British Prime Minister David Cameron surprised many this week by traveling to Washington for his first official White House visit since taking office on a commercial British Airways flight, instead of taking a dedicated plane, to save money. Now some Americans are wondering if U.S. officials could follow suit.
Having traveled around the world with four U.S. secretaries of state — Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright — over the last decade, I can see how commercial flying would save the State Department millions of dollars a year. However, it would also guarantee a logistical nightmare.
Most people don’t know that Clinton has been taking commercial flights since she became secretary of state, but that happens only when she goes home to New York from DC. Work-related flights to New York are flown on small Air Force planes.
On foreign trips, the security detail and the staff accompanying the secretary make for a large entourage that would be hard to accommodate on one commercial aircraft in business or first class. Knowing the security requirements, I’m guessing regular passengers would be required to board two hours before takeoff.
More importantly, the secretary often visits more than one country in one day, so trying to accomplish that commercially is practically impossible. Not to mention that nonstop flights don’t exist to many destinations most of the time.
Rice used to take a smaller plane than the C-32 — the Air Force version of the Boeing 757 — on quite a few trips. That required most of the staff and press corps to fly commercially, which was fine with me, since I flew much more comfortably and got tons of frequent-flier miles.
Apparently, Cameron didn’t have the limitations mentioned above, and there are plenty of nonstop stop between London and DC. It’s impressive, though, that he flew in business class — not first — and his meetings in DC were arranged around the British Airways schedule, according to the British press. His two immediate predecessors, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, also flew on a BA plane, but it was chartered and dedicated to them.
Speaking of the State Department and saving money on travel, I’ve witnessed excessive spending of taxpayers dollars for years, but that’s a topic for another column.