U.S. public: Cabinet member travel costs are sky high

March 1, 2018

U.S. Cabinet-level officials are flying high— at a sky-high cost—on a regular basis and only one-third of the American public thinks it might “sometimes” be appropriate for the government to pay for the cost of business or first class tickets, based on findings of a poll by YouGov released on February 23.

Indeed, one Cabinet official, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price resigned from his post last September when news came out that he had often chartered privated planes at government expense. Indeed, according to Politico, Price had taken as many as 26 private flights and flew on military planes on his trips to Africa and Europe—at an estimated cost to the U.S. taxpayers of over $1 million.

And while the Department of Veterans Affairs tries to scrape together enough budget to treat patients promptly and on a par with the rest of the American public, Secretary David Shulkin has come under attack for charging his wife’s airfare to the U.S. government on a trip to Europe that included sightseeing and tickets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament.

What’s more, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and EPA head Scott Pruitt also have been accused of using private planes and flying first class. Pruitt pushed back recently, saying that he had to fly with his posh peers, or he would get reamed out for his EPA cutbacks by the passengers in the back of the plane.

A 747-400 in a fairly typical configuration has 14 first class seats, 79 business class seats and 265 coach class seats, and let’s say it has typical fares of $14,000 for first class, $7,000 for business class and $750 for coach class, according to The Travel Insider.

If all seats are sold, the airline would gross $196,000 from first class ticket sales, $553,000 from business class, and $198,750 from coach class.  Most money comes from business class, and although there are only 14 first class seats on this plane, the potential revenue from them is almost identical to the revenue from 265 coach class seats, the travel publication notes.

Just over one-third  of respondents to the YouGov poll believed that it is even occasionally appropriate for the government to pay for spousal travel, as it did in the Shulkin’s case; just over that number say it can be sometimes appropriate for the government to pay for travel in first or business class.

Among Republicans and Democrats there is, of course, some disparity. While 53% of Democratic respondents said that it is “never appropriate” for Cabinet members to fly first class; only 45% of Republicans were in agreement.

Republicans are somewhat more supportive of travel expenses for first class travel, but they are no more willing to have the government pay for spousal travel than is the public overall.

Indeed, even security threats don’t merit first-class travel, according to respondents. Only 27% of all Americans think that first class would be an option under such circumstances. And while 23% of Democrats still would prefer the cheaper seats, if there were security threats; 40% of Republicans might okay a more expensive ticket option.

Research contact: kfrankovic@yahoo.com

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