After Dominic Raab’s police protection officer was suspended from duties after leaving his gun on a plane at Heathrow, the leading pilots’ union has criticised the foreign secretary’s choice of airline.
The officer, who has not been named, was accompanying Mr Raab on United Airlines flight UA918 from Washington Dulles to London Heathrow.
The Boeing 787 took off from the US capital on Thursday evening. British Airways flight BA216 departed on the same route later that evening.
The foreign secretary’s plane arrived next morning at 6.31am at Heathrow, where the officer left the 9mm loaded pistol on board.
BA has declined to comment on Mr Raab’s choice of airline. But Brian Strutton, general secretary of the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa), said: “Maybe it’s too much to expect but I would like to see our foreign secretary travelling with a British airline rather than spending taxpayers money on an American one.
“There were alternative British flights available so what’s the excuse? It’s about time the UK government started showing a bit of support for UK aviation.”
The choice may have been because of timings – the United flight left Washington and arrived in London nearly four hours earlier than the British Airways service – or cost.
On a search conducted by The Independent, the lowest business-class return fare on British Airways for a short-notice trip from London to Washington DC is £6,220. The fare quoted by United was £375 higher. But the Foreign Office has contracts with airlines that are likely to offer better deals.
The Foreign Office has declined to say how many people there were in the foreign secretary’s party, the class they flew in and the cost to the taxpayer of the flights.
Some details are likely to be published next year as part of the “transparency data” for ministerial travel.
The expenditure directly incurred by Mr Raab on a two-day trip to Washington DC in September 2019, including travel, accommodation and meals, was £19,371.
On Wednesday the chief executive of British Airways told MPs that his airline is burning through £20m in cash per day, and flying only 18.7 per cent of passengers compared with 2019.
Speaking to the Transport Select Committee, Alex Cruz said: “We’re still fighting for our own survival.”
He hit out at the weekly changes to the government’s list of quarantine-exempt countries, which involves the Foreign Office and Department for Transport.
“My network team will be waiting for the latest communication from the government with regards to which countries are actually going to go in quarantine.
“We find ourselves today in a situation in which we’re having to make hundreds of [flight schedule] adjustments every single month as a consequence of all these country closures and our very own quarantine list.”
Under what is known as the “Fly America Act,” people travelling on US government business are generally required to use only American air carriers.
United Airlines has received at least $5bn (£3.9bn) in support from the US government since the coronavirus pandemic began.