Senate Clarifies Rule on Double-Booking Flights

Posted October 3, 2007 at 6:38pm

Senators should soon be able to fly freely again after quietly agreeing to an amendment Wednesday that clarifies that the chamber’s ethics rules allow them to book multiple flights home and choose the trip that best fits their schedules.

By unanimous consent, Senators accepted an amendment to the Defense Department appropriations bill to make clear that “double-booking” of flights by Senators is not “a gift” from the airlines. The practice had been put on hold after the Air Transport Association concluded that it was illegal under the gift ban contained in the new ethics and lobby reform law.

But under the amendment, Senators said “it is not a gift for a commercial airline to allow a Member, officer or employee to make multiple reservations on scheduled flights consistent with Senate travel regulations.”

The issue had been causing major headaches for Senators in both parties, particularly for those living in Western and rural states. Those Senators often travel greater distances and have fewer flight options, and they argued that if they were forced to guess which trip to take, they risked missing votes or traveling home altogether for the weekend.

Last week, the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, led by Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and ranking member Bob Bennett (R-Utah), had asked the Ethics Committee to clarify to the airlines that it was not a gift to allow Senators to hold tickets on multiple flights. Feinstein and Bennett also said they would work together on a legislative fix, if it became necessary.

A Democratic Senate aide said the amendment simply “clarifies what everyone understood to be the case — that these are not gifts.”