Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Easyjet and climate change

Regular readers know that I have been a major customer of easyJet over the years. So much so that they enrolled me on their frequent flyer special privileges list, known as Flight Club. However, when I could, I took the train; but this was rare, because most of my flights were for weekends only. I did not have two days to commit to travel and still work. I was not alone in this; at least ten of the people at the front of the boarding queue were weekend travellers with family in Munich. We were familiar to one another.

When Covid struck, easyJet took most of their aeroplanes out of service. The British Government compounded the whole thing by forbidding Britons from leaving the country unless they had a funeral to attend or, oddly, some property to sell!

When borders opened up again, easyJet’s flights remained few in number. But post-lockdown, many things had changed, not least my ability to work more flexibly and hence take the train more often. It takes about 11 hours or so to make the journey from London to Munich, connections permitting. I am hoping that I never need to fly this route again. The train is way superior.

But easyJet’s CEO, Johan Lundgren, is looking forward to services returning to pre-Covid levels for the summer. With the requirement for PCR and LTF tests being removed to enter the UK, mobility becomes easier and cheaper (both tests are expensive because they are only valid if undertaken by a private company/laboratory). The implications for aviation returning to pre-Covid levels are significant. Aviation contributes about 3.5 per cent of annual emissions of greenhouse gases. That does not sound much, but with a diminishing annual global carbon budget, that is 3.5 per cent the planet could do without.

Lundgren has an answer (of sorts). He claims that, whilst we are waiting for hydrogen-fuelled planes in 2035 (promised by Airbus), we can offset carbon. He does not tell us how the company is offsetting. Though the website states the following: “we offset all the carbon emissions from the fuel used, by supporting projects that protect against deforestation, plant trees or drive the uptake of renewable energy. These projects either avoid the creation of new carbon elsewhere, or directly remove carbon from the atmosphere.”

Offsetting is a flawed concept. The company knows it. Why else would they state on the website that it is not a long-term solution? The principle is that we calculate how much carbon dioxide is emitted per flight and then match that with something that absorbs or compensates that amount of carbon dioxide. Compensation takes the form of investing in solar and wind energy and projects that prevent deforestation.

The most obvious offset mechanism in the absorption category is provided by trees. Unfortunately, even if trees are planted to offset the emissions, many more trees are being destroyed to enable cash crops to be grown, particularly palm oil and soya, despite offsetting funded by airlines such as easyJet. The Amazon is under hourly attack sanctioned by the Brazilian government of Jair Bolsonaro. He is not the only one.

I calculated that to offset the emission caused by 100 desktop computers, we need to plant nearly 5 football pitches of trees per year to absorb the carbon. Imagine that scaled up to airlines. Just see how many aeroplanes are in the air currently – February when volumes are low and even lower because of reduced demand and capacity (right).

Offsetting by planting trees is not credible. What about carbon capture? Well I, probably stupidly, pay to sequestrate carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by a company called Climeworks. Climeworks charge US$1100 per tonne to sequestrate carbon dioxide. From my understanding, a round trip flight from London to New York (economy) generates 1.8 tonnes CO2. The price to sequestrate, therefore, becomes $1980 (€1680) on top of the ticket price. In the case of easyJet, a low-cost airline is unlikely ever to offset in this way, even if the capacity to do so existed.

There is another problem with Mr Lundgren’s approach. It is echoed by climate change deniers. And that is, there is a technological fix (hydrogen powered planes) just around the corner, or 2035. Even if easyJet can offset its emissions, I’m pretty sure the rest of the aviation industry will not. And the chances of Airbus delivering planes to all airlines by that date, is unlikely. Moreover, Airbus is working on planes that are ok for short haul, but not feasible for longer flights. There will remain a gaping hole in the carbon neutral aeroplane portfolio. We might ask, also, whether the airports will have in place the infrastructure to service these new planes. In addition, Boeing is going for biofuel and retrofitting existing planes. These are not carbon neutral and threaten to contribute to deforestation because the fuel needs land on which to grow.

There is one more dimension to Mr Lundgren’s arguments. While train travel is feasible – albeit with extended journey times – Mr Lundgren indicates that the European rail networks are insufficiently developed and have capacity constraints. Unlike with airlines, it is not possible just to commission a new aeroplane to meet demand. New trains and supporting infrastructure take time.

All of these airlines – but many more companies besides – are looking for business-as-usual when that is simply not possible if we are to stay within the planetary boundaries. The world has changed. It has heated up. Mr Lundgren, your planes have to stay on the ground.

easyJet plane Pic: Adrian Pingstone

Travelling in Europe at the height of a pandemic

Covid 19 – picture CDC

Omicron is remarkable. A month ago we were unaware of it, now it threatens – single handedly – to “cancel” Christmas; for some reason, the politicians’ worst fear. It has thrown up a problem for me. At 2300 on 19 December 2021, Germany closed its border with the UK because – yet again – the UK is a considerable source of infection and has to be controlled. A mere 8 hours after the closure of the border, I was to set off on a journey to cross the border.

I am vaccine boosted (but that is no longer enough). I needed a negative PCR test. Bearing in mind it was only 24 hours earlier that the German Government announced the new restrictions, my journey got a whole lot more difficult. I had to search for a PCR test that could be delivered in super-quick time. The recommended testers by Eurostar had no appointments, and even if they did, they had to be done before 1300 for delivery by midnight. That was pushing my itinerary a bit.

I did actually find a company in London with appointments – Concepto Clinic. They have various locations in the UK. I went to the facility in the Hilton Hotel at Canary Wharf on the understanding that the day’s test result would be delivered overnight. It was. On that basis alone, I recommend the experience, despite the expense (all equivalents are similarly priced).

It was necessary. A negative test was required to board the Eurostar in London. Also necessary was a passenger locator form for Belgium (Eurostar terminus is Brussels). The form is online and is validated with a code either sent to the traveller’s email address or mobile phone. The locator form was checked again at Brussels by border police.

 German Emperor Wilhelm II, viewed from Hohenzollern railway bridge, Köln, Germany

I have additionally filled out a locator form for Germany. This form, for the new regulations, asks for a reason for travel. Visiting close relatives is a valid reason to travel. There is also a section on vaccine status, and being able to prove it. It is not entirely clear at the moment whether two jabs constitutes being vaccinated, or whether a booster is required. The form is online and is also validated with a code. My form was accepted by the system, though not checked despite border police being on the train.

One more thing about travelling with Deutsche Bahn, if a connection is missed (which in my experience is pretty common), the train managers do not seem to care that one is on an unscheduled train. There is no explaining to do, they point their machines at the QR code and move on.

The DB Navigator app is a bit of a curiosity. I travel paperless, so the ticket and itinerary are stored within and read by the train managers’ devices. The app informs you whether you are likely to meet your connections. If not, it offers alternative suggestions. I have found these to be not so wise to take up. Today, for example, I was offered a train from Köln involving some regional services as well as intercity. I think that unless one is terribly stuck, regional services point you in the right direction, but not much else. When booking, however, some of the real bargains on offer involve regional services, but when the booking is exclusively intercity, as mine was, they can extend journey times significantly.

The state of cigarette advertising in Germany

This blog draws many readers from searches for cigarette advertising. I have absolutely no idea why people search for cigarette advertising, but they do, and some of my poster snaps have been used by others for all sorts of purposes. Certainly since the pandemic – and perhaps more significantly, the growing importance of e-cigarettes and standard packaging with images of diseased lungs – I’ve been starved of content; and the advertising there has been, seems a shade unimaginative.

Take, for example, Winston (left). The end of the packet is shown to avoid the unpleasant images and also to show how fat is the packet, housing as it does enough cigarettes to kill an elephant. There is an inexplicable link made between the number of cigarettes, taste (grosser geschmack) and value (for money). Not much of a narrative. Winston is an ITG brand in the USA (Imperial tobacco) and is a subsidiary of Japan Tobacco in the rest of the world.

Burton goes for a similar approach, though these are selected by smokers because they are “your [killer] cigarette”. I was not previously aware of Burton cigarettes, but according to cigarettespedia (goodness, an encyclopaedia of cigarettes, soon no reason to come to this site at all), it is a Greek and German brand owned by Tabak House. Seemingly, the brand goes for cheap, and appeals to young people. The taste is, therefore, not really an issue. The nicotine is perhaps more important.

It is not all despair, though. Camel is persisting with its primary colours approach with a touch of marketing brilliance (only joking). These sticks are extra long and therefore extra enjoyable. The subtlety of the slogan doesn’t really translate. It it reflexive, which means the cigarettes enjoy themselves being extra long as well as the smoker? Why do I care?

Also back on the high street is Lucky Strike (Luckies). Of course, this advertising campaign is trying to convince someone that cigarettes are green. The filters here are made of paper (rather than cork?), so that is alright then. Strangely, consumers are advised to put the used filters in the regular waste rather than the recycling bin!

And finally, something I have not reported on before (because it is not common in Germany), is loose rolling tobacco. Spirit with Character, whatever that is supposed to mean attached to a product that has known lethal properties, is certainly attractive in packaging terms. American Spirit has been in all sorts of bother over the years in the US. The Truth Initiative reports that the brand has convinced its customers that the product is less-harmful than competitor products because it is organic. But ironically, the organic claim may well contribute to the product being more harmful than competitor brands with more nicotine by means of “more puffs per cigarette”. Hawk-eyed readers may also consider the use of a representation of a native American to sell a distinctly western capitalist product to be at best unsavoury. The brand is owned by Reynolds American, a subsidiary of British American Tobacco.

Travelling during a pandemic

Hopefully most readers are not travelling at the moment. Staying put is safer and, frankly, much less stressful. I am a frequent traveller to Europe for family reasons and have experienced most things – delayed trains and planes due to failed infrastructure, sick or unregistered passengers and luggage, unruly passengers, theft of my possessions, dodgy hotels, the lot. And then there is Brexit – my passport no longer seems to get me through eGates in Germany (we’ll see if that is a one-off or permanent) and, of course, as a non-EU citizen, I can only be a country for 90 days in every 180 and am barred from working.

Now before I get ripped to shreds on my hypocrisy flying as I do but also constantly banging on about climate change, let me state the following. Travelling is for family reasons, and whilst 15 years’ ago when I first established family connections in Germany, my ignorance – despite friends warning me about my carbon footprint – meant that flying was a viable option. Clearly things have changed, but my family has not. I need to travel to be with them. During the pandemic, I have been travelling less for three reasons. First, it is quite difficult; second, it is dangerous and inappropriate (lockdowns are lockdowns after all); third, I have the privileged of being able to work from home. With regard to flying, I am an advocate of a frequent-flier levy – the more one flies, the more you pay. And exponentially. That would hit me hard financially, and rightly so. I am also hopeful now of structural changes that will enable me to travel more often – or always – by train. The pandemic has demonstrated that we can work remotely. I am healthier and less stressed because of it. We will see how committed employers are to the permanent change in the future. I am hopeful, but not convinced. There is also talk of a new Trans-Europe Express to help people to move across Europe without planes.

What follows is an account of my experience to help others. Having travelled for many years, there are many like me who have family on the continent.

View from Hilton hotel, Hatton CrossI passed through Heathrow airport on Sunday evening (14 February). I travelled with British Airways – currently offering 2 flights per week Munich – London. Originally I was scheduled to come back the previous day with easyJet, but that plane was cancelled, with the next scheduled option being sometime in March. On 18 January, the British Government imposed a requirement of a negative Covid test on all arrivals. That was fine, but an extra task to fulfil prior to travelling. Travelling on a Sunday meant that I took the test on the previous Thursday giving enough time for the result to be notified assuming that weekend lab work is not likely. Sunday was, hence, the last day of validity for the test. If the plane did not go on Sunday, I’d have to take another test (€130). 

The plane arrived at its stand an hour before departure. The plane was fully boarded (busy but not full) at the scheduled departure time, 1745. But we were 45 minutes late pushing back from the stand due to an administrative error at the gate. Munich Airport would not allow the plane to go until everything was in order. Fair enough, I suppose. After being pushed back we waited motionless for about 10 minutes before the pilot announced that the plane had been damaged in the pushback. Engineers were called. 2 hours later, authorisation was given to fly.

I do not live anywhere near Heathrow Airport, and it being Sunday, the UK railway network enjoyed its usual scattering of engineering works, including on my routes home. If I was able to catch the last train/bus home, I expected to be back about 0300 – not a great prospect. But UK borders are never straightforward, and particularly with the need to demonstrate a negative Covid test and a valid passenger locator form (which includes payment of £210 for two Variant tests to be delivered to one’s home 2 and 5 days after arrival). Even though the arrivals are few, the border area was full and a long queue that snaked its way back and forth was created. Familiar image. Mingle, mingle, mingle.

The eGates were open as additional security staff were checking the documentation. My passport was rejected by the eGates and IHotel breakfast had to stand in another queue to be approved by a border official – there was only one on duty. In total, I was about 1 hour getting across the border. I decided to take a hotel rather than attempt the journey home. I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn Hotel at Hatton Cross (close to the Tube Station). Hotel prices are half of what one would normally pay, so that was not too onerous, though still a cost. The view (above left) was a shade dystopian, however. But I recommend the hotel if readers are ever in the same position. I bought breakfast – one retrieves it from the kitchen and consume it in one’s room. It was fine (right).

On Monday (15 February 2021) I was able to travel to the South Coast of England. The Tube and overland trains were largely quiet. I am now observing an obligatory 10 days’ quarantine. I stocked up on non-perishables before I departed, so I have most of what I need for the duration. Safe travels.

Camel goes wild

Camel cigarette packetThe genius of marketers. Here we go, Camel leveraging its brand with an animal edition – not just camels anymore, but pandas, big cats, sea lions, octopus and other Tiere (animals) – perfect for a play on words Limitiert! Unbelievably clever. The product remains the same. Deadly.

The welcome return of a pack of 20

It is not entirely clear why cigarette advertising in Germany has been absent for most of the year. Obviously the pandemic has been significant – fewer people out-of-doors to see the posters. The marketing of e-cigarettes, too, is part of the story. The new modes of delivery are often owned by the same companies and the campaign budgets are being redirected.

So, it was a absolute delight – and surprise to see that Gauloises, the French brand owned by Imperial Tobacco – back on the streets. And what is more, still marketing under the Vive le Moment tag. And normal packets, too.

Of course the poster is the tried-and-tested. An attractive young woman (not yet with the mouth ulcers, discoloured teeth and diseased skin) sits with her feet up in a yard to an urban apartment – in Paris obviously. She is holding a cigarette that has just been lit. The tagline is “Für Momente, die dir gehören” – roughly translated as “for the moments you own”.

Classic advertising. But I tell you, for those moments, my thoughts do not turn to products that have a concentration of toxic chemicals in them. With the virus around there is enough trying to kill me without cigarettes adding to it. Or is it that the relatively young, need a helping hand with this death thing as the virus does not seem to be enough? 

Cigarette advertising post-Covid lockdown

The last post I made on cigarette advertising in Germany was 10 February, just before Germany went into lockdown. Even then, I thought that cigarette advertising was on the wane and we were unlikely to see big cigarette campaigns by the big brands. One of the reasons for this was the growth of e-cigarettes. Campaign budgets were being transferred from authentic killing to massaged killing. The clearest indicator of that is the warning at the bottom of each advertisement. Traditional cigarette advertising (bottom right) says “smoking is deadly”. Advertising for the new delivery method of super-heated tobacco says “this way of smoking can damage your health and make you dependent”. And to demonstrate how cool we are – and is this method of killing or maiming otherwise healthy people, let’s have a picture of an attractive women who nicely illustrates the product “glo”. The important thing for the tobacco company behind it, British American Tobacco, is that it is real tobacco from real tobacco plants, with real killer chemicals.

I have been out-and-about in Munich recently. Finally, I found a couple of cigarette advertising posters. Take the first one (right), I may have got the translation wrong, but maybe the packet is big enough to act as a parasol? Ho ho ho! There is some double meaning there that defeats me with my limited translation skills. Actually, I think one could actually live in the box, let alone use it as a parasol.

The second poster (left) goes for the time theme. If I am reading it right, there are so many cigarettes in the packet that in getting through them one has the time to name some woman? Again, this may well be marketing genius, but I am happy with my failure to appreciate perceived marketing cleverness on products that are designed to kill and maim.

Posh hotels

We’ve been revisiting the television recently. We’ve done the ten episodes of The Great British Sewing Bee. I finally got round to watching the extraordinary story of the Shah of Iran’s extravagant and delusional party in the desert back in 1971. But the other night we fancied something extremely light and un-challenging. So we went for the BBC’s Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby featuring Schloss Elmau in the Bavarian Alps. Unfortunately, this was challenging. I am writing this now because the impact is still festering.

presentersThe concept of the programme is that two presenters go to posh hotels all around the world and muck-in, as it were, whilst giving the hotel a priceless chunk of advertising. The presenters (left) are Monica Galetti – a real-life chef, and Giles Coren – a sometimes controversial columnist with, by his own admission, an opinion “on just about everything”. This mucking-in, or as the publicity for the series has it, “rolling up their sleeves” is excruciating. Coren, in this episode, trying to learn towel flapping in a sauna is a case in point.

I tried to book a room at the hotel. The off-peak prices were about 3000 Euros for a couple of nights for two. But for that you get fed twice a day, access to a spa and a series of temperate pools inside and outside, accessible all year round, libraries and a bookshop (that is a nice touch), lounges and generously-sized rooms with views. Stunning views. It is also unique in that it is a music venue. Some of the world’s most eminent classical musicians play there (and have done so since 1959) on a “stay and play” basis. So the owner, Dietmar Mueller-Elmau, when asked what is the core theme of the hotel, he took them to the music room. It is extraordinary. Oh, and the G7 met there in 2015.

Summary – culture and well-being. At a price. What is my gripe, then?

Notwithstanding the extraordinary publicity granted a private business on a public broadcaster, and the format of the programme – mucking-in – there is an elephant in the room. It is probably true of all in the series and not exclusive to Schloss Elmau. And that elephant is sustainability.

At no point was there any discussion about the carbon footprint of this place. I cannot begin to imagine just how much carbon it generates from heating, the spa, the kitchens and, of course, getting people there. Whilst there is a train 7km away, I doubt it is the primary mode for visitors, especially in the winter. We had a look at the menus for the five restaurants. It all looked rather meaty. Just adding, of course, to the carbon footprint. Now bearing in mind the hotel had a devastating fire in 2005 and was largely rebuilt to meet the vision of Mueller-Elmau, one might have thought that there was a potential sustainability story to be told. Maybe there was, and the BBC just edited it out. I sense the producers and editors just loved Muller-Elmau’s declaration of delight when the hotel burned down and the opportunity it presented. I have no idea to what standard of sustainability the hotel was rebuilt.

That leads to the BBC and any other broad or narrow caster. Sustainability needs to be central to the theme of these programmes. OK, I can be a voyeuristic as the next person on how the “other half” lives, but at least put a carbon price on it. Or maybe the next series is about hotels that are sustainable, have been built or rebuilt to be sustainable – carbon neutral. Maybe it is time to promote them. Or if Schloss Elmau is sustainable, tell that story. Amazing hotels, I fear, come at a price much higher than what comes out of my bank account to visit.

Photo: BBC

Pillar boxes and buses

On 21 March I uploaded my first pictures from my new project, Pillar Boxes and Buses. So, the challenge is, photograph UK pillar boxes with the added challenge of getting a bus, preferably one that is moving, inpillarbox the frame, too. My latest reel of film came back today with mixed results. First is a curious box – it is actually embedded into a gatepost of one of the large houses on Marina, in St Leonard’s on Sea, Sussex. Currently there is one bus per hour in each direction on the 99 route. The shot has the added complication of lots of parked cars and scaffolding. The results are not great (right) but I’ll be back with a faster film that should help with the depth of view (50mm lens, 200asa film and shutter speed of 250th sec f11; 2 April 2020 at 1830). The bus is a ADL Enviro200. The Stagecoach Hastings fleet can be found here.

pillar boxMoving on to Rock-a-nore in Hastings. This one (left) is a free standing GR VI box taken on 21 March in the early evening. There was just not enough light to get the shutter speed fast enough to catch the bus, but actually the motion is quite good. The bus in question was a ADL Enviro200 (Hastings Arrows livery).

 

 

Then on to a box that has been intriguing me for a few days. It is located on Hastings Road in Bexhill close to the Ravensdale trading estate. What is so wonderful about this box is that at a certain time in the day, the sun illuminates it like a spotlight on a performer in a theatre. So, to do it justice I needed a sunny evening and no one really in the way (it is popular with joggers, though I am not sure why. This effort (top right) dates from 24 April at 1845, again with a shutter speed of 250th second, f11, film speed 200 asa. The two additional shots are taken at the same time on the two subsequent evenings. pillar boxpillarpillar
pillar box Next is me revisiting the relatively small free-standing box outside the now dis-used post office on Cambridge Road in Hastings As noted in my earlier entry in November, it serves as a reminder of how post offices are being assimilated into more traditional retail outlets – for better or worse. Anyway, here it is with a bus in the background which I take to be a Scania N230UD ADL Enviro400!
Still in Hastings, this is Queen’s Road, a central loading area opposite Priory Meadow Mall. The box is classic ER Type B. The buses, Scania N230UD ADL Enviro400 (double decker) and ADL Enviro200 (Hastings Arrows livery). pillar
pillar I work in Brighton, and the bus-pillar box opportunities there are substantial. This is the Avenue off Lewes Road in the North East of the town. The box is a classic GR example. The bus is a Volvo Wright Gemini B9TL DP43/28F Built 2013.  Anyone interested in the B&H fleet should go here.

I have a bit of research to do on my pillar boxes now. Some have design names, others seem not to. If I am going to do this right, I need to be adequately informed.

Climate Watch: update on airlines

As predicted, the airline industry is now trying to wriggle out of its commitments on carbon emissions and climate change. Only last month, the industry agreed a protocol whereby airlines would pay to increase carbon emissions (through offsetting) based on some sort of average for 2019 and 2020. As we now know, 2020 will be a record low carbon year, and the airlines, many of which have all planes grounded because of Covid-19, are now saying that committing to this new level would make them bankrupt, notwithstanding that many of them are already.

To be fair, the industry body, ICAO, has not yet shifted, but it is being lobbied hard – understandably – by airlines to re-evaluate the threshold. Seemingly, it was already going to cost the industry between £4bn and £18bn (not much of a difference there, is there?) – which just goes to show how much more carbon they intended to put into the environment on growth projections (now, of course, unlikely).

And then there is easyJet. Readers may already have been following the story of how founder and major shareholder, Stelios Haji-Ioannou, wants the firm to cancel its order for 107 Airbus A320 Neos, planes that are necessary if easyJet is to meet its targets for carbon reduction. However, for Haji-Ioannou, that is no longer viable. By which he means under the current easyJet and industry business model and not under an ICAO – or other – environmental commitment. At what point does he smell the coffee?

Pic: Adrian Pingstone