Go to contents

[Op-Ed] Airline Seats

Posted December. 10, 2009 09:11,   


In October last year, major investment banks on Wall Street ordered their executives and staff to fly coach when going on overseas business trips soon after the global financial crisis erupted in the United States. Merrill Lynch and JPMorgan instructed staff to fly economy on flights under three hours and UBS gave the same directive to its workers on flights under five hours. Samsung Electronics of Korea also changed its business trip guidelines to require managing director-level executives to fly economy instead of business class. Such executives are allowed to fly business class for a flight exceeding 20 hours, but few trips require flying that long. Likewise, even highly profitable global enterprises have started to cut costs.

Peruvian President Alan Garcia, who visited Korea for summit talks with President Lee Myung-bak last month, flew coach to Seoul. He purchased an economy class ticket to go from New York to Tokyo, but Japan Airlines upgraded his seat to business class in a gesture of respect for the head of state. Garcia also reportedly flew economy class from Tokyo to Seoul. Perhaps because of his frugality, he was elected president at age 35 in 1985 and was reelected 21 years later in 2006.

Japanese parliamentarians have also been banned from flying first class. Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa agreed Monday with his party’s coalition partners, including the Social Democratic Party and the People’s New Party, on a bill on Diet reform. One measure will require legislators to fly business class. The bill also bans the provision of vehicles or meals by Japan’s overseas missions, including embassies in countries the lawmakers visit. When the government and enterprises are scrambling to cut costs, lawmakers are in no position to spend lavishly.

Korean lawmakers fly first class because they are considered to be at the same level as Cabinet ministers. Among public sector officials in Korea, ministers and lawmakers are the only ones to fly first class on overseas business trips. Moreover, lawmakers are often provided vehicles from Korean embassies in the country they visit. The government has used diplomatic troops to greet lawmakers at airports and guide them, and even offer spending money with the state budget. Nearly 300 lawmakers were elected in Korea in the hope that they will closely audit the taxes people pay. Though they should do everything to prevent taxes from being wasted in theory, they are spending lavishly on overseas trips while delaying deliberation on next year’s state budget. But who can the Korean people blame except themselves for electing such irresponsible people to parliament in every election?

Editorial Writer Park Yeong-kyun (parkyk@donga.com)