U.S. has ‘no desire’ to ease airline ownership rules

American carriers can relax — their freedom to fly anywhere in the European Union is no longer threatened by Washington’s refusal to allow foreign control of U.S. airlines. That was the biggest news from last week’s agreement to expand the 2007 U.S.-EU Open Skies accord.

When the deal was first negotiated, carriers from both sides of the Atlantic were permitted to fly between any two cities without the previous government restrictions. However, those rights could have been lost next year, unless European companies could own controlling shares in U.S. airlines…

U.S. airlines handle disruptions best

How many times have you been jerked around at an airport and made to wait in several long lines after a flight delay or cancellation forced a change to the rest of your itinerary? Chances are, that happened abroad. For all their faults, U.S. airlines handle irregular operations better than their foreign peers.

I’ve always wondered why airport agents in the United States — whether at check-in counters, gates or even business lounges — can do almost anything a passenger needs, including rebooking, rerouting and reissuing tickets, while agents in other countries are much more specialized, and thus less helpful…

Momentous change brings new challenges to Bulgaria

BURGAS, Bulgaria — The evening news bulletin on Bulgarian National Radio began with a familiar item: Another meeting of the Politburo of the Communist Party’s Central Committee. Then the announcer uttered a sentence that left Bulgarians stunned: The country’s dictator of more than 35 years, Todor Zhivkov, had just been “relieved of his duties.”

It was Nov. 10, 1989. I was only 15, but understood that what had happened was not just a simple personnel change in the Soviet Union’s most trusted satellite. Within minutes — though a day late — I learned of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Last month, as I sat in the same room in my parents’ apartment where I heard the news, I realized that those events had changed my life more fundamentally than anything else I have experienced before or since. Had communism not collapsed, I would never have been allowed to go to the United States…

True German unity proves elusive

BERLIN — Most Berliners adore their city and are proud that this former symbol of East-West division has become a modern and united capital, as well as one of the world’s most visited places. But 20 years after the wall dividing Berlin fell, the country is still not nearly as unified as the capital, many Berliners and other Germans say.

“We all underestimated the challenges,” said Friedrich Merz, a former member of parliament from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Union and now chairman of Atlantic Bridge, a nonprofit organization. “It takes much longer to unify a country.”

Political analysts, economists and ordinary Germans point to the rapidity of communism’s fall, the legacy of state ownership and mistakes made at different stages of the reunification process as reasons why parts of eastern Germany remain underdeveloped and are still losing people to the West…

Poland embraces past and moves ahead

KRAKOW, Poland — A black Trabant pulled up in front of the Sheraton hotel and its driver helped passengers out of the boxy, cut-rate car that remains a symbol of communism two decades after its collapse.

The “communist tour” of Krakow was over. The 23-year-old guide, Eryk Grasela, had taken a Washington Times reporter and photographer to Nowa Huta, a suburb built in the 1950s as a “model communist city” and counterpoint to “bourgeois” old Krakow, long known as Poland’s cultural capital.

While other former communist countries have tried to erase many Cold War memories since they became democracies in 1989, Poland has embraced its past, made the best of it and moved on. Today, Poles seem more satisfied with their lives than many others in the region…

Free hotel Internet for elites slowly becomes the norm

Another domino in the hotel fees game has began falling. Three of the world’s largest chains — Starwood, Marriott and Hyatt — now offer free Internet access to their elite members. Another two, however — InterContinental and Hilton — are holding out. For how long?

Like most frequent travelers, who are usually also elite members of various loyalty programs, I’ve become accustomed to free hotel perks, such as breakfast, room upgrades and lounge access. At the same time, I’ve oddly got used to paying Internet fees that are sometimes higher for one day than my monthly charge at home, and for speed several times lower…