How Congress flies

You know how aviation is a spiralling horror-show of discomfort and bad service? Well, not if you're in Congress:

At Washington’s Reagan National Airport, they have their own special parking spaces—right up close to the terminal—that they don’t even have to pay for. As Bloomberg Television’s Hans Nichols reports, this perk costs the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority $738,760 in foregone revenue. (The best part of this clip, though, is seeing Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky haul ass to get away from Bloomberg’s cameraman.)

Being a member of Congress also means never having to rush to catch a flight. The airlines allow lawmakers the special privilege of simultaneously booking themselves on multiple flights, so that if they are late or their flight is canceled, they’re guaranteed a spot on the next one. A few years ago, a prominent senator paused in the middle of a conversation with me to bark at an aide, “Book me on the 6, 7, and 8 p.m. shuttles!”

To members of our fly-in-Tuesday-fly-home-Thursday Congress, these perks are a big deal. Most fly a lot, and many fly first class

The Pampered World of Congressional Air Travel [Businessweek/Joshua Green]

(via Digg)


  1. And they also get their own special healthcare….when you make the rules what keeps you from making better ones for yourself?

  2. shocking!  but whatever shall we do about this?  “vote out Senator Stalagmite!”  nah, there’s just a moving front of corruption (cf K-street).  “march on washington!”  nah, tear-gas gives me a rash; and besides dancing with the kardashians is on.  “occupy Reagan National!”  and what, hand out flowers and drum circles?   face it, as long as it’s Kang or Kodos, we’re boned.  “third party candidate!” not unless you can get Zuckerberg and Buffett to out citizen’s-united them (and then Bernie Sanders would be oh-so nice…)

    1. Good plan.  Discourage people who are smart and well-meaning from voting at all.  Then empower third-party candidates to split their remaining votes.  What could possibly go wrong?  (Hint: Nader.)

      Wait, is this related to air travel?

      1. plan?  what plan?  we don’t need no steeenk’n plan. (however it’s related to air travel via entitled politicians)

        and to the sensible chap right down below here, we do not need an electoral college, (tis a historical vestigial organ).  but while eliminating it would cause colorful thrashing in political strategy rooms, the outcome might not be a improvement (at least not for a long while)  (again because…. money)

        1. “historical vestigial organ…” can we just have that please? We need a government body we can just ignore.

        1. What Steve means is that without the EC in place, winning NY, CA and other States with very high populations would be key to winning the election. WV? The Dakotas? Fuck them. Totally unimportant. They’d never see or hear from a candidate before or after the election.

          1. You mean WV and the Dakotas would be treated like CA and NY are now?  And CA and NY might finally get to select a candidate or  decide an election?

            Seems reasonable to me.

          2. No, the EC system is designed to electoral power throughout the States, not just the ones with the largest populations. Switching to a simple popular vote system would give CA and NY a ridiculous amount of leverage in the election process. Almost all of it, in fact. There’s an article somewhere explaining it. Google is your friend, but not mine today.

          3. Exactly.  We (NY and CA) invented or perfected everything important (and in CA we grow everything people eat) and are the centers of the economic universe for the USA.
            We have the most people and most of the smart ones.
            It’s bad enough that North Dakota has the same number of Senators..
            If we’re going to put shit up for vote, assuming the constitutionality, then it’s 51/49, baby.
            Oh, and on topic – screw congress/senators for doing more and more every day to keep themselves removed from doing our ACTUAL bidding and working for the country.

          4. Yeah, we’d have actual proportional representation. That’d be a tragedy.

  3. As Bloomberg Television’s Hans Nichols reports, this perk costs the
    Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority $738,760 in foregone revenue.

    Considering that government heavily subsidies Air, it seems like kind of “big whoop?”…..

  4. I think it makes sense for society to pay to help our legislators move around easily. We have an unusual stake in their productivity and accessibility (e.g., ability to shuttle between their districts and the capital). I realize that most of us think they could do a better job holding up their end of the deal, but I think it still makes sense to set up the system such that a good legislator can get a lot of work done.

      1.  It’s a problem with OUR system of government, not with “government”. I agree with @boingboing-06eadc83d46d0fdf2a557040f32c1fb8:disqus , there’s nothing wrong with this in “theory”. And it’s small potatoes when it comes to actual government “waste”. In fact a bit insulting when it comes to actual waste…

    1. Well, it’s not the 19th or even 20th centuries anymore.  Our representatives are as accessible as they want to be whether they’re in DC or back home in Bumblefoot County.  They don’t have to wait for letters to take days to arrive in the post, and they don’t really have to tour that tornado-damaged trailer park firsthand before they do something useful.

      I approve of ol’ Senator Biden’s train trips home, and I understand that not all the elected officials live so close to where they, uh, “work” (for lack of a better SFW word), but I’m not convinced that any of those chuckleheads actually need to go home every damned weekend, nor that any of them need to be traveling first class.

      1. How do you define what we “need” from our legislators? Congress hasn’t been getting much done lately, but the US still exists. Does that imply we don’t need legislators to do anything? I think it’s in our best interest to do what we can to make Congress work better, whether it’s overwhelmingly important things like voting for reasonable candidates or merely important things like trying to make the job something that more reasonable people would want to do.

        1.  Reasonable people will never get the job because the power hungry will always beat them to it.  Reasonable people wouldn’t be stopped because they don’t get first class perks paid for by the American people.

        2. Where did I ever imply that we don’t need legislators to do anything?  What we need are legislators who legislate.  Take a look at their recent inaction on gun control, or anything at all that falls even slightly short of sixty votes in the Senate, even if the support by the general public tops eighty percent.  We have allowed Congress to devolve into an utterly useless and wasteful pack of lobbyists-and-consultants-in-waiting.  Anyone with more than half a brain isn’t going to take the job in hopes of effecting positive change.  They’re going to start peddling influence first, then eventually stroll through the K Street revolving door the moment their electability takes a hit, or they tire of the low six-figure paycheck and craptastic cafeteria food and the purely nominal public accountability.

          Much as I hate to take any cues from the Catholic Church, the practical use of the conclave (where they’re locked in a room until they finish the job) certainly has its attractions.  In any case, we don’t have to be stuck with the current system forever, with congressional districts gerrymandered to permanent partisan advantage and far more incentives for corruption and inaction than for integrity and getting the job done.  I’d fix the whole thing myself if I had anything like an electable resume (and if I hadn’t shot my political chances in the foot with most of my posts hereabouts).

    2. I’ve also heard the argument that before the highly mobile era, Congress was stuck in swampy DC the majority of the time and interacted with each other.  Even across party lines, much of it in unofficial socializing.  Now blue and red don’t meet or mingle.

      1. I think Henry Rollins had a riff on how to solve the Israel/Palestine conflict – it involved locking Arafat and Netanyahu in a toilet until they masturbated each other to orgasm.
        Perhaps we need a similar approach in Congress to break the deadlock.  Would make for great C-Span…

    3.  What would make sense, is to let congress convene via teleconference. Why make it any easier for lobbyists to fish out of a barrel? Let *them* accrue the air miles.

    4. The problem is that it also increases the disconnections between legislators and the real world the rest of us live in.  They don’t have any incentive to think about the consequences of the laws they make if they don’t have to live with the effects.  And that’s how the TSA happened.

    5. I cannot find it amongst the teeming millions of Google hits, but a number of years ago Bill Clinton wrote an article (Atlantic Monthly?) about the change in political life during the course of his career.  He pointed out that early in his career, legislators would go to DC for the entire working term and stay there, socializing together in the evenings (yes, across the aisle).  Then they would go home during the recesses and travel the entire state meeting with constituents (car, bus, train).  That’s what I remember as well, growing up in politics during the 1960s and 1970s.  Political life was not that much different from how it was in Lincoln’s time.

      Now, legislators fly home every weekend (and sometimes during the week) to meet with big donors and go to fundraisers.  They don’t know their fellow legislators as anything other than an (R) or (D) because they spend no personal time with them.  And they don’t travel around their states during the recesses: they fly in to key locations for fundraisers and leave at the end of the event.  It’s all about the money.

      So, no, I disagree: ease of movement for our legislators actually isn’t in the constituents’ best interests.  We need to make it harder for them to avoid interacting with citizens, not easier.

  5. I wonder what the mechanics are of booking themselves on multiple flights without penalty for cancelling. More important: how long until somebody hacks this?

    1. I already did!  I travel often enough that I sometimes get bumped to first class.  It was a flight to DC from a low population western state. There was a long standby list for first class, but I got the nod.

      Despite all the upgrade standbys, the seat next to me was empty.  I’m dead sure that seat was being held for some politician.

      My (weak and pointless) hack: I quickly expanded my domain and used the second tv screen to watch two shows at once.  I lost track of how many margaritas I drank with no one next to me to give me evil eye.

  6. vote them all out.  wait, it makes no difference,   the staff, lobbyists, parties, train the replacements.   the system IS broken.    but I do not know what to do about it.

    1. You just said vote them all out. You still have a few years to register in a lot of places. Go get ’em, tiger.

  7. A few years ago I flew from Boston to DC/National on a Sunday afternoon.  Just before the doors closed John Kerry and Ed Markey hopped on the flight (both in First Class).  Apparently Ted Kennedy got on, too, but I didn’t see him until I got off and ended up following him down to the baggage claim.  (He didn’t have any baggage but a staff member met him.)  Later I thought to myself that if that plane had gone down I’d be a minor footnote to a major historical event.  Yeah, they don’t travel like regular people.   I’m (not) shocked.

  8. Some of these points are unfair as they are security features. And yes there are certain privileges because of the number of people they represent. But hell yes there’s waste and corruption. You don’t become a sheister for nothing.

    1. Though to confound the terrorists, it’d be better if on any given weekend, one fifth of congress critters were flying, one fifth were in cars, one fifth in buses, one fifth on trains, and one fifth hitchhiking.  

      1.  I’d love a law that says congress critters must hitchhike- even if just once, from DC back to their “home” or their “second home”.

  9. Papa always said to never pick up hitchhikin politicians, they’d sequester ya and put tacks on your seat.

  10. Just putting this here, at the (for now), end of the line.  What ever happened to humility and/or humbleness as a virtue?  I mean why do these congresspeople feel like it is ok to lord it over everyone else?  Why can’t they just be normal human beings who are appreciative of the chance to serve?  It seems like, instead, they take the opportunity to be assholes and  selfish. 

    That is all.  

  11. You guys are funny.  Maybe the fact that these people represent millions of citizens actually DOES make their time more important than yours.  Maybe some privileges are reasonable.

    If you think your congresspeople are worthless crooks, that’s another issue.  But cutting their pay and benefits will only make them that much more succeptible to bribes.

    1. Cutting their pay and benefits would mean fewer Mammon worshipers running for office.  I propose they work for minimum wage, with only food and lodging (in dorms) in DC and a (preferably train or bus) travel ticket at the beginning and end of each working session paid for. No donations higher than $100 allowed, from individuals or corporations.

      Let’s put the service back in public service.

      1. Brilliant idea!  Then only the independently wealthy will be able to run for and hold office.  Don’t want any of those punters who actually need the income clogging up government with their lack of aristoi.

        1.  Or maybe people who are living on minimum wage could afford to take the job.

          Right now, it’s only the independently wealthy who can afford the start-up costs necessary to raise the obscene amounts of funding needed to enable the election lifestyle.  If election season was a series of televised debates with no paid advertising allowed, running for office wouldn’t be so desirable to those who have many other work options available.  Make it be about public service rather than power, and watch many/most of the sociopaths and narcissists switch to a different career path.

          1. So the political parties can’t raise awareness about their candidates anymore?  Unconstitutional.

            Re: reduced pay – you really think that congresscritters would not profit from their unique power-broker position anyways as they do now?  You have it all backwards! 

            Look, I agree there’s a huge problem with the system, but your suggestions are facile and unhelpful.

          2.  “So the political parties can’t raise awareness about their candidates anymore?”

            Never said that.  My suggestion was that obscene amounts of money should stop accruing to the politicians and their individual campaigns.

            Of course there will still be power.  I’m trying to come up with a way to dissuade the types of people who would most egregiously abuse that power.  Make the job less attractive to greedy assholes and you’ll end up with fewer greedy assholes in the job.

            Probably the only way to really do it is to make it into a job that is held by mostly women and minorities.  The cachet of being a politician would plummet quickly.

    2. I get that their time is important, but their priorities are skewed.  Kids are going to bed hungry and people with cancer aren’t getting treatment because of the sequester. These people are important because their day job should be protecting those folks and millions like them.  The only part of their work they’ve managed to complete is the one connected to their own lives.  

      1.  I agree.  The vast majority of them should be voted out.  I guess what I wanted to say is that focusing on relatively petty issues like parking spaces and priority transport isn’t going feed anyone or cure anyone. 

        People like to seize on the little things that they can relate to.  You rarely see people froth at the mouth when talking about how to actually reduce hunger (which either require higher taxes, or lifestyle change, or eliminating the republicans… I’m already getting sleepy) but when it comes to waiting in line at the airport everyone goes bananas.

  12. I used to fly into DC a lot, back when Ronald Reagan was president and the airport was still named National Airport.  The DC Metro station was across the street from the terminal, instead of going directly into the terminal building.  Why?  Because they would have had to tear up the Congressional parking lot for a year or two during construction if they’d done it the right way.  (It was still amazingly convenient, compared to Dulles or even Newark.  Depending on where in DC I was going, flying was usually 15 minutes faster, but taking the train was a lot more relaxing and convenient.)

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