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Tampa International Airport CEO backs off on business class travel for executives

The boss at Tampa International Airport withdrew his proposed policy change that would have allowed airport executives to fly business class on domestic flights.

Last week, chief executive officer Joe Lopano introduced a revision to the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority's travel policy that would allow him, vice presidents and authority board members to ride in business class for any flight lasting longer than two hours.

On Thursday, a day after the St. Petersburg Times reported that none of Florida's seven largest airports let employees fly business class for domestic travel, Lopano said in a prepared statement that he was shelving the idea.

"After further thought and reflection, I am withdrawing my recommended changes to the Aviation Authority travel policy," he said. "The policy as it currently stands … will remain in effect."

Currently, all employees must fly on the cheapest available coach tickets for domestic trips. They can fly business class on flights to destinations outside North America when they will be conducting business within 24 hours of their arrival.

Business-class tickets can cost three times as much as coach tickets, sometimes more. Lopano said earlier this week that the policy would result in 10 business-class flights by staffers at a cost of $10,000 a year.

"I want my people to be more productive at all times," he said. "I want them with their laptops open."

The Times found that most major airports in Florida require that employees fly on the cheapest coach tickets available. The same goes for various local governments: Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, the city of Tampa and the Tampa Port Authority. Only Tampa International and Orlando International allow any air travel outside coach class, and that's only on long international flights.

Aviation board members Steven Burton and Joseph Diaco said Thursday they still support taking the business-class proposal before the full five-member board for a vote.

"It's a good use of money and resources," Burton said.

Diaco, who early this week called the current policy outdated, wants the business-class perk for staffers but not board members.

"I think we need to revisit it after it's been tweaked a little bit," he said.

Tampa International is publicly owned. The Aviation Authority runs on revenue generated by airline fees, rent from tenants and the money people pay to park in airport garages. It doesn't collect taxes to pay for operations.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

The cost of doing business

One of Joe Lopano's chief missions is persuading airline executives to add service at Tampa International Airport. That sort of wining and dining, and business travel generally, costs money. In Lopano's case, it adds up to $4,763.42 so far this year. Two examples:

$584.05

Dinner with the AirTran Airways CEO and two other executives at the Capital Grille in Orlando, January 20

Included on the bill: steak au poivre, 14 ounces ($42), seared tenderloin with lobster ($45), 2 filet specials ($96), wine ($150), tip ($100)

$1,640.96

Trip to New York to meet with Standard & Poor's officials, May 24-25

Included on the bill: airfare ($893.10, including change fee), Andaz Wall Street Hotel ($628.89 for one night), luxury sedan from airport ($109.05, $12.50 in tolls)

Tampa International Airport CEO backs off on business class travel for executives 08/25/11 [Last modified: Thursday, August 25, 2011 9:24pm]
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