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## America vs. Europe: who overrates whom?

Not an aviation-related note, but given that many of my readers are also plugged into the travel industry, here’s an interesting diablogue between Bryan Caplan and Tyler Cowen.

When Americans visit Europe, they see a lot to like: Charming boulevards, delicious food, and historic cities that feel safe.  When Europeans visit the U.S., it’s not so pretty: While major American cities are impressive, their inhabitants can be more than a little scary even after the sharp decline in crime rates.  From an American or European tourist’s point of view, Europe seems not just more aesthetic than the U.S., but more hospitable.

He argues that American tourists see the quaintest and nicest parts of Europe, while most Europeans live in less appealing suburbs, and those who live in the attractive urban centers cannot afford to enjoy it much. Meanwhile, European tourists see some of America’s grungiest places (“NYC and SF are basically uglier, scarier versions of the premiere European cities”) but avoid the attractive suburbs where most Americans (happily) live.

“Europe is a better place for most people to visit,” he concludes. “But America is a better place for most people to live.”

Tyler, with a dig at modernist architecture:

Bryan gives some good reasons why America is better for 37-year-olds with young children, namely lots of living space and easy shopping.  But I view much of Western Europe as better for the elderly, if only because it requires less driving and they are more likely to live close to their children and perhaps also they receive more respect.  Western Europe is probably better for children too, for reasons related to safety and health care”

My alternative view is that Americans rate European life so highly (in part) because the buildings from previous eras are so striking and attractive.  If all of the U.S. looked like U.S. postwar construction, the country would still impress more or less as it does.  If all of Europe looked like its postwar construction, Americans would be less likely to admire European policies and political institutions.  Yes I know about Lille, and contemporary Spanish architecture, but in reality most Americans would think of Europe as some kind of dump.

What do you think?

## Nothing to see here

Echoing Terry Maxon and Cranky, let me just say that the attempt by members of Congress to limit carry-on bag sizes by statute is a classic example of congressional kibitzing in the private business affairs of private-sector businesses. This is also, however, a bill that will go nowhere. Like many other minor pieces of legislation, it is introduced to make a stand, win the member some plaudits in the district, and die silently because it is not actually an issue worth Congress’s attention.

## Let your left hand not know what your right hand is doing….

The Senate is set to vote on a bill that would “establish a nonprofit corporation to run a nationally coordinated travel promotion program.”

[Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid said the corporation “would market the U.S. around the globe as a tourist destination.” Reid told reporters earlier in the week that the bill could create 40,000 new jobs in the U.S. [B.S.–ed.]

Initially the corporation would receive \$10 million in federal funding from money collected from travelers under the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) system currently being established by the Department of Homeland Secretary. After Fiscal 2010, the corporation would have to raise matching contributions to qualify for additional federal funding.

Radley Balko comments that “this is all because tourism is down, due all the money we’ve spent on post 9-11 efforts to make it more difficult for foreigners to come here.” (Reason piles on, too.) I’m sympathetic to that line of reasoning — want to talk about winning hearts and minds around the world? Then try making it not so much of a hassle to get through our ports of entry. But the numbers just don’t back Balko up. According to a 2008 report (with data up to 2007) from the Department of Commerce, after dropping off sharply post-9/11, foreign tourism began to rebound (not from every country, but a slight upward trend is clear). It wasn’t until after the financial crisis last year that foreign arrivals began to tank year on year, continuing to post steep declines in the first part of this year.

The fact is, regardless of the effectiveness of U.S. border security policies, the downturn in tourism is primarily due to the current economic contraction, not post-9/11 security procedures.

Now, whether it’s helpful for the government to get involved in the tourism marketing business is something else altogether. But I guess with all the work the administration has done to discourage U.S. companies to bring tourist dollars to places like Vegas, it might as well make up the balance by bringing in some foreigners.

## Okay, this is fascinating: more on airlines and the flu

Matt Phillips digs up a 2006 PLoS Medicine article by John S. Brownstein, Cecily J. Wolfe, and Kenneth D. Mandl that found a correlation between the grounding of commercial aircraft in the days after 9/11 and the later peak of the 2001-2002 flu season, which peaked at the normal time in countries that did not ground their aircraft. The takeaway from this? “At the regional level, our results suggest an important influence of international air travel on influenza timing as well as an influence of domestic air travel on influenza spread in the US.”

[O]ur results suggest that inter-regional spread occurs by a different mechanism, where air travel may be an important mode of long-range dissemination of influenza. We find that the effect of airline volume on regional influenza spread is largely based on travel in November. Though influenza activity is highest between January and March, initial regional seeding of infection may occur earlier. Our results suggest that for a non-pandemic year, travel during the Thanksgiving holiday may be central to the yearly national spread of influenza in the US. Similarly, we found that international airline travel influences the absolute timing of seasonal influenza mortality.

The flight ban in the US after the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent depression of the air travel market provided a natural experiment for the evaluation of the effect of flight restrictions on disease spread. The importance of airline activity was highlighted by the delayed peak of influenza in 2001–2002 following the period of reduced flying activity. This finding is further validated by the absence of a similar delay in influenza activity in France, where flight restrictions were not imposed.

Thus, even though air travel is a major agent in spreading flu, by the time infections peak, the virus has already been seeded around the country and the world.

Matt interviewed John Brownstein, and their discussion is available at the Middle Seat Terminal blog post.

For more: yesterday’s post.

## Good riddance to Dutch travel tax

The Dutch travel tax has been so successful, it has to be scrapped:

The Dutch Government is to scrap from July 1 its air passenger ticket tax, first dubbed the ‘eco’ tax when it was introduced against major opposition by aviation and local industry last year. The controversial departure tax, which ranges from 11 to 45 euros, is blamed for a steep decline in passenger traffic at the main Dutch airports, particularly at Amsterdam Schiphol.

The tax was billed as a “green tax,” meaning that it was intended to raise the cost of flying sufficiently to deter passenger travel — and hence greenhouse gas emissions — on the margin. It apparently did this swimmingly well, better than I would have expected:

Schiphol Airport, Europe’s fifth biggest in terms of passenger enplanements, recorded a drop of 430,000 passengers in February, a 13.7% fall against the same month a year ago. The number of locally boarding passengers fell by 17.7%. The number of transfer passengers, who were exempted from the tax, declined by 8.5%.

As the story notes, this tax was not levied on transfer passengers in an attempt to keep KLM and its Schiphol hub competitive with airlines based at Paris, London Heathrow, Frankfurt, and Copenhagen. Since transfer passengers make up a huge share of Schiphol’s business, the surcharge would never have made much of a dent in the Netherlands’ aviation carbon footprint. The fact that transfer passengers were exempted and that the tax is pulled just when it seems to be working vindicates the complaints that it is a “revenue grab.”

The suspension of this tax also illustrates a tax problem. In an age of free movement across jurisdictional boundaries, tax competition is heightened, especially in areas like the low countries where a competing, lower-tax airport may be just a short drive away. “The airport operator along with Dutch carrier KLM had previously warned that potential passengers would try to avoid the tax by flying from airports across the border in Belgium or Germany,” the story report. “The Belgian Government has already abandoned a proposal to introduce a similar tax.” Unless the EU or a larger jurisdiction is going to impose a charge like this one, countries that impose it on themselves in a global downturn are making an economic death wish.

See my previous posts on the Dutch travel tax here, here, and here.

[H/T: Cranky]

## New aviation resources

In addition to his podcast series, my friend Addison Schonland has recently unveiled a couple of nifty and useful resources for those who follow the airline industry. One is AirportButler.com, which offers reports that offer targeted results from DOT consumer air travel data. Even better is AirInsight.com, which makes the useful information logged in the Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ endless spreadsheets and data sets easy to access and use. Take a look!

## Sunday stumper: optimizing your run from one end of the terminal to the other

Suppose you are trying to get from one end A of a terminal to the other end B.  (For simplicity, assume the terminal is a one-dimensional line segment.)  Some portions of the terminal have moving walkways (in both directions); other portions do not.  Your walking speed is a constant $v$, but while on a walkway, it is boosted by the speed $u$ of the walkway for a net speed of $v+u$.  (Obviously, given a choice, one would only take those walkways that are going in the direction one wishes to travel in.)  Your objective is to get from A to B in the shortest time possible.

1. Suppose you need to pause for some period of time, say to tie your shoe.  Is it more efficient to do so while on a walkway, or off the walkway?  Assume the period of time required is the same in both cases.
2. Suppose you have a limited amount of energy available to run and increase your speed to a higher quantity $v'$ (or $v'+u$, if you are on a walkway).  Is it more efficient to run while on a walkway, or off the walkway?  Assume that the energy expenditure is the same in both cases.
3. Do the answers to the above questions change if one takes into account the various effects of special relativity?  (This is of course an academic question rather than a practical one.  But presumably it should be the time in the airport frame that one wants to minimise, not time in one’s personal frame.)

[H/T: Greg Mankiw]