EPA Administrator Pruitt’s Emirates adventure called into question

Why fly Emirates? For EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt that question presents a significant issue given the requirements of the “Fly America Act.” The rules suggest that a government employee flying on paid official business should be on US-flagged airlines. And there are three US carriers – Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and United Airlines – that serve Milan from the US. But Pruitt flew on Emirates in June 2017 when returning to the US from an international energy summit in Italy. That has a lot of folks asking questions.

On board the business class cabin of an Emirates A380

Pruitt was issued an exemption from the Fly America Act according to CBS News, claiming that the Emirates flight was the only option that allowed him to return to the US to attend a Cabinet meeting.

A certificate justifying the return flight from Milan that the EPA provided to CBS News said Pruitt flew on a foreign carrier because it was the only available flight “that would get the administrator back in time” to attend a Cabinet meeting with President Trump the next day.

And there just might be something to that explanation. The meeting was held in Bologna, Italy on June 11-12. Pruitt only attended the June 11 portion based on the reports, returning to the US for the Cabinet meeting on the 12th. And getting from Bologna to the US is not particularly easy. Especially if attending meetings in the morning on the travel day. The Emirates flight is the latest departure from Milan, the closest intercontinental airport, that makes it back to the US on the same day.

What time do you want to leave Milan? The Emirates flight is definitely the option to choose if working in Italy that morning. (Data is 2018 but it was similar enough in 2017)
What time do you want to leave Milan? The Emirates flight is definitely the option to choose if working in Italy that morning. (Data is 2018 but it was similar enough in 2017)

Based on drive time to the airport and total travel time the British Airways routing from Bologna to Dulles via Heathrow would likely have been slightly more efficient but that may be a bit of splitting hairs.

This BA itinerary would probably have been a better choice for overall times but it isn't what Pruitt took.
This BA itinerary would probably have been a better choice for overall times but it isn’t what Pruitt took.

So, yeah, the guy flew on Emirates. And it is a pretty nice business class product on the A380. And it isn’t really within the spirit of the Fly America Act. That said, the flight does carry a JetBlue codeshare so it can fit under Fly America in some scenarios. Had Pruitt booked the JetBlue flight number would the exemption paperwork have been required?

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. I once came off the Emirates Milan flight and bumped into a curator from one of the Smithsonian museums. She said she booked the flight via a JetBlue codeshare and that’s why it was allowed.

    1. I’m really not certain. I also wonder how, assuming he booked through the GSA like most government tickets require, he could’ve ended up on the EK code and NOT the B6 code for that flight.

    2. Thanks, David. That makes sense. Still, the TA should’ve pushed the B6 code in this case, right? Isn’t that what GSA rules would require/recommend??

      I do see that Delta holds the GSA City Pair award for MIL-WAS so maybe that’s really what the exemption letter was about??

    3. I’m not a federal worker but I do know many of them. I think they can get around the Fly American rules by using a US airline flight number. The GSA rules are public.

    4. I was once on an Etihad flight back to DC where the business class cabin was very full of what I found out were very junior congressional staffers. These were folks clearly just starting out their working careers. They evidently had no trouble booking biz class on that airline.

  2. The “Fly America” costs the US taxpayer a fortune in excess fares due to inefficient routings. I saw this at Lockheed in Dallas having to fly via Washington Dulles to get to Dubai. Emirates had a nonstop flight from DFW.

    The jingoistically named “Fly America” Act exists solely as protectionism for the “Chapter 11 Three”.

    1. The Act also plays with the GSA city pair fares which generally save the government a bit of cash. The current GSA awardee for DAL-DXB is American (it was likely UA previously with the IAD connection you note). AA charges $971 each way for a fully flexible economy seat on that route. Getting that level of flexibility from AA without the GSA contract would cost a TON more.

      And the part where codeshares on foreign airline metal are valid means it is far less about protectionism these days than it used to be. Just look at the contract holder for WAS-DXB. It is JetBlue, an airline that doesn’t fly across the Atlantic at all.

  3. What a stupid piece of protectionism legislation. Make our government less efficient (at taxpayers expenses) so a few (privately owned) airlines can make more money. Disgusting.

  4. Government employees regularly fly non-US carriers internationally by using codeshares (UA for LH, Delta for AF). I would, too, if I was one. (Once, I came to a meeting attended by US government people at which I was the only person to have arrived on a US carrier. I thought that was odd, so they explained it to me. And smart they were to have flown what they did rather than UA.)

    In other words, this is an article about nothing. If you really wanted to do a useful article, how about one on how the government rules work, and what the exceptions are? Nobody seems to understand them, so you get confused articles like this.

    1. Indeed, there are ways to fly foreign carriers under the Fly America Act. Which is part of why the outrage is silly. But there are also rules about flying on contracted carriers where city pair awards are assigned. Delta “owns” the Milan-Washington city pair but Pruitt wanted to fly the later flight, and for good reason. Also, Delta doesn’t publish a biz fare to GSA for that route. That’s a less good reason.

      1. Delta has the contract for Milan-NYC (and v.v.) for FY18, but this travel would have been in FY17, and GSA’s site shows the contract was JetBlue (operated by Emirates) that year. So Pruitt was at least on the right flight – unclear though if his staff booked the JetBlue flight number, as Fly America required them to do. Also, if he was authorized to fly business class then the contract carrier doensn’t matter – only Fly America does. (The GSA site shows business class fares as well, but there are almost always lower business fares available from all carriers.)

  5. I was looking at the MIL-WAS city pair, not MIL-NYC. He was returning to DC for a meeting, not traveling to NYC. AA owned the MIL-WAS city pair in 2017 (and even had a decent J fare published) so that’s possibly where the waiver request came in to play.

  6. Florence Airport is 1:30 closer to Bologna than MXP. There is a Lufthansa flight (United codeshare) to FRA at 2:35 PM, which connects to a United flight that arrives at IAD at 8 PM. Faster travel time, could leave Bologna later than a 3:40 PM flight out of MXP, and fully compliant with the Fly America act.

    The connection at JFK and the 3 hour drive to MXP from Bologna blows the time saving argument out of the water.

    Dude wanted to bling out on Emirates.

    1. Or better yet, the Air Dolomiti (LH partner) flight on at 1.35 pm from Bologna to Munich, connecting there on LH’s late-aftenroon flight (codeshare with UA) to get back to IAD.

  7. Exactly. I guess he didn’t didn’t realize that LH business is actially more spacious than Emirates. His people need to brush up on Google Flights, Google Maps and read some trip reports.

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