July 29, 2018 § Leave a comment
When Arnold Neuhaus was a small lad growing up in Amsterdam, he entered a contest sponsored by KLM, and won. The prize was a flight over Amsterdam, but he wasn’t able to collect because of his sister’s illness. Eighty three years later, with the help of his seven-year-old great-grandson, KLM delivered with a surprise for “Grandpa Nol’s” ninetieth birthday.
How’s that for a caring company?
Each year, AirHelp rates airlines by looking at their on-time performance, quality of service, and claim processing. I’m going to call that a “care” index (work with me here). Back in 2016, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines came in second. Since then, though, they’ve seen a bit of a dip in their ranking. Last year they came in at 11, and this year, it’s 11 again.
But KLM cares about caring, and maybe they’ll soon regain their number-2 spot. (Good look trying to be number 1. Qatar Airways seems to have a lock on that.) Take, for instance, their special-assistance program. It’s called KLM CARES.
And this summer, they’re introducing Care-E, a luggage-carrying robot that can scan your boarding pass and take you where you need to be, even if the gate changes. KLM tells CNN Travel that Care-E is currently in testing, with plans to debut it in New York’s JFK airport and San Francisco International later this year.
Care-E looks like another step toward airport robot domination, and it’s an upgrade of KLM’s Spencer, who, alas, couldn’t carry your bags.
Last year, the airline introduced the KLM Care Tag, a smart luggage tag that uses GPS and a speaker to provide helpful “tips and tricks” as you travel around Amsterdam. It’s another technology that’s in beta mode, as it was available only during September of 2017.
The Care Tag. Yeah, it’s kind of like having a stewardess riding on the back of your bike or on top of your roller bag. Of course, that’s not going to happen (though the images are kind of seared into my brain). But don’t be surprised if a member of the KLM cabin crew sneaks up behind you on the street to zip up your backpack or adjust your child’s shoulder strap. “It’s not the blue uniform that make us stand out,” they say, “It’s because we care.”
And if you still don’t believe me about KLM’s karing kulture, here’s a video in honor of Mother’s Day, for those who live far away from Mom. It’s actually my favorite of this whole bunch.
By the way (#1), do you know what KLM actually stands for? It’s Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij, which translates to Royal Aviation Company.
By the way (#2), in case you’ve never heard of AirHelp before . . . besides rating airlines (and airports), they want to help you get compensation for any flight delays, cancellations, or overbookings that have affected you in the last three years. Just let them know the details, then “sit back and relax while [they] jump into action.”
(Lilit Marcus, “KLM’s New Airport Robot Care-E Will Guide You to the Gate,” CCN Travel, July 11, 2018;
[photo from KLM, used with permission]
April 20, 2018 § Leave a comment
“The Big Read: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Classic Science Fiction”
After the Montgolfier Brothers made their first balloon flight in 1783, balloons became all the rage and for the next half century almost all lunar flights [portrayed in science fiction] were by balloon. The first was Le Char Volant [The Flying Chariot] written the same year by the Belgian Baroness de Vasse. When her travellers reached the Moon they discovered it was a utopia, ruled by women, unlike the hell of Earth, ruled by men.
It had been speculated that space was a vacuum since the 1640s but no one could quite believe it, and hardy space travellers took little precaution. Edgar Allan Poe was more practical. When his hero went to the Moon by balloon in “Hans Phaall” in 1835 he took the precaution of placing him in a sealed basket with an air condenser.
Poe’s planned sequel to “Hans Phaall” was frustrated when just weeks after it was published his thunder was stolen by a several articles in the New York Sun newspaper claiming that the great astronomer, Sir John Herschel, had discovered life on the moon. They described trees, seas and a host of creatures including bat-winged humans. Englishman Richard Adams Locke, then living in New York, later admitted writing the pieces as a hoax. But it convinced many around the world, finding a particularly gullible readership in France. It has been known as the Great Moon Hoax ever since, and triggered people’s interests in the possibility of life beyond Earth.
The Sunday Herald, April 7, 2018
April 1, 2018 § Leave a comment
What an interview! Last Sunday, “60 Minutes” pulled in its best ratings in nearly 10 years, with 22 million viewers tuning in. Did you see it?
Yes, I’m talking about the sit-down with that compelling personality, the “Greek Freak”—none other than Giannis Antetokounmpo, forward/point guard for the Milwaukee Bucks. Born in Athens to Nigerian parents, he and his family faced the poverty that is common to African immigrants in Greece, with him and his brothers selling glasses, watches, CDs, DVDs, and other items on the street. But as he grew up, he really grew up (he’s now 6′ 11”) and developed his skills as a basketball player, catching the attention of NBA scouts.
In 1993, at the age of 18, Antetokounmpo came to America as a first-round draft pick for the Bucks. He soon found out that not all of America is like New York, he fell in love with smoothies (though ordering them isn’t always easy), and he learned that “buffet” means you can go fill your plate up more than once.
His fame in Greece has expanded his salesmanship beyond the sidewalks of Athens, as his image is now being used by Aegean Airlines . . .
. . . and Milko.
In 2015 he visited Taiwan to support Cathay Youth Madness . . . and to find some souvlaki.
Since his arrival in the US, his broken English has improved to a high level of basketball-speak, but he still has a lot to learn about American football (such as there’s no pitcher on a football team).
You can watch the full 60 Minutes interview with Antetokounmpo at the show’s site. Just to let you know, though, there’s another segment in the first half of the hour—something about the indescretions of an actress and a politician—but don’t let that distract you.
February 21, 2018 § Leave a comment
I hope that none of your your travels turn out like what’s depicted in the artwork above. The oil painting, completed by Edwin Henry Landseer in 1864, shows two polar bears ravaging what’s left of Sir John Franklin’s attempt to find the Northwest Passage, a sailable path through the Arctic Ocean from Europe to India and China. Franklin set out in 1845 with two ships and their crews, totaling 134 men. Three years later, the ships became stuck in the ice of the Canadian Arctic and all had to set out on foot (except for five who had been sent home shortly after the voyage began). After walking away from their vessels, named the Erebus—after Greek mythology’s personification of darkness—and the Terror, none survived.
The explorer John Rae, in 1854, came across some Inuit who were carrying personal items from the Franklin expedition. They had collected them from abandoned campsites, where they had also found signs of cannibalism amongst the crew.
The title of the painting, Man Proposes, God Disposes, says something about the sometimes harsh intersection of humanity’s plans with divine governance. But the artist’s intention may have had less to do with theology and more to do with portraying the hubris of an English society that felt nothing could stand in the way of its forward progress.
Even though the men of the Franklin expedition seemed well-prepared, many today call the trek “doomed” from the beginning. The New York Times Magazine reports that the two ships carried enough food for three years, including “32,289 pounds of preserved meat, 1,008 pounds of raisins and 580 gallons of pickles.” But that may have been as much a curse as a blessing.
In 1850, a search party of Americans and British found three graves on Beechey Island, Canada, containing the bodies of three crew members who had died in 1846. Canadian anthropologist Owen Beattie, in 1984, dug up the graves and performed autopsies on the bodies. He found they contained high levels of lead, leading him to believe that the crew had been poisoned by their food, stored in tins with lead solder.
Four years ago, underwater archaeologists with Parks Canada discovered the Erebus at the bottom of Queen Maud Gulf. Ryan Harris, lead diver of the group, says that the mission’s fate was already sealed from the day they set out, not because of errors from its leader, but by poor planning from those above him. ‘‘Franklin and his men were doomed the moment they received orders from the admiralty. He followed those orders to a T and into the worst choke point in the Arctic Archipelago,” Harris tells The New Yorker Magazine. “The notion that Franklin was anything but a sterling naval officer I just can’t accept. He followed his orders faithfully and died.’’
Landseer’s Man Proposes, God Disposes now hangs in the College Picture Gallery of Royal Holloway, University of London, where it can be viewed throughout the year, except during exams. At that time, the painting is covered with the Union Jack, as legend says that students who look at the image will fail their tests . . . or slip into madness.
That tells us about the subject of Landeer’s painting, but where did the title come from? The phrase “Man proposes, God disposes” is not original to the artist (and it doesn’t come from the Bible, either, as many assume—at least not directly). Rather, it first appeared in The Imitation of Christ, written by Thomas à Kempis in the early 15th century. The relevant passage is in book 1, chapter 19, titled “Of the Exercise of a Religious Man,” which discusses a Christian’s consistency in keeping daily devotions. While Landseer’s use of “Man proposes, God disposes” is a look back on failed plans, Thomas à Kempis’s usage has a somewhat different bent, more of a call to rely on God’s help to reach a plan’s fulfillment.
The life of a Christian ought to be adorned with all virtues, that he may be inwardly what he outwardly appeareth unto men. And verily it should be yet better within than without, for God is a discerner of our heart, Whom we must reverence with all our hearts wheresoever we are, and walk pure in His presence as do the angels. We ought daily to renew our vows, and to kindle our hearts to zeal, as if each day were the first day of our conversion, and to say, “Help me, O God, in my good resolutions, and in Thy holy service, and grant that this day I may make a good beginning, for hitherto I have done nothing!”
According to our resolution so is the rate of our progress, and much diligence is needful for him who would make good progress. For if he who resolveth bravely oftentimes falleth short, how shall it be with him who resolveth rarely or feebly? But manifold causes bring about abandonment of our resolution, yet a trivial omission of holy exercises can hardly be made without some loss to us. The resolution of the righteous dependeth more upon the grace of God than upon their own wisdom; for in Him they always put their trust, whatsoever they take in hand. For man proposeth, but God disposeth; and the way of a man is not in himself.
While the wording “Man proposes, God disposes” (“Nam homo proponit, sed Deus disponit in Latin), is not found in the Bible, the idea behind it is.
There is Proverbs 16:9 (NIV),
In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.
and Proverbs 19:21 (NIV),
Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.
Also, the phrase following “Man proposes, God disposes” in Imitation of Christ, comes from Jeremiah 10:23, in the King James Version:
O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.
Let me repeat, I hope that none of your travels turn out like what’s depicted in Landseer’s painting.
Instead, as you resolve to explore new territories, whether that be through outward excursions or inner searchings, may you be hemmed in as gently as possible, when necessary. And when you’re striving down the right path, may God’s grace strengthen you to continue on.
(Leanne Sharpton, “Artifacts of a Doomed Expedition,” The New York Times Magazine, March 18, 2016; Laura MacCulloch, “The Haunted Painting of Fabled Franklin Ship Discovered in the Canadian Arctic,” The Conversation, September 11, 2014; Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, translated by William Benham , ca 1420)
[artwork: Man Proposes, God Disposes, by Edwin Henry Landseer, 1864, public domain]
January 23, 2018 § Leave a comment
“Is Wi-Fi the existential threat that will finally kill the inflight magazine?” That’s the question Mark Tjhung asked this past July in Forbes. His answer is No, in part because his answer has to be No: He’s editor of Silkroad, the inflight magazine for the Hong Kong airline Cathay Dragon. But he also explains that he believes in the future of inflight magazines, if they “keep up and raise their standards.” And he writes, “Ironically, rather than being the death knell of the inflight magazine brand, the online revolution in the media landscape may present its greatest opportunity.”
Part of Silkroad‘s raising of its standards, as Tjhung points out in the article, is the inclusion of a “Short Story Anthology.” Last summer, they invited authors to send them short pieces of fiction, with the result being a collection of four stories, each set in a different Asian country, written specifically for Silkroad readers. The anthology includes works from David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas; Lijia Zhang, a Chinese author who writes in English for international publications; Nuri Vittachi, author of The Feng Shui Detective; and Manu Joseph, author of Serious Men. Each story is accompanied by an author interview.
“A Forgettable Story,” by Mitchell, is something of a Japan-based combination of Groundhog Day and an inside-out 50 First Dates, told by an airline passenger to his seatmate. In describing himself, he says,
Where am I from? Tricky question. ‘From my mother’? I had a peripatetic childhood, so I’ve got more passports than Jason Bourne. All legal, I hasten to add. Even the matter of where I live now gets a bit . . . complicated. You know those wandering poet-monks in feudal China and Japan who used to say the road was their home, and the grass was their pillow? You could say I’m a contemporary reboot of them. ‘My spiritual home is the transit lounge.’ I should get that printed on a T-shirt. Don’t think I’m romanticising this way of life: I’m not. I envy what I guess you have. Friends, a partner maybe, a job, or at least a role, a family to be a part of – even if they drive you crazy now and then. Belongingness is underrated, especially by the young.
Zhang’s “Permission” tells the story of Lin, a young man who has moved from rural China to study in one of the country’s most-prestigious universities. There he is faced with the conflict between Chinese and Western values, as well as his own conflicting emotions concerning a nurse who shows him attention.
In “Geek Girl and the Digital Planet,” Vittachi writes about an expat in Hong Kong who infiltrates the world around her by hacking into the scores of wi-fi and bluetooth signals available in her apartment. On fiction’s ability to inspire travel, Vittachi says, “The best way to visit somewhere is to read a novel about it – and then buy an airline ticket.”
And “The Fight,” by Joseph, is about a family vacation in India. But rather than focusing on the beauty of Goa, the husband and wife are preoccupied with arguments and frustration. “‘Everybody fights,” the father tells his seven-year-old daughter. “They go to beautiful places to fight.” About the inspiration for his story, Joseph writes,
I like the joy of vacations, especially time spent with the children, but the most interesting thing is the pressure on the adults to pretend they are having a good time. I am sure most people do have fun but many other things go on during family vacations—tension between adults that’s often continuation of old feuds.
Kudos to Silkroad for broadening its repertoire to include fiction. What a great way to introduce readers to the subtle nuances and intricacies of travel and destinations. As Vittachi says in his interview, “I think inflight magazines are a great place for fiction. Fiction transports you in a delightful manner—exactly like a good plane journey!”
If you’d like to read more from international inflight magazines—without getting on a plane—go to my recently updated list of over 100 offered online.
January 15, 2018 § Leave a comment
Have you every heard of “travel syndrome”? Me neither, until I saw a video circulated recently by Newsfare showing a distraught traveler in Qingdao, China. The man rushed off his train, which was stopped at a station, and tried to throw himself over a guardrail to the underpass below. He was spared injury when a policeman and two passengers caught him. The story accompanying the video says that the man had spent 40 hours on the train and was suffering from “travel syndrome,” defined as “a short-time psychotic disorder.” The man reportedly became calm after ten minutes.
I’m still not sure if travel syndrome is a real thing. Maybe there’s something going on with the translation. And maybe there was more to the man’s situation than just a long train ride. A more detailed video and story at CCTV+ doesn’t mention a syndrome but rather says that medical workers think that the man “might have had a hallucination which caused his physical disorders.”
(China.Recorder, “Police Grabs Man Jumping off Guardrails at Train Station,” January 1, 2018; “Police Officer Stops Hallucinated Passenger from Jumping off Railway Platform,” CCTV+, January 1, 2018)
But regardless of the accuracy, or lack thereof, of this gentleman’s diagnosis, there are such things as syndromes associated with travel. And I’m talking not just about made-up maladies, like “rude-tourist syndrome” or “lost-luggage syndrome.” No, these syndromes are real enough to garner serious discussion.
“Economy-class syndrome,” “second-class-travel syndrome,” and “cheap-airfare syndrome” are all names for deep vein thrombosis, or the formation of blood clots, in the legs, caused by lack of movement by passengers during long flights. Deep vein thrombosis is a real concern, especially if a clot detaches and gets lodged in the lungs (pulmonary embolism), a potentially fatal condition. But in an article at WebMD, the American College of Chest Physicians says that the risks are low for healthy travelers and that sitting in coach does not make the risks higher. Rather, it’s long stretches of immobility that cause the most problems, regardless of where your seat is located—though being trapped in a window seat can limit opportunities to move around.
(Salynn Boyles, “New Guidelines Debunk ‘Economy Class Syndrome,'” WebMD, February 7, 2012)
A brochure published by the Port Health Travel Centre of Hong Kong’s Department of Health says that high-altitude syndrome is caused by ascending to altitudes above 8,000 feet more rapidly than your body can acclimate. Symptoms begin with a mild headache and can progress to Acute Mountain Sickness—including a headache “similar to a bad hangover” plus nausea, fatigue, dizziness, or difficulty sleeping—High Altitude Cerebral Edema (fluid accumulating in the brain), and High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (fluid accumulating in the lungs). Without treatment, these last two conditions can result in death.
(“High Altitude Syndrome,” Port health Travel Centre, Department of Health, Hong Kong, 2005)
You probably know what culture shock is, but adding syndrome after it sounds much more significant, especially with this definition from the Handbook of Psychiatric Education and Faculty Development:
a protean psychodynamic manifestation including mourning of the lost culture, severe anxiety in adapting to the new and consequent identity disturbances.
(Jerald Kay, et al., Handbook of Psychiatric Education and Faculty Development, American Psychiatric, 1999)
Likewise, jet lag has its own “syndrome” name, too. And here’s how time-zone-change (jet-lag) syndrome is described in the International Classification of Sleep Disorders: Diagnostic and Coding Manual:
varying degrees of difficulties in initiating or maintaining sleep, excessive sleepiness, decrements in subjective daytime alertness and performance, and somatic symptoms (largely related to gastrointestinal function) following rapid travel across multiple time zones.
(American Academy of Sleep Medicine, International Classification of Sleep Disorders, Revised: Diagnostic and Coding Manual, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 2001)
So with “gastrointestinal function” as a segue. . . . Not a few people complain of adverse physical reactions after eating food with monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is often used as a flavor enhancer in Chinese cuisine. I don’t think the label “Chinese-restaurant syndrome” is fair, not because I don’t believe in the negative effects of MSG (I’m not going to enter that debate), but rather because Chinese cuisine is far from the only food containing the additive. First introduced in Japan in 1908, MSG has since spread across Asia. But you don’t need to go overseas or even to an Asian restaurant to get your fill. MSG is found naturally in foods such as tomatoes and parmesan cheese; it’s added for flavor to products such as Doritos and Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup; and it’s in the recipes at KFC and Chick-fil-A.
“Toxic-airline syndrome” and “aerotoxic syndrome” are names given to symptoms that some believe are caused by breathing airliner cabin air that is contaminated with engine lubricants or noxious fumes. There is disagreement as to the potential dangers:. On the one hand is the UK’s Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT), which states that a valid explanation for the illnesses is that they are manifested in people who perceive cabin air to be hazardous. This is called the “nocebo effect,” as opposed to the “placebo effect.” But on the other hand are those who believe long exposure, such as by flight crew or frequent fliers, has led even to the deaths of their loved ones. Regardless, most agree that the issue is serious enough to warrant further investigation.
(Kate Leahy, “‘There Are Hundreds of Sick Crew’: Is Toxic Air on Planes Making Frequent Flyers Ill?” The Guardian, August 19, 2017; “Position Paper on Cabin Air,” Committee on Toxicity, 2013)
A 1982 issue of The BMJ (formerly British Medical Journal), contains a short article on “airport-assault syndrome.” Those were simpler times, and the assault referenced there isn’t concerning terrorism. Instead it’s the “plague” of luggage trolleys running into the Achilles tendons of innocent passersby. The authors suggest developing shorter, more easily maneuverable trolleys or pulling, rather than pushing, them as ways to “prevent many travelers from grievous bodily harm at the hands of unsuspecting charioteers.”
(Michael Heim, et al., “The Airport Assault Syndrome on the Increase,” The BMJ, December 23, 1989)
Sometimes the syndromes are not a result of travel, but traveling, or attempting to travel, is a manifestation of previous disorders. “Airport syndrome,” as referenced in the BJPsych Bulletin, is characterized by “airport wandering,” when “travel to the airport [is] in some way a product of [psychotic] illness.”
Jet-set Munchausen syndrome
The same BJPsych Bulletin article also cites a case of Munchausen syndrome that took place on a plane, causing the flight to be diverted. Munchausen syndrome is a mental disorder in which a person repeatedly pretends to be sick even though the illness is not real. In this “jet-set” case, it happened to occur on a plane.
(Harvey Gordon, et al., “Air Travel by Passengers with Mental Disorder,” BJPsych Bulletin, July 30, 2004)
Florence Syndrome, et al.
And then there is a small atlas of syndromes named after travel destinations that overwhelm visitors, with symptoms including anxiety, disorientation, dizziness, fainting, and even convulsions and hallucinations—sometimes leading to hospitalization.
Florence syndrome is also called Stendhal syndrome—after the French author who reported his reaction to visiting Florence in 1817—and can apply to visiting any destination with cultural and artistic significance.
Paris syndrome, most often experienced by Japanese tourists, comes about when the reality of Paris does not meet the romanticized expectations of the visitors. Jerusalem syndrome involves religious delusions or obsessions caused by travel to the city. And India syndrome is a set of psychotic symptoms experienced by outsiders coming to the country on spiritual journeys.
In his book A Death on Diamond Mountain, Scott Carney includes a simple cure for India syndrome, given by Kalyan Sachdev, the medical director of New Delhi’s Privat Hospital: a trip home. “[Y]ou put them on the plane,” Sachdev says, “and they are completely all right.”
(Scott Carney, A Death on Diamond Mountain: A True Story of Obsession, Madness, and the Path to Enlightenment, Penguin, 2015)
But is going home the answer to travel woes? Though it’s not officially recognized, I’ll include “post-travel syndrome” here because so many people talk about it and claim to experience it. Also called “post-travel depression,” it’s the emotional low one gets after returning from a trip. But as Dr. Sebastian Filep of the University of Otago’s Department of Tourism tells NBC News, “The idea of post-travel depression is largely a myth.” In the same report, Jeroen Nawijn, of the Centre for Sustainable Tourism and Transport, who has studied vacationing’s effect on mood, says he’s “found no proof of post-travel depression,” and labels it “not a legitimate mental health issue.”
And yet it can feel so real.
(Dana McMahan, “Do Well-needed Vacations Actually Bum Us Out?” NBC News, May 9, 2013)
So, in light of all this, should we just stay home and never venture beyond the confines of our immediate locales? I guess that’s one solution, but be warned. That would mean giving up on all that can be gained from seeing the world and expanding our horizons. And if you let your concerns about travel consume you, you run the risk of suffering the incapacitating effects of treksyndraphobia syndrome—the fear-of-travel-syndromes syndrome.
Yeah, I made that one up.
(Mike Robinson and David Picard, eds., Emotion in Motion: Tourism, Affect and Transformation, Routledge, 2012)