Joke: New helmets for London's Royal Guard

By Sean O'Neill
October 3, 2012
Courtesy Londonist

The most memorable skyscraper to be recently added to the London skyline is the Gherkin, the pickle-shaped headquarters of insurance giant Swiss Re. The blog Londonist got curious about what it might be like if mini-Gherkins replaced bearskin helmets on the heads of the Royal Guard. So they did it themselves. It's Photoshop phun!


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Should there be a law against 3-hour tarmac delays?

Last month's 9-hour stranding of 47 passengers on a Minnesota airport tarmac caught a lot of attention. Passengers were kept on the ExpressJet plane from about 12:30 a.m. to 6 a.m. says a government report. A new law that may be passed by the Senate by the end of September would set a maximum time that passengers can be held on the tarmac: Three hours. At which point, the pilot would be obliged—if it was safe and reasonable—to drive the plane back to the gate, where passengers can get off if they chose. How many travelers have actually been stuck on the tarmac in extreme delays? In the past couple of years, more than 200,000 passengers have been on planes that have been been stuck on the tarmac for at least three hours, reports USA Today. That number contrasts with the roughly 1.6 billion people flown during the same timespan. This summer, three lobbying groups have come out in support of a 3-hour limit: The Business Travel Coalition, the National Business Travel Association, and the American Society of Travel Agents. But a "3-hour rule" goes against the recommendations of the Tarmac Delay Task Force, a group of aviation experts assembled by the Department of Transportation, who last November declined to set a national time limit. The blue-ribbon panel suggested the airlines voluntarily regulate themselves. The airlines also oppose a mandatory 3-hour law, saying that it would not improve customer service. For this official view, we spoke with David Castelveter, Vice President Communications, Air Transport Association of America. Some highlights: A mandatory 3-hour rule will have unintended consequences, namely, more cancellations, more delays, more inconvenience for travelers, and more cost for customers and carriers. No passenger likes a delayed flight, but what they like even less is not being able to get to their destinations at all. The proposed 3-hour hard limit on ground delays will force airlines to inconvenience planeloads of people to satisfy the demand of a minority of passengers to deplane. It's very easy for advocates of a passenger bill of rights to say the airlines have been given every opportunity and now we need legislation. But you don't fix a problem by adding another problem. If you have a couple of kids who are bad on your block, you don't punish all of the kids in the neighborhood. DOT does have oversight and time and again has exercised its authority, which included fines. It should take action as it deems necessary. What do you think? Do you support proposed Senate legislation that would allow passengers to disembark after three hours on the tarmac, should a captain decide it is safe and reasonable to do so? EARLIER A passenger's 7-minute video, summarizing one of Delta's 7-hour tarmac delays A pilot talks about long waits on the tarmac ELSEWHERE The Cranky Flier opposes the "3-hour law" Flyers rights' organization's guide to helping pass the legislation


This weekend: Vermont's first ever cheesemakers festival

More than 20 Vermont artisan foodmakers—among them seven cheesemakers—will open their doors to the public this Saturday. The open studio day is part of a weekend-long celebration of cheese. Vermont has the largest number of artisan cheesemakers per capita (it's a small state, but still…). In order to showcase this handiwork, the first ever Vermont Cheesemakers Festival is scheduled for Sunday at Shelburne Farms, about six miles south of Burlington. The festival can already be called a success; tickets were available to the first 1,000 takers (at $20 a pop), and they're now all sold out. No matter—if you're hungry to taste artisan food, the state delivers. In addition to the cheesemakers participating in the Open Studios on Saturday, there are also wineries (like Boyden Valley), breweries (like Magic Hat), and other foodmakers (like Ben & Jerry's) that will be open for small tastes and tours. Intrigued, but busy this weekend? The good folks at the Vermont Cheese Council have published a Vermont Cheese Trail map with almost 40 farms and creameries stretching across the state. Visitors can meet the cheesemakers, see the farm animals, and learn how the cheese is made—year-round.


The car rental promotion that actually costs you double

Quiz time: When is a $20 daily car rental rate promotion a rip-off? Answer: When you could just as easily be paying $10 a day.Long ago, I signed up to receive promotional "Hot Deals" e-mails from Alamo Rent A Car. Recently, I received a message alerting me to "Weekend Rentals from $10 a Day." Hmm… Curious about how truly "hot" this deal was, I opened a new window on my computer to check out Alamo's website, where I found a similar-looking weekend promotion. Only this one had the headline "Weekend Rentals from $20 a Day." I clicked on the $20 promotion and saw a blond model with a gray tank top, standing and smiling in front of a Chevy. Around her were the details to the promotion: compact cars from $20 a day, mid-size cars from $24 a day, full-size cars from $28 a day, premium cars from $30 a day, with restrictions including a four-day maximum rental and validity dates of August 20 to September 21. Next, I went back to the e-mail that heralded the $10 weekend promotion. I clicked through the link provided, and saw the exact same blond model, same Chevy, same restrictions, same validity dates. The only differences were the words "EMAIL EXCLUSIVE" on the top of the web page, and the prices listed for cars: $10 for compacts, $14 for mid-sizes, and $18 a day for full-sizes, and $20 a day for premium cars. The lesson? If you've ever thought that all promotional e-mails do is clog your in-box, here's a case for signing up for them. The bigger point is that you should never assume that a "deal" is actually a deal. Sometimes, you can do much better than a "special" promotional rate. EARLIER Where hotels are hiding their lowest rates now: Priceline, Twitter, and e-mail offers What's a guy gotta do to get a seat assignment around here? (25+ comments)


Memphis: A new Holiday Inn shows off the brand's new look

Relatives of founder Kemmons Wilson turned out for the official opening of Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Memphis-Wolfchase Galleria last weekend in the city where the iconic American brand got its start in 1952. It was another big moment for Holiday Inn, which is in the middle of an unprecedented relaunch of all its franchises worldwide—that's now more than 3,200 hotels and 419,000-plus guest rooms. We blogged about the chain's $1 billion new look almost two years ago, when it announced plans to introduce contemporary furnishings, brighter lighting, shower heads with stronger water pressure, and a restyled logo. The 133-room Memphis property shows off these features while also paying tribute to the brand's history. A bed, a desk, a lamp, and a chair from the first Holiday Inn are arranged in the lobby, and 80 displayed photos include Wilson pictured with Pope John Paul II. It's about 18 miles from the hotel to attractions like Graceland, the National Civil Rights Museum, and Beale Street. Rates start at $136 a night. Holiday Inn's changes stem from the results of a survey of 18,000 customers as well as a desire to be even more competitive and appealing. (Consider the company's stat that 9 out of 10 travelers have stayed in a Holiday Inn.) Interestingly, the under-30 crowd already ranks the brand as its preferred hotel chain. Does this makeover pique your interest in Holiday Inn? Anyone stayed at a revamped hotel yet?