First Class Isn’t Always a Big Deal.

I frequently get emails from many of you and I enjoy and appreciate your comments. The other day I heard from a regular here and in addition to a brief report about his recent rail journey, he commented on how elements in Congress persist in bullying Amtrak. That, in turn, led him to deplore the fact that it seems as though our elected representatives do all their traveling first class with our tax dollars footing the bill.
I certainly know what he meant. Some of these people get the idea that they are special and deserve special treatment. That said, I probably have a somewhat more tolerant view of the life a member of Congress leads. One of my close friends, Neil Abercrombie, was a 10-term member of Congress from Hawaii.
Yes, they are paid handsomely—$174,000 a year for a member of the House—but, among other things, it helps to remember that the members have to maintain two residences: one in their home district and one in Washington.
And then there’s the matter of travel, which is especially burdensome for folks who are elected to Congress from Hawaii. Neil was extremely conscientious about his job and felt obligated to spend time in the district office in Honolulu, dealing with constituents and their concerns, attending meetings, making speeches and, in general, staying in touch with his constituents.
Some of the time, he flew economy and it’s quite true that on most of those occasions the airline would upgrade him to first class. And, depending on the time of year and how full the flights were, he did fly first class and, yes, as far as I know, we taxpayers paid for it.
But the back-and-forth was grueling. Washington-to-Honolulu is a 13-15 hour trip, with 12 hours actually in the air—and that’s under perfect conditions. Furthermore, heading east, a red-eye is always part of the deal. I must say I really couldn’t begrudge Neil the extra comfort of first class. I flew with him once—my little company was handling the media for one of his re-election campaigns—and he spent more than half the flight reading official documents and doing the people’s work.
Here’s the thing: Neil made that round trip between Honolulu and Washington 20 and 25 times a year. And he did it for for 20 years. After that much flying, I can’t imagine that first class would be that big a deal.