India

Diplomats Are Made, Not Born

Diplomacy and politics may go hand in hand, but their partnership isn’t one of equals. It is logical — especially in a democracy — for a country’s diplomacy to serve its political leaders. Sometimes, however, smart leaders allow diplomacy to influence politics.

For that influence to be truly worthwhile, governments around the world must solve an acute problem: Global diplomacy today is not very effective, in part because it is misunderstood and starved of resources. The best diplomacy carries out foreign policy professionally, yet most countries let amateurs practice it.

I’m talking about appointees who receive diplomatic posts thanks only to political connections. To resolve at least some of the many conflicts, disputes and other problems around the world, governments must start building or strengthening professional diplomatic services, providing them with proper training and career development, and giving them all the tools, resources and authority necessary to get the job done.

Few countries come close to this standard today. No one is born with the ability to practice international diplomacy — to manage a country’s relations with other states, understand and engage foreign societies, influence governments and publics, conduct difficult and consequential negotiations, anticipate threats and take advantage of opportunities. These are skills that have to be acquired.

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Is India going too far in curbing airfares?

The Indian government has done what authorities in most market economies would rarely dare to try — it has forced Indian carriers to slash domestic airfares by as much as a quarter, and to publish fare ranges on every route on their websites regardless of travel dates. While helping consumers is admirable, is New Delhi crossing a line?

Angered by the pricing policies of India’s airlines, including low-cost carriers IndiGo, SpiceJet and GoAir, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) gave them an ultimatum last weekend to lower fares or face severe consequences, the Indian press reported. Within hours, fares dropped between 20 and 25 percent…

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U.S. offers India new nuke concessions

The United States has made new concessions as part of its civilian nuclear agreement with India, further angering arms control advocates, while New Delhi has yet to make it possible for U.S. companies to benefit from the unprecedented deal.

In the most recent accord completed late last month, Washington agreed to Indian demands to increase the number of plants allowed to reprocess U.S.-supplied nuclear fuel from one to two, with the option of another two if India’s needs grow in the future. At the same time, India thus far has failed to pass legislation that would release U.S. companies from liability in case of accidents related to equipment they have provided for two reactors expected to be built under the 2007 U.S.-Indian Nuclear Cooperation Agreement.

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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…

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Airlines refuse to honor mistake fares

How would you like to fly to Australia in Qantas Airways’ luxurious first class on its new Airbus A380 aircraft for $1,200? You could actually buy such a ticket last week, but as regular readers of this column might have guessed, that was yet another case of a mistake fare.

Just like 2009, the new year began with a major airline making an error when filing a fare, and then deciding not to honor the issued tickets. As I wrote last January, Swiss International Air Lines published a $300 business-class fare from Toronto to several European and Indian cities. In November, British Airways filed a $560 round-trip coach fare from the United States to India…

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Hidden perils of airline code-sharing

The practice of one airline selling seats on another carrier’s planes with its own flight numbers has been around for years, and many travelers are familiar with the term “code-sharing.” Yet even experienced fliers continue to be surprised by what amounts to false advertising.

It’s holiday time, and I’d love to write columns about how seamless and hassle-free travel is — which is true for me in most cases — but I keep hearing from readers about questionable airline behavior. In the latest example, LACSA, Costa Rica’s national airline, may have misled some customers…

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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…

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U.S. warns airlines on fare mistakes

Airlines are among the few businesses that sometimes want customers to pay for their mistakes. Every once in a while, a carrier cancels issued tickets after it deems its own published fare was an “error.” The Department of Transportation tried to teach such companies a lesson last week — sort of.

Both U.S. and foreign airlines have filed mistake fares in recent years, as has been reported in this column. Some of the airlines, such as United Airlines and Alitalia, have honored purchased tickets, but others, such as Swiss International Airlines, have not. The DOT’s Wednesday ruling was directed at British Airways…

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Gay travel endures amid recession

The travel industry seems to be engaged in a curious courtship. Its targets are gay travelers. During a recession, they apparently are the one group that doesn’t change leisure habits too much, so airlines, hotels and tour operators are trying to win their business.

Courting gay customers is nothing new, of course. A few years ago, the creators of the popular Showtime series “Queer as Folk,” Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman, told me that, during their research for an episode, they had discovered that gay Americans had hundreds of billions of dollars of disposable income. So the fight for shares of that income has been going on for a while — many airlines and booking engines have created dedicated pages on their Web sites for gay travel…

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Should airlines honor fare errors?

Have you ever taken advantage of a suspiciously low airfare — say $300 to Europe in business class — that turned out to be a mistake? Did the airline cancel your ticket or did you fight to keep it? If you gave in, it might have been premature.

Like any human activity, filing fares is prone to errors once in a while — a few times a year at most, which is too much for the airlines, but not enough if you ask bargain-hunting travelers. In the most recent reported example, on Dec. 27, a traveler looking for a ticket stumbled upon a Swiss International Airlines business class fare of $0 plus tax from Toronto to several European cities. It was available on various booking engines, including Swiss’ Web site and Travelocity…

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