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Why shouldn’t Cabinet members travel first class?

  • Author: John Havelock
    | Opinion
  • Updated: September 1
  • Published September 1

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt during an interview in his office at the EPA headquarters in Washington on Oct. 25, 2017. (Bloomberg photo by Andrew Harrer)

I'm sure there was ample reason for Trump's dumping of EPA chief Scott Pruitt ("great guy") who quit to avoid getting fired but one of the cited abuses was that he always traveled first class. Why is that a big deal? Was EPA's Pruitt also scandalously on vacation at government expense? Maybe inappropriate but maybe not. How much of that vacation expense was required due to his Cabinet role — needs for privacy, security, keeping in touch — minute by minute? Are you on vacation playing golf with the president, listening to his muttered instructions or leading a life of constant phone consultation?

The suggestion that he should have flown tourist class is particularly exasperating. A Cabinet officer is always doing some work. Do you think he or she is reading the airline magazine? Particularly when traveling, key officers are huddled over a laptop. First class or otherwise, the Cabinet officer needs his wife or a staffer next to him as a buffer. Think of the passionate environmentalist sitting opposite or next to him who gets that time to chew on his ear, an ear that, if the Cabinet officer is ordinary male size, under current tourist class seating, is 10 inches from his neighbor's mouth.

I guess this Cabinet officer didn't fake his vacations as a "business" trip the way most of them do. But vacationing or not, I want Cabinet officers always to travel first class, particularly under the new, agonizing seating regimes that the airlines, in an unregulated system, are putting the rest of us through.

Do you know what Cabinet officers are doing when they travel? They are working. I have been with them and know it. Table down and papers spread all over. That's the main reason why, on the ground, they ride in the backs of limousines. Do you want then to bounce around in cabs while heading from office to airport?

Back in the plane, imagine the Cabinet officer's work performance, tourist class, with the new aircraft, offering reduced distance to the seat row in front. (A design that requires me to wipe my butt on the face of the aisle occupant coming and going, if I have been unable to get an aisle seat on my own — but that's another story).

"Oh, excuse me sir, I didn't mean to spill that stack of documents onto the floor. They looked kind of interesting, some new national policy suggestion? Let me tell you, I agree and will buy some stock in that company that is getting off the administrative regulation hook tomorrow."

Even before the new aisle and seat squeeze, things were tough. I never thought I would envy the five-footers, but they sure looked comfortable on a plane. But then I notice that I can't help taking their shoulder space, so it's not all good. "Oops, pardon my knocking your arm. You has some coffee in it? It was full? Well, maybe you should have ordered half a cup. Tell you what, instead of trying to share the arm rest, let's flip it up."

Last year, flying just after the seat change, on a flight back home, I found a printed note telling me how much more I was going to like the new seat design. Do they assume we are all dummies and don't notice that the new seats were intended to further shrink the living space? I wrote an angry note and stuffed it in the seat pocket six inches from my nose.

For money, we six-plus-footers can now usually get a "tourist plus" seat that restores the status quo on row space. We can again open a laptop and, keeping our elbows in, get some work done. But there are people traveling by air who are compelled to buy the cheapest seats available and who will stay back there making things tough for themselves and their neighbors.

The aisle has narrowed, too, and the airlines hankering for every last buck are hawking goods on wagons that totally fill the aisle. By the way, how safe is that in an emergency landing? Drinks? Are you kidding? How am I going to relieve myself? No getting past those carts. As soon as the light goes off allowing seat belt unstrapping, there the trolleys are between you and the bathroom.

The new bathrooms: Don't get me started on that one, or on the misery of the kid hopping up and down waiting for access besides the miserably situated folks in the odd row that faces the last bathroom. Those should be half-off seats.

What's the solution? Stop picking on Cabinet officers who should be flying private craft like private sector executives ranked well below them. As for us, since the airlines are all wrapped in price and capacity warfare incapable of fixing themselves, maybe a private agency like Consumer Reports or some new creation can do some good, but bottom line: We need some kind of federal regulation. It ain't all bad.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

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