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Monday, May 21, 2007
Spring break travel ... Congress-style
I'll admit I've been on nicer planes, but the Boeing 737 Executive Jet operated by the 201st Airlift Squadron of the D.C. Air Reserve Guard is pretty nice.

Plush first-class seats, just 34 on the entire plane. There's a conference area with a table, a full length couch. Retractable movie screens pop out of the ceiling to view the latest films. And in the back, the galley is equipped to deliver snacks, appetizers and full meals.

In fact, Master Sergeant Don Humphries, who acts as the first flight attendant, says that when a trip gets planned, he starts planning the menu.

The sergeant gets a budget and special requests, and then he goes shopping. Once all the groceries are bought, he and his staff hand carry and load them on-board, so these Air Force reservists can be prepared to cater to their passengers' every need.

It all sounds great, doesn't it? Sounded great to me too until I realized the mission of this plane is to fly around members of Congress on some questionable trips. Officially, they are called CODELS: Congressional delegations. Members of Congress use these military jets to fly all over the world on fact-finding missions.

Flying in military jets is especially important when our leaders need to go to Iraq, or remote parts of Africa, Afghanistan -- places that are hard to get to or dangerous to visit.

But the Virgin Islands, Trinidad, London? At $10,000 a flight hour, those places are where some of your representatives took these military planes over spring break.

The bill for Rep. Barney Frank's flight to London and Brussels was $160,000.00. He could have flown his entire group business class for about half the cost. But his spokesman said flying the military charter made the transportation a lot easier.

That's the same reason Rep. Bennie Thompson's delegation didn't fly commercial. They made lots of stops: Mexico, Honduras, the Virgin Islands and Key West. That's a tough itinerary if you have to travel commercially. The cost of the flights: $130,000.00

Let me know if you think you got your money's worth.

-- By Drew Griffin, CNN Correspondent

Editor's note: When leaving a comment, please don't forget to add your name, city/town and state.
Posted By CNN: 12:14 PM ET
I think it's time for Congress to learn how us normal people live. Let them sit in coach and eat trail mix or Pringles and drink Diet Pepsi out of plastic cups. I agree with Drew on official flights where things could get dangerous military transports are necessary, but to places where regular tourists visit give me a break.
Posted By Marcia, Warren Mi : 12:48 PM ET
As my "hard-core" Eastern European roommate always likes to rant: It's time to "chop off the heads" of our politicians just like the French did in the French Revolution. Beheading may be the LAST RESORT to getting our slimeball politicians to WORK FOR WHOM ELECTED THEM!! (Or, do any work at all!!! hehehe)
Posted By Sam, Houston, TX : 1:19 PM ET
If the good Master Sergeant was a true patriot, he should TOSS THE POLITICOS OUT OF THE PLANE!!! "Sans parachutes"!! Woo-hoo! THEN, we might see some behavior modification from our elected officials in Washington!
Posted By Graham, Tulsa, OK : 1:21 PM ET
You know, these "abuse your tax dollar stories" you all find really disturb me. Not because you find them, but because there are so many things in America that need to be fixed, and there is enough money to fix them; but, the money is being misused and grand opportunity for positive change is lost. Look at all of these things that are wrong with America and affecting our citizenry in a negative way: there are people who have no homes and there is no where for them to go, sick people and children who have no money or medical insurance to get well, public education is just pitiful in the urban ghettos, crime is rampant on our streets, poverty is everywhere, our food is being poisoned by deadly bacteria. These folk we continually elect to Congress are riding around to prime locations on military plane mansions costing us millions of dollars. It is just plain crazy!
This is why people don't vote in elections. This is why there is a big cloud of cynicism that surrounds politicians because nothing is being done where things need to be done and the people suffer. Politicians are always speaking that they care, but they spend millions of dollars flying to lush locations in plush style. So, our hard earned money is being flushed down the tubes so that some Congressman can get his big fat ego stroked. This stories really irritate me.
Congress and the President need to be held accountable for the misuse of money that happens in Congress. It is so pathetic!

Madeliene Bolden
Posted By Madeliene Bolden, Atlanta, Georgia : 1:32 PM ET
Politicians are so far out of touch with reality that they never give a second thought to such insignificant details as whre the money comes from. They are America's version of royalty. I think they all need leashes.
Posted By A. Roy Olson, Tucson AZ : 1:36 PM ET

This is one report I can't wait to see. My former Congress member, Richard Pombo, got called to task because he rented RVs one summer to take his entire family and staff to various national parks. He was checking out where there might be unused public lands that could be sold off to his cronies and he said this was the most cost effective way for him to make the trip. This episode contributed in part to his loss to Jerry McNerney who is now being called a "dragon slayer."

And I agree with Marcia. Let them stand in a long security line and then take off their shoes and walk in their bare feet on the dirty floor. And then wait for your baggage to come. And wait and wait. And then wait for the bus to the far parking lot with the cheap rates. My time and comfort is just as important as theirs.
Posted By Charlotte D, Stockton CA : 1:42 PM ET
Can you say, with a straight face, that we have ever been give our money's worth from our government? I thought not!

Wouldn't it be great if we could stop the dishonesty and killing so that events such as this would actually be such a shock we would talk about it for years?

Don't see that happening either!

Posted By Maggie GVMO : 2:26 PM ET
If congress flies to Iraq, Africa or Afghanistan when attempting to push our political agenda or support our foreign policies overseas then I am behind the $130k - $160k flights.

But to take my tax dollars and use them to fly to the Virgin Islands, Trinidad or London for Spring Break leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

If I'm forced to use my own money to pay for my overpriced coach seat when I am lucky enough to take my family on vacation, then members of Congress should do the same.

The last time I checked they bring home on average 2 - 2.5 times what me and my spouse earn combined. So I am sure with a little planning, they can fix their personal budgets to accommodate a normal commercial flight with their own money.
Posted By Parker, Northern VA : 2:32 PM ET
Yep, no question its money wasted. I'm sure you can find loads more examples. Now, just exactly how do you propose we put an end to this sort of thing?
Posted By Elise, Dallas, TX : 2:34 PM ET
I don't have a problem with trips to combat zones or the like on military planes. However, I don't think that it be too hard to program the trips mentioned on commercial airlines. Those are how the majority of the military travel and do it every day. Most military members do not travel on the planes that were discussed in this article.
Posted By Jim, Indianapolis, IN : 3:21 PM ET
I would love to see a politician's comment to this story in this blog. I am fully aware that not all politicians play this game but why can't the few honest, hard-working,concerned for their citizen politicians band together and get something done? This is such an outrage and unfortunately only a small sample of the misuse happening on a regular basis. What a damn shame!
Posted By Rikki, Green Bay WI : 3:30 PM ET
It must be nice to have your constituency pay for you to ride first class on fluff trips. I can understand the military trips. The rest of it, please...It's another abuse of the system by our politicians. And until we demand accountability, they'll continue to take advantage of their power. I have an idea...Let's make every politician live in a FEMA trailer for a week on minimum wage in the heat of New Orleans summer while they work to repair Katrina damage. I bet the city might finally get fixed. And maybe they'd understand what their ineptitude has helped create.
Posted By Tammy C., Berwick, LA : 3:34 PM ET
It sounds like another part of the budget needs to be trimmed. Doesn't anyone monitor their expense accounts? Maybe they should start sending e-mails instead of traveling for their fact finding missions! Thanks for keeping them honest!
Posted By Kathy Chicago,il : 3:48 PM ET
It's time to get rid of the two party system. Let politicians run on their own platform instead of a party platform, and let them be taken to task when one of these little factoids emerges. They kvetch about social security and medicare, cut social programs at every opportunity, and let gasoline soar to records levels while they take themselves, their families and friends on luxury vacations courtesy of my tax dollars. Mainly it's because they don't have to worry about these mundane every day items like the rest of us do. We take care of everything for them.

Someone once said that anyone in congress that has been there for more than a term or two has got to be a crook, and I believe it. Time to kick them ALL to the curb.
Posted By Kim in TX : 4:01 PM ET
As a government contractor this is not surprising. Excessive amounts of money are spent on airfare each day. All federal employees must purchase airfare through their agency travel office to get the "Government" rate. One would think the “Government” rate might be a good one since they purchase thousands of tickets each day. The government rate is comparable to the price you would pay if you purchased your airfare the week of your flight. A recent example… A flight from Washington, DC National airport to Tampa, FL can easily be found for $250 or less on any basic travel search engine a month in advance when a trip is planned. But the federal government purchases a ticket a month in advance for about $500. When a contractor and a federal employee travel to the same location, for the same project, on the same dates, with the same advance notice, it is costs much more to fly a federal employee. For the hundreds of trips I personally have been on in this type of situation, I can tell you the guy sitting next to me is not anymore comfortable than I in that coach seat at the “Government” rate. The only semi-valid claim I have heard for this, is that it is a refundable fare. Do like the rest of the private industry, purchase a non refundable fare, and if you have to cancel your trip, pay the $100 fee and get the credit voucher and use it for the next trip. I guess those airlines make some big contributions to the right political campaigns. They do get a good deal on hotel rates??? Go figure. Wait…. Maybe I should not complain… Job security… In a high travel position like mine, it is cheaper to fly me around the country and world than a federal employee.
Posted By Chris Tinden, Washington, DC : 4:06 PM ET
Hi Drew, I try to avoid reading about the excesses that we have allowed our elected officials. It makes me heartsick. It is time for this very rich country and it's elected officials to focus their attention on the needs of the people rather than luxuries for themselves. This stuff is unreasonable and needs to stop. How on earth do they justify this kind of an expense? The use of tax payer money doesn't seem to have any checks and balances and I thank God for you, CNN, and Anderson Cooper for bringing this to our atention. Off goes another letter to my elected officials.
Posted By Judy Stage Brooklyn MI : 4:43 PM ET
If Lou Dobbs *sigh* is willing to sponsor me, I want to become an American citizen so that I can run for public office, win of course, and then take one of these awesome trips.

I'd be worth giving up free health care to travel like American royalty. :P
Posted By Em, Toronto, Ontario, Canada : 4:48 PM ET
Hi Drew,
Do I think we got our money's worth? No! I can't believe that members of Congress get to fly around on our dime, while we in the general public have to pay an arm and a leg for a flight! It is another example of our getting short changed. What have they done to deserve such luxury? Outrageous!
Posted By Pamina, Pittsford, New York : 4:55 PM ET
So What's new--think it gonna stop.
You bet your sweet potatoes it won't. Just think how many homeless
people we could have fed, or
many elder people could have been
given medical assistance, but those
issues are not important. God forbid our elected officials should
have to fork out money from their
own pockets to go to Mexica or
the Virgin Island.
Posted By patt-ga : 5:15 PM ET
Perhaps we should require all CODELS to publish a complete itinerary, passenger list, and cost in the Delegate's home district immediately upon returning.

I would prefer to see these published prior to departure but understand the underlying security risks associated with announcing proposed visits to lush vacation spots.
Posted By John, Draper, Utah : 5:27 PM ET
Have the days when people gathered together infront of the US capital over?.What we really need to do is get proactive, comfront our congress reps and senetors with these issues and demand them to do something about them and that we are going to be on them like a bad rash that wont go away.posting our comments doesnt do much but allow us to complain amongst ourselves. If we dont get proactive we may as well allow them to showcase their lifestyles on MTV. Personally I think we are too comfortable with our own lifestyles to really strive for change.
Posted By Valerie, Hesston KS : 5:30 PM ET
Are the days when people gathered together in front of the US capital building over?. What we really need to do is get proactive and comfront our congress reps and senetors to do something about these issues making them uncomfortable like a bad rash that wont go away.Posting our comments on these blog just allows us to complain amongst ourselves. If we do not get proactive we may as well allow them to showcase their lifestyles on MTV. Personally I think we are too comfortable with our own lifestyles to strive for change.
Posted By Valerie, Hesston KS : 5:43 PM ET
Hi Drew,
It would appear that our political leaders like to plane hop at the drop of a hat. And what a free ride for them when they just hand us the bill. My, My, sounds like a good deal. Something tells me they'll fight tooth and nail to keep the status quo. Take Care
Posted By Lorie Ann, Buellton,Calif. : 10:02 PM ET
It makes me very mad to here this. But what do we do we all sit around and complain. I say out with them all! Replace them with common sense, hard working people of the United States!
Posted By chris smith wilmington nc : 10:37 PM ET
Try explaining this to the Air National Guard members flying these planes to ferry supplies, men, etc to the Middle East. They don't have special chef's, luxury seats, the food of their choice. Is there ANYONE in charge in DC? No wonder, the current recently elected Congress has a lower approval rating than the President!
Same ol' same 'ol.
Posted By Katie, Garland Tx : 7:54 AM ET
This really irritates me. The Democrats want to raise taxes so they can continue the outrageous spending of the Bush administration that they have been bashing for 6+ years. It is more of the same.
All this bipartisanism is sickening because in truth there is very little difference between the parties. They differ on some key issues, but they don't care a lick about spending our tax dollars because in most cases they are rich enough to get through all of these tax loopholes. To them it is free money.

The primaries are coming up in just over 6 months. Do research on your congressman/woman, see what they vote on and spend and vote in the primaries for someone who is not as susceptible to this ridiculous spending.
Posted By Nestor, Austin, TX : 10:53 AM ET
I doubt if most of these people have ever flown coach in their lives. They are travelling in the style to which they are accustomed. Maybe the larger issue is how we finance elections in this country. You shouldn't have to be rich to run for congress if you're going to represent the great middle class.
Posted By Barbara, Los Angeles, CA : 1:32 PM ET
These people have been in the business for too long and have forgotten the meaning of public service? I don't have any problem with people spending lavishly, as long they pay for themselves. Katrina victims are still in need of financial support, and natural-disaster areas remain desperate for help. Here you have heartless and clueless Congressmen, who should've known better, squandering our tax dollars as if this was their last term. Perhaps we should make it so. Anderson, I think this requires primetime and indepth coverage to embarrass them, so others wouldn't dare to be so indifferent when using our tax dollars.
Posted By Jason P., Houston, TX : 4:01 PM ET
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