First and Business Class Flights

» Posted by on Sep 3, 2014 in Airlines, Business Practices, Electronic Travel Systems | 0 comments

In September of 2007, GAO report GAO-07-1268 found that 67 percent of all first and business class flights by Government employees were not properly justified or authorized. This was somewhat surprising to me as I thought it well known to most employees that first class and business travel are not permitted except in very limited circumstances.

The Code of Federal Regulations, at 41 C.F.R § 301-10.123 states as follows:

§ 301-10.123 When may I use first-class airline accommodations?

You may use first-class airline accommodations only when your agency specifically authorizes/approves your use of such accommodations, for the reasons given under paragraphs (a) through (d) of this section.

(a)  No coach or business-class accommodations are reasonably available. “Reasonably available” means available on an airline that is scheduled to leave within 24 hours of your proposed departure time, or scheduled to arrive within 24 hours of your proposed arrival time.

(b)  When use of first-class is necessary to accommodate a disability or other special need. A disability must be substantiated annually in a written statement by a competent medical authority. A special need must be substantiated in writing according to your agency’s procedures. If you are authorized under § 301-13.3(a) of this chapter to have an attendant accompany you, your agency also may authorize the attendant to use first-class accommodations if you require the attendant’s services en route.

(c)  When exceptional security circumstances require first-class travel. Exceptional security circumstances are determined by your agency and include, but are not limited to:

(1)  Use of other than first-class accommodations would endanger your life or Government property;

(2)  You are an agent on protective detail and you are accompanying an individual authorized to use first-class accommodations; or

(3)  You are a courier or control officer accompanying controlled pouches or packages.

(d)  When required because of agency mission.

In fact, sections 304-3.10 and 304-5.6 prohibit most Government employees from traveling first class even when someone else pays.

According to The Government Executive of January 11, 2008, GSA thereafter issued supplemental rules that require: 1) That all requests for premium class travel be approved by an employee who was at least at the same job level as the traveler or by an office designated for travel approval, 2) that agencies to issue internal guidelines on when mission criteria and intent call for premium travel, 3) that unless the traveler has a lifelong disability, agencies require annual certifications of a disability and to prohibit blanket premium-travel authorizations, and 4) that agencies must restrict premium travel for both temporary duty and relocation if the employee is not required to report for duty the next day.

One might wonder why these abuses were not caught by the required Authorizing Official reviews. However, according to a CNN article on October 3, 2007, “Report uncovers $146 million in government travel abuses,” much of the travel involved high level officials who required that it be approved by subordinates and individuals using outdated medical excuses and improper flight time claims.

While I understand that some of these cases involve minor discrepancies and paperwork errors, supervisors who intentionally and fraudulently obtain approval for premium class travel and individuals using fraudulent disability claims should be disciplined for such misconduct. This kind of conduct makes the Government look wasteful in the public eye and discredits the millions of military and Federal employees who travel under cramped conditions in economy class for long distances to perform Government work. Hopefully, Authorizing Officials will be more diligent in catching these offenders in the future.

by Scott Goldsmith

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