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Originally published September 13, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 13, 2007 at 2:48 PM

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Join the crowd: Senators fly like the rest of us after airlines tighten rules

Talk about traveling like a regular schlep. Senators trying to race home this week for the extended weekend caused by the Jewish holiday...

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Talk about traveling like a regular schlep.

Senators trying to race home this week for the extended weekend caused by the Jewish holiday had to fight for airline seats just like the average tourist, thanks to a new ruling from the airline industry.

Because of new ethics rules forbidding gifts to senators, the Air Transport Association ruled that it would be a violation of the Senate's gift ban to allow senators to continue their usual practice of double- and, sometimes, triple-booking flights.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, which has oversight of the issue, explained the practice this way: This week, it was unclear whether the Senate would finish Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, so senators would have booked multiple flights, hedging their bets on when they could get away and paying only for the flight they took.

"The airlines have allowed us to hold these flights," Feinstein told On the Hill, explaining that it is a service that is also offered to the most frequent travelers on particular airlines — and is, therefore, not a specific gift.

But the ATA believes it is a gift because it is a service not offered to regular customers.

"Along with others impacted by the rules, the Air Transport Association airlines are seeking the guidance they need to fully understand and comply with both the letter and the spirit of the new congressional ethics rules," said James C. May, Air Transport Association president and chief executive.

At least three airlines — Continental, Delta and Northwest — have gone along with the industry ruling, wreaking havoc on senatorial schedulers. "Obviously, we're going to follow the rules," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., though she said she is uncertain how her travel to and from Detroit on Northwest would be affected.

Feinstein said she will soon ask the Select Committee on Ethics to issue a ruling on the matter, saying that senators weren't looking for a handout from the airlines but, rather, the best way to get home to their constituents. "It's really hard because if you can only book one flight, and you can't make that flight, then you're stuck," she said.

Yep.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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