of San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Ironically, SFO isn't in San Francisco, either. It's in San Mateo. SFO's public case against OAK's decision is here. OAK has its say here. For the record, Google says OAK is 19.6 miles from Union Square and SFO is 14.5 miles.

None of this is new, of course. The airport in Manchester, New Hampshire, several years ago renamed itself Manchester-Boston Regional, which infuriated Boston/Logan, which is actually located in East Boston and Winthrop. Cincinnati's airport (CVG) isn't even in Ohio, let alone Cincinnati. It's across the river in Kentucky. Lots of luck figuring out which airport is actually closest to where you want to go in the Orlando area. Newark is in New Jersey, but sells itself as closer to Manhattan's financial district than either New York/LaGuardia or New York/Kennedy. The FAA recently reassigned EWR air traffic to the Philadelphia TRACON, however.

Nobody asked me, but ...

Wondering why your fares to Seoul or Tokyo have skyrocketed? Blame China--or more specifically, the never-ending trade disputes between the United States and China. So few nonstops between China and the United States have resumed since the end of the pandemic that travelers have had to connect over Incheon or Tokyo to reach their U.S. or Chinese destinations.

The numbers are mind-boggling. Before the pandemic, there were about 300 daily nonstop flights between the U.S. and China. Until last August, there were just 24. Until the end of last month, only 70 were allowed. There are now only 100 nonstops approved, equally divided between U.S. and China flag carriers. But U.S. airlines aren't even operating all 50 segments and they're lobbying hard to keep flight totals capped.

Nobody asked me, but ...

Who knew that the Netherlands still had a kind of Automat operation? FEBO has several dozen locations scattered around the country. The latest branch opened earlier this month at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. Well, actually, Schiphol isn't really in Amsterdam, but the municipality of Haarlemmermeer.

The country I'm hearing the most about from travelers this year is Croatia and it seems like organic interest. There aren't new flights into Dubrovnik or Zagreb from the United States, so no airline is flogging tourism to the country. There aren't any hot new hotels, either. And it is not as if Croatian tourist authorities spend a lot to advertise the country that hugs the Adriatic.

Nobody asked me, but ...

For all the talk of artificial intelligence, I didn't quite grasp the scary potential until someone created songs for me in real-time (about 45 seconds) using a program called Suno. I think comparisons are the best way to understand this stuff. Consider: the biggest hit of 1974 was The Way We Were by Barbara Streisand. Fifty years later, I fed Suno a few of the lyrics and asked it to create a 70s-style ballad by a female singer. Here's what it spit out, a fake ditty called Remnants of Yesterday.

Of course, humans can do AI, too. Consider my mash-up, A Tale of Two Snoopys by Charles Dickens Schulz. It has an opening that's bound to be a classic: It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was a dark and stormy night.

Nobody asked me, but ...

Lufthansa took a raft of strikes in the first quarter because it played hardball with labor unions. Now it has settled with its primary tormentors--cabin crews and ground staffs, each represented by a separate union--and there's peace in the Wholly German Flying Empire. While negotiating, Lufthansa may have racked up about $370 million in direct costs and lost revenue and inconvenienced untold thousands of flyers. That surely makes sense to someone in management, but it goes over my head.

Meanwhile, in France, Air France pilots called off a strike planned for Monday and Tuesday. The work stoppage was avoided after the government decided an official ban on transportation work stoppages will not apply to airlines.