Western carriers return to Iraq

Iraq may not be among Western travelers’ most desired destinations quite yet, but some of the world’s leading airlines have decided that flying to the war-ravaged country can be profitable, so they are returning there after a 20-year absence.

Although two of Europe’s major carriers — Austrian Airlines and Turkish Airlines — have been serving Iraq since 2008, their re-entry in that market was viewed as only moderately significant at the time, and none of their peers followed suit. Austrian chose Erbil, the capital of Kurdish northern Iraq, which was never nearly as violent as the rest of the country…

Breezing through U.S. immigration

Going through U.S. immigration has never been easier. I’ve done it three times in less than a month, and not once did I wait in line, see an officer in a booth or have my passport stamped. Instead, I dealt with a rather cooperative kiosk for about a minute.

I’m not in the business of promoting products and services — let alone government initiatives — but the Department of Homeland Security’s new Global Entry program has truly changed my life. There is no reason why it can’t change yours, provided you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. All you need to do is go to the program’s Web site, fill out a relatively detailed online application form and pay a $100 fee…

U.S. flights likely to Tokyo Haneda

Here is some good news for those of you seeking an alternative to Tokyo’s vast and faraway Narita International Airport: The Japanese government will likely soon allow nonstop flights between the United States and the city’s much smaller and nearby Haneda Airport.

There is, of course, some not-so-good news. Unless U.S. negotiators manage to pull a rabbit out of a hat, those flights will arrive and depart only between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. — which means that takeoffs and landings at U.S. airports may have to occur in the middle of the night, too. Access to Haneda is one of the issues being discussed between the United States and Japan as part of ongoing negotiations of an Open Skies Agreement…

Airline trade group raps governments

Should the world’s largest airline trade group openly criticize national governments that have enormous power over the industry? How likely is it that politicians will actually listen to that criticism, and could it backfire in the end?

Giovanni Bisignani, director-general of the Geneva-based International Air Transport Association (IATA), seems much more concerned about the industry’s future than not angering governments. In fact, he thinks officials’ failure to adapt their policies to new realities is hurting the airlines. Mr. Bisignani made some daring comments aimed at specific governments at a press conference in Washington last week — in addition to projecting that the industry will lose about $11 billion this year…

United risks customer loyalty over award blocking

United Airlines seems to be playing a dangerous game. It has implemented an “award” redemption policy that saves the carrier a lot of money but has been denounced by loyal customers as deceitful. In frustration, some of those passengers are turning their backs on United, depriving it of valuable revenue.

The customers want the airline to stop blocking “award” seats on flights operated by United’s partners in the global Star Alliance, which those carriers have made available for mileage tickets. United, however, is balking. Apparently, it saves more money by not having to pay its partners for those seats than it loses by driving some passengers away. It’s likely to continue to balk until the balance shifts. But how long will it take?…

Year-end travel deals trimmed

Does elite status with your preferred airline or hotel chain seem elusive this year? The good news is, year-end promotions offering elite fast-track and bonus points are back. The bad news is, they are fewer and less generous than in the past.

That, of course, is hardly surprising, with all the ills that have befallen the travel industry in recent months. What is surprising is the diversity of those deals, depending on the loyalty program to which you belong. No two of them are exactly alike — except that most require registration and end Dec. 15, so holiday travel is not covered. American Airlines is offering its customers who fly a round trip between the United States and Britain a free companion ticket for a future trip to either Britain or the Caribbean…

So busy at diplomacy, he ‘ignored’ the US election

Richard Holbrooke is about to make yet another exit from the US foreign policy stage — the fourth in his 38-year career. Many of the people who know him well, though, are already predicting a stormy comeback.

This is the second time he has come within a whisker of the job that many in Washington say he’s been pursuing for years: secretary of state. In 1996, a year after he brokered the Dayton agreements that ended the war in Bosnia, he lost out to Madeleine Albright — the first woman to hold the top diplomatic post.

This time it was the slimmest of election wins by Republican George W. Bush that decided Holbrooke’s fate. Although the Democratic candidate, Al Gore, was careful during the campaign not to reveal his potential cabinet choices, foreign policy insiders were betting that Holbrooke, at present US ambassador to the United Nations, would most likely have been his choice to succeed Albright…

A warrior tamed

James Carville has officially retired from running political campaigns in the US, but his retreat appears as much emotional and mental as pragmatic. Once an intense, tempered, tough and, at times, ruthless Democratic warrior, he is now an almost subdued family man who makes his living largely off his celebrity status.

Carville, chief architect of Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign, says it took him time to come to terms with the fact that his “day in the sun” had ended and now it’s “somebody else’s time”. He still misses “running campaigns, being in the headquarters and working with people”, but he didn’t even attempt to offer advice to Al Gore, the 2000 Democratic presidential candidate, or to Hillary Clinton’s senatorial campaign.

“My dirty little secret is that I like politicians,” says Carville, as he tries to explain his success as a political consultant…