Kerry’s deputy sees ‘reduced accountability’ of career employees

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns talks about how diplomacy has changed since 9/11, and why increasing the number of high-level political positions at the State Department has reduced accountability among lower-level employees.

Airlines find new way to overcharge fliers

As if the existing methods to overcharge travelers weren’t enough, some airlines have just found a new way deeper into your pockets. It comes in the form of sophisticated software designed to increase prices based on your desperation and lack of choice. Will you fall for the latest gimmick?

The new application is courtesy of Amadeus, one of the major distributors of airline and other travel-related data worldwide. This week, it announced the launch of “Active Valuation,” an “IT solution that enables airlines to maximize revenues across multiple channels,” or to charge you more for something you can otherwise get at a lower price…

Airlines cut back on first-class service

If you ever wanted to sit in first or business class but couldn’t afford it — and upgrading wasn’t an option — your time may have arrived. While airlines await the return of paying “premium” passengers, some of them are letting lower-class fliers occupy plush lie-flat seats.

On Australia’s Qantas Airways and Germany’s Lufthansa, you can now sit in first class even if you hold a ticket for business — no miles or other upgrade instruments are necessary. Qantas also allows coach customers in the business cabin. The two carriers still offer standard three-cabin service on most of their international networks…

United cuts advance domestic upgrades

If you’ve become accustomed to upgrading your domestic flights on United Airlines months in advance, the party will soon be over. The carrier is abandoning its current system of so-called confirmed upgrades in favor of the last-minute upgrades that are more popular in the U.S. industry.

United announced the change last week, although it’s not planning to implement it until spring. The current system apparently was confusing for some passengers, although I prefer to call it sophisticated and not at all difficult to master if you are a semi-frequent flier. However, that’s not why United is making the change. Rather, in trying to maximize revenue from selling first-class seats for cash, it will keep more of those seats open until just before departure…

Top hotel benefits suddenly denied

An automatic upgrade to a hotel’s executive floor, including free access to its executive lounge, is one of the most cherished benefits of top elite status with large chains, such as Hilton and Starwood. So what do you do when it’s denied to you?

I tried to find the right answer to that question in Bangkok last week, but, of course, it depends on the reason for the denial — perhaps a lounge closure due to renovation or cost-saving by reducing staff — so I wanted to make sure I understood it well before complaining too much and asking for an alternative benefit during my one-night stay. Many hotel programs used to offer free upgrades and lounge access to their gold members, but in the last year or so, they have limited them to the highest elite level…

Dulles showcases airport’s limits

Feeling bitter while traveling and complaining about things you can’t change is never healthy, but I couldn’t help doing just that last week as a trip to Hong Kong and Singapore reminded me how unfortunate we are to have to put up with Washington Dulles International Airport.

Through the years, I’ve tried to accept the reality of the Dulles experience by making it a routine that requires little thinking — from the lack of decent First World transportation to the airport and the archaic people-movers there officially known as “mobile lounges” to the depressing interior of the “midfield terminal” and the immigration hall that is anything but welcoming. I’ve also defended Dulles when I’ve heard people around the world call it one of the worst airports they have seen…

Flu controls surprise travelers

How would you feel if you were detained for more than a week upon arrival in a foreign country for reasons that had nothing to do with you — and you missed your meeting or never even made it to your destination?

Thousands of passengers to Asia, where governments have implemented the most draconian measures to prevent the spread of swine flu, have been facing that prospect every day for two weeks. Unfortunately, in most cases, they were not given all the information they needed in advance so they could plan accordingly. Beginning April 28, dozens of planes arriving daily in Japan from North America have been held after landing until a team of health inspectors…

What to do with empty premium seats?

Have you flown in business or first class lately? How many empty seats did you count? With so-called premium traffic falling faster that airlines can cut capacity, what should they do with the growing number of unsold seats?

Should they drastically lower the high prices they charge for them? Should they open up more seats for mileage redemption? Or should they offer free upgrades to their most loyal customers? First and business-class fares have come down somewhat, but a wide dramatic decrease is yet to be seen. Many carriers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years to install expensive lie-flat seats and entertainment systems, so they rightly want a return on those investments…

Aviation meets community service

It’s no secret that times are rough for the airline industry, and the glamor once associated with it is long gone. Many children, however, still dream of a life in the sky. Should they be encouraged?

The answer of Cathay Pacific Airways, Hong Kong’s main airline, is a resounding yes. In 2003, it started a program for high school students called “I Can Fly,” which teaches young aviation enthusiasts the basics of the industry at no cost — from piloting and engineering to marketing and customer service. About 3,000 students have graduated from the three programs in Hong Kong so far, said Elsa Leung, Cathay’s corporate communication manager…

Airlines want budget, premium fliers

Can an airline be a low-cost carrier, nickel-and-diming most of its passengers, while offering luxury to a few others and charging them $15,000 for it? And is that an “all things to all people” model or a version of “divide and conquer”?

Executives at the so-called legacy carriers know that a huge part of their revenue comes from passengers who pay for business and first-class tickets, so they are trying to keep them happy by installing flat beds, upgrading entertainment systems and serving gourmet meals. However, airline chiefs also realize that most people on their planes sit in coach and can’t afford $7,000 to fly to Europe in business class. Because economy passengers pay what the airlines consider low fares, carriers are trying to minimize the costs associated with carrying those fliers…