British Air, Iberia’s dysfunctional merger

One of this column’s goals is to point out nuisances in the air travel system and help you avoid them or minimize their negative impact. As I welcome the many readers who have become subscribers since my book, “Decoding Air Travel,” came out, I’d like to tell you about one such nuisance.

As my regular readers are well aware by now, I always know in what booking class a future ticket will be issued. I search for availability in that booking class and choose flights with available seats. That’s why, even if I have to make a reservations with an agent on the phone, I know how much the ticket will cost before I make the call…

State plans new public diplomacy posts

The State Department plans to create seven new senior positions to ensure that a public-diplomacy perspective is always “incorporated” in policy-making around the world, as well as to respond quickly to negative coverage of the United States in foreign media.

In an ambitious strategy that goes beyond any previous efforts to reach out to other countries, the Obama administration “seeks to become woven into the fabric of the daily lives of people” there, its top public-diplomacy official said Wednesday. “We must do a better job of listening, learn how people in other countries and cultures listen to us, understand their desires and aspirations, and provide them with information and services of value to them,” said Judith A. McHale, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.

Ups and downs of diplomatic life

Carol Hazzard was a 20-year-old secretary at the University of Buffalo in 1969, but the life she dreamed about was far removed from the monotony of upstate New York. “My only goal in life was to travel and see the world,” she recalled recently.

One night, her mother asked her to go to the corner grocery store for some milk, and on her way there, she ran into her old high-school basketball coach, who was working as a flight attendant for Eastern Airlines.

Ms. Hazzard thought such a job would help her realize her dream of traveling. But the former coach was not enthusiastic about recommending her new profession to others. Instead, she advised Ms. Hazzard that she could see the world while continuing to work as a secretary…

Diplomatic reorientation

Thomas R. Pickering was a fresh college graduate in 1953 when he braved the notoriously lengthy entrance process at the State Department, prolonged even further by an ongoing investigation of suspected communists in the agency’s ranks.

Although he was offered a job earlier than he expected, Mr. Pickering by then had enrolled in the graduate program of Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Medford, Mass. He later left for Australia on a Fulbright scholarship to the University of Melbourne, which was followed by three years in the Navy.

So it was 1959 when the 28-year-old finally became a Foreign Service officer — or, to use the better-known term, a diplomat…

Embassy bombings spur security boost

It was lunchtime on April 18, 1983, and the cafeteria of the American Embassy in Beirut was buzzing with customers. At about 1 p.m., a powerful blast tore apart the front of the seven-story building. The bomb, hidden in a van reportedly stolen from the embassy 10 months earlier, killed 63 employees, including 17 Americans.

It was the first time that a U.S. embassy had become a terrorist target, and it forever changed the way the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), the State Department’s law-enforcement division, operates around the world.

“The bombings of the embassy in West Beirut in 1983 and of the embassy annex in East Beirut in 1984 were a major catalyst for creating the Bureau of Diplomatic Security,” which oversees the DSS, said John C. Murphy, special agent in charge of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell’s protective detail and a DSS agent for 29 years…