Investigation: LAX Officials Fly High On Your Dime

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — It’s a CBS2 investigation that’s already getting results from City Hall: Highly paid officials flying high on your money, traveling in luxury that most people can’t afford.

The Ashburn family from San Bernardino — is at LAX heading to Hawaii  — after searching online three weeks for the cheapest ticket.

“The most luck I have is usually when I bid on any website where you can bid on a price.”But that’s not the way it works for airport executives at LAX — where we found some spending tens of thousands of dollars of public money on business travel — flying business class!

Airport director Gina Marie Lindsey doesn’t see anything wrong with it. “If there’s a problem, I’m happy to address it. I don’t understand what the problem is,” she said.

If you fly in or out of LAX, Ontario, or Van Nuys airports, or even pay federal income taxes, part of your money goes to the airports. So we wanted to find out how airport executives were spending it, and found some of them traveling in luxuries most taxpayers can’t afford.

From January 1, 2010 through March of this year, we found airport senior executives flew business class…12 times. Spending more than $98,000 for business trips overseas.

Two of them went to the Airport Director.  Lindsey is one of the highest-paid officials in the city, making $326,000 a year. That’s more than the Mayor. And more than the Governor! But twice she flew business class with wider seats and luxurious amenities for big bucks.

More than $10,000 for a single round-trip to Dubai.

More than $9,800 for one round-trip ticket to London and Paris.

“If you’re flying internationally you can choose to fly business class,” she said.

You can also choose to fly coach?


Then when don’t you?

“It’s more comfortable to fly in business class.”

It’s more expensive as well.


Her deputy director, Michael Molina, went along for roughly the same fare.

We shopped around on the Internet and found economy tickets for the same itineraries as low as $1,700. That’s a savings of approximately $8,000 a ticket!

City policy says, “Air travel expenses are allowable only for the lowest regular fare available,” but there’s an exception for international, which says “the city will consider reimbursing business class.”

It’s an option Molina and Lindsey gladly accepted.

CBS 2 asked, “Why do you have to fly business class?”

“You don’t have to. But you’re allowed to. And yes, on these long flights business class is a more humane way to travel.”

It’s a more humane way to travel? What does that say to the traveling public that isn’t flying coach?

“I think we all agree, that, uh, there could have been a better choice of words,” the mayor said.

The mayor, who appointed Lindsey, may not have liked the wording but says he doesn’t have a problem with business class as long as the travel is necessary.

But Kris Vosburg of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association, an association that promotes taxpayer rights, says business class is wrong.

“This is a classic example of how government officials behave when it comes to spending other people’s money. Just because it’s legal, doesn’t make it right,”

Airport officials say the trips were to meet with representatives of foreign airlines and resulted in 19 new weekly flights by Alitalia, Iberia and Turkish Airlines. And additional service by Emirates Airlines.

Sure enough, Alitalia cut the ribbon at LAX for its first flight on June 5th of last year. But the problem is, the the trip to Europe was on June 10th of last year. But we discovered that two months earlier, on August 12th, the airline already made the announcement of additional flights to LAX.

CBS 2: “But they had announced these flights two months before you went to Dubai?”

“So should I have canceled the trip do you think?” asked Lindsey.

CBS2: “Maybe so.”

But she didn’t. Lindsey says they’ll continue to fly business class whenever they can.

CBS2: “What does this say to travelers who are trying to save money and you’re flying at $8-10,000 a ticket?”

Lindsey: “I don’t think it says anything to the flying public.”

But travelers like Esther Alley think so.

“Do they realize they we’re paying for our tickets? And that we have to pay for our luggage. And they’re spending $10,000 a trip? Are you really serious?” she asked.

Officials say the airport generates hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue to the LA area — and their luxury travel is a drop in the bucket. But it’s a luxury most travelers can’t afford.

David Goldstein, CBS2 News

  • jj

    i don’t blame them for taking advantage of flying business class. More than six hours on a plane, that extra space is marvelous. poor choice in words, but I’ll gladly subsidize those tickets with my tax dollars.

    • Astonished

      Please tell me you were fishing for responses when you said that! Most L.A. Taxpayers aren’t flying anywhere, not even cattlecar class because they have bills to pay and fees and taxes that only seem to be going up! As far as I’m concerned she can pay for her own “Business Class” seats out of her own pocket! Oh and she can take a cut in pay like all the other city workers did (other than the elected and appointed elite)!

      • Ron


        Or even better, she could LOSE her job, like so many NON-CITY/government workers, who didn’t have the option of taking a cut in pay or losing THEIR jobs !!!

    • margaret

      Seriously? Why don’t you make a big fat donation to the City of LA and earmark it for her junkets. And post a copy of your check her so we can see that you will put your money where your mouth is.

    • jeff

      jj, you have to be kidding me! These were completely unnecessary flights. She’s making 320k+ per year!! She clearly believes she deserves to fly comfortably. If she is such a great public servant, why doesn’t she subsidize her own comfort. City pays the low fare and she upgrades on her own dime. What an idiot she is in the interview. She should be fired. Even the mayor found it hard to respond to her comments.

    • Idiots all around

      JJ is reall an LAX employee.

    • GEAH

      jj is Lindsay.

  • swhitS

    I won’t! Get in line for coach like the rest of us. The people of LA are morons for allowing this garbage. No wonder we are broke and fire her a$$ she has a take all from the people attitude.

    • OwnUp2It

      Not only that – fire the dipsh** that put her into the position!

  • PeteM

    With that sort of salary, she should be subsidizing the taxpayers for their flights.

    • JoAnna

      I agree with you. This witch thinks she is privaledged. What a pompous ass she is. She needs to get canned and go get a job where she actually has to work for a living.

  • PeteM

    Hey jj, YOU pay for her flights out of YOUR damn pocket, not ours!

  • Mp

    Some people can’t afford to eat either, yet these airport officials are buying food! Oh noes!! This story needs more exclamation points!!!! Seriously, we’re not going to see any reduction in costs if they fly coach. This woman is an executive with a large organization. Executives fly business class. She did NOT fly international first class which is a heck of a lot more expensive. 12 trips in a period of over one year is nothing anyway. I’d expect someone working in this job to fly a lot more.

    • walljasper

      A fool and their money are soon parted.

      Obviously, you have also taken leave of your senses.

      My condolences.

  • Rick W

    Do you know how short this woman is? Coach legroom is plenty for her!

  • Onclewillie

    Well the attitude stinks. Whatever happened to a travel department that sought out the best traveling prices for employees? Sheesh, one person arranging LAX staff travel would pay for themselves in travel savings within a month.

    If these people want the perks that go to private enterprise executives, then let them leave the public sector. The airport director and her executive staff sound more like political rewards from the Mayor and not someone who actually works for a living.

    • Chris in California

      I’ve always wondered why the city, or any city for that matter owns an airport. Shouldn’t they be private enterprises? I’ll bet service would get a lot better really fast if they had to compete.

  • LT

    Somehow, this does not bother me at all. If I had a job that required a lot of air travel, business class would be a must. As a tax payer, I can honestly say this doesn’t bother me at all.

    • Ron

      Nice of you to protect your mom. Are you kidding me? How about you pony up the difference of the lowest airfare(that was available) vs. business class and reimburse we taxpayers? I am sure she gives you a very nice allowance.

  • ddd

    trivial expenses for a MAJOR organization and one of the world’s largest airports. Please use your time investigating more important subjects.

    • Ron

      If he continues to dig, I bet he will uncover less trivial expenses.

  • Zuma Times

    “They should try to get the lowest rate, but you can’t expect them to fly coach with screaming babies. I’m sure they’re doing business on their laptops while on board. And it’s a business trip on behalf of the city. Not like some of the other reports I’ve seen where it’s mainly personal travel under the guise of city business.

    • Sanderson

      Are you sure this wasn’t personal, Zuma Times? She and her buddy flew over AFTER the contracts had been signed. WHY?? That makes no sense. LA World Airports needs to find a good travel agent because they are overpaying. Think about it, she admitted that both contracts had been signed BEFORE she went over there, so … she and her buddy did NOT go there on BUSINESS. AND, you think she was being wined and dined over here, before this business was finalized. YES. That’s business, right? Wrong.

    • Common Man

      Sheep just following like zombies. that’s why they take advantage of the general public. A trip to dubai, yea that was a business trip. Dont forget the other expenses that came with that wonderful all expenses public paid vacation. .

  • ruth

    This women and others who spend hard earned tax dollars should be fired! go fly in your business $10K flight on some corporate company’s dime, not on the peoples~ unacceptable. If you’re a public official reading this, do something and fire this women, or at least suspend her and fine her for all the money she’s taking away from all the teachers they are laying off in the city.

    I can’t believe she said it’s inhumane to travel economy~ well guess what, all the “inhumane” economy riding people who earned to their ticket with blood sweat and tears bought your stolen ticket- unprofessional, inconsiderate and selfish.

    • ruth

      if our Governor Jerry brown can ride coach – these people can too. Maybe I should pay less taxes – we obviously pay more than enough to pay for $10K airline tickets – i hate this so much.

      I’ll take this women’s job for a forth of what she makes and do a better job~ too bad for corrupt networking.

  • Zuma Times

    David, you should do an investigation into the billions of dollars in LACERS pension money that was lost in “overly risky, non-investment grade,” bogus projects and phony LLC’s. The city is on the hook out of the general fund for these losses, and now the city is reducing services, citywide and is headed toward bankruptcy. Check it out!

  • rlnc

    This is a classic example of abuse by public officials. Some of these executives make six figure salaries and they expect us to pay the bill. Employees under their supervision are giving up their concessions in union contract negotiations, due to budget cuts, shouldn’t they give up their perks as well? There should be salary caps for all public officials and a limit on perks… If they don’t like it, then they should leave public office and return to the private sector. Public service should be driven by passion to serve the people and not greed!

  • wow.......

    Are u kidding me…..with our current economy, this heartless rich hag has the nerve to say on record “its a more humane way to fly”……so what she really feels is that we are all animals if we look to fly coach because we “normal people” can’t use other peoples tax $$$ to fly business class….I think Villeragosa should fire her ass ASAP!!!!!!!! What a SMUG HAG!!!!!

    • Ron

      Yes he should, but if it hasn’t already been exposed, it probably soon will, that he too, most likely travels business class.

      She is unbelievably arrogant.

      There needs to be a change of policy, to state that all government employees pay the difference between, the lowest fare and the fare they chose.

  • Use The Resources Wisely

    I think the CBS Investigating team is running out of targets and stories to report. Maybe they should walk down Melrose or Santa Monica Blvd. and help combat all the healthcare fraud and start putting these fake shops on camera. That would save more taxpayer money.

    At least they are not flying on private/corporate jets.

  • Fred

    Lindsey and Molina should be made ro reimburse the City for this type of travel. She cuts law enforcement funding, and uses the money to fly. This is a Joke. She should be fired for misappropriation of City funds. Off course, nothing will happen. This is just another example how the executives at LAX spend the taxpayers money.

    • Chris in California

      Unfortunately she was following the rules. You cannot in good concience fire someone when they are following rules laid down by someone else. But you can darn sure make the rules better then watch for violations.

  • Disgusted Angelino

    I do not understand how this type of abuse is allowed by a City that say it has no money. City employees are told to pay more into their retirement and medical. It is clear that employees like Lindsey and Molina are above any of the rules. I understand why Molina fly business class (he is so fat that he can’t fit in the coach seats). That is not our concern and he should go on a diet. Many fat travels are not allowed to fly because of their size. Did anyone tell Molina that he could not fly because he would take two seats?

    Lindsey is just an unhappy hag that loves to push people around. Most employees hate her guts because of her attitude. She displayed that attitude during the interview. Someone needs to tell her that her stupid smirk is unacceptable.

  • brian

    judgment day is aproaching I hope and prey that LA will go bust you can steal like a thief but it will come back to haunt you she will eventually losse all her money and I hope the IRS will invsetigate all politicians but wait the IRS is also involved and pass the blame on to us GOD is very angry towards america and judgement will fall upon America as the pastor say in church you reap what you sow…

  • Cruiser

    Good reporting. Frankly, they didn’t do anything wrong. It’s all according to the books.

  • Liam

    I used to work for the City. I flew in Business on international flight to the Middle East. A Priceline coach ticket would not have worked – not refundable, no substitutes. And we had a last minute substitute.

    It was not a vacation. I left the office on Friday, packed Saturday, flew out on Sunday, my day “off.” 17 hours in the air, working during most of it. Arrival at 6:30 AM, first meeting was at 9:00 am. Meetings every day, well into the evening.

    With security checks, it was 21 hours at the airport and in flight, starting Saturday, my “day off.”. Arrived at LAX 5:00 PM Sunday, had to be at work on Monday AM. And, no, I didn’t get overtime – salaried employee.

    She is guilty of nothing more than not explaining it well. Or Goldstein is guilty of excessive editing while focusing on a non-story.

    • rizno

      I hear what you are saying but it’s time for everyone who works for the city to “take one for the team” and start doing little things to reflect the realities of L.A.’s situation. Not by spending excessive money in areas like this and then cutting budgets in more beneficial areas.

  • LAXPD Ofcr

    It’s funny how this is now being investigated.
    This issue has already been investigated by LAWA and the LAXPD two years ago when, then LAXPD Assistant Chief Errol Southers single handedly exhausted the departments annual 2 million dollar departmental travel expense account in less than one year. He resigned less than a year after it was discovered. It’s no wonder that he didn’t accept the TSA Directors position after he was appointed by Obama.

    • Proud Bird

      Good riddens to all those greedy clowns padding their wallets before getting another gig. Now there is a new bunch. How many Asst Chiefs does LAX need! Totally out of control. There needs to be some independent oversight.

  • Wang

    obviously most of you have never worked for a company that throws you in the air myrtle times a year. If you did, you would understand that Ms. Linsay is guilty of poor word choice. Having to take a flight that’s in excess of six hours, work through the flight, then immediately enter work meetings upon landing is grueling. Sitting in coach doesn’t cut it. Airlines call it business class for a reason. I don’t see anything wrong with the travel.
    Further, those of you concerned with teachers losing their jobs need to realize that her budget and the LAUSD budget have NOTHING to do with each other. Those of you concerned about law enforcement need to realize the airport director did NOT cut the police budget. The airport director had nothing to do with that budget either.

  • Comanchepilot

    Why don’t they have a corporate travel agent and government rate deal? One can buy a round the world business class ticket for $3500 – so why don’t they use that? Plus – there are discount business class tickets all over the web from consolidators – if it is policy to all management to travel business class internationally why are they not using every trick in the book to minimize the cost?

  • Tommy

    let’s see… Why would airport officials fly to dubai? Maybe it would be to meet with executives if emirates airlines, to try to get emirates to fly to los angeles. The airline is trying to be one if the world’s largest – we would want them to flu through LAX.
    Or maybe it’s to check out the state of the art airport that was recently built. Let’s face it, LAX looks pretty long in the tooth.anything to modernize LAX to get it on par with newer airports would be great. You can’t get great ideas for LAX without actually seeing how newer airports are run.

    • Alert Two

      But they flew after the sale was made. Emirates already agreed to fly to LAX.
      Watch the video dip ship.

  • Steve Friedman

    The City of Los Angeles, not to mention KCBS, should be glad that Gina Marie Lindsey is our Director of Airports. She was recruited to transform our dumpy third-world airport into a functional gateway that is not an complete embarassment on the global scale of airports. With her track record, she should be flying FIRST CLASS!!!! I hope that her future trips also include visits to world leading airports in Singapore, Hong Kong and Seoul — and the she continues to sit in the front cabin!! For the ocassional traveller, she may seem extravagent, but for someone that lists his career as a “Professional B747 Passenger”, her travel methodolgy makes perfectly good sense to me!! SEF

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