B-238589, Aug 13, 1990

B-238589: Aug 13, 1990

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Service member properly used commercial air carrier to fly from West Germany to the U.S. where the military plane on which he departed had to return because of mechanical difficulties and the member did not have adequate opportunity to make alternate arrangements on another military flight. The member also is entitled to reimbursement at the commercial carrier's coach rate for his flight 3 days later back to West Germany if he had no adequate opportunity to arrange for military transportation. Or if no such flights were available. 2. Service member who properly traveled by commercial carrier be- cause military flight was not available. Is entitled to reimbursement only at the coach rate where coach seats were available on the same flight.

B-238589, Aug 13, 1990

MILITARY PERSONNEL - Travel - Commercial carriers - Travel expenses - Reimbursement DIGEST: 1. Service member properly used commercial air carrier to fly from West Germany to the U.S. where the military plane on which he departed had to return because of mechanical difficulties and the member did not have adequate opportunity to make alternate arrangements on another military flight. The member also is entitled to reimbursement at the commercial carrier's coach rate for his flight 3 days later back to West Germany if he had no adequate opportunity to arrange for military transportation, or if no such flights were available. 2. Service member who properly traveled by commercial carrier be- cause military flight was not available, but flew in business class, is entitled to reimbursement only at the coach rate where coach seats were available on the same flight.

Brigadier General Frank Cunningham:

This action is in response to a request from the Army Finance and Accounting Office for an advance decision on Brigadier General Frank Cunningham's claim for reimbursement over the Military Airlift Command (MAC) rate for airfare that he personally paid for a commercial flight to and from the United States in June l989. /1/ On the basis of the documentation presented, we conclude that General Cunningham is entitled to reimbursement of a portion of these expenses.

General Cunningham, stationed in West Germany, was ordered to travel to Washington D.C. for official business from Sunday, June 25 to Thursday, June 29, l989. General Cunningham arranged to travel to the United States on a MAC plane, and departed from Rhein Main Air Force Base at 4:45 p.m. local time on Sunday, June 25. Sometime after departure, mechanical difficulties forced the aircraft to return to Rhein Main and make an emergency landing; by then it was about 9 p.m. local time. General Cunningham then directed his aide to arrange for a commercial flight departing as early as possible on the following day. From 9 p.m. until midnight, General Cunningham's aide attempted to contact the central reservations desk at Rhein Main, the International Tours and Travel Office in nearby Pirmasens, and commercial airline ticket offices at Frankfurt Airport. The attempts were unsuccessful, apparently because it was late on a Sunday evening. Finally, without the General's advance knowledge, the aide booked a business class seat with the aide's own credit card on an American Airlines flight (AA 69) leaving the next day, Monday, at 12:25 p.m., with return in tourist class on TWA. General Cunningham then flew to the United States and back on the commercial carriers, but when he filed his travel voucher for reimbursement, he was advised that he could only receive an amount equivalent to the MAC tariff rate. General Cunningham requests reimbursement for the entire airfare, which exceeded the MAC rate by about $1,000. /2/

The Army states that there were three military flights with space available departing within 3 hours of AA 69's departure (10:30 a.m., 12:30p.m., and 2:45 p.m.). General Cunningham does not dispute this, but asserts that he had no way of knowing that these flights were available because all the offices capable of disseminating that information were closed on Sunday evening. The Army also contends that there were tourist class seats available on AA 69; again General Cunningham does not dispute this. Instead, he argues that his aide was unaware of any restrictions on the use of business class seats for official travel, so that he should not be bound by those restrictions in this instance.

ANALYSIS-- AMERICAN AIRLINES FLIGHT

According to the Joint Federal Travel Regulations (JFTR), where travel orders authorize a service member to use government-provided or procured transportation for transoceanic travel, but the member uses a common carrier instead, the service may only reimburse the traveler up to the cost of the government-provided or procured transportation. 1 JFTR para. U3110-D1. If government transportation is not available the sponsoring service may reimburse the traveler only up to the amount of the least costly available scheduled commercial air service over the direct route between origin and destination. 1 JFTR para. U3119-D2. The local transportation or other appropriate officer may approve business class only when coach seats are unavailable and the only other alternative is to use a foreign-flag air carrier. 1 JFTR para. U3125 B2.

What General Cunningham is entitled to reimbursement over the MAC airfare rate for his flight to the United States. Clearly, on Sunday evening the General's aide exhausted all avenues of ascertaining the availability of MAC flights. Moreover, the General was up against a deadline-- by the time his flight returned to Frankfurt on an emergency basis after more than 4 hours in the air, it was already too late for him to meet his Monday commitments in Washington. We think it was both reasonable and judicious to book a flight on Sunday night instead of waiting until Monday morning to chance the availability of MAC or other government-arranged transportation. Nor is it clear that the General had time, as a practical matter, to rearrange his departure schedule on Monday morning before he had to be at the airport for the commercial flight he booked Sunday night.

In these circumstances, we believe General Cunningham's use of the commercial flight was a reasonable step to ensure the successful completion of his assignment in the United States.

However, we also find that the General is entitled to reimbursement only at the least costly commercial rate available at the time, not at the business class rate. As stated above, the travel regulations bar business class travel where coach seats are available. 1 JFTR para. U3125-B2. The Army's uncontradicted assertion is that AA 69 had to tourist class seats available, and the General's aide admits that he did not even ask about them. Because the aide could just as easily have booked a coach seat as a business class seat, and because the regulations are clear on the issue, General Cunningham may not be reimbursed at the business class rate.

ANALYSIS-- TWA FLIGHT

The record does not include enough details concerning General Cunningham's return tourist class travel on TWA for our Office to decide whether the use of the commercial carrier violated the travel regulations. If the facts establish to Army officials that the General had an adequate opportunity to ascertain the availability of government provided or procured flights before his scheduled return to Germany on June 29, and that such flights were scheduled and available, then the General may only recover his expenses at the MAC rate. Otherwise, he may recover the full coach fare for the TWA flight.

In summary, General Cunningham may be reimbursed at the commercial coach rate for AA 69. Depending on the circumstances, he may be entitled to reimbursement at the commercial coach rate for the return flight on TWA as well.

/1/ The report has been submitted through the Per Diem, Travel, and Transportation Allowance Committee, which has assigned it Control No. 90- 1.

/2/ Although General Cunningham's aide charged the tickets personally, the advance-decision request is on the General's behalf.