DFW Airport head traveled expensively

September 23, 2008 2:43:37 PM PDT
Executives at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport spent nearly $500,000 on expensive travel in the 18 months before the first budget freeze in the airport's history, according to a television report. Chief Executive Jeff Fegan flew first class to Austin, waiving an airport policy against such a trip, and took 21 international trips in first or business class that ran as much as $13,000 apiece and totaled $97,000, Dallas-Fort Worth television station KTVT reported Monday.

"It's either I laugh or vomit," Michael Q. Sullivan, president of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, told the station. "If this was a for-profit company, shareholders would be calling for their heads."

Fegan defended his travel accommodations, saying he needs his "physical space" because he's over 6 feet tall and that it's difficult for "people of my size to sit in coach and sleep."

The station also discovered that a $1,300-a-night hotel suite in London sat empty for a night in order for Fegan to check in early after he landed the next day. Fegan didn't seem aware of the price per night but said "it was probably the only room available." He used similar reasoning to defend a stay at one of San Francisco's fanciest hotels.

A first-class ticket to Austin for Fegan ran $800 when the coach cost was about $100. His first-class flight to New York was $1,500 when coach tickets usually went for about $250.

Both routes violated airport policy requiring staff to fly coach on trips of less than five hours, but Fegan can waive that rule. The TV investigation from January 2007 to June 2008 found more than a dozen first-class trips lasting less than five hours. Fegan said he didn't recall why he flew first class.

The expenses were uncovered at a time when DFW Airport officials are bracing for a travel slowdown brought by difficult financial conditions in the industry. The fiscal year for the airport's first frozen budget starts Oct. 1, and expansion plans have been jeopardized.

"It is not responsible to have a set of travel policies that are so out of line with good practice and other public agencies," said Robin Lovin, a Harvard-educated professor of ethics at SMU.

American Airlines, the airport's primary tenant, couldn't comment on the travel expenses because it has no knowledge of them, said American spokesman Tim Smith.

"We at American feel that the airport is extremely well-run, based on the hundreds of airports that we operate out of, and that the airport is both airline- and customer-friendly," Smith told The Associated Press.

An airport spokesman didn't immediately comment.

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