On Tuesday Representative Rodney Davis (R-IL) was confronted by a passenger on a Chicago – DC flight over his flying in first class during the government shutdown. (HT: Tommy L)
“Congressman, do you think it’s appropriate to fly first class while 57 TSA agents aren’t being paid?” the person says to Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), in an apparent reference to the Transportation Security Administration’s 57,000 employees, who are being required to work without pay.
Davis remained silent, prompting the person to say, “Taking that as a yes.”
The government doesn’t buy first class tickets for Members of Congress to travel between their home and DC. However they’re generally frequent flyers, earning elite status on their preferred airline, so upgrades aren’t uncommon. Although I regularly see Members of Congress walking to the back of American Airlines flying DC – Dallas on Thursday afternoons.
- They often do receive special services on the ground.
- They aren’t generally upgraded ahead of other passengers, but are permitted to accept upgrades offered on the same terms as other similarly-situated passengers
The issue here is that it may look unseemly for a member of Congress to appear to be ‘living well’ (how much of the country sees domestic first class) during the government shutdown. Indeed it’s popular to suggest that Members of Congress shouldn’t be paid while the government is shut down.
I disagree. That would give extra leverage to the President in negotiations. You don’t want a system where the President holds the power over whether or not Congress gets paid, individual members might bend towards the will of the President because they need to make rent. Yes that’s the same position other government workers are in, but those workers aren’t making decisions of policy and budget for the country. For balance of powers reasons it’s important not to give this leverage to the President in my view, regardless of party in control.
However just because Members of Congress aren’t getting paid first class travel or free upgrades other frequent flyers don’t get doesn’t mean they aren’t afforded special privileges. They are. Airlines want things from Congress, and treat them better than the rest of us because of it.
It wasn’t just corrupt United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek doing it — years ago US Airways had special flights for a member of Congress and gave a Senator flight discounts.
Ted Kennedy objected when US Airways was going to lay off special services staff at National airport who took care of him, his office just said he was saving jobs. Delta comps elite status to politicians across Georgia. Airlines have special desks to serve congressional travel needs, allowing members to reserve seats on multiple flights and only pay for what they fly. And Members of Congress and Supreme Court Justices have long had their own free parking at National Airport.
Airlines want legislation to permit airfares to be advertised without including taxes and fees. They want to shut down competition and low prices from Middle East airlines. They want to keep limits on airport facilities charges.
Delta wants the perimeter rule at LaGuardia lifted. United wanted the PATH train extended to Newark. They want to keep National airport’s perimeter rule, because long flights there would compete against flights from their Dulles hub.
Governments influence the fortunes of the airlines, and airlines attempt to gain favors from governments. It should come as no surprise that airlines have the ear of regulators, and regulations favor incumbent airlines. Model that whenever you think of a regulation you’d like to see passed governing the industry, and ask yourself the likelihood that it will be written and enforced in a way that benefits ‘people in general’ or ‘the airlines’ you want to regulate.