Does badmouthing airlines help anyone?

Airlines are consistently among the most criticized companies by both the public and the media. While much of the criticism is deserved, does some of it amount to nothing more than badmouthing that helps no one? Isn’t it time for fliers to learn the air travel system’s ins and outs, and not blame the airlines for all their ills on the road?

In this column, I’ve denounced certain airline practices, such as the fictitious “direct” flights that are simply two flights with the same number but nothing else in common. There is no question the industry has made the system very complex, mostly for financial reasons, and it’s profiting from customers’ lack of knowledge. However, the system is what it is, and there isn’t much we can do to change it to our liking…

Where are my ex-secretaries of state?

I began the week reminiscing about my travels with four secretaries of state, so I thought I’d end it by answering another question I’m frequently asked: What happened to the three secretaries I covered before Hillary Clinton? Starting with the most recent, they are Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright.

I’ve also been asked often about the differences between those former chief U.S. diplomats, especially during travel. I usually point out an obvious similarity among them first: None of them is a white male. In fact, the last secretary to fit that description was Warren Christopher, who left office in January 1997, when Albright ended the centuries-old tradition.

Singapore Airlines’ maddening perfection

Singapore Airlines topped yet another industry ranking this week, and while it usually deserves the awards it wins, there are a few aspects of the way it does business that drive some customers and partner-carriers crazy. Still, don’t expect those practices to change anytime soon.

The latest awards were bestowed by Britain’s Business Traveller Magazine. Singapore was named best airline overall and also won best economy and business class. Best first class went to Emirates, probably because of the shower on its Airbus 380 aircraft. I have yet to meet anyone who has flown Singapore and didn’t like it, regardless of which cabin they were in. It has long been the world’s leading carrier in hard-product innovation and luxury, often years ahead of its competitors…

EU diplo corps gets messy before launch

If anyone had any doubts that putting together the European Union’s new diplomatic service would be an utterly messy task, that is now an undisputed fact. A high-profile ambassadorial list released this week provoked publicly aired quarrels rather uncharacteristic of diplomats, and it raised questions about the future effectiveness of the EU corps.

The long-anticipated list, unveiled by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in Brussels, was apparently based not on merit, but on what Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski called “esoteric considerations.” What are those? A quick look at the list shows that the most important ambassadorships are going to diplomats from the oldest EU members in the West — China was given to the Germans, Japan to the Austrians and South Africa to the Dutch.

Hotels steps away from airport gates

It’s puzzling why in the United States, one of the most lucrative travel markets in the world, the concept of airport transit hotels is so foreign. There are signs that may be changing, but current plans seem more like baby steps than bold decision-making.

A recent trip to Asia reminded me of the lack of entrepreneurial thinking exhibited by many U.S. airport operators. Readers of this column may remember my praise for terminals in Hong Kong and Singapore earlier this year. Beyond design, comfort and cleanliness, having such a time- and hassle-saving convenience as a hotel under the same roof as your departure gate…

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…

Airlines require credit cards at check-in

Do you always pay for your airline tickets? If not, what would you do if you are denied boarding unless you show the credit card used for the purchase at check-in?

It may sound unreasonable, since many companies buy tickets for their employees with corporate cards that all of their travelers cannot possibly carry with them. It happens often enough, however, for all of us to keep our eyes open for any alerts with such requirements during the booking process. Last month, I used the Singapore Airlines Web site to book a ticket to Indonesia for a co-worker. I was asked if I was the passenger, and when I proceeded to enter my credit card number, this message appeared on the screen…

Keeping track of your trips

How many miles have you flown over the years and how many hours have you spent in the air? What is your most-traveled route? How many times have you circled the Earth or flown the distance to the moon?

Flying today may not be as much fun as it used to be, but many travelers still find it fun to keep track of their flight history. Having such a log can also be practical, in case you need to remember when you were in a certain country, for example. For years, my main frequent-flier account was my only reference to past trips. Airline alliances make it possible to post flights on several carriers to the same account, and being loyal to one alliance pays off in terms of achieving elite status…

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…