The EPA Administrator Flew Emirates Business Class and That’s Just Fine

Earlier in the week I wrote about the pretty outrageous domestic first class fares the EPA Administrator travels on. He’s loyal to Delta even when the federal government has awarded a city pair contract to another airline. And he pays full fare first even for the Delta Shuttle between New York and DC.

A former EPA executive pointed out to me that the Administrator has ‘anti-terrorism responsibilities’ and always flies with security. This EPA Administrator says his security needs are unique, though, and justify first class travel because of death threats and first class is safer than coach. (It seems to me that reserving the back of the coach cabin for himself and his security detail would mean never having their back to potential assailants.)

There’s been much hand wringing though over his flying Emirates business class Milan – New York in June. (HT: @pcpontificates)

I’m really not sure why this flight raises such a fuss.

  1. We know that Delta is his preferred airline and they fly the route non-stop. I’d find his choice of Delta more suspect (that he was ignoring price on a highly competitive route that also offers American, United, and Alitalia service). If he chose not to fly Delta there had to be a reason (such as price or schedule).

  2. There is no GSA city pair contract awarded for New York – Milan service, so he wasn’t ignoring federal procedures.

  3. In fact paperwork for the trip indicates the Emirates flight was the only schedule that would work. He was in Bologna, Milan is the closest international airport, and he had to return to the U.S. same day as he had to attend a cabinet meeting the next day.

  4. Emirates is the preferred carrier of the federal government for Washington DC – Dubai travel. This is compliant with the Fly America Act because the contract is awarded to JetBlue for its codeshare on Emirates.

  5. JetBlue codeshares with Emirates for New York JFK – Milan. If he were on the JetBlue codeshare for the flight there would be no question at all about its appropriateness under the Fly America Act and wouldn’t need to qualify for an exemption.

  6. US-EU Open Skies creates certain exemptions to the Fly America Act as well, although it would take someone more knowledgeable than I am to know with certainty whether the Fly America Act exceptions apply only to EU-based airlines or to flights of non-US airlines between the US and EU.

Emirates A380 Business Class, American Airlines Offers a Better Product on the Route

Emirates A380 Business Class Seat

Many readers pointed out that high level executives ought to fly in premium cabins, and that they believed this should apply to the federal government as well as the private sector. I have a problem with paid first class DC – New York, I really don’t have an issue with it transatlantic — and won’t mistake policy disagreements (questioning the value of a given trip) for disagreements about how a given trip is taken or purchased.

The Emirates flight in question, of course, is one of two flights in particular that have been singled out by lobbyists for Delta, American and United as one they don’t want the government to allow. It’s one thing they claim to have to compete on flights to the Mideast or connections to India and Pakistan (something US airlines barely do, even through joint ventures) and quite another to have to compete directly on ‘fifth freedom’ routes.

However if Emirates business class was cheaper I’d certainly prefer that the EPA Administrator fly Emirates than take more of my money and give it to Delta, United, and American each already earning profits in the billions and benefiting from myriad subsidies to begin with.

Which points to the underlying problem with the Fly America Act — it redistributes money from the median taxpayer and gives it to shareholders of US airlines which fly internationally or which codeshare with foreign carriers — codesharing itself being another dubious anti-consumer practice.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I flagged this yesterday- in what world is Emirates J “one of the world’s most exclusive biz class cabins”? Sound’s like someone’s buying the marketing hype.

  2. Its called being a hypocrite. Doesnt fit in with “America First” “Drain the Swamp” narrative his admin is trying to sell.

    ‘Pruitt settled into his $1,641.43 first-class seat for a short flight from the District to New York City. ”

    Dear lord not even the most brazenly corrupt 3rd world officials would try that.

  3. “Many readers pointed out that high level executives ought to fly in premium cabins” the difference between Y and J should be taxed as income

  4. Gary, I would expect you of all people to check a flight schedule to confirm a statement like this:

    “He was in Bologna, Milan is the closest international airport, and he had to return to the U.S. same day as he had to attend a cabinet meeting the next day.”

    There is a Lufthansa route Bologna-MUC-IAD that leaves at 1:35 PM and gets to Dulles by 7:30 PM, which would be a 4 hour shorter travel time than driving to Milan and flying MXP-JFK-WAS, but still allow him to leave his meetings in Bologna at the same time. And the LH transatlantic flight at least is definitely a United codeshare.

  5. Pruitt says he has to fly first class because of “unpleasant interactions with other passengers.” But remember, liberals are all snowflakes.

  6. Many-year federal traveler here. There is no legitimate reason – that we know publicly – that he should have flown J on that trip on the taxpayer’s dime. None of the several exceptions apply. They used the security exception, which – again based on what has been released under FOIA – the threats such as they are are not the sort that require premium class. As you noted, the back row – or even the front row of Y – could be just as secure.

    Moreover, he wasn’t in Dubai, he was in Italy, and DL holds the contract MXP-WAS for a ~$400 Y fare. If his schedule required taking the EK flight vs. a DL flight, fine, but that still doesn’t justify J.

    I don’t disagree with your policy view on the Fly America Act, but it’s beside the point here. For now the law is the law.

  7. @DCJoe – 1) the connection you’re referring to is not daily and I don’t know what its operating schedule was last June, 2) it’s not crazy to take a non-stop rather than connect to a transatlantic when you have to attend a cabinet meeting, and 3) Emirates has a jetBlue codeshare so “at least” being on a United codeshare isn’t “better”

  8. @anon – no, I disagree, being fresh for meetings as soon as possible on arrival means a premium cabin can make good sense from a business standpoint, and high level executives have significant opportunity cost. Paying for a premium cabin can either save money or generate greater productivity, it’s a legit business expense

  9. The Washington Post, Politico, CNN all have stories on Scott Pruitt’s flying habits. I just checked. The Political story is many pages and it looks like they spent days researching it. While this is not entirely Fake News, it is certainly agenda driven news. These reporters wake up every morning thinking this will be the day we take down Trump, smear one of his family members, or take down one of his advisers. Pruitt is high on the list because the EPA was saving the planet don’t you know and Pruitt is stopping them. Everyone in the EPA was going to heaven, except liberals do not believe in heaven. If they get rid of Pruitt over something totally unrelated to his policies, the media will be uncorking the champagne, the Pulitzer and Nobel committees will get ready to give awards, writers and directors will start writing scripts. There will be movie about taking down Pruitt, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep had better get ready. This is just another kerfuffle, in the attempt of the biased mainstream media to get rid of Trump.

  10. “In the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. ” New York Times Co. vs. U.S., 403 U.S. 713, 717 (1971).

  11. Gary- it wasn’t a non-stop. If it was I agree with you. His final destination was DC because it was a cabinet meeting at the White House he was going to the next day. At the meeting he said, “I just arrived back from Italy at 1 AM this morning…” likely because the Emirates flight arrives at JFK around 8 PM and he picked up a 10 PM connecting to DCA or IAD.

    He flew on Sunday, June 11, I checked the schedule for this year, Sunday June 10 and that schedule is available, as well as a connection Florence-FRA-IAD. Very likely one or both of those was available last year. Driving all the way to Milan from Bologna is simply unnecessary and shows that time was not a determining factor.

    Any discussion of time saved or connections saved doesn’t hold water in this case- and Lufthansa J is likely nicer than Emirates, but many people get distracted by that bling…

  12. Even more appropriate here: “[t]he word “security” is a broad, vague generality . . .” 403 U.S. at 719.

  13. “no, I disagree, being fresh for meetings as soon as possible on arrival means a premium cabin can make good sense from a business standpoint, and high level executives have significant opportunity cost. Paying for a premium cabin can either save money or generate greater productivity, it’s a legit business expense”

    The problem here is that 1) that isn’t the rationale that the EPA cited to justify the EK J flight as an exception to the Federal Travel Regulations , and 2) if it had been, it would have been a misuse of either of the possibly-applicable exceptions.

    There is a 14-hours-in-transit exception, and, a have-to-work-immediately-on-arrival exception that could apply to your hypothetical. Here, Mr. Pruitt wasn’t in transit for 14 hours, and, got a night’s sleep in DC before having to attend the cabinet meeting (even if we allow that the particular meeting was critical for him to attend, which is questionable).

    Cabinet secretaries, generals, members of Congress… all of these people routinely fly coach, and if they upgrade it’s on their own dime or BIS earned status.

  14. Scotty “the attorney” Pruitt should at least be debarred for violating the law. The law is the law, regardless of his alleged need(s) for security and to stay away from the common folk.


    Mr. Bush once waited at Washington National Airport with Mr. Wead when they
    spotted an official on the vice president’s staff arguing with an airline employee.

    They were too far away to overhear the details, but they saw that the official was
    preening and showing off his leather garment bag and suitcase, which he had
    decorated with the seal of the vice president. Mr. Wead said he did not recognize the
    man, but Mr. Bush did, and ”was muttering and simmering” in embarrassment.

    ”When we boarded, this guy was already in his first-class seat reading The Wall
    Street Journal,” Mr. Wead recalled. ”And Junior kind of flicked his page, and he
    looked up in fury, as if to say, ‘Who would dare interrupt my reverie?’ And he saw
    Junior and recognized him and registered shock, and he was fumbling and saying,
    ‘Where are you sitting?’ and ‘You should be up here; I’ll talk to them for you.’

    ”And George W. said: ‘No, I don’t waste taxpayers’ money. I don’t waste
    campaign money. I ride coach.’ ”

  16. @asdf: I do not see “CNN”, “New York Times”, “Politico”, or the “Washington Post” specifically mentioned in the Constitution as having a special role beyond all other news sources. Mainstream media have lurched way left and they are not even hiding it any more. The First Amendment protects left wing blogs. But the same august venerable First Amendment protections also extends to Alex Jones Inforwars. How many of these natural mainstream news sources even tried to pretend to be neutral when Trump won. No they started crying and ranting at the American people. No wonder according to a 9/14/16 Gallop press release only “32% say they have ‘a great deal’ or ‘a fair amount’ of trust” in mainstream media. Only 30% of Independents and 14% of Republicans believe the mainstream media. Only 51% of Democrats (which are by definition left wing) believe the left wing mainstream media.

  17. Excellent analysis, Gary. Just suggesting alternative explanations seems to really be disruptive to some.
    The “Trump Derangement Syndrome” is amazingly obvious. There are only 2 things wrong with Trump (and anything related to his administration): 1) Everything Trump does and 2)Everything Trump says.
    Rational discussions seem impossible. Systematic attacks equal to these directed at Obama and his administration would have been labeled as prejudiced and racist.
    And… I am completely independent. I believe they are all crooks.

  18. Plus he keeps all his frequent flyer miles. Hence his brand loyalty. My Pruitt would probably feel much safer if he went back to the private sector.

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