Economist 1/6/16

  1. On January 5th, the Malaysian Airlines announced that passengers on its flights from Kuala Lumpur to Europe would not be able to bring any checked baggage with them. This temporary ban was only scheduled to last for two days, but it created an inevitable backlash from passengers scheduled to fly these routes. Four hours later the luggage ban was lifted on London flights, but remained in place for those to Amsterdam and Paris.The airline blamed “temporary unseasonably strong head winds”, saying that “safety remains at the centre of the airline’s operations”. It seems that the ban for London flights was lifted because the route is served exclusively by the airline’s Airbus A380s.Paris and Amsterdam are both served by the smaller Boeing 777-200ER, which has a much shorter range of 7,065 nautical miles. With a shortest point-to-point route of 6,368 miles between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur that doesn’t leave much room for error.
  2. Strong headwinds or tailwinds have a considerable impact on the amount of fuel an aircraft burns. Transatlantic flight times can vary by an hour or two, depending on the speed and direction of the wind. Several airlines have got themselves in trouble in the past.Flying from South East Asia to Europe is more complex than flying across the Atlantic. For a start, it involves passing over a number of regions with potentially dangerous airspace. This can require dramatic changes in planned flightpaths, depending on each airline’s risk analysis and the prevailing air traffic control requirements.. Those who regularly travel between Europe and the Gulf will be familiar with diversions to avoid hotspots such as Iraq and Syria, with planes instead flying up and over Iran and Turkey, or down and through Egypt.
  3. TWO-THIRDS of Americans are overweight, but they underestimate the scale of the problem. The average guess from Americans responding to an Ipsos MORI poll in December estimated the portly population at just 50%. Britain is not much different, where 62% of people are over the recommended healthy weight; most think the population is slimmer, guessing that only 44% are too heavy. France, Germany and other European countries are similarly mistaken. But the biggest gaps between perception and reality are in Middle Eastern countries, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia (see chart). In general, women make better guesses than men but in India and Saudi Arabia, the outliers, men are slightly more accurate.
  4. “Free Basics”, a programme that gives its users free access to Facebook and a handful of other online services on their smartphones in 36 poor countries. According to Mr Zuckerberg, Free Basics acts as a gateway drug to the internet: half of those who first experience the internet through the service start paying for full internet access within a month. Though the programme is promoted by Facebook, its costs are borne by the mobile-telecoms operators it works with—in the case of India, Reliance Communications, the country’s fourth-largest.As it turns out, plenty of people are against Free Basics. They include everyone from India’s internet-and-mobile-industry body (of which Facebook is itself a member) to a ragtag group of volunteer activists who mobilised almost 400,000 people to write to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) as part of a public consultation on whether mobile operators should be allowed to charge different amounts for different forms of data.
  5. Critics of the programme say that Facebook’s generosity is a cover for a land-grab. They argue that Free Basics is a walled garden of Facebook-approved content, that it breaches consumer privacy by sucking up all the data generated by users of Free Basics, and that it is anticompetitive to boot. Moreover, critics fear that if new internet users are merely Facebook users, other online businesses will have no choice but to operate within Facebook’s world.Activists in India won early victories in 2015, leading Facebook to change the name of its service from internet.org, which they said was misleading, and forcing the company to accept more services than those it handpicks. Their biggest victory came in December, when TRAI suspended Free Basics in India pending the results of its consultation process.
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