Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.) spends his long flights prepping notes and creating checklists for staff meetings.
In the early 1980s, during a routine flight from Washington, D.C., to California, Rep. Pete Stark met a young entrepreneur who was interested in donating computers to schools but was stymied by the way the tax code treated such donations.
That chance encounter between the crusty Democratic Congressman and the young computer whiz named Steve Jobs eventually led to the creation of a charitable deduction allowance for computer donations.
Most West Coast lawmakers don’t experience such life-altering events while heading home for the weekend.
So what are they doing up there?
Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) — in typical Don Young fashion — takes solace in a good rest and a politically incorrect wish for his 10-hour flight.
“I always hope I get to sit next to a pretty blonde,” he says. “But it never happens.”
Rep. Mazie Hirono uses the 5,000 miles between D.C. and Hawaii to catch up on work, and she finds home cooking is a motivation.
“I love going home and being able to bring back my favorite Hawaiian dishes,” the Democratic lawmaker says.
For dozens of Members in the Pacific time zone and beyond, finding a routine can help fill long hours and thousands of miles spent in the sky. A few sat down with Roll Call to talk about their regular westward journeys.
Hanabusa enjoys a good puzzle to pass the time of a 12-hour flight to the islands.
“I’ve always liked puzzles,” she says. “I do Sudoku, and recently somebody gave me a Kindle Fire for Christmas.”
She also enjoys reading books that relate to her work as a lawmaker.
“I recently read this book called ‘Democracy’s Arsenal’ that I think is really good for anybody interested in the future of the military. It’s an excellent book,” says Hanabusa, who serves on the Armed Services Committee.
While a rocky flight might startle the uninitiated, Hanabusa draws on her experiences as a seasoned flier to maintain her composure.
“The worst airplane ride I can remember, when I was a younger kid we lost an engine and we were in the middle of the Pacific and we had to turn around. ... I think once you experience those things, turbulence is minor,” she says.
Begich would prefer a Thursday evening flight to Anchorage, but his schedule rarely allows it.
“The Senate usually doesn’t vote till the late evening,” he says. “A lot of Senators can be home in less than an hour, and they forget that some of us have longer ways to go.”
Begich’s 4,000-mile cross-continental trip gives him time to rest before a full day of work.
“I will work on that Friday I land, so it’s also important that I get time to sleep. Some days I’ll be working till 4 a.m., so it’s important that I manage my workload,” he says.
When constituents recognize Begich on a flight, they will often avoid speaking with him, opting instead for a more passive — and ever so modern — form of communication.
“I’ll look on Facebook and someone will write they were sitting next to me in the airport, but they didn’t want to bug me,” Begich says. “Or sometimes they will send me Facebook messages about what they wanted to talk about.”
Averaging around 130,000 miles annually, Begich says he is closing in on 1 million miles and has some choice words for fellow frequent fliers in the Senate.
“You have to manage your time. A lot of them might say, ‘I shouldn’t sleep, I need to look like I’m working,’ but you need to manage your health, to prepare yourself for the jet lag and time change,” he says.
Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii)
Akaka is a veteran traveler. He has been taking the flight from D.C. to Hawaii for more than 35 years, and his routine has changed over time.
“Early on, I used to do work,” he says. “Now I try to rest and get some exercise in. I do leg exercises when I’m sitting. I will walk around the plane to get my blood flowing.”
Akaka does not recall having a bad flight or good food.
“You really only have two choices when it comes to food, and I usually don’t like either. So when I am coming back from Hawaii, I pack boxes full of food from home that my wife cooks,” he says.
When it comes to dealing with jet lag, Akaka has become a pro.
“I usually leave the evening before, and I stay awake till it’s dark. I go to bed in the time frame that I am in, and I find that it really helps me, and the jet lag doesn’t affect me as much,” Akaka says.
Serving his final term before retiring from the Senate, Akaka has some advice for his fellow lawmakers traveling west.
“Over the years, you should try to improve your plan,” he says. “Pack light, stay hydrated and drink a lot of water.”
Roll Call has launched a new feature, Hill Navigator, to advise congressional staffers and would-be staffers on how to manage workplace issues on Capitol Hill. Please send us your questions anything from office etiquette, to handling awkward moments, to what happens when the work life gets too personal. Submissions will be treated anonymously.