Like some of the other 26 flights that Price took on corporate jets since May identified by a POLITICO review, the trip to Tennessee appears to have occurred despite the existence of multiple commercial flight options. The trip to Georgia, while less direct, also could have been accomplished with a routine connecting flight through Atlanta’s busy international airport.
On Aug. 4, Price flew a Dassault Falcon 2000 twin jet from Raleigh, North Carolina, where he had given a speech to a flu vaccine manufacturer, to Brunswick Golden Isles Airport, which is about a half-hour drive from St. Simons Island. It was the same plane that had shuttled him between five states in four days, one that HHS had chartered through Classic Air Charter for more than $86,000, according to federal contracts.
The plane arrived in Brunswick at 4:02 p.m. the afternoon before the start of the two-day Medical Association of Georgia retreat and roughly 40 hours before Price addressed the group, according to airport records and people familiar with the event. At about the same time, there were connecting commercial flights from Raleigh to Brunswick via Atlanta that would have gotten Price to St. Simons Island that evening.
…The Nashville trip offered even more commercial options. On June 6, Price took a Learjet 55 — a $17,760 round-trip flight, according to a federal contract — that departed from Washington Dulles International Airport at 9:12 a.m. ET and touched down in Nashville at 9:44 a.m. CT.
Two commercial flights that morning followed similar itineraries. An American Airlines plane departed Reagan National Airport at 9:05 a.m. ET and landed in Nashville at 9:39 a.m. CT. A Southwest Airlines flight left Baltimore-Washington International at 9:18 a.m. ET and arrived in Nashville at 9:54 a.m. CT.
Commercial airline tickets with government discounts would have cost between $102 and $333 per person one way between the two cities, according to the U.S. General Services Administration.
…Richard Painter, who served as the top ethics official for President George W. Bush, said Price’s trips may have been legal but were ethically dubious.
“To use a charter flight on something that combines personal and government business, I think it’s highly unprofessional and really inappropriate,” Painter said — especially if personal business represented a disproportionate part of the trip.
…Painter said Price’s trip to Nashville raised multiple ethical concerns. Despite spending nearly $18,000 on a Learjet, Price spent just five-and-a-half hours in the city and with only two official visits on his calendar — an hourlong tour of the dispensary and a 20-minute speech — that bookended his lunch with his son.