One of the private jets used by HHS Secretary Tom Price is not what you would expect
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price is under the spotlight for his use of private jets. It comes after Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin got heat for using a U.S. Government Gulfstream to view the eclipse from the roof of Fort Knox. The trip came into the spotlight when his wife, actress Louise Linton, made an Instagram post that could have been had the hashtag #RichKidsOfInstagram as she called out the various designer labels she was wearing (below).
It then turned out Mnuchin had looked into taking a government-owned private jet to Europe for his honeymoon. Considering Fortune estimates his net worth as being as high as $500 million, it smelled even worse than it normally might have.
By contrast, it sounds like Price is under more time pressure than usual, overseeing his department’s relief efforts after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Two of his most recent five flights that drew the most scrutiny was as a half-day roundtrip from Washington Dulles Airport to Philadelphia and back. According to Politico, he was traveling with a group of 10 people for the trip which is 135 air miles each way. The cost for the charter, provided by Ultimate Jet Charters, which operated the flights was reported to be approximately $25,000, or $2,500 per head, which would be about three to five times more expensive than commercial flights and around 10 times more expensive than Amtrak.
Whether because of schedules it is justifiable or not, the aircraft used for the trip to Philadelphia was not what you might envision when one says private jet. According to Ultimate’s website, the Embraer 135LR was configured with 30 seats in a 1 x 2 arrangement, all facing forward and not in the club arrangements typical of true private jets. The seats are the same size and width that you would find on regional carriers such as United Express. In fact, the seat width is 17.3 inches. Seat pitch would probably be around 34-36 inches, meaning the same amount of legroom offered in United’s Economy Plus rows. See seat plan and images of the cabin interior below:
Whether or not the trip to Philadelphia or Price’s other trips should have been done by commercial airline, driving or Amtrak is hard to tell without understanding what type of flexibility Price had in his schedule.
In a 2009 CNBC he interview, the then Georgia Congressman criticized a budget request for eight new private jets. “I think we’ve made it halfway of where we ought to and that is cut it from eight to four jets. Now we need to cut it from four jets to zero jets. This is just another example of fiscal irresponsibility run amok in Congress right now,” Price said, according to tapes of the interview.
If you believe that Price shouldn’t have been fly privately for any of his recent trips, at least you can take heart, that for his trip to Philadelphia the airplane he was flying on wasn’t much different than what the commercial flight would have been, just more expensive.