UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is under fire for flying United Airlines instead of British Airways from Washington to London last week.
UK Foreign Secretary Flies United Instead Of British Airways
On Thursday evening, Raab flew UA918 from Washington Dulles to London.
When news emerged that he flew United Airlines instead of UK flag carrier British Airways, some expressed outrage. Brian Strutton, General Secretary of the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA), told The Independent:
“Maybe it’s too much to expect but I would like to see our foreign secretary travelling with a British airline rather than spending taxpayers money on an American one. There were alternative British flights available so what’s the excuse? It’s about time the UK government started showing a bit of support for UK aviation.”
My instinct is to dismiss this story as much ado about nothing. UA918 leaves Washington at 6:20pm, arriving into London Heathrow at 6:45am. Meanwhile, BA292 does not leave until 10:20pm, arriving at 10:35am. Four hours is a lot of time and the United flight allowed the Foreign Secretary to go home, shower, then still put in a full day at the office. Maybe he had morning meetings?
It could also be that the UK secured far better pricing with United than British Airways. Although the published fare on BA was slightly cheaper for a business class ticket, corporate contracts routinely lead to sizable discounts over retail.
Or maybe Raab preferred United’s business class over BA’s? United has been running retrofitted 787-8 on UA918 with its latest-generation Polaris seat. The picture above is from the same aircraft type Raab flew to London.
But symbolism matters and at a time in which thousands of British aviation professionals are losing their jobs and British Airways continues to face weakened demand (less than 20% of 2019 levels), the optics of a senior government minister flying on a foreign airline are not exactly helpful to the national conversation.
There should be nothing wrong with choosing flights based upon schedule, but in a hyper-partisan time marked by economic turmoil, even little choices like this bear consequences.
Raab’s office has not yet commented. British Airways has also declined to comment. The cost for his entire two-day U.S. trip is reportedly about $25,000. Maybe that’s the greater outrage?
Oh, and that wasn’t the only controversy. Raab’s police protection officer left his loaded 9MM pistol in his seat when he left the aircraft. That officer has been suspended and is under investigation.
The USA already has the equivalent in the form of a “Fly America Act” which requires government travelers to fly U.S. carriers. But that too has loopholes. Whether this is a tempest in a teapot or a more serious issue, UK transparency laws will not compel specific disclosures until next year on flight pricing.
Should government ministers stick to carriers from their own country, when possible?