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Investigation: LAX Officials Fly High On Your Dime

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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?

“Absolutely.”

Then when don’t you?

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

It’s more expensive as well.

“Yes.”

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

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